Ray Dawe: Full debate over proposed second runway at Gatwick

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This newspaper has carried many reports giving views on a possible second runway at Gatwick Airport. My in-box has received many emails, primarily from people who oppose it.

Many incorrectly say that Horsham District Council has said that it supports the idea when in fact we have not done so, preferring instead to gather information from as many sources as we can – both for and against - before commenting.

Do we really even need expansion at Gatwick or Heathrow, or an estimated £100 billion new airport in the Thames estuary proposed by Boris Johnson? One of the options considered by the Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission, charged with making a recommendation to the Government, was to do nothing. They considered passenger demand and decided that what the country required was one new runway and that it will bring the country huge economic benefits.

On the other hand, Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC) says that there is no need for any new runway at all in the South East because of the trend to larger aircraft, and because of unused capacity at Stansted. But if a new runway were to be built at Gatwick, the airport would soon fill up, attracting airlines from other parts of the UK, making over-crowding in the South East worse.

Stewart Wingate, the chief executive officer of Gatwick Airport, is going head-to-head with Heathrow Airport over which of them expands. Gatwick wants to become a serious rival to Heathrow and he believes that boosting Gatwick will give the UK a second world-class airport which will take the pressure off Heathrow. He says that planes fly right over his house from Gatwick Airport and he’s happy to have more of them if there was a second runway. It would however, mean more noise for Mr Wingate and for a lot of other residents in the area too. He reckons that about 30,000 people would be affected but says that this is a fraction of the 700,000 people who would be affected by increased noise pollution from any expansion at Heathrow.

A recent letter to this paper gave a diametrically opposite view to that of Mr Wingate: “We live in the village of Warnham and recently suffered the six month trial of the new proposed flight path – it was horrendous. It was unbearable being woken every morning before 6am with the continuous drone of these low flying aircraft… We did not move to a small village to be made to suffer this life changing nuisance… make no mistake, it will destroy our quality of life and our mental health”.

Carolyn McCall, chief executive of EasyJet, the largest airline at Gatwick, said: “This whole issue of capacity should be about where the demand is. Airlines have to want to go into that airport, and the congestion we have is predominantly around the Heathrow hub.”

Willie Walsh, the head of British Airways’ parent company, has ruled out supporting a second runway at Gatwick, even if it is given the go-ahead by policymakers, arguing that he doesn’t believe there is a business case to support expansion there. In response, Nick Dunn, Gatwick’s chief financial officer, suggested these airlines, the largest and second largest operators at the airport, were concerned about the prospect of increased competition from rival carriers if a second runway was built.

It may surprise many readers to learn that Horsham District Council is not currently a statutory consultee in this process. And where a new runway goes is not of course our decision any more than the six month flight trial was. We have however spent many months listening and talking to those on both sides of the arguments. Some of our members have already made comments in this paper and we have now set aside time for a full council debate on the matter. Following this we will be making a submission to the consultation that is currently taking place.