Survey reveals new Gatwick runway most popular choice for locals

Gatwick Airport.

Gatwick Airport.

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A major new independent survey of residents and businesses across West Sussex published today indicates more local support for building a second runway at Gatwick Airport than any other option for improving air travel in the South East.

As the debate over a second runway gathers momentum, West Sussex County Council and Crawley Borough Council commissioned the research to better understand public views on the proposals.

A 40-year legal agreement drawn up in 1979 forbids such an expansion until 2019 - but with that deadline fast approaching Gatwick Airport itself has made clear a second runway would be a welcome addition.

It is seen as a way of significantly boosting the West Sussex economy - especially with the creation of more direct and indirect employment.

A final planning decision will be taken by a Government inspector rather than the county or borough councils.

At a meeting last night (Wednesday July 10) held at the offices of Crawley council, a broad cross-section of key business leaders, councils, and amenity groups were given a presentation of the findings of the market research.

It was independently chaired by this paper’s Editor In Chief Gary Shipton with speeches of welcome and overview by the leader of the county council Louise Goldsmith and the deputy leader of the borough council Claire Denman.

The clear message to emerge from the research was that there was strong but not overwhelming support for a second runway at Gatwick - but it was vital the public now had its say.

This newspaper and its websites have agreed to facilitate a public debate relaying all the comment and feedback to the local and county councils.

The research in full is published on our website today and you can watch Wednesday’s meeting at http://www.westsussex.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/108414

Residents and businesses were provided with a number of options for expanding runway capacity in the South East, and asked to rate their support for each option. The various options included:

- Building a second runway at Gatwick

- Building a third runway at Heathrow

- Building a second runway at Stansted

- Building a brand new airport in the Thames estuary, which is the area to the east of London where the Thames runs into the English Channel

- Building a brand new airport, but not in the Thames estuary

Among residents the option most likely to be supported was building a second runway at Gatwick, with 48% of residents giving this option a support rating of 5 or 4, more than a quarter (28%) gave this the highest score of 5 out of 5, indicating that they fully supported the building of a second Gatwick runway. However there were a quarter of residents who did not support it (26%).

Support was higher among businesses, with over half (53%) indicating they would support the building of a second runway at Gatwick, and just under a quarter of businesses (23%) indicating they would not support this option.

Younger residents were generally more supportive of each of these options than older residents. Businesses located in Crawley were more likely to support a second runway at Gatwick than businesses located in Chichester (67% vs. 46%).

More regular business users of air travel were significantly more likely to support the building of a second Gatwick runaway.

Given the tendency for expansion at Gatwick airport to be the one option supported by the greatest number of West Sussex businesses and residents, it was unsurprising to find that the building of a second runway at Gatwick was the preferred option mentioned by the greatest number of residents when asked to indicate which of the provided options would be their preference (42%), however, this still meant that for the majority of residents (58%) the building of a second runway at Gatwick was not their preferred choice. For businesses a slight majority would prefer to see expansion take place at Gatwick (52%).

Over half of all residents agreed that the current level of aircraft noise that Gatwick creates is acceptable (57%), with only a twentieth (6%) disagreeing that the level of noise generated was acceptable. For businesses agreement levels were similar (55%), although disagreement levels were slightly higher (10%).

Agreement levels were significantly higher among Crawley residents (78%) and businesses (81%).

Slightly fewer residents agreed with the statement ‘given the benefits it would provide, an increase in aircraft noise from a second runway at Gatwick would be acceptable’ (44%), with a fifth disagreeing with this statement (20%). Businesses demonstrated a slightly higher level of agreement with this statement (47%) and a slightly lower level of disagreement (17%).

Again, agreements levels were significantly higher among Crawley residents (57%) and businesses (61%).

For both businesses and residents agreement with these statements were influenced by attitudes to air travel in general, with those supporting the building of a second runway at Gatwick and agreeing with the need for more runway capacity in the South East more likely to agree with each of these statements.

The survey was undertaken by telephone with a sample of 1,000 residents and 621 businesses across West Sussex. The surveys took place over a five week period from the from the May 7.

The majority of residents were using air travel, with 87% of residents indicating they take flights at least once a year or less. Businesses were less likely to have taken flights, with 31% indicating that they had employees who take a flight at least once a year for business purposes. However among those businesses using air travel, the frequency with which air travel was being used was greater than residents, most likely as a result of the different purposes for which air travel was being used across the two groups.

In principle, the majority of residents agree that ‘people should be able to travel by plane as much as they want to’ (81%). However, once the concept of building ‘new terminals or runways’ was introduced support declines, although the majority still agreed that even if this level of development was necessary ‘people should be able to travel by plane as much as they want to’ (57%). However, less than half would support this principle if ‘additional infrastructure such as roads and housing are needed to support the expansion of airports’ (46%). Three quarters of residents (72%) agreed that ’air travel is important to the economy of West Sussex’. Generally, the more frequently someone takes flights the more likely they are to support the building of new terminals, runways and infrastructure.

Just under half (44%) of all residents surveyed agreed that there is a need for more runway capacity in the South East, 26% of residents disagreed. Among businesses agreement levels were slightly higher, with over half (51%) agreeing that more runway capacity was needed and 18% disagreeing.

Before last night’s meeting, Mrs Goldsmith said: “The closing date for submissions to the Airports Commission is July 19, and the county council will need to consider what is being proposed for Gatwick before coming to a view. The stakeholder meeting on Wednesday night to hear the results of the survey research into Attitudes to Air Travel carried out for the county council will be another important milestone in determining what is in the best interests of our residents.

“At this stage our view remains that in considering airport expansion, we will need to balance the needs of the economy of West Sussex with the environmental challenges a second runway would bring.

“Because this is such an important issue across a wide area of West Sussex we also ensured that it was webcast.”