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Easyjet questions viability of Gatwick’s £2.2bn second runway plans

Easyjet has raised major concerns over hub's £2.2bn plans for a second runway, the UK's Planning Inspectorate heard in a hearing on Thursday.
Easyjet has raised major concerns over hub's £2.2bn plans for a second runway, the UK's Planning Inspectorate heard in a hearing on Thursday.

Easyjet has raised significant concerns over Gatwick’s £2.2bn plans for a second runway, the UK’s Planning Inspectorate heard in a hearing on Thursday.

Sir Jeremy Mark Quin, MP for Horesham, said he had been “particularly struck” by the airline’s enquiry, which found the proposals could risk operations at the hub becoming “less reliable, more expensive, noisier and worse for carbon emissions.”

He told the hearing Easyjet had raised “major questions” on the provision of supporting infrastructure within the airport perimeter, as well as a “lack of transparency on financing.”

The concerns are made more surprising given the low-cost carrier is Gatwick’s biggest airline by passenger numbers. The West-Sussex hub estimates its plans would result in a doubling of passenger traffic to 75m.

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The UK Planning Inspectorate was hearing evidence as it moots whether to give the airport’s Development Consent Order (DCO) for the project the green light.

Quin argued Heathrow’s plans for a third runway would be a preferrable option given the constraints to Gatwick’s transport infrastructure.

The hub hangs off one railway line, the Brighton mainline, which is the busiest commuting line in the country. There are concerns increasing passenger traffic through the airport so significantly would leave local transport routes struggling to cope.

“The proposals would increase some journey times, including potentially for emergency response vehicles,” Quin said. “Most of the new jobs are likely to require people to travel in. Increases are also expected from the millions of additional passenger journeys and aspirations to significantly increase freight.”

Crispin Blunt, MP for Reigate, said: “In a business that has become more tightly managed for cash, particularly in light of the impact of Covid on the economics of Gatwick, this is about maximising shareholder value.

“I would invited you to have a look at the numbers underneath the economics of Gatwick Airport Limited.”

He described the application as “wholly inappropriate” given the inadequacy of nearby infrastructure, adding that thousands of new jobs would place added pressure on the housing market as it struggles to meet the demand.

“There is no plan I can see to increase rail access to Gatwick in any meaningful way… If you compare that to Heathrow, where there are something like eight different [lines] into Heathrow, you can see the reasons why one would be extremely unwise to contemplate increasing the passenger flow through Gatwick, perhaps to an order of 80m to the size of Heathrow at its peak.”

He added: “The road and rail access is completely inadequate for the scale of increase Gatwick are contemplating here.”

“If you try and drive directly in a straight line from central London to Gatwick, good luck.”

Gatwick submitted its proposals to the UK Planning Inspectorate in July. The airport says the expansion will create 14,000 new jobs and pump £1bn into the economy, while boosting its ability to tackle the long-haul market.

Concerns over the capability of Gatwick’s infrastructure to cope with such an expansion have been raised before. Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said both Heathrow and Gatwick’s plans to boost capacity were “f****ng off the wall,” in an interview with City A.M. in January.

In its financial results in March, Gatwick said 40.9m passengers passed through its doors last year, up 24.7 per cent.

A spokesperson for the airport said: “Public scrutiny is a vital part of the planning process and it is important that all views are heard and considered. We are delighted with the strong support shown by many local people and businesses during recent hearings, including their desire to see the airport grow for the economic benefit of the area.

“We would like to thank them for their ongoing support. MPs from both sides of the House, local councillors, business groups and trade unions are also supportive.

“The airport’s plans include legally binding commitments to ensure noise levels are controlled and investment to improve roads around the airport, including separating local and airport traffic with flyovers at both terminals. No airspace changes are required as part of the airport’s Northern runway plans.”