No to a second runway at Gatwick – here’s why

Gatwick Airport Ltd has presented proposals to the Airports Commission for a second runway south of the existing one.  Local Green Party member Thom Brown responds. 

Back in 2010, Sir David Rowlands of Global Infrastructure Partners (which had just recently become the new owners of Gatwick Airport) clearly stated, “The simple fact is that we at Gatwick have not a shred of interest in a second runway.  It’s not government policy and it’s not in our policy.  Even if the Government started to look more favourably at the prospect, we would have to think very hard about spending £100 to £200 million on a planning application with an uncertain decision. We would have to look even more carefully at the economic value of a multi-billion pound project – would there be a commercial return?”[i]

And three short months after that, Prime Minister David Cameron, in his very first Cabinet meeting, ruled out any additional runways at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.[ii]

This was all supposed to be good news and a relief to everyone concerned.

Greenest Government ever? 

Then in March last year, David Cameron suddenly changed his mind (without consulting the Department of Transport), adding to the many contradictions of the Conservatives’ notion that voting blue means going green.[iii]

One of the arguments put forth by the Airport Commission’s proposal is that a wide-spaced runway would increase passenger capacity to up to 90 million.  This is almost triple the number of passengers Gatwick currently handles, which means triple the long term car parking spaces needed, triple the impact on the already-congested road and rail services, and a large increase in the number of people affected by noise.

A new town the size of Crawley

Bearing in mind that the new runway would be placed south of the current runway at Gatwick, and most of the land between Langley Green/Manor Royal and Gatwick will be occupied to accommodate this expansion, there would also need to be between 30,000 and 45,000 new homes for the increased airport workforce.  This figure comes from an independent report commissioned by the West Sussex County Council and the Gatwick Diamond Initiative.[iv]

To put this in perspective, Crawley has approximately 40,000 homes [v], which means the houses needed would exceed the total number already in Crawley.

Crawley is already under strain to develop new affordable housing for its increasing population.  A requirement for this new housing would greatly exacerbate the problems Crawley has with expanding, leaving the town desperately short of space.  Note that some houses within the proposed expansion area would need to go too, especially since any aeroplanes landing on the second runway would need to taxi beyond the end of the existing runway to reach the terminals.  This potentially affects the Langley Green neighbourhood of Crawley too.  The proposal also says that up to 18 listed buildings would be lost.

Countryside eroded

Another issue that’s not made clear in the proposal is what would happen to the A23 around Gatwick.  At the moment, the A23 from Manor Royal runs up to Gatwick, and then continues around its perimeter, then on to Horley on the other side.  The development of a second runway means that the first half of this route would be lost.  This is already a busy route for traffic moving across the West Sussex/Surrey border, and its future has not really been explained at all.  Potentially this could cause even more erosion of the countryside when it is rerouted around the new airport perimeter.

The environmental impact of this proposed development is clear.  A huge area of countryside between Crawley and Gatwick would be lost for ever to make way for long-term airport car-parks, airport buildings and, of course, a new runway and taxi way.  The habitats of animal species (many of which are protected) would be lost which include kestrels, kingfishers, bats, dormice, reptiles and newts.[vi]

Dr Tony Whitbread, the chief executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust has made his strong opposition clear: “The direct impact of expansion on the environment would be unacceptable, causing significant damage to wildlife in the area”.  Dave Bangs, a landscape expert also added “And ‘on watch’ is what we all must be to prevent the destruction of this lovely place.”[vii]

Climate targets trashed

In addition to loss of countryside and animal habitats, increased traffic would mean more air pollution and CO2 emissions from road vehicles.  And an increase in air traffic would not only increase noise pollution for the local population, but also further increase Britain’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

A holistic review of the proposal (that wouldn’t just focus on economics) would undoubtedly render the second runway impractical, damaging and disruptive, with unacceptable and devastating impact on the environment, traffic and local services such as hospitals and schools.

We should be aiming to reduce flights, and certainly not to increase them even further, especially as it would seriously compromise our ability to meet carbon emission reduction targets that we’re already struggling to meet.  We should be insisting on preserving our countryside, reducing noise and air pollution, and utilising existing resources responsibly.

A second runway at Gatwick is not a solution, it is a problem, a problem which would cause devastating and irreparable damage.

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