Hundreds turn out for first week of Gatwick second runway consultation meetings

Gatwick Airport's public consultation over its controversial proposals for a second runway has continued to draw hundreds of people to meetings and sparked a renewed protest campaign.

For while local residents have packed consultation meetings with displays in venues including in Rusper, Smallfield and Lingfield, the Gatwick Airport Conservation Campaign (GACC) has renewed its call for the proposals to be dropped with a new drive called “Gatwick's Big Enough.”

Citing arguments against the proposals from three local MPs, GACC has attacked the consultation itself as a “phoney” and said new action groups have formed up against the second runway proposals, in the wake of Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions (CAGNE).

CAGNE formed last month in response to residents' anger over the start of the current Gatwick Airport flightpath trial.

The group already has more than 300 members drawn from villages including Rusper, Slinfold, Warnham and Broadbridge Heath.

This week, Gatwick Airport released attendance figures for the meetings held so far in its six-week public consultation.

After launching in Crawley with 690 people viewing the display boards at the Hawth Theatre, 350 turned out for the meeting in Rusper, 370 in Smallfield, 340 in Ifield, 300 in Lingfield, and 275 in Felbridge.

Gatwick Airport Limited (GAL) has said feedback from the public consultation will help improve its second runway proposal to the Airports Commission. The consultation will run until Friday, May 16. Stewart Wingate, chief executive officer of London Gatwick, said: “We are keen to encourage as many local people as possible to respond to our consultation, as this feedback will have a key role in helping us to refine our runway proposals. “The consultation is a chance for the local community to find out more about our proposals, ask questions and have their say on our plans for a second runway.” But GACC has slated the consultation as a “phoney,” stating that the Airports Commission has already announced in its Interim Report that it would be focusing on the airport's preferred option of the three suggested schemes put forward – for a new runway 1,045m to the south of the existing runway, but with the two runways being used independently, and with a new terminal being built between them. GACC said the Airports Commission's announcement meant “the decision has already been taken.”

It has also blasted the airport response form.

GACC vice chairman Peter Barclay said: “Many people are confused by the airport response form which has 278 boxes which you can tick, but only one well-hidden little box labelled ‘None of these options,’ if you wish to say 'No' to a new runway.”

GACC volunteers have been giving out leaflets and recruiting members outside the runway exhibitions.

GACC chairman Brendon Sewill said: “The exhibitions are having one good result - we have had a lot of new people signing up as members.”

Mr Sewill of Stan Hill, Charlwood, said: “A number of local action groups, from Tunbridge Wells to Horsham, have been formed opposing a new runway - all working with GACC.

“For instance, in Crawley, the all-Party ‘One’s Enough’ group has been re-started.

“It had great success in 2003 in persuading Crawley Council to switch from a position of support for a new runway to one of unanimous opposition.”

GACC, which has itself already fought expansion at Gatwick two times, has posted thousands of car stickers to members bearing the ‘Gatwick’s Big Enough’ logo.

It has also posted a Fact File, summarising facts about what it says a new runway would do to the area, to all councillors of seven county, borough and district councils.

The fact file states, among other things, that a new runway “would mean twice as many aircraft in the sky, twice the pollution,twice the climate change damage, twice the noise, and new flight paths over peaceful areas.”

It also quotes statements against a second runway from Reigate MP Crispin Blunt, Mid Sussex MP Nicholas Soames and Horsham MP Francis Maude.

GACC's calls were also echoed this week by Keith Taylor, MEP for South East England.

Joining the group's slating of the consultation and in particular, the response form and what he said is its “hard to find” tickbox for ‘No New Runway,’ Mr Taylor stated: “But ‘No New Runway’ is the only sane choice.”

In a letter, he wrote: “A massive increase in flights at Gatwick would mean more people affected by noise and pollution, both from planes and the associated road traffic. “It would have big impacts on our already overstretched road and rail infrastructure, and up to 45,000 new houses would need to be squeezed into Surrey and Sussex to accommodate all the workers the larger airport would require.”

He concluded: “Rather than blindly catering for ever-growing demand for air travel, we need to reduce demand.

“Rather than taking part in a phoney consultation, I am voicing my opposition to any expansion of airport capacity in South-east England.”

The next consultation meetings in the Life area - with the displays manned by teams from Gatwick and the Airports Commission - are due to take place at Reigate Community Centre, off High Street, Reigate, next Wednesday (April 23), from 4pm to 7.30pm, in The Studio at Horley Leisure Centre, off Court Lodge Road, Horley, on Saturday, April 26, from 11am to 3.30pm, and at The Parish Hall, The Street, Charlwood, on Monday, April 28, from 4pm to 7.30pm.

People can respond, get more information and find the full details of where the public exhibitions will be held at: www.gatwickairport.com/consultation

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