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Published: 10:30, 01 July 2015
Politicians and campaigners have said they are “delighted” with a decision against recommending the expansion of Gatwick airport.
The Airports Commission delivered a long-awaited report today into the future of runway capacity in the South East, which suggested a new runway at Heathrow as the best option to deliver economic growth in the UK.
Many campaigners in west Kent had lobbied against a new runway at Gatwick, one of three proposals being considered by the report’s author Sir Howard Davies.
They said the option would have increased aviation noise in the area as more flights flew over the county, a situation which KCC said was “already unacceptable”.
Matthew Balfour, KCC cabinet member for environment and transport, said: “We are delighted the Airports Commission in seeking to increase airport capacity has not opted for a further runway at Gatwick.
“This will come as a huge relief for thousands of residents in west Kent.
“Kent would have suffered negative impacts in terms of increased aviation noise from more than a doubling of aircraft movements.
“Aviation noise in west Kent from Gatwick’s current single runway configuration is already unacceptable and a potential doubling of this impact with a second runway would have been intolerable.
“A lack of transport infrastructure to accommodate the additional demand from a second runway at Gatwick would result in further congestion and delay on the strategic road and rail networks.
“This is a victory of common sense for residents and communities in west Kent and we applaud Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission for taking the right decision. We now hope the government accepts this recommendation.
“Current noise levels are destroying residents lives in west Kent and KCC will continue fighting for varying flight paths to spread the burden of planes flying over homes more equitably.”
Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling, also welcomed the Airports Commission’s endorsement of Heathrow, which the Commission said could deliver 70,000 jobs by 2050 and generate up to £147 billion inover 60 years.
He said: “This is a decision in the best interests of the country.
“The economic case for Heathrow could not be ignored. I am pleased that the Airports Commission has taken such a clear and unambiguous decision against a second runway at Gatwick.
“While this news is very welcome, we still have an important fight on our hands over the change in flightpaths over Tonbridge, Edenbridge and surrounding villages, so I will continue to focus my efforts on that and I hope we can make headway in that battle as well.”
Gatwick Coordination Group, of which Tom Tugendhat is a member, said: “We now call upon the Prime Minister to swiftly accept the Commission’s recommendation, to end any further uncertainty, and to get on providing the airport capacity Britain needs to compete for trade and investment and to remain an important aviation hub in the 21st century.”
However the political battle is expected to rumble on for years to come, with London Mayor Boris Johnson entirely opposed to expansion at Heathrow.
Sir Howard Davies left the door ajar for Gatwick expansion, saying its plans are “feasible” but that its short-haul focus would make the economic benefits considerably smaller.
The government is not expected to publish its formal response until the autumn.
Research published today by Folkestone-based holiday company Saga suggests support was greatest for expansion at Gatwick airport, with 38% of over 50s supporting the option versus 25% backing an extension of Heathrow’s north runway and 24% supporting a third runway at Heathrow.
Saga Travel spokeswoman Lisa Harris said: “Our latest research shows that even amongst those over 50, who now account for the majority of spending on travel and tourism, opinion is still very much divided.
“Whilst Gatwick was the preferred option compared to the two remaining options at Heathrow, one in five had no strong feelings about either option.”
Sir Howard Davies said he had looked “very hard” at proposals for a new airport in the Thames Estuary but concluded it was “not a plausible option”.
He said building an airport on the Isle of Grain would have been hugely expensive because of the need for a new transport network, costing the public purse between £30bn to £50bn.
The Commission also felt the airport would not be in a good place from a national point of view, with London between the site and the rest of the country.
Environmental obstacles were also cited as a problem.
“The pie-in-the-sky plans for the so-called Boris Island Airport were a distraction we could have done without as we got on with our day-to-day business..." - Cllr Alan Jarrett, Medway Council
Sir Howard said: “There are important breeding sites for birds. You would have to provide an alternative to them.
“European directives say you can only take away that habitat if it is the only place you can build an airport and we don’t think we could claim that’s the case.”
He added: “There are a whole series of reasons a Thames Estuary airport did not stack up and as an investment proposition we didn’t think it made any sense.”
Cllr Alan Jarrett, leader of Medway Council, said: “We are pleased today’s announcement by the Airports Commission vindicates our lengthy campaign to stop an airport being built on the Isle of Grain.
“The pie-in-the-sky plans for the so-called Boris Island Airport were a distraction we could have done without as we got on with our day-to-day business.
“We fought hard to block the proposal and will do the same if, as some reports suggest, the prospect of an airport in the Thames Estuary in Medway is ever raised again.”
Meanwhile, a Kent airport boss said the county will have a key role while the debate rages on about the future of runway capacity in the South East.
Lydd Airport chief executive Charles Buchanan welcomed the Davies Commission report buit said the challenge was to deliver its recommendations within 15 years.
In the meantime, his airport could help with the expanding need for aviation capacity in the region.
The airport is working on an extension to its runway, due for completion next year, which will allow it to handle fully-loaded Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 aircraft.
Construction of a new £700,000 hangar is entering the final phase.
He said: “I’m glad we finally have a clear recommendation on how Britain should expand its future aviation capacity.
“The challenge now is for politicians to deliver on this expert verdict and ensure that the additional capacity is developed within the next 15 years. In the meantime, the strain on aviation capacity in the South East will continue to grow, placing even greater burdens on the nation’s economy.
“There must be recognition that smaller, modern regional airports like London Ashford Airport at Lydd have a key role to play in providing much-needed extra capacity in the immediate future.
“We continue to invest heavily in expanding the facilities at Lydd and with our new runway extension planned for completion in 2016, we stand ready to play our part in meeting the growing demand for air travel.”
More by this authorChris Price
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