Gatwick Airport has been accused of promoting its own business interests with ‘little or no concern’ for how its growth plans would affect the people of West Sussex.
The airport’s draft masterplan was discussed at a meeting of the county council’s environment, communities and fire select committee, in Chichester.
It lays out three possible expansion plans, including the conversion of the existing emergency runway into full-time use.
The council will be submitting a response to the masterplan as part of a 12-week consultation, which ends on January 10, and members were asked for their views.
But they were left frustrated by the information available, calling the masterplan ‘vague’ and ‘lacking in detail’.
Lt Col George Barton (Con, Sompting & North Lancing) said the plan had more ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ than any report he had read.
Asking how members were supposed to criticise, support or weigh up what was in it, he added: “I find this position we’re in now almost impossible.”
He was supported by Heidi Brunsdon (Con, Imberdown), who said: “We simply have no details about this plan.
“It is a marketing plan for the benefit of a private company who frankly, as I see it, are simply out there trying to promote their own business, with little or no concern about the West Sussex impact for our residents.”
When asked about the amount of detail in the masterplan, airport spokesman Russell Guthrie said: “We are following best practice and consulting people early on our intentions.
“While this means that not all the detailed work has yet been worked up, more detailed plans, and a public consultation, are likely to follow if we pursue our plans to use our standby runway.”
The impact on residents in Crawley was a point made by Brenda Smith (Lab, Langley Green & Ifield East), who described the masterplan as ‘a second runway by stealth’, and said expansion at Gatwick would be ‘absolutely disastrous’.
A number of issues were discussed by members, with concerns raised about sleep depravation due to noise levels, damage to the local infrastructure from the increase in traffic, and the impact on the environment.
Committee chairman Andrew Barrett-Miles (Con, Burgess Hill North) said: “Growth of business is a good thing. It’s part of our West Sussex plan. But it can’t be at the expense of the environment, of people. There has to be a balance.”
There were also concerns that, if Gatwick was allowed to grow too large, it would suppress economic diversity in the area and lead to ‘significant economic issues’ for the county if anything went badly wrong.
Members suggested that the council could seek a new legal agreement with Gatwick, once the current one expires next year, to safeguard land south of the existing runway for at least 15 years, preventing the building of a second runway.
Mr Guthrie added that Gatwick’s plans could have a ‘significant positive impact’ on local people, with the possibility of 20,000 new jobs and £2bn in economic growth.
Karen Dunn, Local Democracy Reporting Service