Blog by Crawley Observer chief reporter Karen Dunn: Is expansion at Gatwick a foregone conclusion?


Few topics have been more divisive for the people of Crawley than the potential expansion of Gatwick Airport.

Stop five people in Queens Square and ask their opinions and you will get five different answers.

The possibility of a second runway being built is the biggest thing to have happened to our little corner of Sussex since the conception of the new town – and that certainly wasn’t welcomed with open arms by the people already living here.

While the new town was seen as an adventure in an exciting new place for those moving in, speak to some of the ‘old towners’ and they describe how the expansion of their home appeared to have been devised and executed without so much as a ‘by your leave’.

The wait for the final report from Sir Howard Davies and the Airports Commission – which will assess the environmental, economic and social costs and benefits of expansion – has developed the same air of inevitability.

Although his shortlist appears to be Heathrow heavy, Gatwick is looking more and more like the most likely choice.

All the legal boxes will be ticked when it comes to discussion, debate and differing opinions, but it’s not hard to picture a map on the wall of Sir Howard’s office bearing a large ‘X’ to the north of Crawley marked ‘build here’.

Whatever he decides, half the people in this town will not be happy.

This was demonstrated at the last Crawley Question Time debate when the chair called for a show of hands for and against expansion.

The room was split 50-50, with vehement arguments on both sides.

Though it is no surprise the subject rouses such strong opinions, not everyone is sure what to think and many feel they are being swept along on an uncontrollable tide of rumour and speculation.

The problem is a lack of precise information.

It’s like the run-up to an election where we are bombarded with endless facts and figures which essentially tell us very little.

Both Gatwick and Heathrow are shouting ‘pick me, pick me’ while highlighting everything wonderful about expansion and the nay sayers are predicting devastation for Crawley on a wave of noise, pollution and loss of land.

In the middle of this, our political representatives have opted to wait for Sir Howard’s report to give themselves enough information to be able to judge what benefits or damage our town faces.

Even the Labour bigwigs who brought their regional conference to the town last month were wedged firmly on the fence.

It’s all very well waiting for official word but surely those who hope to run the country should be confident enough to have an opinion on such an important matter.

The arguments both for and against expansion are easy to appreciate but each possibility raises more questions.

Fears about noise and pollution aside, one of the biggest problems would be the increased need for new homes which expansion would bring.

Crawley is arguably the most compacted area in the county and new development is already straining at our boundaries.

A predicted future border adjustment will see Kilnwood Vale absorbed into the fold.

But our space and infrastructure is not endless and we are in danger of reaching suffocation point.

We need to be told how we would accommodate future growth on top of the doubling in size of our major resource.

This is not something you can brush aside with vague comments and a few sound bites.

Only so much hot air can be pumped into a balloon before it bursts and, if we are at the stage where Gatwick has been short listed, more information must be made available.

The bottom line, though, is that Crawley is an airport town. With expansion would come jobs, business and money. Our economy would thrive.

Gatwick is the reason our unemployment rate is so low and expansion would attract more big businesses which would in turn lead to better training for our young people.

There will always be lower paid jobs – that is the way of the world – but the more high-end companies who move to the area, the more opportunities there will be for our young people with the ability and inclination to reach for the top.

Crawley has both embraced change and been dragged kicking and screaming towards it over the past century – and we have flourished.

It’s easy to live in the past wrapped in rose-tinted memories of how we once were but Crawley is about change and we cannot sit still when it comes to the airport.

Our motto is ‘I grow and I rejoice’. If we don’t grow, we will stagnate.

But we need help to make sure we don’t suffocate.