Wednesday 18 September 2013

An economy going in the wrong direction

The idea of a second runway at Gatwick Airport is building up a head of steam, promoted in particular by local business associations.  This is a great worry to the Wildlife Trust.  Gatwick Airport at present has a huge ecological impact and adding an extra runway will make this worse.  More than this, however, it is the sign of a local economy heading in completely the wrong direction.

The Sussex Wildlife Trusts opposes the construction of a second runway at Gatwick, a position we have held for many years.  Aviation strategy should be based on a planned programme of a significant and continuing reduction of its environmental impact.  This should have two elements: first the reduction of its direct impact from land take for the airport itself and any associated development, and second a programme of continuous reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to reach an 80% reduction by 2050 in line with government targets.

The direct impact of expansion on the environment would be unacceptable, causing significant damage to wildlife in the area.  A recent press release from the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC) indicates the level of threat that Sussex is under.  A study by independent consultants jointly commissioned by the West Sussex County Council and the Gatwick Diamond business association indicated that between 30 and 45,000 new houses would be needed if a new runway is built.  The number of jobs created in the area would be far in excess of any available labour and so require a substantial influx of workers from other parts of the UK and the EU.  

This equates to a new town in Sussex about the same size that Crawley in now and could mean the urbanisation of much of that part of Sussex, possibly resulting in the towns of Horsham and Crawley combining and ending up as one continual conurbation.

However, one of the greatest threats to wildlife and the environment is climate change.  The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report presents even firmer evidence of the cause and effects of climate change and is an even stronger impetus for action to be taken.  Aviation is a major source of greenhouse gases and is also the fastest growing contributor to climate change.  This clearly needs to be reversed. Current improvements in the technology may deliver some increase in fuel efficiency, but it is difficult to see a situation where 80% reduction targets will be achieved against a background of airport expansion. 

If aviation is not able to reach its 80% reduction requirement then it will be necessary for the rest of industry to achieve a still greater reduction to compensate for the environmental failure of aviation.  We have seen little evidence that the rest of industry will even meet this need for an 80% reduction, let alone offer far greater reductions in order to compensate for the climate change effects of air travel.

In this way air travel is competitive with, rather than complementary to, other forms of business development. 

The situation with air travel may be an example of a wider issue for business development in the South East.  Attempts to continue business as usual whilst ignoring environmental limits, as well as being environmentally damaging in the short term, becomes damaging to business development and the economy in the not too distant long term.  In future green economic growth will become the only economic growth and this is the area in which the South East could excel.

The current reliance on air travel, let alone any increase in this reliance through airport expansion, will drive a highly vulnerable local economy that lacks resilience to likely future change.  The economy of the area around Gatwick now has the opportunity to develop in ways that support the environment rather than damage it.  A campaign for an expanded Gatwick Airport is to head in the wrong direction and promote an economy that is not fit for purpose.


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