One of my photos

The Gatwick problem

April 6th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · No Comments · Politics

I popped down to the Hawth theatre today for the exhibition by Gatwick Airport Ltd. about possible expansion at the airport. As I arrived I could see that there was actually a queue to get in, and not a small one either – it must have been at least 10 metres. My immediate naive thought was that this was a huge demand for debate and information, but I soon found that there was not a lot of information available or indeed much of a call for it.

I had momentarily forgotten one of the rules of thumb of such event: whenever anything is proposed, people who are vehemently against it will turn up to let everybody know, and those who are for something don’t usually bother. Those who are neutral might want to go to in the hope of learning enough to make their mind up but a lot of the time that neutrality is effectively apathy. I can sympathise with that. I have lost count of the number of marches and demos I have been on but I’m pretty sure they were all against something, but when ther topic is building anything you have the added dimension of any consultation being a gigantic NIMBY-magnet, and this was no exception.For a start, one reason the crowds looked so large was that members of several pressure groups were there in force, but even without them, there were a lot of people there on their own. It was actually very crowded inside so that you could not get close up to see any of the exhibits without equal and large amounts of patience and elbows. It was like the Velazquez exhibition at the National Gallery all over again, but worse.

This would have been a problem if the exhibits were actually worth seeing. They were just, from what little I could see, blown-up replicas of pages, pictures and diagrams which were familiar from the adverts in the loacl paper, and the Gatwick Obviously website, so the whole thing was a bit of a waste of time. It might have been useful to have a chat with the GAL staff there but because of the crowds their conversations were all to groups of people that always included at least one person wanting to shout them down and contradict them.

Maybe it would have been better to have used a bigger space and to have let the event run for a couple of days, especially for this first one. Maybe it will be better at the events in Lingfield, Crawley Down, and other smaller places, after the novelty has worn off.

What other information would have helped? Well a proper model would have been interesting, as would current OS maps of aerial photos with the proposed layouts superimposed to get a better idea of local impact. They could also have not bothered with the extra confusion of options 2 and 3 which appear to be physically the same.

Personally I am not against the expansion, despite already living 2km away from the runway, but I’m not too worked up about it. I think that Gatwick does OK at the moment, but it is frustrating to live so close to an airport and then find that for certain destinations I would have to go over to Heathrow in order to get a flight. For example, for the last several years there has been no flights to Paris, although Easyjet have now added a route.

Whenever I have gone to Paris with my current job I have had to take the train, which would be fine except that if I flew I could have been in Paris by the the time I was boarding the Eurostar. A flight would make it feasible to go there and back in a day, like I did for Glasgow, instead of having to stay overnight. Mind you, the Eurostar is easier to get to from here than Heathrow.

Keeping Gatwick as a single-runway airport would be fine if the other airports, especially Heathrow, stayed the same. But if Heathrow expanded more I think it would cause a real decline.

Back in the 80’s the image of the airports was that Heathrow was the place to go for scheduled flights and Gatwick for charter flights with the general rule of thumb being that you went to Gatwick if you were going on holiday and Heathrow if you were going on business or flying long haul. I’m not talking about the reality here, but the image. A lot of my colleagues at ICL would always go from Heathrow on business because they saw Gatwick as a ‘bucket & spade’ airport – in reality the South terminal was like that but the North was almost empty and brilliant for business travel.

I mention this because of something I saw on one of the protestors’ posters. To be fair to them, they did try to put forward apparently constructive alternatives. One of these was that if Gatwick didn’t expand and Heathrow did it would be a good thing because the higher costs for slots at Heathrow would drive all the low-cost airlines to Gatwick and it would expand its business that way.

That is when it struck me that the proposed alternative to expansion is to actually give Gatwick back the bucket & spade image that it has spent so long trying to get rid of. This would actually be appropriate because Crawley’s airport would then be an accurate reflection of Crawley’s town centre, which is increasingly made up of empty units, pound shops, pawn shops, and vague shops.

Don’t bother looking up the term ‘vague shops’ because I just invented it. They are shops that don’t sell any particular thing: they just sell whatever they can get cheap from a wholesaler with no overall theme, though very ugly ornaments often feature heavily. The only thing they have in common is that they all have a little neon sign advertising that they unlock mobile phones.

If anything, the idea of moving Gatwick downmarket in a big way made me more in favour of expansion.


No Comments so far ↓

Like the collective mind of the Daily Mail, comments are closed.