A leading councillor believes expansion at Gatwick Airport is the only way the area can secure the infrastructure improvements it needs.
Frances Haigh, the leader of the Liberal Democrats on Horsham District Council, made the comments after she spoke in support of a second runway at Gatwick Airport at the party’s national conference last week.
In her County Times column this week she added expansion would also mean scrapping the North Horsham housing plans because it would lie in the noise contours created by a second runway.
She writes: “In support of the runway, we would require investment in our road and rail network; updating the A24 and A23, improving rail links both north-south and east-west.
“Accepting the second runway means that we can negotiate for the schools, leisure facilities and healthcare to support our growing communities. Without the runway, we will still get the housing - there is no doubt about that – but we will not get the infrastructure that supports our communities and keeps West Sussex as a great place to live.”
At the conference she disagreed with colleagues nationwide, who voted to remove UK airport expansion preferences from the party’s policies.
Speaking this week Mrs Haigh said: “We have got a party policy locally to support Gatwick. That’s the way to go.
“There are employment opportunities, it will support our young people and give them a future.
“The Government has to look at how it can support local economies. At the moment people cannot connect to London (from regional airports). They go to Schipol in Amsterdam.
“I was quite surprised when I flew to Glasgow (from Gatwick). It was like buses. These flights were full.
“The other point is businesses will relocate nearer to an airport. If our airport capacity doesn’t expand, they will go elsewhere.”
Her comments have angered anti-expansion campaigners.
Sally Pavey, chairman of the Campaign Against Gatwick Noise Emissions (CAGNE), said: “Frances Haigh spoke in favour because of extra employment and illustrated how out of touch they are with Horsham and district’s opinion as residents strongly oppose Gatwick.
“Surrounding areas have one to three per cent unemployment and Gatwick becoming larger than Heathrow would result in a mass migration of workers and their families to our corner of West Sussex with no infrastructure to support it.
“The HDC councillor is missing that the aircraft noise would destroy the tranquility of many parishes in West Sussex, Surrey and West Kent.”
A spokesman for Gatwick Airport said: “Gatwick’s compact three terminal layout will not be bigger than Heathrow. We do expect to grow to handle a similar number of passengers as Heathrow does today by the 2050s.
“A second runway at Gatwick will be a catalyst for economic growth in the South East with new jobs created throughout the Gatwick Diamond from London to the south coast. Employees will be able to take advantage of a doubling of rail capacity at Gatwick by 2018 and a trebling by 2030. We also expect many people who currently commute to London to take up the opportunities created to work more locally.
“If a second runway is built, Gatwick has pledged £46.5m to help local authorities deliver essential community infrastructure. Our investment in road improvements linked to the second runway will provide more capacity for non-airport traffic than would be the case if development did not take place, reducing congestion.”
The Horsham Lib Dems are the latest to make their position clear.
West Sussex County Council and the council’s Conservative leader Louise Goldsmith declared their support for Gatwick expansion earlier this year, while Horsham Conservative MP Francis Maude has said he is against expansion.
Horsham District Council has said it would make its position clear during the formal consultation period, which is expected to start this autumn.
Roger Arthur, Horsham parliamentary candidate for UKIP, said last week the party ‘continues to oppose Gatwick expansion’ and urges the Government ‘not to discard the new airport option prematurely’.
An interim report by the Airports Commission recommends one runway in the south east is needed by 2030, and a second runway by 2050. For the first one, it has shortlisted options for a third runway at Heathrow and a second one at Gatwick.
The commission will report its recommendation to the Government after next year’s general election.