Opponents of plans to expand Gatwick Airport said today they are ‘not surprised’ that a decision on the future of the airport has been postponed until next summer.
Gatwick Airport Conservation Campaign members say that there is no easy option on expansion and that both Gatwick and Heathrow face substantial environmental problems for which no solution has yet been found.
The Government says the delay would allow a choice to be made between rival schemes at both airports.
GACC members maintain that expanding Gatwick would aggravate the north-south divide; that 50,000 people would be affected by worse air quality; that expansion would mean the need for a new town the size of Crawley; that three times as many people as now would be affected by severe noise and road and rail systems could not cope when the airport reached full capacity.
GACC chairman, Brendon Sewill: “One issue the Government will need to examine during the next six months is the real cost of the road and rail infrastructure work required for a second Gatwick runway.”
The group says its research shows that if Gatwick were operating with two runways at full capacity, the M23 and M25 would need major widening, the M23 would need to be extended into London, several new A roads would need to be built east and west of Gatwick, and the Brighton main rail line would need extensive work.
Brendon Sewill added: “The Government is right not to be rushed into a hasty decision.”
But Reigate MP Crispin Blunt described the delay as a ‘shocking non-decision’ by the Government.
“We were promised a decision by the end of the year. Recently we were promised a direction. What we have is neither decision, nor direction, but political cowardice, weakness and prevarication.”
He added: “We will fight tooth and nail any attempts to resurrect Gatwick, whose flawed and costly proposal was left dead and buried by the Airports Commission. It is not the easier option. It would not survive the scrutiny of Parliament and the courts. Gatwick would deliver half the economic benefit, has wretched rail and road transport connections, and would fail to provide the hub airport which the UK needs.”
But Gatwick officials say they are glad that the Government now recognises that more work needs to be done before a decision is made over the expansion of Gatwick or Heathrow.
Gatwick Airport CEO Stewart Wingate said: “There is now a clear choice facing Britain: growth with Gatwick or inertia at Heathrow with an illegal scheme that has failed time and time again.
“We have always maintained that this decision is about balancing the economy and the environment. Expansion at Gatwick would give the country the economic benefit it needs at a dramatically lower environmental cost.”
“We are glad that the Government recognises that more work on environmental impact needs to be done. Air quality, for example, is a public health priority and obviously the legal safeguards around it cannot be wished away.
“Even Heathrow’s most vocal supporters must now realise a third runway at Heathrow will never take off as the environmental hurdles are just too high. If they want Britain to have the benefits of expansion and competition they should now look to Gatwick.
“Expansion has been in a holding pattern for decades. Momentum is now behind Gatwick as it becomes ever clearer that it is the obvious solution. We will continue to work closely with Government to take forward our plan which is legal, affordable, and can actually deliver for Britain.”