Date published: 5th May 2015

Gatwick’s Alastair McDermid looks at the crucial balancing act needed from the UK’s next runway  


Alastair McDermid:

“As election roadshows around the UK come to a close, it has become clear in recent weeks that in constituencies around Heathrow and Gatwick the issue of airport expansion and noise is one of the most hotly debated subjects.

“In the last few weeks alone, I’ve been asked to speak about this very issue on various local radio stations and it is always interesting to hear the views of the media, local MPs and, crucially, local residents.

“So at this crucial juncture in the debate, it is worth a closer look at some of the myths and confusion that have surrounded the noise issue, as well as an honest look at the challenges this presents.

“Let me start be being absolutely clear – whichever airport expands, there will be local residents newly affected by noise.

At Gatwick we are not trying to hide from that fact. Heathrow’s suggestion that they can build a third runway without additional noise defies logic and, frankly, is a little insulting to hundreds of thousands of residents across West London. Three runways at Heathrow with extra traffic will always be noisier than two runways with less traffic.

“Heathrow point to the fact that modern planes are getting quieter – correct, but they will never be silent (especially if expansion leads to more of them in our skies) so there is no point papering over the cracks with soundbites that ignore this crucial issue.

“It is this conundrum that for me is at the heart of the airports expansion debate – the UK desperately needs more capacity but we also have a very clear duty to limit our impact on the environment and local communities.

“So the Airports Commission face a stark choice on this part of the debate but for me it boils down to two simple aspects – 1) how many people will be affected by noise, including those newly affected; and 2) what can then be done to prevent, mitigate or compensate the impacts.

“On both counts, Gatwick offers the obvious and only deliverable solution.

“On the first point, the numbers of people that would be newly affected by noise at Gatwick are a fraction – only 5% - of the numbers of people that an expanded Heathrow would impact.

“Heathrow would impact 320,000 new people – a population the size of Coventry – compared to 18,000 at Gatwick. It is a huge difference and one that the Airports Commission have clearly recognised, saying that “the numbers of people affected [at Gatwick] in even the upper-end scenario are significantly below the total numbers at Heathrow” (page 45 here).

“But this debate is more than just a numbers game and we have always recognised that 18,000 people affected by noise at Gatwick cannot be ignored. So, to come back to the second point – what can be done to prevent, mitigate or compensate the impacts on these people?

“Again, Gatwick offers the better solution. Despite the fact that Gatwick affects significantly fewer people than Heathrow, we are doing more to compensate those who are affected.

“At Gatwick, we take very seriously our obligations to our community and that is why we have announced the most innovative noise insulation scheme for any airport in Europe, offering hundreds more homes in Surrey, Sussex and Kent up to £3,000 towards double glazing and loft insulation

“We have also introduced our Council Tax Initiative where all households most affected by noise from a second runway would receive annual compensation equivalent to Band A Council Tax (currently £1000) – it is a unique scheme that remains unmatched by Heathrow.

“These initiatives are part of a wider £250 million package of pledges for the local community. Through funding local transport improvements, noise initiatives, apprenticeships for young people, and funding for local infrastructure, this £250 million package will help address many of the issues that matter most to the local community.

“So at the heart of the airports debate lies a complex issue around noise that I’m sure will continue to be debated at constituency doorsteps throughout the South East.

“But if we take a closer look at the numbers involved and the mitigation measures put forward, it is clear Gatwick is the only solution that best answers the noise and capacity conundrum we face in this debate.”