The announcement at this week’s Spending Review of £40 bn for infrastructure investment in England means a Barnet consequential amount of £2.8 bn coming to Scotland for the same purpose. This could be swallowed up by existing ambitious projects like dualing the A9 to Inverness. But, as a ‘bluebird windfall’, it might be better used to fund innovative investments that bring disproportionate benefits. One is in East Lothian.
As a pleasant dormitory, close to Edinburgh, it benefits economically from its financial service jobs and tourism. But it is home to no key facility from which either it or Edinburgh benefits such as Waverley station, or Edinburgh airport. The potential to rectify that with a cruise and ferry terminal at Cockenzie is covered in an earlier blog.
Anyone who flies out of Edinburgh (EDI) will notice that major investments by private owners Global Investment Partners are to maximise revenue from passengers through costly parking, extended duty free and a myriad of shops in an already crowded departure lounge . It is a poky place, hardly worthy of a capital, lacking the logical layout and modern spaces of Dublin, Amsterdam or Copenhagen. is. Its increased congestion starts at the city bypass and continues o two-lane access roads, crowded check=in hall and security maze before you even get to the departure lounge..
Shifting the entire airport elsewhere would cost far more than the £2.8 bn mentioned. However, converting an unused airfield to host low-cost airlines and relieve much of Edinburgh’s congestion would be well within such a budget. Just as Stanstead relieves Heathrow (LHR) and Prestwick relieves Glasgow (GLA) with cheaper, no-frills facilities.
The most obvious choice is East Fortune. Not only does it already house the National Museum of Flight and an Ultralight strip, but its main runway was extended in 1962 to serve as temporary replacement for EDI for a year while the second runway there was being built. Terminal buildings there in 1962 were primitive and have become a part of the NMoF, so most investment would be to build new ones.
Fortunately on the other side of East Fortune’s runway lies the 50-acre site of the derelict East Fortune hospital. Planning consent for 50 houses here was turned down by East Lothian Council in 2010 for want of a strategic vision for the site. Terminal facilities for a minor airport would surely fit that bill.
Road access would be from the A1 at the Haddington/Abbots View exit, some 11 miles east of the A720 Edinburgh bypass. From there two miles following the A199 (former A1) and one mile on the B1347 brings you to the present airfield. Both are quiet. Only the last is likely to need any improvement. Not only would this be hugely more convenient to East Lothian and most of eastern Edinburgh but Berwickshire and Northumberland are close enough to find it convenient too.
East Fortune offers a key bonus, in that it could provide rail access by re-opening its station on the East Coast Main Line, where LNER , Virgin and Transpennine offer services all over the country. ScotRail already have as a local service between Waverley and Dunbar, A stop by long-distance trains would provide environmentally friendly services to Central Scotland, Northeast England and beyond.
So, who might be persuaded to transfer their service to such an airport? Major airlines such as BA, KLM and SAS all prefer operating from major airports. But secondary airports have grown more than the majors through an explosion in low-cost flights, likely to resume their volume once Covid is defeated. Bratislava is a popular alternative for Vienna; Gerona for Barcelona; Charleroi for Brussels). That is where the low-cost airlines—Ryanair, Easyjet— fly. To offer such low fares, hey avoid high costs of major airports, such as EDI.
East Fortune has what they’re looking for. No other site has intact runways, space for a modern terminal and excellent transport links. Without paving over any of its rural idyll, an airport could transform the county economy and relieve congestion at EDI and its access at minimal cost. This seems worth a feasibility study, at least.