Crawley councillors’ surprise as opposition to airport expansion is jettisoned

A second runway at Gatwick Airport would greatly change the lives of people in the county with Crawley ‘most hit’, according to some of the town’s county councillors.

During a West Sussex County Council (WSCC) meeting where a motion to support ‘in principle’ a second runway at Gatwick was debated, several Labour county councillors expressed surprise that the authority’s opposition to expansion at the airport had ‘evaporated’.

The county council was aiming to establish its position the same week that the airport published plans it submitted to the Airports Commission.

Historically the council has stood by a legal agreement signed in 1979 not to build a second runway before 2019.

Proposing deferral Cllr Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate & Crawley Central) expressed his surprise that in a space of a week a long held policy of the council to oppose a second runway was to be jettisoned.

Cllr Jones said: “This will fundamentally change the lives of people in this county forever, and the people of Crawley will be most hit.”

However, his motion was defeated, with the original motion carried by 42 votes to 10 with 12 abstentions.

Cllr Louise Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West), leader of WSCC, said: “The world grows increasingly competitive and West Sussex County Council must rise to the economic challenge or be left behind.

“We need to give businesses a reason to come here. A world class airport does that.”

Cllr Goldsmith and Cllr Pieter Montyn (Con, The Witterings), cabinet member for highways and transport, who proposed the motion, told the audience their support was ‘in principle’ and they would do their best to negotiate measures for infrastructure improvements as plans progressed.

They made it clear they would be holding to the legal agreement not to build a second runway before 2019.

Cllr Brenda Smith (Lab, Langley Green & West Green) said she believed the motion was pre-emptive and unnecessary and felt members were being rushed into taking a position.

She explained: “Consultation has not been sufficient and thorough enough of the residents of Crawley and the county. They are the people who will suffer.”

Cllr Sue Mullins (Lab, Gossops Green & Ifield East) told members a second runway would put an increasing strain on Crawley’s housing situation and its infrastructure.

She added: “We can’t even find land for a new cemetery in Crawley. Our young people can’t buy or rent in Crawley. Our young people are leaving Crawley in their droves.

She continued: “The impact on our roads in Crawley will be horrendous.”

Cllr Peter Lamb (Lab, Northgate & Three Bridges) agreed. He added: “We need 500 new houses built in the town just to keep pace with the population. We have space for less than half of that.”

Cllr Bob Lanzer (Con, Maidenbower), also leader of Crawley Borough Council, said that while he had stated his opposition to a second runway on previous occasions, he was pleased to see the county council’s willingness to engage with the airport and its plans.