Great speech by Crispin Blunt MP at the Airports Commission Gatwick evidence day
The Airports Commission held their second evidence day, this time on Gatwick (the Heathrow day was on 3rd December). The format of the day was to give Stewart Wingate time to set out his runway plans and promote them. There were then speeches by Henry Smith MP and Crisipin Blunt MP, as well as others from Brendon Sewill (GACC), Sally Pavey (CAGNE), and Major Richard Streatfeild (HWPCAAG) for community groups. A range of councillors then spoke, as well as three people from the business organisations. Crispin Blunt spoke very strongly against the runway proposals, and the text of his speech is copied below. Interestingly, to pick out just two comments, he said – on the financing of the project – the claimed need for commercial confidence is an error because redactions in Gatwick published documents on tax, financing, profit and loss, cash flow etc and the assumptions that underlie, these figures are critical to enable MPs, the public etc to evaluate the airport’s proposal. Also that Gatwick is served only by a single rail and motorway connection. The airport, its passengers and its airlines is already dangerously vulnerable to disruption. It’s worth reading the speech.
CRISPIN BLUNT SLAMS GATWICK SECOND RUNWAY PLAN AT DAVIES HEARING
On Tuesday 16 December 2014, Crispin Blunt spoke at the Airports Commission Gatwick Area Public Discussion Session.
Below is a transcript of Crispin’s speech:
I chair the Gatwick Coordination Group formed with my parliamentary colleagues, Sir Paul Beresford, Sir Nicolas Soames, Sir John Stanley, Charles Hendry, and Nick Herbert. Local Frontbench colleagues are closely associated with our work even if they formally cannot endorse our position The group includes representatives of local authorities, parish councils and civil society sharing the common objective a critical examination of the case for a second runway at Gatwick Airport, and ensuring its consequences are understood.
“Gatwick Obviously” claim that expansion at Gatwick is easier to deliver and will have less impact on its communities than the alternatives. We wish to set the record straight before local people and the wider UK economy pay the price. The consequences outside the immediate perimeter of the airport belie the case made by “Gatwick Obviously”.
Current and planned infrastructure would be pushed way beyond its limits as there is already an infrastructure deficit.To make it work the nature of surrounding towns and countryside would be changed beyond recognition as they are forced to accommodate tens thousands more people.And the impact of ‘an airport bigger than Heathrow’ at Gatwick would leave London with a principal airport with no resilience in its surface access.It is highly questionable whether the finance will be forthcoming.
Heathrow Airport has more than 45 million surface access movements each year. It is already accessible via the M25 and M4, the Piccadilly Line, the Heathrow Express, Heathrow Connect, and plans exist from an additional rail entry from Waterloo via Clapham Junction and Staines into Terminal 5, and Crossrail will be completed by 2018. If one of these routes is taken offline, all the other routes provide solid resilience. New rail access from the west and intersection with HS2 will further improve overall access to a larger Heathrow.
No such situation exists, or is even planned, for Gatwick. Yet GAL predicts 25.7 million train journeys per year by 2030 – double the number using rail at Heathrow today. That’s without even taking account of the ‘million tonnes’ of freight Gatwick expects the rail and road infrastructure to accommodate.
Gatwick is served only by a single rail and motorway connection. The airport, its passengers and its airlines is already dangerously vulnerable to disruption.
Gatwick relies and would rely on the Brighton main line (BML) for rail connections to and from London. Their substantive surface access submission is based on work which is already going ahead, which only addresses existing capacity problems. The commuters I represent will regard it as a sick joke that this line can carry significantly more passengers in peak hours when they are already standing and extra staff are being recruited to keep platforms safe at East Croydon so passengers don’t spill onto the tracks.
This line runs through the deepest cutting in Europe and is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather. Suicides happen about once a month bringing the line to a standstill for over an hour each time. Rail resilience to “events” is weak to non-existent as there is no realistic alternative route.
On the roads, you are familiar with the pace of the A23 into and out of London. The A23/M23 and M25/M23 are already beyond capacity and tinkering with several junctions on the M25 is not going to address this.
My question to the promoters is when anything goes wrong, air traffic control, shortage of baggage handlers, and most frequently suspension of the rail line – Gatwick collapses today. All of this gets worse as Gatwick gets bigger. How can you address this?
Towns, communities and countryside
Locally, we enjoy a strong economy and low unemployment. As of October 2014 there were 25,369 JSA claimants in the entire region stretching from north to south from Croydon to Brighton, and east to west from Lewes to Bognor Regis. The median percentage figure is just 1.7% of the entire population seeking work. I recall that at our meeting in July this year, I illustrated these figures and the area to which I refer on a roughly sketched map; allow me to do the same again, this time with much improved graphics.
The labour market in the region is absolutely saturated. GAL cannot answer where the 122,000-person workforce is going to materialise from to deliver the supposed £90 billion of economic benefit.
GAL’s own analysis shows that Gatwick already employs 31% of the total workforce in Crawley, 9% in my own constituency in Reigate. The assertion that the additional workforce will merrily make their way from Croydon – a town where at its worst, unemployment is at 4.4% in Croydon North – is fanciful even if attractive to the London Borough of Croydon.
A similar picture presents itself on the south coast where the worst unemployment is in Brighton Kempton at 3%.
These figures – and the recent example of Gatwick actually running out of baggage handlers with air-side security clearance in July this year – shows that there is no workforce, immediate or approximate, capable of staffing an expanded Gatwick.
If the number of jobs turned out to be the Commission’s most pessimistic assumptions there would be no economic benefit to the UK of this scheme. However we believe this is highly unlikely and GAL’s employment projections for an airport bigger than Heathrow understate the on-site jobs. To staff this vast new enterprise will require the migration of thousands of workers into the local area, flooding, probably literally, the existing infrastructure of schools, transport, health services and housing.
Blithely adding to housing forecasts which are already undeliverable without loss of Greenbelt and countryside does not answer how local communities are expected to cope with such an influx. Existing housing demand is already requiring options for development on the Green Belt in my constituency.
30,000 more local people will find themselves underneath flight paths and this year I have seen first-hand the despair and anger that a change from rural tranquillity to unanticipated overflight. This is a much more dramatic relative change than that proposed at Heathrow.
My question to the promoters is that PR-Nav has given you a small taste of the consequences of the destruction of the quality of life of your neighbours. Do you really believe your mitigation measures can repair your relationship with your host community?
The Commission has rather dryly said that the level of finance needed for the project, is “significantly larger than the company’s financing to date.”
With airport charges expected to rise beyond a sustainable level for its current airline customers, we question whether GAL has a viable case to raise the funds needed for expansion from its owners. Its principle shareholder, by its own policy, typically holds assets for only up to 10 years, which is before this project will be financed.
Last week, ratings agency Moody’s raised concern over the negative credit implications for Gatwick stating that the “financial risks…..are high given the size.”
The financing of this raises questions about whether there would be a satisfactory rate of return, figures of the Commission have access to. We believe conceding the claimed need for commercial confidence is in error as there is no alternative making a proposition on the same competitive basis. The Commission has permitted redactions on tax, financing, profit and loss, cash flow etcetera and it is the assumptions that underlie these figures that are critical to enable us and the public to evaluate this proposal.
The National Interest
As representatives in Westminster we should also look beyond our own constituencies. The central ‘exam question’ is how to maintain global connectivity for the UK, about this country’s competitiveness and future national growth and jobs.
The Commission’s own analysis shows that even in Gatwick’s imagined future – where ‘Low Cost is King’ – expansion here would be worth dramatically less to the UK in terms of GDP and jobs than the alternatives. The Commission’s analysis is that on most of all its economic scenarios £100 billion would be foregone by the UK if we went for Gatwick. That’s a lot of money.
My question to the promoters is how can you credibly challenge the Commission’s numbers if you won’t even give us your own?
It is a rare thing to have an airport so well connected as Heathrow – one of only six in its class around the world serving more than 50 long haul destinations – if we can’t afford to replicate and indeed improve that option east of London it would be bizarre to abandon Heathrow’s expensively won position..
Gatwick is a very good airport for what it is. But its failure to attract major airlines to fly from here to the destinations served by our competitors in France and Germany is striking. While Heathrow has been full for 10 years, there are virtually no long haul connections to the next generation of economic powerhouses – Brazil, India, and not a single route to China.
Gatwick is big enough and its supporting labour market, rail and road infrastructure are already beyond economic saturation.
Whilst local businesses will, of course, welcome a massive injection of extra demand, the reality is that demand can’t be served, certainly not on current plans.
There is no guarantee this proposal would be financed although a recommendation for Gatwick would still suit its Shareholders by holding back its main competitor: the principle hub in the UK.
Gatwick would be the wrong decision for the UK economy. The infrastructure reality is that the consequences for the local communities we represent would be to demand too much of local people, schools, housing and transport infrastructure. To make this plan work will need more, much more, of all of them than identified in GAL’s plans or I believe in the Commission’s analysis to date. The consequences will be an irrevocable disaster for those communities and these proposals are also not in the national interest. That is why the Group I chair oppose them.
 House of Commons library: Constituency profiles November 2014
 GAL press release – 23 July 2014