Column: Airports of Sussex

UKIP County Leader, Mike Glennon
UKIP County Leader, Mike Glennon

UKIP’s West Sussex County Council opposition leader, Mike Glennon, considers what fun airports are.

A Tale of Two Airports

West Sussex has a fair number of airfields catering for small private aircraft and gliders and also a few popular venues, where enthusiasts fly their model aircraft - a fine sport, which I am determined to join in with some day.

What I would like to descend into today, however, are the county’s two real airports, the big one and the little one. Whilst most people know that Gatwick is the UK’s second busiest airport, few realise that Shoreham is its tenth busiest, not to mention the oldest in the land.

Airports are fascinating; I love them and fondly remember working at Gatwick as a part-time security guard when I was back at university many moons ago. Whether I would love airports quite so much if I lived right next to one, though, is quite a different matter and that is an issue any serious elected representative needs to bear in mind – but do they?

I’ll come back to Gatwick shortly, but meanwhile let’s ponder on its smaller, coastal sibling. Here in the Shoreham and Lancing area, our grade II listed airport is a prized part of the local history and culture and its current usage for private flying and an annual fund-raising air-show for the Royal Air Force Association irks nobody. But what if that usage starts to change? Do local residents have a right to expect their councillors to resist proposals, which the community finds intrusive or downright disruptive? An interesting test-case maybe, which would highlight who’s on whose side.

Is someone flying a kite?

Well, just such a case is about to take off this week, when Adur District councillors consider whether to grant licences to an organisation, which aspires to run a major music festival at the airport this summer. The underlying application refers to a maximum capacity of 69,999 revellers, though admittedly the festival might not achieve quite that many. Whatever the actual tally, we are talking extremely large numbers of souls, loud music and an application to sell booze until 3:00am in the morning.

Sounds a real gas to me, a phraseology which doubtless betrays which decade I grew up in. But then I don’t live just a stone’s throw away from the airport. I do, however, remember a musical event a few years ago about four miles from my own house, which kept me awake until dawn. All in all the police have good reason to view such gatherings, especially on the intended Shoreham scale, with a great deal of foreboding.

Apparently, local residents have been “consulted” (don’t you just love that word?) by Adur District Council and in a ratio of 69:1 are against the event taking place. Life is full of little surprises, isn’t it? Whilst various aspects of event applications are beyond the control of local authorities to resist, the licence to sell alcohol certainly is - and what a superb lever for an event of this kind! Question is, are they going to pull that lever – or are they going to pull the community’s you-know-what? Watch this space.

Which brings us to a much greater and more enduring question 25 miles further north.

Gatwick, we all know, is a candidate for a second runway and for an expansion, which would practically double the volume of landings and take-offs. Not just once a year, of course, but every day of the year in perpetuity. From the hordes of e-mails in my county council inbox, it seems that local residents across the northern part of the county have a slight issue with this. Folks in Surrey, East Sussex and Kent share it.

Could be interesting

Just as Adur District Council have to grapple this week with the desirability of a mega, all-night knees-up at Shoreham airport, West Sussex County Council will be grappling this month with their official response to the Gatwick second runway proposal. The conceivable explosion in air-traffic and commercial development across the few remaining green spaces around Crawley and its environs is sure to provide a challenging feast for the relevant select committee on 14th January and the full council debate five days later at County Hall North in Horsham.

At the end of the day, no matter which way it is packaged, the county council’s net response will be presumably a Yay or a Nay. Supportive of a second runway or opposed to it. That’s not to say, of course, that there will be consensus among the 71 county councillors and I am sure that all concerned residents will be viewing the fully-webcast debate with interest. And also noting the level of interest shown by their elected county councillors in protecting the interests of the local community. Should be interesting!

On behalf of UKIP, I look forward to making a robust contribution to that debate. Watch this space.