Campaigners warn against assuming that ‘battle is won’
Protest groups yesterday gave a cautious welcome to the news that Heathrow has been named over Gatwick as the most suitable site for the next runway. They also urged people not to be ‘complacent’.
The government ended 14 years of controversy and arguments when it named the West London airport as its preferred option yesterday [October 25].
Campaigners had argued that another runway at Gatwick would ‘double’ the number of aircraft over Tunbridge Wells and establish ‘a major motorway above our heads’.
But despite what can be seen as a victory for the numerous grassroots campaigns that have sprung up to oppose expansion at the West Sussex airport, those leading the groups remain wary about future developments.
They argue the current issues with noise from Gatwick-bound aircraft has yet to be resolved, and the Government’s decision to let Parliament debate the runway issue means it is not completely off the table.
Irene Fairbairn, Chairman of the Tunbridge Wells Anti Airport Noise Group (TWAANG), said: “We are of course relieved that the Gatwick option has been rejected.
“However, the announcement is merely the start of what promises to be a long, acrimonious and legal minefield before a new runway is operational at Heathrow.
“We cannot afford to be complacent, or to assume that the battle is won.
“TWAANG continues to make the case to Gatwick that its current flight paths at all times of the day and night are unacceptable. We will be looking to Government to force similar environmental restrictions on Gatwick as will be applied to Heathrow. Kent and Sussex residents are not second-class citizens.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Sally Pavey, head of the Wealden-based Communities Against Gatwick Noise Emissions (CAGNE) group, who said the issues surrounding the airport ‘won’t go away’.
“The year or so debate, and eventual MP vote, leaves the door open for Gatwick to continue lobbying. We are concerned that, as a ‘cop-out’, some expansion will be allowed at Gatwick, which would be totally unacceptable.
“It would be fundamentally wrong to support an airport that specialises in exporting UK citizens overseas on low-cost holidays, which brings the least into the UK economy… Gatwick is quite simply the wrong side of London to benefit all of the UK, to grow cargo movements in and out of this country, or to allow the UK to be seen as open for business post Brexit.”
Martin Barraud of Gatwick Obviously Not, said while his Penshurst-centred group were ‘relieved’, they were still sympathetic with those who would now be ‘blighted’ by noise around Heathrow.
“This is a very sad day for the south east,” he added.
A spokesman for Gatwick expressed ‘disappointment’ at the government’s decision.
“We do not believe this is the right answer for Britain. Gatwick has put forward a credible financeable and deliverable plan for expansion.
“It is a plan that can guarantee growth and guarantee certainty for Britain. We look forward to studying the full reasons behind the government decision in detail.
“The challenges facing Heathrow have not changed. Our message today is that Gatwick stands ready to proceed when the time comes.”
Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark:
“I’m very pleased that the decision has now been made and the Government has made its preference for the expansion of Heathrow clear.
“It was a privilege to be a member [as Business Minister] of the Cabinet sub-Committee which made this decision, and we considered all the evidence, including the Davies Commission report, very closely.
“A third runway at Heathrow will help us ensure we have the modern infrastructure we need so that the UK remains a major player in global trade and industry, and air passengers will benefit from an ever greater range of flights and destinations.
“As the Secretary of State for Transport has said, there will be a vote in the Commons next year following a period of statutory consultation, which I hope will confirm the Government’s desire for expansion at Heathrow.”
Tonbridge & Malling MP Tom Tugendhat:
“I am pleased that the Government has recognised that Gatwick Airport is not a suitable location for airport expansion. The Airports Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, made very clear in July 2015 that better options were elsewhere.
“When I met with the Prime Minister as she launched her bid for the job, I asked her for confirmation that she would follow an evidenced-led approach when taking this decision.
“As expected, she has been as good as her word and has taken the right approach that will provide welcome relief to communities around Tonbridge, Edenbridge and surrounding villages.”
Wealden MP Nus Ghani:
“This is absolutely the right decision made in the national interest. It shows that Britain is open for business and ambitious about the future.
“I am pleased that the pressure I have put on Government, together with my colleagues on the Gatwick Coordination Group of local MPs, has resulted in the right decision.
“The decision had to be one for the whole country. Evidence has also shown that Heathrow unlocks nearly £60bn of growth, while Gatwick only offers £4bn.
“It is also a relief for us here in Sussex that Gatwick has not been given the go-ahead. From the perspective of local residents, the additional noise disruption would have been appalling, and it would not have been balanced out by economic benefits.
“It is now time for the owners of Gatwick to abandon their plans for a new runway and concentrate on becoming a better neighbour of the local residents they currently have such a strained relationship with.”