by derekdeedman on 26 April, 2015
By Morwen Millson, Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for the Horsham Constituency
Airport capacity is difficult, but extremely important, due to the obvious effects on the environment and the people who live close to airports and flight paths, as well as the implications for the economy. I would like to think that the Government could come up with a sensible plan to deal with it. The Coalition Government agreed in its early days there would be no expansion at either Gatwick or Heathrow and that was something I was happy to applaud.
Like many people, I had thought that, by now, industry and business would have come up with ways to avoid the need for air travel, in the same way that I thought that IT would have allowed far more home-based work. However, these things don’t seem to have happened, though clearly there is massive change in the way that some businesses work, given the number of offices now being converted into flats in Horsham and elsewhere.
However, it seems that flying around the world is still very much part of the modern international business model. The Government changed its corporate mind, or David Cameron woke up to what the Conservatives had signed up to! Anyway, a change of Sec of State for Transport led to the setting up of the Davies Commission to look again at airport capacity in the South East, and the initial findings were that additional capacity was needed either at Gatwick or Heathrow.
I support the current Lib Dem that additional capacity in the South East is not needed at this time. My problem is if there is growth at Heathrow, and none at Gatwick. That is the point at which the current situation for businesses in West Sussex starts to get worse, if flights are a necessary part of their business.
The economy of West Sussex is not as robust as those of Surrey and Hampshire. Many jobs are in the service sector, and many of those in the Crawley area are at the airport. Those jobs (in baggage handling, check in etc) are reducing in numbers, as people take less luggage with them and check in on-line at home. Hence this sector is shrinking, in spite of the additional flights leaving the airport.
West Sussex needs more high quality employers within our communities, in order to underpin our economy. These are the jobs that tend to need access to airports. The research done by West Sussex and the Local Enterprise Partnership suggests that the county will struggle to attract these types of companies if there is airport expansion at Heathrow – as they will choose to locate close to an expanded Heathrow – and that if they need to re-locate for other reasons eg expansion, some existing high quality companies may migrate to the west of London.
The other side of that coin is the absolutely massive cost of the Heathrow option, including the costs of changes to the M25. Some 320,000 additional people will be affected by noise, and the air quality, already poor because of traffic and industry will be worsened.
This is why I supported the Gatwick option during the two county council debates on Airport capacity, not because I support expansion, but that if expansion has to take place anywhere, I think it would be better at Gatwick than Heathrow.
I support the Liberal Democrats’ policy on runway capacity in the south east and would vote accordingly if there were a vote in Parliament. If it came to a vote between two options, which is unlikely, I would, however, choose Gatwick, as the lesser evil.
Wherever runway capacity is increased, there will be a need to fight for the best possible deal for residents, to keep noise disturbance and air pollution to the lowest practicable levels and to mitigate the effects as far as possible. In addition, Government and local councils, as well as local businesses, including the airports, will need to work creatively together to address the infrastructure issues. We must not think that if expansion occurs at Heathrow, there will be no effect on Gatwick.Leave a comment