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September 2005 

Public Debate on Expansion of Gatwick Airport

The Horsham Society hosted a public debate on the effects on Horsham and the surrounding area of an expansion of Gatwick Airport at the Causeway Barn on Friday 9th September 2005.

A packed audience of some 80 people attended, consisting of elected representatives headed by Member of Parliament, Francis Maude, and including Councillors from County Hall, Horsham and Mid-Downs District, Crawley Borough and Parishes and Town Neighbourhoods together with Council Officers, Members of the Society and the general public.

An expert panel was introduced by Society Chairman, Peter Tobutt.  Paul Griffiths, newly-appointed MD of BAA Gatwick and Mark Froud, CEO of Sussex Enterprise, put forward the economic case for expanding the airport. They were countered by Roy Haycock of CPRE and Peter Barclay, Vice Chairman of the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign, who argued strenuously for environment considerations to be put first.

L-R: Peter Barclay, Roy Haycock, Peter Tobutt, Mark Froud, Paul Griffiths

BAA’s initial aim is to make Gatwick (serving as it does some 100 airlines!) the most efficient single runway airport in the world by maximising the facilities within its existing “footprint” within the constraints of an increasingly ecological agenda. But London’s airport capacity is being squeezed harder and harder. Post 9/11 recovery and the continuing business and leisure travel demands in this country are placing great strains on our existing major airports. Heathrow has serious road access limitations and the costs of expanding Stansted are huge. So how long after the present single runway agreement expires in 2019 will it be necessary to widen the existing boundaries?

CPRE welcomes BAA’s more environmentally friendly approach to expansion but was concerned for the post-2019 scene. The rights of the existing population within the Gatwick area and its approach corridors to enjoy an environmentally healthy society must not be eroded by the uncontrolled increases in noise and pollution which are likely from a major airport expansion. How many of the people who travel through Gatwick come from outside the South East? What is the proportion of business and leisure travel?

Sussex Enterprise explained that business in general favours Gatwick over other airport options. This commercially driven preference promises to deliver another 7000 on-site jobs together with 14000 in the surrounding area if airport expansion takes place. The risks attached to a no development policy are very real. A loss of investment in local rail and road infrastructure, fewer high quality jobs and a gradual drift away from Gatwick by many of the international airlines.

The Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign seeks better compensation for people affected by the existing airport operations before any consideration is given to expansion beyond the present boundaries. Indeed, it is important to challenge unsubstantiated claims for the need for such expansion and to look again at projected future travel figures.

It was encouraging to note general agreement on a number of points. Airport growth must not be allowed to take place at the uncontrolled expense of the environment. The growth of Gatwick Airport within its existing footprint is necessary for the health of the South East economy and ultimately benefits us all.
Better public transport will reduce the airport road access dependency and its associated high levels of pollution. Everyone agreed that it was absolutely vital to keep the Gatwick Express running (and not to replace it by existing stopping trains as proposed by the erstwhile Strategic Rail Authority.

A lively question and answer session followed with wide-ranging concerns expressed

  • Businesses can’t stand still: they must either expand or contract
  • A net export of tourism from the UK can actually damage our economy by reduced inward spending power
  • Are fuel taxes fairly distributed and, indeed, what provision is being made by the air industry for a future without fossil fuels?
  • Even if we do get the extra jobs as forecast, will we have the skilled workforce locally to fill them?

The Horsham Society had certainly picked a hot potato when it organised this event. The discussions, however, were good natured and a number of serious issues were highlighted. Ultimately the decision to expand Gatwick will be taken by the Government, hopefully listening to its now better informed local representatives.

Peter Tobutt