Crawley, Horsham and Mid Sussex councils all raise concerns over Gatwick’s Northern Runway plans

Three West Sussex councils have raised serious concerns about plans to bring Gatwick Airport’s emergency runway into full-time use.

Crawley Borough Council, Horsham District Council and Mid Sussex District Council also asked questions about the effectiveness and quality of the public consultation into the proposals, which ended on December 1.

Gatwick Airport Ltd (GAL) wants to use the standby runway, known as the Northern Runway, for the departure of small planes, and prepared reams of document detailing the plans.

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When the consultation started, the Crawley council, acting on behalf of nine other councils, including Mid Sussex and Horsham, commissioned York Aviation to review aspects of the documents.

So, naturally, their responses to the consultation were very similar.

While acknowledging the importance of the airport, both nationally and regionally, as an economic and transport hub, the councils stressed the need to balance those benefits against the environmental and social impact such a change would bring.

In a letter to GAL, Clem Smith, Crawley’s head of economy & planning services, said the council had ‘significant concerns’ about the project as detailed in the Preliminary Environmental Information Report.

He said there was a ‘general lack of detail’ as well as ‘major evidence and information gaps’ when it came to justifying the need for the runway to be used full-time.

Mr Smith added that the council felt more work was need from GAL to ‘justify many of the technical assumptions underpinning this project’.

Over in Horsham, Lynn Lambert, cabinet member for planning & development, said the proposals had the potential to ‘negatively impact Horsham District in a number of ways’.

She added: “We have asked that Gatwick Airport look again at their justification for the proposals, improve the evidence base used to inform their application, and improve their consideration of the impacts of any development on Horsham District.

“We are also raising concerns about the effectiveness and quality of the public consultation.”

It was a view shared by Jonathan Ash-Edwards, leader of Mid Sussex District Council.

Mr Ash-Edwards said the council’s ability to effectively respond to the consultation had been ‘compromised’ by a lack of active and constructive engagement from GAL.

In a letter to Tim Norwood, the airport’s chief planning officer, he detailed a string of concerns, not least of which was his belief that data and modelling used to assess air quality was ‘not reliable’, while noise modelling was ‘not sufficiently robust’.

He added: “The lack of clarity over future flight paths makes it impossible to confirm the future noise impacts.”

South East Liberal Democrats have this week called on Gatwick to drop its expansion plans and focus instead on reducing the pollution caused by flying.

Alison Bennett, Liberal Democrat group leader in Mid Sussex, said: “The Liberal Democrats’ national policy is clear: we oppose any expansion of Gatwick. Whilst the Conservatives are struggling to do what is right to tackle the climate emergency and are reeling from the shortfalls of COP26, the Liberal Democrats are the party who are able to take a clear line opposing any expansion at Gatwick.”

Earlier this week Chichester District Council also came out against the plans, highlighting the environmental impact of opening the runway full-time.

A spokesman said: “Helping to tackle climate change is one of the council’s key priorities, and so we have objected against a second runway at Gatwick.

“It’s important that we take account of the considerable environmental impact this would have if it went ahead and so the council is in agreement that this is not something we can support.”

And West Sussex County Council added its voice to those criticising the ‘lack of detail and supporting evidence provided by GAL’.

Gatwick, though, strongly refuted any claims that its information had not been reliable or that it had failed to ‘constructively engage’ with the councils.

A spokesman said: “Since the start of the public consultation in September, in-depth, thorough documentation has been publicly available on our website, including a 164-page document detailing our plans, a virtual exhibition, a summary document and a large number of technical documents.

“We also provided opportunities for anyone to speak directly to Gatwick experts to ask questions and find out more information, held virtual briefings for hundreds of stakeholders, while our mobile project office raised awareness of our consultation across local communities throughout Sussex, Surrey and Kent.

“Furthermore, all relevant local councils were formally consulted on how we proposed to run the consultation, and then proactively contacted directly with details of Gatwick’s proposals and offered dedicated time with the Northern Runway project team to discuss and answer any questions regarding the plans.

“The effectiveness of the consultation is underlined by the large number of responses we have received.”