Government expansion delay sparks fresh local worries
The debate surrounding a second runway at Gatwick has been thrown wide open as it emerged the government is likely to delay a decision on airport expansion for another six months.
Campaign groups reacted with fury after media reports indicated that an environmental review into the impact of a third runway at Heathrow will delay the final verdict until the summer.
Pressure is now mounting on Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark to set out his position after vocally objecting to any expansion of Gatwick, a choice which is now back on the table.
As a member of Prime Minister David Cameron’s top table in government as communities secretary, Mr Clark will be obliged to support the PM in whichever option is chosen.
If Heathrow fails the environmental review, Gatwick is likely to be chosen for expansion instead.
Critics have suggested the government has delayed the Heathrow decision until after the elections for the London mayor in May 2016.
Mr Clark failed to respond to requests for a comment yesterday but Conservative Wealden MP Nus Ghani said she was ‘stunned’ by reports of the government’s apparent decision to look again into a second runway at Gatwick.
She said: “I’m stunned by reports that the proposal for a second runway at Gatwick Airport is now back on the table.
“The independent Davies Commission, which carried out a thorough examination into the three main expansion proposals, came back with a unanimous recommendation in favour of Heathrow.
“A third runway at Heathrow is by far the best decision for Britain, especially economically. Any delay is regrettable, but I would much rather the correct decision be made eventually than a rushed wrong one be made immediately.”
Sally Pavey, chairman of Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions (CAGNE) described the decision to launch another enquiry as a ‘coward’s way out’.
She said: “We have spent three years participating in the Airports’ Commission independent report.
“The gathering of facts has cost the taxpayer £20 million and yet the government are turning it into a political travesty, something we understood the commission was set up to avoid.
“Gatwick has spent millions lobbying parliament which residents can never compete against.”
Mrs Pavey said Mr Clark would have to think ‘very hard’ about where his priorities lie when it comes to making the final decision on which airport should be expanded.
She added: “He should represent his constituents. He knows how much they are suffering and expanding Gatwick will be doubling their misery.
“For him to vote for it would be a very dangerous political move.”
Other campaigners were fearful the report was certain to rule against a third runway at Heathrow.
Bob Baitup, who helped set up the Tunbridge Wells Anti-Aircraft Noise Group (TWAANG) said: “An environmental report is just going to say no to Heathrow.
“I am absolutely convinced of that. At the end of the day I think Greg Clark will have to do what he is told.”
But the disclosure that Gatwick was still in the running came as ‘no surprise’ to Brendon Sewill, the chairman of Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC).
Mr Sewill said: “There are huge environmental concerns about Heathrow, but building another runway at Gatwick is not the answer, not when places like Stansted and Luton are half empty.”
Describing Mr Clark as a ‘strong voice’ in the cabinet against Gatwick expansion he said: “We do rely on Mr Clark to fight our corner.
“But he would have to make up his mind whether – if Heathrow does not meet the strict environmental conditions set out in the enquiry, but Gatwick does – that is enough for him to not feel the need to resign from cabinet and vote against it.”
A spokesman for Gatwick said they were ‘not able’ to offer a comment at this stage.
The PM said in 2009 that the ‘third runway is not going ahead, no ifs, no buts’ claiming the pledge would only apply to the 2010-15 parliament.
Despite repeated efforts to contact Mr Clark yesterday, he did not respond to our questions. His office said he was in meetings over the northern floods crisis.
What is causing the delay?
Despite the Airports’ Commission ruling in favour of an expansion of Heathrow, the government has decided to launch a new inquiry into the environmental impact of a third runway.
It has intentionally decided not to rule out the prospect of Gatwick being given the green light for expansion instead, reportedly to ensure the airport operators have their feet ‘held to the fire.’
The environmental concerns surrounding further expansion of Heathrow are well known and air quality in the surrounding area is already in breach of EU air-quality rules.
Further concern also surrounds the high volume of traffic, and its subsequent increase in emissions, which would be a result of the third runway.
This could lead to legal challenges and this is why the government believes a further review will be necessary to ensure its case for expanding Heathrow is watertight.
The announcement to officially launch the latest enquiry is expected on Thursday, following a meeting with the economic and domestic cabinet sub-committee.
Gatwick expansion in figures
THE building of a second runway, which would have to be at least 3,000m long, is expected to cost an estimated £9.3 billion.
The Airport Commission said the UK economy would benefit by up to £127 billion through a second runway at Gatwick, as opposed to £211 Billion for Heathrow expansion.
A second runway at Gatwick is also expected to create anywhere between 8,000 and 33,000 new jobs.
A spokesman for Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign said:
“Gatwick with two runways is planned to handle 560,000 air traffic movements a year, compared to 250,000 a year at present. At busy times of day at present aircraft take-off or land at a rate of nearly one a minute. With a new runway it would be nearly two a minute.”
A poll conducted by Greg Clark’s office discovered the majority of his constituents are against any expansion of Gatwick.
The survey of 2175 responses revealed:
- 67 per cent claim to be ‘disturbed’ by the noise of overhead aircraft.
- 56 per cent believe it has increased ‘a lot’ in the past three years, with 29 per cent believing noise has increased ‘a little’.
- 54 per cent are against any further expansion in the south-east.