Frances Haigh: Huge significance of Gatwick Airport’s future

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My column about Gatwick attracted a lot of interest, particularly from opponents of expansion. As there is only so much I can say on Twitter, I promised to address these issues further in my column.

It is important that we have this debate, because the question of the airport is of huge significance. Many decisions being taken in the next few months, not least about the HDPF Local Plan, will need to take the future of the airport into consideration.

Let’s consider some possible scenarios.

No extra runway, housing as per the HDPF.

The major developments, such as North and West of Horsham will mean a large influx of new residents. There may be some infrastructure at those sites, such as primary schools, but there will be few improvements to our roads, rail, sewage works or hospital. We already have a shortage of GPs, access to East Surrey is poor, the trains are crowded and roads becoming more congested. Most of Horsham District will become a dormitory for more people commuting to London as there is not enough employment locally. All of this will impact on the future of Horsham itself.

No extra runway, housing numbers increased by the Planning Inspector.

This may mean there would also be little improvement to infrastructure. Additional numbers of homes will make the situation worse. Developers will continue to circle around the area, knowing that the market for housing will grow as more people move from London.

How do we deal with this as local politicians? We are being surrounded by new housing developments and this is likely to continue as there is a shortage of homes. UKIP councillor Roger Arthur said last week that we do not need to build as the housing requirement is based on the number of persons per household being low, yet the trend is towards young people staying longer with their parents or sharing with friends and colleagues.

Yes he is right that there are more young people crammed in to homes of multiple-occupation or stuck with their parents. In London family homes are being divided up into small units generating more rent. Even in Horsham we have young people living in converted garages, and soon we will have micro-apartments in Linden House. What is the solution here? How do we make better use of our existing housing stock if we are not to build more homes? What are the consequences if our young people cannot afford a home in which to raise their families?

We already have low numbers of 20-35 year olds in Horsham District; should more of our young people move away? A local care home has had to provide staff accommodation as the staff they need cannot afford to live here. The NHS also has recruitment problems.

Who Pays?

Some people have questioned who pays for the infrastructure that we need and object to this being funded by the taxpayer. I am referring to infrastructure in its widest sense not just transport networks, but also energy and water supplies, schools, hospitals and leisure facilities. If the taxpayer does not pay, then all of these have to be provided by private companies. This introduces a profit element, adding to the cost, and also means that the cost has to be recovered by those companies. More PFI anyone? More toll roads? If a major housing development is built, such as the site proposed by Liberty in North Horsham, the site-specific infrastructure is part of the package that has to be provided by the developer.

This is effectively paid for by the purchasers of the new homes. However, something like dualling the A24 would not be covered, as it is not site-specific, but it does have to absorb additional traffic due to the new developments around Horsham, Southwater and Billingshurst. Who should fund improvements to this road? Some of you may argue that this road should be left as it is, but it will become more congested and the knock-on effect is that villages like Warnham and Rusper will have more through-traffic.

If as taxpayers, we invest in infrastructure, this provides employment at all levels of skill and expertise, providing good quality, well-paid jobs for our young people. The salaries are taxable, so some of it goes straight back to the government. The remainder of the salaries is spent across the economy, supporting other businesses, giving other people a livelihood, returning more tax back to the government from personal tax, VAT, corporation tax, council tax. The materials used generate more employment, and more revenues for government. If we do not invest, we have to support more people who are unemployed or under-employed. Government investment is where we all work together in the best interests of our economy and without it we cannot pay for the NHS or for pensions. So I agree with Michael Brookes (23rd October) that we need to provide decent income for pensioners, but we provide this by building a strong economy that funds those pensions. Infrastructure puts money into the UK, building prosperity and investing in skills; and this is most definitely Lib Dem policy, in our pre-manifesto.

In the second part of this article, I will discuss climate change and transport. What could be done to reduce carbon emissions and how should we travel?

What would you change to make the environment better for our children and grandchildren?

Frances Haigh is leader of the Lib Dem group on Horsham District Council.