Campaigners deploy ‘main weapon’ in expansion fight

Brendon Sewill ENGSUS00120131001155923
Brendon Sewill ENGSUS00120131001155923

Campaigners opposed to expansion at Gatwick have said no councillor in their right mind would vote for a new runway.

Brendon Sewill, of the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC) made the statement following the publication of Gatwick Unwrapped, an 18-page document which details the group’s examination of the runway plans.

The document, which GACC said was the “main weapon” in its battle to fight expansion, was sent to borough and county councillors on Monday (January 5).

Among the issues raised within its pages were fears the Airports Commission (AC) had under-estimated the pressure a second runway would place on both the road and rail networks, particularly given the number of new jobs and new homes expansion would create.

The report stated the figures used by the AC were based on a forecast of cars and passengers in 2030, when the new runway would not yet be operating at its full capacity.

GACC stated expansion would lead to the creation of 60,000 jobs which, in turn, would lead to an influx of people to the area, resulting in 100,000 more vehicles on the roads every day and more than 90,000 extra people using rail services.

A Gatwick spokesman countered GACC’s claims and said: “It is simply not reasonable to expect that jobs and economic growth will come to the region automatically.

“Far from being a development disaster, we believe the growth a bigger Gatwick would bring, coupled with a highly responsible approach to managing environmental issues, would offer prosperity to the south east for decades to come.”

Regarding GACC’s concern about the predicted road and rail figures, he added: “Independent expert bodies including Network Rail and the Highways Agency agree that the committed public transport proposals for Gatwick will be adequate to cope with additional demand from a second runway.”

Another issue highlighted in Gatwick Unwrapped was that of noise.

According to the AC, the number of people in Crawley who would find themselves experiencing noise levels of ‘moderate community annoyance’ would be more than 15,000 in 2030, rising to almost 25,000 by 2050.

GACC again questioned the figures used by the AC, claiming they did not include the people who would set up home in Crawley’s new neighbourhood, Forge Wood, once building was complete – a matter the group planned to raise in its submission to the commission.

A spokesman for Gatwick pointed out the Forge Wood development was included in its submission to the AC in July 2014.

The airport predicted 4,700 people in the new neighbourhood would experience noise levels of 54 decibels, 4,300 of those would reach 57 decibels, 4,000 would reach 60 decibels and 700 would experience noise as loud as 63 decibels.

The matter of the area’s heritage was also raised in Gatwick Unwrapped, particularly the 19 listed buildings which would be demolished to make way for the new runway.

The prospect of such demolition was described in the report as “the largest destruction of our heritage since the World War II Blitz”.

In recognition of the importance of the buildings, Gatwick Airport Ltd (GAL) had previously suggested some might de-constructed and rebuilt elsewhere – similar to the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum which already houses an ancient hall from Crawley.

GACC remained dubious of the suggestion and stated: “That would be a difficult, costly and lengthy process. We doubt if it could be achieved within the GAL target of opening the new runway in 2025. We will tell the Commission that if this suggestion is to be taken seriously it must be made a legal obligation, with the airport bearing the cost.”

Mr Sewill said the idea of a second runway had been: “sold to the public gift-wrapped in a massive advertising and lobbying campaign”.

With many of the area’s councils due to vote this month on whether to support expansion, he added: “When they see the full facts, no councillor in their right mind would vote for a new runway.”

The closing date for comments to reach the Airports Commission is February 3.

Log on to www.gov.uk/airports-commission for details.