A run­way too far?

As Gatwick Air­port un­der­takes a con­sul­ta­tion ex­er­cise to turn its emer­gency strip into a long-awaited sec­ond run­way, we speak to the Sus­sex res­i­dents lead­ing the cam­paign against ex­pan­sion

Sussex Life - - Front Page -

Sally Pavey’s qual­ity of life took a plunge five years ago when the roar of soar­ing jets above her home an­nounced the ar­rival of a new flight path from Gatwick Air­port. A mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant, Sally lives with her hus­band, two chil­dren, dogs and hens in a con­verted farm­house near Hor­sham in a vil­lage that is full of English ru­ral charm, on the ground at least.

To­day, though, she says the vil­lage is blighted by air­craft noise. “It’s hor­ren­dous, even with dou­ble glaz­ing and thick cur­tains. We live in what should be a tran­quil area but the noise from air­craft makes you an­gry be­cause it’s 24/seven and you can’t do any­thing to stop it.”

Gatwick has per­mis­sion to op­er­ate limited flights through­out the night – which might sound dis­turb­ing enough – but the worst time for Sally is early in the morn­ing. When 6am comes, it is no longer de­fined as night-time and Gatwick packs in as many flights as it can.

“It’s a big, noisy start, although Cathay Pa­cific comes in be­fore that at 5am. It’s the same in the run-up to 11.30pm – there’s a surge of ac­tiv­ity be­fore the of­fi­cial start of night-time cuts move­ments down.”

And now Sally – who is also chair of Com­mu­ni­ties Against Gatwick Noise Emis­sion (CAGNE) – fears things could get worse. In Oc­to­ber Gatwick Air­port set out its vi­sion for the years ahead and it is one based on ex­pan­sion. In par­tic­u­lar, the air­port is cur­rently car­ry­ing out a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion on the idea of turn­ing its lit­tleused emer­gency run­way into a full-time work­ing one by the mid-2020s. It is a plan that has at­tracted anger from lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, not least be­cause when plan­ning per­mis­sion was granted for the emer­gency run­way, a le­gal agree­ment limited its use to more or less just that. But that con­di­tion is set to ex­pire in 2019 and West Sus­sex County Coun­cil says it “would not be fea­si­ble” for such an agree­ment to be re­peated.

Gatwick is the UK’S sec­ond busiest air­port, af­ter Heathrow. In the year 2017/18, it han­dled 45.7 mil­lion pas­sen­gers, 12 mil­lion more than five years be­fore. Cargo adding up to 102,000 tonnes was also car­ried, a 24 per cent in­crease on the pre­vi­ous year. In all this amounted to a to­tal of 282,000 air­craft pass­ing through. Gatwick could cer­tainly be de­scribed as a suc­cess story and the air­port says it con­trib­utes £5.3bn to the UK econ­omy and sup­ports 85,000 jobs, 24,000 at the air­port it­self.

The Gatwick Air­port Draft Mas­ter Plan 2018 would sug­gest though that this is not enough. With a twin-run­way op­er­a­tion and im­proved op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures, the air­port pre­dicts a pas­sen­ger through­put of 68-70 mil­lion pas­sen­gers by 2032/33, an in­crease of up to 53 per cent from 2017/18.

Gatwick makes the point that bring­ing its standby run­way into rou­tine use is con­sis­tent with Gov­ern­ment pol­icy that urges best use of ex­ist­ing run­way in­fra­struc­ture. It also ar­gues that devel­op­ment of Gatwick would bring sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits to the re­gion in terms of the econ­omy and jobs. The air­port had been hop­ing to be ‘awarded’ an ex­tra run­way be­fore Gov­ern­ment opted last June to al­lo­cate it to Heathrow in­stead.

There is also a call by Gatwick for land to be safe­guarded for a pos­si­ble brand new third run­way to the south of the air­port, which could take ca­pac­ity to 95 mil­lion pas­sen­gers. Sally sus­pects this is Gatwick’s pre­ferred end-game but bring­ing even just the emer­gency run­way into full use would, she es­ti­mates, add 85,000 flights a year, most of them tak­ing off to the west and po­ten­tially over vil­lages like hers. But it is not just the noise she is con­cerned about. She is wor­ried about air qual­ity too, although the air­port says it is con­fi­dent that lo­cally it would re­main within safe lim­its.

But there is a longer term is­sue that also fright­ens Sally. “If the air­port grows, we can ex­pect de­mand for more in­fra­struc­ture to ser­vice the air­port and more peo­ple to be sucked into the area. This is go­ing to put pres­sure on our green space and con­trib­ute fur­ther to the ur­ban­i­sa­tion of the coun­try­side around this part of Sus­sex.”

Peter Bar­clay is chair of the Gatwick Area Con­ser­va­tion Cam­paign and he en­dorses Sally’s con­cerns. Liv­ing just one mile from the west­ern end of the main run­way, he is per­fectly placed to have his say. “I ac­cept that ul­ti­mately I chose to live here,” he says. “But things have got a lot worse since I moved in.

“We’re al­ready suf­fer­ing from air­port-gen­er­ated road traf­fic. Growth in traf­fic has run in par­al­lel with growth of the air­port.” In fact, Gatwick re­veals there are more than 66,000 park­ing spa­ces as­so­ci­ated with

the air­port’s use and an­other 9,500 are planned over the next five years.

A Gatwick Air­port spokesper­son says: “The Draft Mas­ter Plan con­tains de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on how the in­fra­struc­ture around Gatwick will con­tinue to im­prove to sup­port our growth. Rail ca­pac­ity has dou­bled re­cently and the new smart mo­tor­way lane on the M23 will in­crease mo­tor­way ca­pac­ity sig­nif­i­cantly, in ad­di­tion to some up­grades to some lo­cal roads.”

Peter echoes what Sally says about noise: “Air­craft come in and take off on very concentrated lines. At peak times, peo­ple un­der flight paths can get up to one a minute for a burst of ten to 12 min­utes. Plane move­ments could go up by 30 per cent if the spare run­way comes on-stream.

“All these planes have got to fly over some­one.”

The air­port ar­gues: “In terms of noise, the im­pact of our in­cre­men­tal growth will be broadly in line with what it is to­day and will in some cases be re­duced.

“This is in large part due to the ‘new gen­er­a­tion’ air­craft which are al­ready com­ing into ser­vice.”

Peter coun­ters: “The air­port’s ar­gu­ment is that planes are get­ting qui­eter but I’d say the dif­fer­ence is barely dis­cernible to the hu­man ear.”

Per­haps un­der­stand­ably, the ex­ist­ing flight paths tend to avoid towns such as Crawley and Hor­sham but Sally says that is not fair on peo­ple who have cho­sen to live in the coun­try. “Ru­ral ar­eas are bear­ing the brunt. Base noise is lower in the coun­try­side, so we re­ally no­tice air­craft noise. We bought into the ru­ral, tran­quil life and now find our­selves tar­geted.”

Gatwick is dom­i­nated by the low-cost hol­i­day mar­ket – easyjet, Thomas Cook and Ryanair all fly from here. Many pas­sen­gers might be head­ing off for a well-earned hol­i­day in south­ern Europe, so who should be put first – hol­i­day-makers set­ting off for the sun or those left feel­ing the im­pact? One thing is clear, more peo­ple are fly­ing and they are fly­ing more of­ten. Ac­cord­ing to the air­port’s Mas­ter Plan: “De­mand for air travel is ex­pected to vir­tu­ally dou­ble in 30 years. Even with a third run­way at Heathrow, there is in­suf­fi­cient air­port ca­pac­ity to meet the un­con­strained de­mand for UK air travel by 2050.”

But cheap for­eign hol­i­days by air bring more than just sun­tans and sou­venir som­breros. They come with a big car­bon emis­sion price tag. Avi­a­tion is the most car­bon-in­ten­sive form of trans­port and one of the fastest grow­ing sources of car­bon emis­sions. Sarah Clay­ton is co-or­di­na­tor of Air­port­watch, which rep­re­sents many of the key play­ers in the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment, in­clud­ing the Avi­a­tion En­vi­ron­ment Fed­er­a­tion, the Cam­paign for Bet­ter Trans­port, the Cam­paign to Pro­tect Ru­ral Eng­land, Friends of the Earth, Green­peace and WWF UK. She says: “UK avi­a­tion is al­ready above its car­bon tar­gets. Adding ex­tra run­ways and ex­tra ca­pac­ity means avi­a­tion is go­ing to pro­duce way too much car­bon.”

Gatwick’s own fig­ures do not paint a rosy pic­ture. Emis­sions re­lat­ing to air­port ac­tiv­i­ties were 771,842 tonnes of car­bon diox­ide in 2017. Bring­ing the emer­gency run­way into use could see them rise to 949,479 tonnes by 2028,

an in­crease of 23 per cent. Last Oc­to­ber the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change re­leased a dev­as­tat­ing re­port say­ing global warm­ing must be kept to within 1.5°C and we are dan­ger­ously off-track from that, head­ing in­stead to­wards 3°C, threat­en­ing the very live­abil­ity of the planet – its abil­ity to con­tinue as our life sup­port sys­tem. The IPCC in­sists we re­duce car­bon emis­sions by 45 per cent (based on 2010 lev­els) by 2030 and re­duce them to to­tal zero by 2050.

Gatwick claims to be a car­bon­neu­tral air­port. Through en­ergy ef­fi­ciency mea­sures, elec­tric­ity from re­new­able sources, a biomass boiler for cabin waste and elec­tric ve­hi­cles for air­port op­er­a­tions, it says its day-to-day ac­tiv­i­ties are fun­da­men­tally green. It is the first air­port to achieve the Car­bon Trust Stan­dard for pro­vid­ing zero waste to land­fill.

How­ever, there is an ele­phant in the room in the form of the emis­sions that come from air­craft tak­ing off and land­ing, from pas­sen­gers trav­el­ling to and from the air­port and from staff com­mut­ing. Emis­sions from these sources dwarf what hap­pens at the air­port it­self, which Gatwick freely ac­knowl­edges. This car­bon is said to be ‘can­celled out’ by car­bon off-set­ting – an ar­gu­ment that by in­vest­ing in green en­ergy schemes in the de­vel­op­ing world for ex­am­ple, it doesn’t mat­ter that pol­lu­tion con­tin­ues here. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say this is spu­ri­ous and the whole con­cept of can­celling out a bad by do­ing a good is flawed. It amounts to pok­ing some­one in the eye and then ab­solv­ing your­self of all blame by mak­ing a do­na­tion to an eye hospi­tal in Africa.

Car­bon off-set­ting, they say, is a sys­tem in­vented by PR of­fi­cers rather than sci­en­tists. Sarah main­tains the claim that Gatwick is a car­bon-neu­tral air­port is “ridicu­lous”. And she says the emis­sions of air­craft dur­ing flight – in other words af­ter take-off and be­fore land­ing – are con­ve­niently left out of the equa­tion. These emis­sions make up the great bulk of avi­a­tion’s im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment.

She dis­misses claims by the avi­a­tion in­dus­try that new gen­er­a­tion air­craft and ad­vanced bio­fu­els can re­duce the prob­lem.

Peter says: “The air­port is do­ing well in terms of man­age­ment of its in­ter­nal emis­sions and wins awards for it. But ev­ery air­craft that leaves the air­port has a huge im­pact and they have re­spon­si­bil­ity for that.”

It be­comes ap­par­ent that this is not just an ar­gu­ment be­tween those who want to go on hol­i­day by plane and those, like Sally and her fam­ily, whose qual­ity of life is re­duced as a re­sult. The pos­si­ble ex­pan­sion of Gatwick Air­port is also, many would say, a bat­tle be­tween the jug­ger­naut of jobs and econ­omy on the one hand and pro­tect­ing our col­lec­tive fu­ture on the other. Some say avi­a­tion will take us to new heights; oth­ers ar­gue it will play a part in bring­ing us all down.

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