Roger Arthur: Confronting the development spectre

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We would hardly have expected further local flight path changes during consultation on a second Gatwick runway, but that is what we seem to have had, judging by complaints from residents in recent weeks.

So, I asked the complaints line (noise.line@gatwickairport.com) for statistics, during and after the official Flight Trials. I hoped to see trends in complaints and geographical distribution and copied my request to the local MP. Sadly I have had no response from either party and residents might bear that in mind, when they respond to the consultation and when they vote in May.

Turning to the Gatwick second runway proposal itself. We are being asked to ‘choose’ between a Heathrow (HRW) runway extension and a second Gatwick (GTW) runway, focusing on noise impact, cost benefit and infrastructure costs, as indicated below.

Since the impact of noise on health and productivity could outweigh other cost differences in the longer term, we should be told how such impacts were weighed against other options - before GTW and HRW became the preferred options - and what cost weightings were used. We may find that other options, including expansion of existing airports, or the building of a new one, were discarded prematurely.

Pending that information, it seems that many more residents around GTW would experience significantly higher noise levels, whereas noise contours around HRW are not apparently expected to change much. It also seems that planes to and from GTW are likely to be noisier, operating under the HRW flight paths.

Of course house buyers around HRW would have known about the noise when they moved in and we might ask who if anyone, would compensate residents around GTW for a reduction in property values. Also how will background levels and noise fluctuation influence the impact assessment?

In terms of cost benefit, we are told that the HRW runway extension would offer more bang for buck than GTW2, presumably with bigger taxable revenue streams. What we don’t know is how much profit will be funnelled overseas to avoid tax, although more HRW funder(s) seem to be UK based, than those of Gatwick. The tax avoidance loss may be difficult to estimate, but we should ask for that information.

When we asked to know the total estimated infrastructure costs around GTW, the information was not known. But since the Government clearly doesn’t expect to make a contribution, most of the improvements would probably have to be funded over time from higher fares, or local taxes.

HRW of course will have connections to Crossrail, HS2, plus underground and overground systems, whereas transport systems around GTW would be seriously challenged. Indeed, the proposed GTW infrastructure contribution would hardly fund a mile or two of M25 upgrading and it is inconceivable that the funding gap could be filled by S106 and CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) payments alone.

Also since a low cost workforce is involved, workers would probably commute in (as many agricultural workers do now) further increasing traffic volumes. That in itself suggests that S106 and CIL funding around GTW would be limited, which would only increase the infrastructure funding gaps that already exist.

So, on balance it seems likely that a second Gatwick runway would lead to unnecessary overloading of rail and road networks, of NHS facilities and schools, with more congestion and pollution - and with more people exposed to lengthy ambulance response times, because the promised A&E hospital is a pipe dream.

Of course we should respect the outcome of the consultation exercise, watching to see how responses are evaluated and how they are balanced against those of vested interests.

But we don’t want residents to have to pick up the tab for a large funding shortfall, whilst having their lives blighted by noise and overcrowding.

All local authorities and MPs in the area should be working together to confront that spectre.

Roger Arthur is UKIP’s Horsham parliamentary candidate and district councillor for Chanctonbury.