The region’s future prosperity might depend on it
Last month Gatwick launched a public consultation on its new draft master plan, which sets out the airport’s vision for how it might grow until the mid-2030s.
The plan is available for all to see online and sets out several scenarios which, if realised, could deliver up to 20,000 new jobs and inject £2 billion more into the regional economy.
A successful Gatwick is vital for our region’s economy and for many of our day to day lives. You might expect me to say that. I head up the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership and it is our job to lead economic growth and channel business leadership to grow the regional economy for Greater Brighton, West Sussex, East Surrey and Croydon.
We have been able to invest more than £300m of Government investment since we were created in 2010 to fund over 80 projects For example we are delivering sixteen major projects across Brighton and Hove developing the city’s infrastructure. Developments at Circus Street, regeneration around Brighton station, the new University of Brighton campus on Moulscombe Road and the Western sea front will underpin the city’s growth for years to come.
But in a world of uncertainty and change we also need to make plans for the growth of the city over the next 20 years – so that Brighton and Hove gets the profile and investment it deserves as one of the places in England with the potential to drive the national economy.
We are a local partnership between local authorities and businesses and - after speaking extensively to our partners – we have identified Gatwick as the beating heart of our region and think that its success is vital for the economic future of our region.
The airport fuels business, attracts employers, jobs and commerce into our region, including to Brighton and Hove, and across our coastal towns. It also links us to global markets and will help deliver the right trading conditions for businesses as we leave the EU. In fact, the airport is so important to the region that our new Strategic Economic Plan is called Gatwick 360.
Our plan however recognises that the region is not currently performing as well as it should, particularly when viewed alongside similar areas of England.
Our overall growth has not recovered from the recession. We remain over-reliant on the London jobs market and need better paid, highly skilled jobs based locally, which would also help relieve the overburdened local transport network. House prices are too high for many, there are pockets of low skills along the coast and in Crawley and Croydon. We do not have enough space for our small businesses to grow, to take on apprentices, to employ graduates and to export.
While we intend to do all we can to close this gap, it is important to recognise that we simply cannot take our future prosperity for granted. We must not sit back and expect new jobs to just come to the region, including for our young people. We have to work at it.
Our vision for growth is one that enhances and invests in our reputation as one of the greenest and most attractive parts of the UK in which people can live, work and succeed. We are arguing hard for increased investment in our environmental capital: to enhance our environmental standards, our access to low carbon transport and more sustainable waste, water and energy.
It is important that we see Gatwick’s expansion through this environmental lens. Concerns have been raised since the launch about noise and the environmental impact the airport’s growth might have. It is vital that Gatwick does the right thing and makes every effort to address these issues.
I would expect to see the airport use the latest technology to minimise noise; and to adopt a night flying regime to reduce noise at the most sensitive times. It is vital that Gatwick remains present and visible in the community, and that it shares the benefits of its growth more widely among all groups including the young, elderly and others who could do with a little help and support. We should challenge Gatwick to contribute to our regional infrastructure so that growth at the airport is felt all across our area.
The debate about the growth of the airport needs to engage people all across our region who will support plans to grow the airport. The debate needs to recognise the importance of the airport and the 85,000 jobs and £5.3 billion economic contribution it currently generates.
The future of Gatwick is too important to be drowned out by those who oppose any change on principle. We also need to focus on the effect Gatwick’s growth plans will have on jobs and the economic boost that comes with them.
There is something we can all do. I would encourage everyone to look up Gatwick’s plans online and take ten minutes to fill out the questions on the consultation page. The region’s future prosperity might depend on it.