Dr John Godfrey is stepping away from his work at Gatwick at a time when the airport ‘is in very good shape’.
He has announced his retirement as chairman of the Gatwick Airport Consultative Committee but agreed to continue in the post until the end of the year.
Dr Godfrey, 72, of Maltravers Street, Arundel, has been in the post for 11 years and is very proud of the committee’s achievements during that time.
With an ever-growing number of people flying, the committee has succeeded in improving the process for returning passengers through talks with border force.
A more customer friendly approach has been adopted, transport links have improved and the committee has been instrumental in talks to adapt one particular aircraft that was annoying residents with the whining noise it made.
Work still needs to be done on noise more generally but Dr Godfrey said Gatwick was in good shape and it seemed a good opportunity to end his career on a high.
“I have been in paid employment for 50 years and this is my last work for which I am remunerated,” he said.
“I have very much enjoyed my time and hope I have made some sort of contribution to maintaining the relationships between the management and the community it serves.
“I think it is a mistake to go on doing these jobs for too long. It is time I made way and I am sure my successor will bring a new perspective.
“There are some big issues coming up and the second runway will not go away. There is also work to be done on managing the London airspace.”
The committee was set up in 1956 to consult with stakeholders on how the airport is managed and how it might develop in the future.
Dr Godfrey said: “It is quite a large group, consisting of a very wide range of people, and I am the independent chairman, appointed by the airport.
“The essence of the task I have on the committee is to try to find the balance between the economic benefits of increasing air transport and traffic through the airport with the environmental disbenefits such as noise, pollution and greater urbanisation.
“My role is to enable these groups of people who come from very different perspectives to converse in a reasonable way without falling out and, we hope, reach a consensus.
“One important role of the committee is to bring complaints to the attention of people who can do something about them. It is keeping people talking that is the most important element.”
He was involved with the committee some years ago, as deputy secretary, when he was working for West Sussex County Council, and became chairman 11 years ago.
Dr Godfrey said that appointment coincided, more or less, with the acquisition of the airport by the present owners, Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP).
He added: “When I first became involved, it was a national industry, then it was privatised and the individual airports were sold off.
“GIP did not own any others in the country, so the whole focus was Gatwick. I think that was really good for the airport. Under independent ownership, it has been able to acquire a much more individual, distinctive personality and the decisions made are much more in the interests of Gatwick, rather than a broader group of airports.
“GIP have spent a great deal of money improving the airport and passenger numbers have grown very considerably during that period. They have the ability to be quick on their feet and respond to situations. I have found that a very interesting part of my work.
“The committee is purely advisory, it does not make decisions, but it acts as a friend of the airport. We champion the airport but we are able to challenge the management and try to enable them to see where the public interest lies, which may not coincide with the commercial interests.
“They wish to be good neighbours and retain the support of the local community. It is very encouraging that on a large range of issues, we can reach agreement.”
Dr Godfrey admitted the second runway was an issue where the committee could not reach consensus, so it had ‘to park’ that, but on issues around it, members could hold useful conversations.
He said: “We have been very active in campaigns on transport connections to the airport and I am very proud that this has led to the refurbishment of the railway station. There is currently a planning application under consideration and that has been a lot of work. We have also been involved in improving the road system.
“Gatwick Airport is pretty much full at the moment, handling 44million passengers a year on one runway. It is the biggest single airport in the world with 55 aircraft movements an hour.”
Dr Godfrey is a Deputy Lieutenant of West Sussex and will remain in that role until he is 75.
A historian at heart, he is also vice-chairman of the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton and chairman of the Sussex Heritage Trust, a charity established in 1977 to preserve, improve and encourage the appreciation of the county’s architectural and natural landscape.
A former chief executive of Sussex Police Authority Dr Godfrey spent 40 years working in local government, mainly in Sussex, before retiring in 2010.
He is a vice-president of the Sussex Association of Local Councils, a Freeman of Chichester Harbour, a trustee of the Hanover Band Foundation and a former trustee of the South Downs Society.
He is also co-chairman of Arun Valley Vision Group, which is working with the Environment Agency and other stakeholders to develop a vision for the future management of the lower tidal River Arun.
At the request of West Sussex County Council, he has chaired a number of public meetings on controversial issues in the county, including fracking at Balcombe and schools reorganisation in the Storrington area.
Dr Godfrey loves the countryside, landscapes and history of Sussex, and writes and lectures on these topics. He founded the annual South Downs Way Walk in 1980, which is still going strong, and is one of the team of voluntary leaders.
He wrote The New Shell Guide to Sussex and Guide to the South Downs Way and is currently writing on aspects of the impact of the First World War on the county of Sussex.
Dr Godfrey said his first wife Sally died seven years ago but he was lucky enough to find love again. He married Sue two years ago. He has three sons, she has two daughters, and they have nine grandchildren between them.