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Airports Commission consultation at Crawley

23 December 2014 - Rosemary French

If you are an Archers fan, I am beginning to feel a bit like David and Ruth Archer just now! By selling their farm to bad boy Justin Elliot they were making a decision that was best for their family but not necessarily best for Ambridge.

I have been promoting support for the second runway at Gatwick on the basis that it is best for the UK economy, will provide great opportunities for local businesses, and through inward investment and local growth will enable our young people to look forward to good quality skilled jobs in the future. But at the same time, a second runway will also bring misery to some local inhabitants and businesses like Hever Castle and those that will lose their premises to the land grab. Admittedly, the misery at Gatwick will be caused to 3% of the 800,000 that will similarly be affected by a Heathrow third runway.

I am not alone in our support because another 19 local business organisations from Croydon to Brighton, from Eastbourne to Worthing also support the airport expansion. But I have received some pretty nasty tweets to date, easy to send because of their anonymity. And only last week I attended an extremely one sided Airports Commission consultation at Crawley where the pro businesses were outnumbered by the anti-community groups. Of course businesses were not at the event because they are too busy trading to provide the £20.7bn GVA that drives probably the world’s first airport economy. And the antis were able to attend the event because they are principally retired. Sorry, this is not age discrimination but a reality.

Out of 130 minutes of speeches with 13 invited speakers, only 10 minutes was offered by the Airports Commission to just one speaker to give reasons to support the runway.  Ten minutes is not enough to adequately reflect the business community in the Gatwick Diamond and wider Coast to Capital area, the largest majority of whom support a second runway judging by many surveys over the past year.   Nor does 10 minutes from one business organisation reflect the support being publicly given by the very many local business groups.

I was that speaker (standing in suddenly for Jeremy Taylor of the Gatwick Diamond Business Association who had a family illness). In those precious 10 minutes I was able to talk about the potential to have two world class airports, to experience real fare and route competition and choice, and to increase the number of businesses exporting. I also talked about the 110,000 people that leave the Gatwick Diamond every day to work, many of whom will take advantage of the well paid knowledge sector jobs that will be attracted to this area and those additional jobs from businesses already here which will grow even faster. I was able to knock holes in the Heathrow Hub argument and to talk about the ‘no cost to the exchequer’ solution of Gatwick.

The few businesses and business organisations attending had listened patiently to the community group arguments earlier, although those groups personal attacks on the CEO of Gatwick were really unwarranted and brought the debate to a really low level. But during my single pro speech, I could hear rude personal comments while the antis snorted, jeered and talked loudly. And that afternoon session which was supposed to focus on business views simply became another knock Gatwick session. Those businesses that did speak up in the audience to make their case were also jeered. A balanced debate, this was not.

I was disappointed that the Airports Commission had not invited more pro second runway speakers because this event was not an accurate reflection of business opinion and indeed opinion of the younger people in the area who repeatedly in surveys show support.

My only comfort is that I believe that the Airports Commission will make their recommendation on sound, logical and economic reasons not on emotional rhetoric. I will respond to the Airports commission by the due date of 3rd February positively but I will also be urging them to recommend that whatever government of the day we have, commits significant road, rail, health, housing and education infrastructure projects that we will absolutely need to make this work.


Article originally appeared in South East Business Magazine.

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