CPRE Sussex Director’s column written for West Sussex Gazette, July 2023
A threat is looming over the skies of Sussex as Gatwick Airport bids for a second runway. The airport is applying for a Development Consent Order to bring its ‘emergency’ runway into regular use. This would lead to thousands of extra flights a year at great cost to the Sussex countryside and the health and wellbeing of its residents.
At CPRE Sussex, we believe the plans are totally incompatible with efforts to tackle the biggest single threat to our countryside – the growing climate crisis. Just weeks ago, the Government’s own Climate Change Committee said there should be no net airport expansion in the UK.
The current Jet Zero ‘plan’ to reduce aviation’s carbon-intensity amounts largely to crossing our fingers about technologies that do not yet exist or have not been demonstrated at scale. With Sussex and the wider world already experiencing the devastating effects of heatwaves, drought, flooding and biodiversity loss, we cannot afford to make things worse.
Expanding Gatwick Airport will make achieving net zero targets almost impossible. Much of the economic cost of this failure will fall on the taxpayer and society at large. Analysis in 2022 estimated the cost of cleaning up carbon emissions from Gatwick expansion will be £9.1bn, of which only seven per cent will be paid for by the aviation industry.
There will also be significant health and wellbeing costs. Noise pollution around Gatwick Airport is already above levels recommended by the World Health Organization, with a significant impact on residents’ physical and mental health. Light pollution threatens our native wildlife species.
Levels of air pollution close to Gatwick are ‘similar to those measured close to a highly trafficked road in central London’. High levels of air pollution can lead to a range of diseases, including cancers and respiratory infections, and decrease plant diversity. Aside from the impact of flights themselves, airport expansion leads to increased traffic and congestion, further damaging air quality.
The way the application process has been conducted – with limited meaningful consultation and thousands of pages of documents only released to the public late in the day – has been a travesty of democracy. Gatwick wants to rush its plans though a Development Consent Order Planning Inquiry with the final decision made by a government minister, not local representatives. But such a major planning decision requires major public scrutiny.
Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper will make a decision on the application following a planning inquiry. CPRE Sussex has launched a petition urging him to reject the bid. We are also working with campaign groups, including CAGNE, and will be making a formal submission to the inquiry.
We are urging anyone who wants to protect Sussex – and the wider world – from the misery of climate change to sign the petition at: cpresussex.org.uk/news/petition-gatwick
You can also urge your local MP to support an Early Day Motion tabled which calls on the Secretary of State for Transport to reject the bid: edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/61190