County leader welcomes second runway plan for Gatwick

Gatwick Airport
Gatwick Airport

The principle of creating a second runway at Gatwick Airport was today (Friday) welcomed by West Sussex County Council’s leader Louise Goldsmith in a special interview with the editor-in-chief of this newspaper group, Gary Shipton.

The principle of creating a second runway at Gatwick Airport was today (Friday) welcomed by West Sussex County Council’s leader Louise Goldsmith in a special interview with the editor-in-chief of this newspaper group, Gary Shipton.

Nearly 35 years after the local authority signed a legal agreement restricting the airport to just one runway, Mrs Goldsmith has made clear her and her council’s support for full airport expansion following a major debate in the council chamber this morning.

She said the county could not be preserved in aspic – if it was to continue to provide quality jobs for its young people as well as take seriously its responsibilities to an ageing population, it had to make economic growth a priority.

But that did not mean abandoning the environment. Quite the reverse. “I have always considered myself to be an environmentalist, and protecting everything that makes West Sussex a unique place of beauty in which to live, work, and visit, remains enormously important,” she said.

“By making our position clear now in a positive way we have the best opportunity of ensuring that we mitigate environmental concerns as much as we possibly can,” she said.

This would be achieved by setting up one if not more special consultative Boards with partners to investigate and tackle key concerns.

She was also committed to ensuring that airport expansion brought with it the right type of infrastructure for the county – maximizing West Sussex’s ability to do business and remain a great place to live by improving roads and facilities.

Her forthright and unequivocal statement came as Gatwick Airport submitted its planning proposals for expansion. A final decision on them will be taken by central Government – and not local authorities – and there is no guarantee that Gatwick will win the argument even with the county council’s support.

But Mrs Goldsmith believes that they are best equipped to influence the outcome if they make clear their position now.

“I think there are several issues for us. Obviously people will want to see what our opinion of a second runway is. In stating our position it is very good to open up the debate because there is a big debate to be had, but it is also about stating our direction of travel. We’ve taken our time to come to this position. We recently commissioned research into residents’ and businesses’ attitudes to airport expansion and we’ve previously commissioned experts to look at the economic and employment impact for West Sussex of having a second runway at Gatwick or expansion elsewhere. We know we have got to go for growth in West Sussex. It’s the right thing. The whole country needs growth and we’ve got to play our part in that.

“Of course, with that growth comes the two elements of infrastructure and the environment; they are equally big and people are going to be impacted and they are going to be worried about that. And one of the best reasons for coming out early is not only to acknowledge and listen to their comments but also to start planning and preparing if this does happen what can we do to mitigate them.

“I think being round the table influencing is probably one of the best ways of getting the very, very best outcome for West Sussex . Loud voices on the outside have very little impact

“If we don’t come to a position and people are campaigning and the expansion goes ahead no-one’s going to listen to us really. Which is why I think it is so, so important to set up several boards to look at what this means and how to minimize the impact. And we can in that position be influencing Government. We need to put markers down about the infrastructure. We can do that far better coming from strength than from opposition.”

“When I saw George Osborne at the CBI dinner in London it was all about growth for England, growth for the UK and that is how we are going to get out of the dire economic situation. We’ve all got a part to play and we do want a vibrant economy here. This is one of the best places in the world to live, we need to make sure we have got that strong economy and it’s really important for ever person to play their part.

“Having an airport expansion is a contentious issue for any local authority so we are probably unique in being supportive of this but I don’t think this is a case of pass the parcel. This is too big for the county and it’s too big for the economy and the country.”

She said there were real potential risks for West Sussex if the expansion did not go ahead. Not only would it put in jeopardy future economic growth – but could diminish current levels of activity as Gatwick became more marginalized by expansion elsewhere.

“It’s a really serious consideration. A declining airport would be a declining economy and that is something we have to take into consideration. But that’s why it’s even more important that we have come out with the position that we have. I would rather be looking at expansion than managing contraction.

“Yes, this county is fantastic. We have got a world class airport, world class car manufacturing with Rolls Royce, we’ve got Ricardo that makes superb engines … businesses say they like to come to West Sussex it’s a beautiful place and we want them here and we want them developing and providing those jobs for our youngsters to enable them to continue to stay here.

“We have got an elderly population too, we need to grow to ensure we have got a balanced West Sussex.

“In 20 years’ time, I don’t want the county to look back on a missed opportunity. By engaging positively in this process at this time we really can secure the best economic outcome for all our residents – while mitigating the worst impacts on our environment,” she said.