Sir Keir Starmer visits Sussex: Verdict on Gatwick Airport second runway; housing crisis; NHS waiting times and future of A27

Sir Keir Starmer visited a factory in Sussex this week – during which he spoke to the media about some of the key areas of concern in the county.

The Labour leader paid a visit to Siemens’ Three Bridges Traincare Facility in Crawley to find out about the company’s tailored health support to keep employees in work.

Joined at the factory by shadow secretary of state for work and pensions Liz Kendall, Sir Keir met with workers to discuss Labour’s plans to help Britain's 2.8 million long-term sick get back to work.

Labour said the number of people off work due to long-term sickness reached a record high on recent data. Millions of people are left languishing due to the unprecedented NHS backlog, a failing mental health service and failing employment support tied up in red tape ridden job centres.

The party said its measures to ‘tackle the NHS backlog’ would include scrapping the non-dom tax 'loophole' to fund two million more operations, scans, and appointments a year and double the number of NHS scanners ‘to diagnose patients earlier’.

They would also ‘remove box ticking and reform job centres’ to ‘support people who could work’.

During his visit, Sir Keir discussed a number of issues in Sussex – including the A27, NHS wait times, homelessness and plans for a second runway at Gatwick Airport.


Sir Keir said he would have a ‘proper plan for roads and infrastructure’ – none more so than the A27.

"I’ve driven on that road,” he said. “People are fed up with a government that chops and changes all the time.

“We would bring a proper strategy and make sure what we say will happen, gets done and on time. That will be a massive relief to everyone who knows this problem all too well.”

This comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Sussex World last month that congestion along the A27 between Adur and Chichester is something that is ‘consistently raised in Parliament as being an issue’.

NHS wait times

Hospital and GP wait times also came up in conversation. TV presenter Piers Morgan told Rishi Sunak that his mother experienced a ‘scene out of a war zone' when she was taken to the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton in recent months.

Sir Keir deferred the question – over what the Labour government would do to ease the problem – to Liz Kendall, Labour MP for Leicester West.

She said: “We will create two million more hospital and other appointments, paid for by scrapping non-dom tax status.

"I do know the problem with getting GP appointments. I hear this regularly from my parents what a struggle it is to get through the 8am wait.

"That’s not right for people desperate to get their health problem sorted. It builds up problems in the long-run and costs the tax payer more.

"Our big plan is to shift the focus of healthcare out of hospitals into the community and more towards prevention.”

Homelessness / housing crisis

Councils across Sussex have face the threat of bankruptcy, in light of the rising cost of preventing homelessness among other factors.

Local homelessness charity Turning Tides recently announced it had seen a 100 per cent rise in homelessness in West Sussex.

In response, Sir Keir said: “I do think in Brighton, in particular, before we took over the council they didn’t put the support in place to deal with this.

“Luckily, we are now in a position to now turn this around. And that means providing not just a roof but also the support that people need.

“Particularly getting people back into work. We’re here talking about getting people back to work and how we support them back into work with the right skills, healthcare and jobs brought together in one place.

“We have to turn our economy around, we have to make sure we end this cost of living crisis that we’ve got under this government and begin to turn things around for the country.

“And that will help councils in dealing with a very real and desperate situation.”

The Labour leader was asked if we would give the councils more money.

He replied: “There are things we could do to help councils like longer term settlements. Can make a material difference to money that is available to them.

"First of all, we can make the money they have got more efficient. We want to turbocharge our economy.”

Plans for a second runway at Gatwick Airport

The operator wants to double capacity and create the equivalent of a second Heathrow Airport in the south east by creating a fully functioning two-runway airport capable of handling 75 million passengers a year and space for an extra 100,000 flights.

The bid is due to be examined by planning inspectors during a six-month hearing, expected to conclude in June 2024.

Environmental campaigners are lobbying against the proposals, as they fear it will have a negative impact on communities in terms or carbon emissions and noise with the increased amount of flights and passenger footfall.

"Having grown up around these parts, I know just what a major hub Gatwick is for passengers going in and out of the country,” Sir Keir said.

"For all of the local communities around here, it’s a massive source of work. It’s very important and we must never lose sight of that.

"We will have to take decisions in government about what we do about airport expansion and what the competing arguments are.”

Asked specifically if he would support a second runway, the Labour leader said: “We will look at the situation and inherit as we go into the election. I’m a big supporter of Gatwick.”

Labour has ‘got to work to earn trust’ of Sussex voters

Sir Keir was asked if he felt confident about the party’s chances in Sussex at the next general election. Key seats include Crawley, Worthing West, East Worthing, Shoreham-by-Sea and Hastings.

"Liz Kendall and I know Sussex very well,” he said. “We both have relatives living here and I grew up in Surrey.

"This is very much my patch. It really matters and I do want to win votes in Crawley and in the South East, in Sussex.

"Most people in Sussex would say things need to change.

“I would directly appeal to those who didn’t vote for Labour last time, perhaps never voted for Labour – there are many Conservative voters in Sussex of course.

“If you want change then the Labour party has changed and we have a plan to change the country.”

Liz Kendall added: “We have changed. We want your vote, we want your support.

“We know we’ve got to work to earn your trust. But we have got a plan to help with cost of living, to rebuild public services, to grow economy and be a decent hard-working government that shares your values. I know from my family the situation people face here.

“We’re out to fight for every vote.”