West Sussex County Council leader Louise Goldsmith has told the Airports Commission the implications of a second runway at Gatwick Airport ‘would be huge’ for the communities close to the airport.
Mrs Goldsmith spoke at yesterday’s commission meeting in Crawley – saying the authority must start planning now for the Government’s decision on a second runway at Gatwick.
She was invited to the event, led by Commission chairman Sir Howard Davies.
She joined residents, politicians, business representatives and community groups who all gave their views for and against the option of a second runway at the airport.
It is the latest part of the consultation on airport expansion in the South East. Sir Howard is considering the three shortlisted options: two for Heathrow and the one at Gatwick - to build a second runway to the south of the existing one.
The leader told the meeting that West Sussex County Council must start planning now for whatever decision is made to ensure the county is in the very best position to reap the benefits from a decision for Gatwick or Heathrow.
She also acknowledged the impact that expansion at Heathrow could have in the county.
In her speech, Mrs Goldsmith said: “If the government recommends expansion at Gatwick, the ramifications for West Sussex and the communities close to the airport would be huge.
“I am firmly of the view that we have to start planning now for whatever decision is made.
“If there is to be a second runway at Gatwick Airport then we need to consider how best to mitigate the effects on local communities and the environment whilst considering how best to provide the infrastructure and services that are needed for more jobs, new business opportunities, homes, as well as the increase in traffic and transport.
“If the Government opts for expansion at Heathrow Airport this would also be considerable news for the county. Whichever way the decision goes we do need as much time as possible, to plan and work with a range of key partners, to lobby, inform and prepare.
“That is why I think it is vital for the good of the residents of West Sussex and the county’s economic and environmental needs that we start now and do not wait for a decision.”
She told the meeting that the council was already holding discussions with district and borough councils and that the county council was carefully considering the consultation information put out by the Airports Commission before making an official response.
A special West Sussex County Council meeting has been arranged for Monday January 19, where there will be a debate on the issue of a second runway at Gatwick.
Mrs Goldsmith said: “I have had lots of letters from people questioning the decision to ask the council to support in principle the idea of an expanded Gatwick Airport including a second runway.
“I fully understand and accept people’s anxiety about what a second runway in the county might mean in terms of increased flights, housing, jobs, services and the environment.
“The action we took was to trigger that very debate – to recognise that a big decision was going to be made – not one in our control but one we were able to influence.
“Support in principle” means showing a keen interest in the future of the county, its economy and employment. It does not mean blanket support regardless of the wider effects.
“Taking the decision to support Gatwick Airport Limited in principle in its attempts to bring a second runway to the airport has allowed us to really hold Gatwick to account as a critical friend on the issues that matter to our residents and people care about.
“We’ve had some really challenging conversations about residents’ concerns over the noise, particularly this summer and the need for significant investment in business, transport and community infrastructure should the runway be given the green light. Those are the very issues we raised as conditions needing to be addressed when we gave support in principle.
“Second runway or not, we have to plan for the future of the whole county. We have to do what we can now to ensure there are sufficient jobs across the county for children being born now and their children thereafter.
“For me, that is the county council’s main role. In looking at Gatwick Airport and planning for a second runway or not, we have to consider the implications for not only the immediate Gatwick area and the areas affected by the flight paths, but the repercussions for the whole county, from Crawley to the coast.”
The Council’s draft response to the Airports’ Commission consultation will be debated by the authority’s Environmental and Community Services Select Committee on Wednesday January 14 before being debated on Monday January 19 at the full council meeting.
The Airports Commission is expected give the Government its recommendation on airport expansion in summer next year. It will be for the Government to decide if it goes ahead with it.