Sir Keir Starmer’s Crawley visit: ‘we want Gatwick to be thriving in the future’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he wants to see Gatwick Airport thriving in the future.

The opposition leader called on the Government to ‘deliver on its promise’ to provide a support package for the aviation industry during a visit to Crawley on March 11.

Sir Keir said: “We want a viable aviation sector. We want Gatwick to be thriving in the future.

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“We do need to have a package in place to ensure that aviation doesn’t drop off.

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, visited Crawley yesterday. He is pictured with council leader Peter Lamb. Photo: Labour Party

“So many jobs across the south east depend on Gatwick – the Government needs to deliver on its promise.”

The Member of Parliament for Holborn and St Pancras said he was struck by the sight of just two or three vehicles in an airport car park which was packed before coronavirus laid waste to international travel.

Traffic at Gatwick Airport declined by 78 per cent in 2020 and a large percentage of the Crawley workforce is either furloughed or claiming benefits.

BBC Radio Sussex, BBC Radio Surrey and this newspaper have joined forces to launch #CrawleyTogether as we shine a spotlight on the issues faced by people in the area.

And the former director of public prosecutions has praised people in the town for pulling together during tough times.

He said: “I have been really struck by how Crawley has stood together. Seeing different people looking after each other, supporting each other. Groups of people down at the [Crawley] hospital from different walks of life volunteering, coming together.

“That captures the very, very best of Crawley. It demonstrates what it is to be human in a pandemic and all credit to them.”

A Gatwick Airport spokesman said: “We know that Gatwick is the biggest driver for the local economy and jobs and, with that responsibility, we are keen to do all we can to ensure there is a swift local economic upturn as we rebuild our passenger numbers.

“While we welcome the extension of the furlough scheme to protect jobs, until passenger numbers hopefully start to increase in the months ahead, we are disappointed about the inadequate level of business rates relief provided, particularly given the significant bill that Gatwick is required to pay.

“New travel restrictions have had a dramatic economic impact on the airport and brought international travel through the airport to a virtual standstill, so we would like the £4 million cap on business rates relief increased significantly to help us maintain a critical piece of infrastructure that the economy relies so heavily on.”

A Government spokesman said: “The Government has put in place one of the most comprehensive packages of business support in the world, and we are continuing to explore how best to support all sectors across the economy, including the travel industry.

“The Budget set out the next phase of support available for businesses – including the extension of Government-backed loans and furlough payments, which build on around £7bn of support already pledged for the aviation sector since the start of the pandemic.”