In many ways we are lucky to have a major international airport of Gatwick’s stature and reputation so close to Wealden. For holidaymakers travelling to sunnier climes, or local businesses exporting their goods to both domestic and foreign markets, having a well-connected airport is both useful and vital.
I do not underestimate the impact of Gatwick on the local economy, and I am keen to make sure that local entrepreneurs and families continue to be able to benefit from Gatwick as an economic engine.
However, I am also keenly aware of the extent to which many constituents, including myself, are negatively affected by Gatwick. Having what is possibly the world’s busiest single-use runway at such close proximity inevitably causes a great deal of noise and disruption, worsened by the pressure on unreliable road and railway systems.
That is why I am intent on making Gatwick a better neighbour. Gatwick offers us a great deal but it also causes a great deal of frustration; establishing a strong, regular and effective line of communication between the airport and those of us who represent constituencies around Wealden is crucial. To that end, I am pleased to be a member of the Gatwick Coordination Group, a collective of MPs based around Gatwick whose constituents have shared concerns about the airport’s operations and communication.
There are a number of issues we have to challenge Gatwick about, the most important of which are flight paths, night flights and Gatwick’s wish to expand and build a second runway.
Flight paths and night flights are issues that Gatwick has yet to get right. Changes to flight paths in recent years have affected a great many of my constituents and I am campaigning for them to be changed, so as to alleviate disruption that is currently caused. Making sure that Gatwick abides by regulations concerning night flights, and that those regulations are fair and appropriate, is also a priority of mine.
My work in this area has included:
- Collating the experiences of all those constituents who have been in touch with me about disruption from overhead flights, in order to present them to Gatwick so they understand the level of disturbance that is caused
- Receiving reassurances from easyJet (which is the largest provider of flights at Gatwick) about the actions it is taking to reduce noise disruption, which include the retrofitting of all aircraft in the easyJet fleet that do not already have vortex generators - this will reduce the impact of aircraft on the environment and on local residents
- Welcoming the decision of Gatwick Airport Limited to commission an independent review of Westerly Arrivals into the airport, following complaints from local residents – this is a brilliant opportunity for us to have our voices heard
- Meeting with Bo Redeborn and Graham Lake, who are leading the review, to discuss the concerns of my constituents and their plan to reach a mutually beneficial solution for everyone concerned
- Hosting a public meeting with Bo and Graham in Crowborough, to which hundreds of constituents came to listen to their plans for the review and to have their say about airspace changes, making sure that the review team properly understands the extent of disruption that local people put up with
- Writing to the Aviation Minister, seeking reassurance that the Government does not support concentrated flight paths, which have caused such disruption and distress for Wealden residents
- Attending an update meeting with the leaders of the review into flight paths, to hear about the process and ask challenging questions about their likely recommendations, which will be published in January 2016
- Welcoming the review's report, and calling on Gatwick to follow through on its recommendations as soon as possible
- Speaking in a debate on aircraft noise, and drawing attention to the need to prevent expansion at Gatwick in order to limit future noise increases
On the debate about a second runway, I want this decision to be based on what is best for Britain and the British aviation industry, for it to be able to compete in an increasingly connected world. We have now had very welcome news from the Airports Commission, which has rightly recommended that the UK’s new runway should be located at Heathrow. This is a decision made in the national interest – the arguments in favour of Heathrow, particularly the economic ones, were far stronger than those in favour of Gatwick and the Commission’s unanimous recommendation was a logical result of that.
The actions I have taken to help underline that recommendation include:
- Joining the Gatwick Coordination Group, a group of MPs representing constituencies around Gatwick committed to campaigning together against expansion at the airport
- Writing, as a member of the Gatwick Coordination Group, to the Government to make clear that I expect its decision-making process to be a fair one – we have now received assurances that members of the Government who represent constituencies near Gatwick or Heathrow will not be allowed to take part in the process, which is a very welcome development
- Writing to the Editor of the Evening Standard, following a report highlighting Gatwick’s criticisms of the Airports Commission’s report, to express my astonishment at its attempts to elbow its way back into the debate and to call on Gatwick to focus its efforts being a better neighbour to local communities around the airport
- Slammed Gatwick Airport for continuing to undermine the Airports Commission's recommendation and continuing its campaign for expansion
- Called on both of the final candidates for the Conservative Party leadership to back a third runway at Heathrow
Gatwick has the potential to be a brilliant resource for Wealden, providing economic prosperity and quick and easy travel. But while it provides those benefits, we still need to make it a better neighbour. Through communication, challenge and cooperation I will work hard to make that a reality.