Gatwick Airport: Can Crawley turn away from aviation and go “green”?

Crawley relies on nearby Gatwick Airport for thousands of jobs, but it is now hoping to become less reliant on aviation and instead encourage sustainable business. With future demand for air travel, especially in the next year or two, uncertain, people who lost their jobs want local “quality” jobs soon. Gatwick had employed about 6,000 people from Crawley, and supported many more jobs in industries like hospitality and catering.   With uncertainties about what British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Norwegian will do about keeping flights at Gatwick, it is unlikely numbers of passengers will return to 2019 levels perhaps for another four years. It is unlikely as many people would be employed in aviation then as in 2019, as airlines and airports increase automation of jobs as fast as possible.  In early March the government gave Crawley £21.1m to help achieve what it called “plans to become a modern, vibrant and healthy digital town with a thriving green economy”. The council aims to offer training in areas like insulation and solar power installation, while driving demand by “retrofitting” council homes and ensuring new developments are sustainable.

Gatwick Airport: Can Crawley turn away from aviation and go green?

By William McLennan (BBC News)

The economic impact of the pandemic has hit few places as hard as Crawley, which relies on nearby Gatwick Airport for thousands of jobs.

But the West Sussex town is now plotting a route to recovery which it hopes will see it become less reliant on aviation and a haven for sustainable business.

Some of Crawley’s 110,000 residents believe there will be a turbulent future ahead, as the plan does nothing to address the immediate need for ‘quality jobs’ in the local area.

But others have already began to turn their fortunes around on the back of what the town hopes are the first shoots of “green growth”.

Werner Oeder lost his job at a utility company two days after Boris Johnson ordered the nation to stay at home in March 2020. At the age of 50, he was forced to receive unemployment benefit for the first time in his life.

“It was stressful,” he said. “Everything had been shut down and I didn’t think there would be companies out there hiring.”

After a “tough” four months applying for hundreds of jobs in everything from project management to delivery driving, he was hired by Naked Energy, a solar heating and electricity start-up based at an industrial estate in Crawley.

“I was really lucky,” he said. “I wasn’t necessarily qualified for it, but they saw the potential in me.”

The lifeline for Mr Oeder came as Crawley faced an uncertain future.

When the pandemic decimated international travel, airlines began to pull out of Gatwick Airport, which had employed 6,000 people from the town, and supported many more jobs in industries like hospitality and catering.

British Airways suspended all flights on 31 March 2020. Virgin Atlantic quit in May and has no plans to return this year. The company sold its vast training base near the airport for £30m in August.

In January, budget airline Norwegian axed its long-haul network, leading to the loss of 1,100 jobs based at Gatwick. BA resumed some long-haul flights from Gatwick in June, but it is unclear if and when short-haul will return.

Gatwick does not expect passenger numbers to return to “pre-pandemic levels until 2025”, but said airlines were keen to resume flights, with some due to begin operating from the airport for the first time.

In Crawley, the economic impacts of the pandemic are stark.

More than 12,000 people were on furlough in January, or 20% of the workforce – one of the highest proportions in the country. In February, more than 6,400 people were claiming unemployment benefits, an increase of 230% in a year.

But the answer is not simply to get planes in the sky again, Crawley council leader Peter Lamb says.

“Even if it gets back to the same passenger numbers or higher, the total level of the workforce will be lower,” he said.

Falling demand for workers due to automation at the airport was already a “huge risk” before the pandemic, he added.

But Crawley’s solution for long term growth, according to the council’s plans for recovery, will see it undergo a “green transformation” and become a hub for “digital innovation” and green technology companies.

Earlier this month, the government gave the town £21.1m to help achieve what it called “plans to become a modern, vibrant and healthy digital town with a thriving green economy”.

The council aims to offer training in areas like insulation and solar power installation, while driving demand by “retrofitting” council homes and ensuring new developments are sustainable.

The town would also receive support from Gatwick, which said it would “continue to play a significant role supporting Crawley’s economy and local jobs”.

Meanwhile, an innovation centre, utilising the knowledge of companies already in the town, like French defence firm Thales, is expected to build on the “advanced engineering and digital base”.

Naked Energy chief executive Christophe Williams says the company chose Crawley partly because of the number of specialist engineers in the area, many of whom had worked for US firm Applied Materials before it pulled out of nearby Horsham in 2007.

The strong transport links, affordable rents and proximity to London had made it a “very good, cost-effective engineering and innovation hub for us,” he said.

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Mr Lamb said Gatwick – and as a result, Crawley – had been “disproportionately harder hit” by the pandemic than other airports partly because Virgin and BA had retreated to Heathrow.

The UK’s busiest airport, in Hounslow, west London, is less reliant on holidaymakers, with a higher proportion of business and transfer flights.

Amar Limbachia agrees with Crawley council that the town’s salvation can not come only from aviation – but he sees a difficult road ahead.

The 33-year-old, who lost his job as an airport security guard in October, began studying at the Open University several years ago after deciding he had little chance of career progression.

But Crawley had become a “black hole” for jobs and many people were struggling to make ends meet, he said.

“The only work available is warehouse and delivery drivers,” he said.

“On my street there’s quite a few people who rent out houses to air hostesses and so forth, a lot of them are empty right now,” he added.

As he completes his degree course, he has been applying for any job he can find – but has had no positive news.

Both the government and the council needed to “pull their socks up” and do more to help those out of work, he said.

“It does feel like they are saying things, but there’s not much being done.”

Former cabin crew Marcelo Dotta, who was made redundant in August, thinks talk of transferable skills and re-training is missing one key thing.

“I don’t want to find a job that is just a job, I love what I do,” he said.

“I didn’t build my career to do something else,” the 50-year-old said. “I didn’t train every single year just to be on the aircraft to just say: ‘Oh, it’s chicken or beef.'”

He believes that Gatwick Airport will rebound and is confident he will one day return to the job that has been his passion for nearly 30 years.

“Every flight is a new adventure,” he said. “As soon as I put my uniform on [for the first time] I said, oh my god, that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. It’s like putting on a different character, it’s like an actor.”

Like many people in Crawley who are growing anxious over stalling career dreams, he has found work in the warehouse of one of the logistics companies that have boomed during lockdown.

“I’m doing part-time for Amazon and I absolutely hate it”, he said. “But I’ve got to pay my rent. I’ve got to pay my bills.”

The online retail giant recently moved into Manor Royal, the vast business park next to the airport where about 30,000 people work.

The park’s executive director Steve Sawyer said the site is home to innovative manufacturing companies involved in medical technology, pharmaceuticals and hydrogen fuel cells.

Plans to launch a renewable energy co-operative using the park’s 9m square feet of roof space to generate solar power would “drive demand for green jobs,” he said.

“What we are trying to do here is not to say we don’t want the airport, it’s about what can we build alongside aviation to make Manor Royal a little less vulnerable to these shocks in the future.

“Gatwick will always be a big part of Crawley, no question about it.”


Crawley to receive £21.1m as part of Towns Fund in Budget

By Harry Bullmore @HarryBullmore   (The Argus)

4th March 2021

CRAWLEY is one of 45 areas set to benefit from the Towns Fund announced by Rishi Sunak yesterday – but there are claims the Chancellor’s Budget favoured places with Tory MPs.

The town will receive £21.1 million, with £1.02 billion invested in total as part of the government’s plan to “level up” regions and help them recover from the coronavirus crisis.

The pandemic has had a huge impact on Crawley, with the the town relying heavily on nearby Gatwick Airport for employment. The airport had to cut more than 40% of staff last year and reported a loss of £465,000,000 as passenger numbers fell by a staggering 78% due to travel restrictions.

But, following the Towns Fund announcement yesterday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak rejected claims that he has concentrated support in his Budget on Tory-supporting areas.

At a Downing Street press conference, he was asked why 40 of the 45 towns to benefit from the Town Fund were represented by Conservative MPs and if this was a case of “naked pork barrel politics”.

Crawley is represented by Conservative MP Henry Smith.

Labour has also urged the government to publish the metrics used to determine areas for priority for the new “levelling up” fund, after Mr Sunak’s constituency and those of four other Cabinet members were prioritised to bid.

These areas are in priority area one, ahead of authorities in Barnsley, Salford and the Wirral, included in the second tier of priority funding, according to research by Labour.

At the Number 10 briefing, Mr Sunak was asked by the Financial Times to reassure the public that the government was using fair criteria to assess the eligibility of areas for the grants.

The Chancellor replied: “The formula for the grant payments for the new fund, to give them some capacity funding to bid for projects, is based on an index of economic need.”

Mr Sunak said this was “transparently published” by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and based on objective measures.

He added that this was areas that have received “capacity funding” to bid and that no area was excluded from bidding, but that some authorities may need “extra help”.

But Labour’s shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said the research raises “big questions marks over the fairness of the Government’s regeneration funding schemes”.

“Just months after the government was criticised for diverting funding away from towns that desperately needed it, we discover that Cabinet ministers’ own constituencies now stand to benefit ahead of more deprived areas,” he said.

The Chancellor said the measures he had announced were benefitting people in “every corner” of the country, referring to the sites for the eight freeports in England which were revealed as part of the Budget.

He told the news conference: “We have announced the location of our eight freeports in England today.

“They are spread in eight English regions – from Southampton to Teesside to Liverpool – across the country. And all of those areas are actually represented by a mix of both MPs and local authorities.

“Because what we are interested in is making sure that wherever you grow up, wherever you happen to live, that this government is helping to provide opportunity for you and creating jobs in your area.

“I firmly believe that whether it is the levelling up fund, or our freeports initiative, or any of the other things we are doing, we are delivering and making good on that promise.”


See earlier:

Gatwick could lose 600 jobs, and it could take 4-5 years for passengers to return to 2019 levels

Gawick plans to cut a quarter of its workforce due to the impact of coronavirus. So about 600 jobs could be lost following an 80% reduction in the 2019 number of passengers in August. It only has the North Terminal working.  CEO Stewart Wingate said the cuts were a result of the “devastating impacts” coronavirus had on the airline and travel industries.  In March, Gatwick announced 200 jobs would be lost, and it later took out a £300m bank loan. With the collapse in passenger numbers, the company said it was looking to further reduce costs. About 75% of staff are currently on the government’s furlough scheme, which is due to end in October. The DfT says: “If people need financial support quickly they may be able to claim Universal Credit and new style Jobseekers Allowance.”  Many staff belong to the union, Unite, which will fight to minimise redundancies.  The airport has said it will take “four to five years” for passenger numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels. Its revenue fell by 61% in the half year, January to June, compared to 2019. While Covid remains a very real issue, and levels are slowly rising in many countries, air passengers have no certainty about from which countries they would need to quarantine themselves for 14 days, on their return.

Click here to view full story…

Coronavirus: Areas reliant on aviation industry ‘to suffer worst’ – especially Crawley, too dependent on Gatwick

The Think Tank, the Centre of Cities, believes jobs in cities and towns which depend on the aviation industry will be most under threat by the coronavirus crisis. They estimate about 20% of jobs in these areas are vulnerable to the economic impacts of Covid-19. The economy of Crawley is likely to be hardest hit, as it is too dependent on Gatwick. More than 53,000 jobs are classed as vulnerable and very vulnerable in Crawley, of about 94,000 in the area. About 18% of jobs in Crawley are in aviation, compared with 1% on average across other big towns and cities. There are a lot of taxi drivers, whose work depends on the airport. People have warned for years about the dangers of areas “having all their eggs in one basket” on jobs, with too high a dependence on one industry. As much of the UK airline sector has almost closed down, with at least a 75% cut in flights at Heathrow, and over 90% cut at Gatwick, almost no flights using Luton, and so on. Luton is another town that is overly dependent on the airport, and now suffering. Also Derby and Aberdeen.  The areas worse affected by job losses due to Covid-19 will be asking for government help, once the lockdowns are lifted.

Click here to view full story…

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