Gatwick Northern Runway - West Sussex councillors urged to ‘get off the fence’

Some West Sussex councillors have appealed to colleagues to ‘get off the fence’ and stop ‘sitting on their hands’ when it comes to the possibility of expansion at Gatwick Airport.

During a meeting of the full council, members debated a notice of motion calling for ‘evidence and assurance’ from the airport about how it would lessen the impact of opening its emergency runway for full-time use.

While Garry Wall (Con, Lindfield & High Weald), who tabled the motion, said the council needed more information before it could take a firm position, others strongly disagreed.

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A plane at Gatwick Airport

Kirsty Lord (Lib Dem, Hassocks & Burgess Hill South) called on the council to be as ‘bold’ as Crawley and Horsham councils, which have both come out against expansion.

She asked: “Are you really that scared of standing up now and letting residents know what you are thinking about Gatwick expansion?”

An amendment submitted by Ms Lord calling on the council to oppose the Northern Runway was not accepted for debate as it was ruled to be a new proposition, rather than an amendment to the motion.

She said: “We have a climate change strategy we’re committed to and it isn’t compatible with anything other than opposing Gatwick expansion.

“If we don’t come out clearly against this expansion, then the climate change strategy may be seen as little more than green-washing.”

Mr Wall said the motion was about giving the council flexibility to take a stance once it had learned more.

He added: “We are still at the beginning of a long planning process. More information and a better understanding of all aspects of theses proposals are needed before we establish our position.

“And this notice puts [Gatwick] and all our stakeholders on notice that we take our involvement seriously and will be firm and diligent on behalf of our residents.”

The consultation into using the emergency runway ends on December 1 and council officers have a lot of documents to trawl through before then.

Steve Waight (Con, Goring) said: “This is the first bite of what will be a very big cherry. This is not our only opportunity to state our position.

“There’s an awful lot of technical information – almost 2,000 pages – that our officers have.

“And they simply haven’t had time to go through it all and say what they think is sound and what they have concerns over.”

Mr Waight added that the council would be in a ‘much stronger position’ if it based its position on fact ‘rather than simply on what our pre-conceived views are’.

Gatwick was recognised as a carbon neutral airport in 2017.

The consultation documents include a commitment that airports and the government were working to deliver a number of green initiatives such as sustainable aviation fuel and the development of electric, hydrogen, or hybrid aircraft.

Dr James Walsh (Lib Dem, Littlehampton East) said these ideas were all ‘aspirational, embryonic and decades away from potential realisation’.

He added: “This is no time for councillors to sit on our hands and take a ‘business as usual’ approach or not to actively oppose this.

“The time to stand up is now – to demonstrate to our residents that we actually mean what we say with the climate emergency and are not prepared to vacillate and not to take a position on it.

“Let’s put down that marker now.”

While many councillors were not happy with the Northern Runway proposals, saying they were illogical, came with very little hard evidence and were little more than bringing in a second runway by the back door, Mr Wall’s motion was carried.

The final word went to leader Paul Marshall.

Mr Marshall said the council had expressed its frustration and concern to Gatwick about the ‘lack of evidence’ in the consultation documents and the length of time given for consultation.

He added: “It’s not enough to say ‘no’ now because that will have no substance.

“We are incumbent to provide an articulated, considered [response[ so, should the Secretary of State be mindful to grant this, then we’ve clearly got a whole number of concerns that we would want to be seen to be addressed.”