Council told get off fence over Gatwick

Gatwick Airport 5-1-15 (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-150601-100616001
Gatwick Airport 5-1-15 (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-150601-100616001

Crawley Borough Council has been told to get off the fence and vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the building of a second runway at Gatwick.

Members of the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Commission met at the town hall on Monday (January 12) to discuss the council’s response to the Airports Commission’s (AC) consultation on expansion.

The commission, which is made up of councillors from both Labour and the Conservatives, also expressed concerns about some of the information being used by the AC as it prepared to make its recommendation to the Government in July.

Regarding the issue of speaking in favour of, or against, a second runway, Cllr Ian Irvine (Lab, Broadfield North) said: “My view is, at this moment, what people in Crawley who are interested want to hear is their elected representatives taking a view.

“Not having an opinion and sitting on the fence won’t do any good for anybody.”

Cllr Howard Bloom (Con, Pound Hill South & Worth) was one of several councillors who informed the meeting he had received little or no correspondence from people in favour of expansion, but plenty of opposition.

He added: “It’s very difficult to remain neutral at this stage. The feedback we get must be communicated back to the council.”

Cllr Bloom warned the council would “miss the boat” if it didn’t take the opportunity to air its views.

He was backed by Cllr Brenda Smith (Lab, Langley Green) who said: “We are here to represent the people who elected us. If we haven’t got the ability to make the decision for ourselves, then we shouldn’t be doing the job.”

The council has until February 3 to submit its response to the Airports Commission’s consultation.

Both councillors and officers raised concerns about the accuracy of some of the information in the consultation documents.

Among the concerns were the figures being used to represent the town’s unemployment rate, which the meeting was told were wrong; the accuracy of the impact of expansion on the local area; and incorrect assumptions about housing growth.

A report put before the meeting also highlighted “questionable” conclusions about housing density and the “unrealistic assumption” housing growth would be spread equally over the 14 authorities surrounding the airport.

Cllr Karen Sudan (Lab, West Green) said there were “some glaring contradictions” in the consultation documents.

Cllr Bill Ward (Lab, West Green), chairing the meeting, said: “If we look at all the social and economic issues across the town, the AC work does not add up. It’s almost unbelievable that you have had a consultation that’s been sitting for so long and most of their data is hogwash.”

While no councillor was called on to officially say whether they supported expansion, Cllr Ward made his concerns and feelings clear.

He said: “Crawley will be just a reserve army of labour for the airport. It will become a suburb of Gatwick.”

The views of the OSC will be shared at a meeting of the Cabinet on Wednesday (January 14) before a full debate is held at a Special Council Meeting on Monday January 26.

Both meetings will be held at the town hall and will start at 7.30pm. Members of the public are welcome to attend.