A new runway at Gatwick?

By Belinda Maude

In September 2012, the Government began reviewing how to increase the airport capacity in the South East of England.

It has been forecasted that by 2030 London airports will reach capacity and it is believed that Gatwick Airport may be full before that.

Proposals have been submitted to the Airport Commission for providing additional runway capacity in the longer term.

The Airport Commission is an independent body set up by the government to investigate London and the UK’s future airport capacity needs.

Gatwick already provides a service to around 35 million passengers per year but their recent proposal could double their annual capacity.

London Gatwick has put together a detailed application proposing three potential runways to solve the forecasted congestion issue.

The Wide-Spaced Runway at a proposed separation of 1,035 metres would allow aircrafts to land and take-off simultaneously increasing London Gatwick’s capacity to 87 million passengers.

However the consequences of this proposal are severe in terms of environmental and aeronautical issues.

Noise would become a serious issue as many of the residents in Crawley would fall within the 57 Leq contour which is defined as being a community annoyance.

This would increase the number of residents affected by aircraft noise from 10,000 to 47,800 which isn’t consistent with the Aviation White Paper Policy.

The medium spaced runway at just under 1000 metres would allow for one runway to be used for take offs and the other used for landing increasing Gatwick’s capacity to 82 million.

Environmental issues surrounding the medium spaced runway aren’t dissimilar to those of the wide-spaced just on a slightly smaller scale and it is therefore a less damaging option.

Lastly, Gatwick has proposed a close parallel runway spaced at only 700 metres which would not allow simultaneous usage of the two runways and would increase capacity to 66 million passengers.

The environmental damage caused by this option is by no means small however it would cause significantly less impact than the other two options.

If this proposal went ahead, only 21,300 would be affected by noise but additional land would still be needed to build new developments.

Ron Crank, Chief Executive of Coast to Capital a Local Enterprise Company commented: “We are supportive of the extra capacity at Gatwick on the understanding that the environmental issues have been addressed.

“A lot of work has been done to remedy the issues; if they continue to progress there will no longer be any problem.”

Management at Gatwick Airport believes that Gatwick is the deliverable option due to a variety of reasons.

Firstly, the proposed runway cost is supposedly significantly lower than the other major options; a new runway at Gatwick is proposed to cost £5-9 billion which compares with £18 billion for Heathrow.

Secondly, adding a second runway at Gatwick would give more resilience to London.

Heathrow is completely full at the moment which means during any type of disruption, there is no slack in the system.

Thirdly, the economic benefits of the aviation market would potentially be better shared and dispersed around London and the South East.

If Heathrow was expanded it would remain concentrated in one place.

The GAL submission suggests that building a new runway would create 18,000 new jobs with the other two runways creating slightly less.

Heather Griffiths, a representative for Gatwick Airport, claims: “the investment benefits alone would be worth around £56bn up to 2050. Clearly a significant amount of this would benefit the local area directly.”

They believe that with the new capacity Gatwick would become larger than Heathrow making it worthwhile for job seekers in the area.

The GAL proposal explained that this would cause a catalytic effect by attracting new firms to the area.

Kent County Council said: “[We] fully support growth in UK aviation in order to improve the UK’s connectivity and competitiveness thus supporting economic growth and job creation.”

However, the West Sussex County Council commissioned a study and discovered that ‘the catalytic impact of 2 runways would be dramatic and could more than match the number of direct, indirect and induced jobs.’

Similarly, they found that the number of new jobs would far exceed the available labour in the area meaning that large-scale migration would have to occur.

This would subsequently put strain on housing, health and other social services.

Another of the major environmental issues that surround the proposal of a second runway at Gatwick involves the direct disintegration of the land in the surrounding area.

Heather Griffiths, a representative for Gatwick Airport, commented: “Clearly any new runway build needs to balance the benefits with the impacts – particularly in terms of noise and air quality. We take this very seriously.”

Not only would damage occur due to the construction of the runway itself but new roads and houses would be essential to accommodate the influx of migrant labour.

This would be detrimental to the wildlife and landscape and also to the listed buildings that are located near the site.

Many have been protesting against the proposed expansion due to a strong feeling of protection of the beautiful region.

David Bangs, a local environmentalist, writes: “Its springtime woodland herbs, Bluebell, Anemone, Soft Shield Fern and Yellow Archangel, which decorate the pencil lines of copse and woody shaw, point back to the deeper wildwood past…

“‘On watch’ is what we all must be to prevent the destruction of this lovely place.”

It has been revealed that aviation is a major source of greenhouse gases and with the reduction target at 80% it seems unlikely that these objectives will be met.

According to Tony Whitbread the expansion of Gatwick has focussed too closely on the business development in the South East and has ignored the environmental limits.

He claims that “continuing business as usual while ignoring environmental limits, becomes damaging to business development and the economy in the not too distant long term.

“The South East has the opportunity to excel in ways that support the environment and the expansion will make this impossible in the future.

“A campaign for an expanded Gatwick Airport is to head in the wrong direction and promote an economy that is not fit for purpose.”

Ms. Griffiths claims: “all of the [environmental] points need to be seriously considered by the Airports Commission and we have stressed this in our submissions.”

Another major issue arising from the proposed runway at Gatwick is the widespread blight that may occur.

The Property Market Support Bond, put in place by BAA, the former owners of Gatwick meant the airport would by houses close to any new runway at a pre-blight price.

Brendon Sewill, chairman of GACC, said:  ‘People will be unable to sell their houses except at a substantial loss.

“Working men and women will find themselves unable to move to take up a new job; retired couples will find their hopes dashed of moving to a smaller house in another area.

“Anxiety will be caused to thousands of people and some may be driven to desperation.”

Initially the Property Market Support Bond only covered 280 houses when the GACC believes that the blight could affect over 10,000.

Concerns such as these are causing locals to protest the new runway proposal due to the effect it may have on the environment and their personal lives.

Many are claiming that the GAL submission hasn’t taken these problems into consideration when producing their proposal.

However Ms. Griffiths said: “if a second runway was recommended, we would of course review these [blight] schemes to take the impact of expansion into account.”

All the proposals submitted will be considered and a decision won’t be made until 2015 which means there is time to iron out any apprehensions.

Ms. Griffiths said: “It’s also key to consider what would happen if a new runway went elsewhere and all of the opportunity if would bring locally and to local businesses went to a different area.

“Gatwick would of course remain but the future would look very different.”

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