The Runway Issue


Gatwick is a small airport, and is confined by the towns of Horley and Crawley, and by the medieval village of Charlwood, and also by high ground to the west and the main London - Brighton railway line to the east. Charles de Gaulle Airport at Paris is five times as large.

Gatwick has one main runway, and one subsidiary runway which can be used when the main runway is not available. The two runways are too close together to be used simultaneously.

On 17 December 2013 the Airports Commission published their short-list of possible sites for a new runway.  This included two options at Heathrow and one at Gatwick.

See GACC press release.

For recent developments see 

Latest news

Gatwick Unzipped

GACC has submitted an important paper to the Airports Commission in response to their invitation to interested bodies to comment on the various runway plans.  The paper is a detailed analysis of the Gatwick runway proposals, showing the aeronautical problems and the environmental damage that they would cause. 

Read Gatwick Unzipped.   Updated version soon.




The Coalition Government agreed in May 2010 that no new runways will be built at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted.  The Lib Dem Party passed a Resolution at their 2012 Conference opposing any new runways in the South East, and this was confirmed at their 2014 conference where an amendment to permit a new runway at Gatwick was overwhelmingly defeated. 

The Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies (right) is studying whether new runways will be required in future, and whether the UK needs a larger hub airport.



GACC says no need for a new runway.

GACC says that, because of the trend to larger aircraft, and because of unused capacity at Stansted there is no need for any new runway in the South East.  But if a new runway were to be built at Gatwick it would soon fill up, attracting airlines from other parts of the UK, making the over-crowding of the South East worse. See submission to the Airports Commission.


 National Environmental Organisations say no a new runway.

Six major national green organisations, including RSPB, WWF and Friends of the Earth have published a 'manifesto' saying that that cannot support any new runway unless certain conditions are met, including a strict limit of climate change damage, proper recognition of noise in rural areas and full use of existing airport capacity.  Read Manifesto.


National Environmental Organisations say NO Runway  Letter to Sir Howard Davies 


RSPB says any new runway inconsistent with Climate Act.  Read their report.

WWF says new runway would worsen north-south divide.

Read their report.


Flight paths for a new runway

The Airports Commission has published maps showing the possible positions of new flight paths if a new runway were to be built.  It is emphasised that these are only indicative.

See  NATS Airspace Report  page 39.

See GACC press release.


A new town the size of Crawley

30,000 - 45,000 new houses would be needed if a new runway is built at Gatwick.  That is the conclusion of a study by independent consultants jointly commissioned by the West Sussex County Council and the Gatwick Diamond Initiative.  The total number of houses in Crawley at present is around 40,000.


Read press release.



 Noise correction

GACC has pointed out to the Airports Commission that their Discussion Document on Aviation Noise has a serious omission.  It does not recognise that, because of the lower background noise, aircraft noise in rural areas can cause more annoyance than noise in urban areas. Thus the assertion by Gatwick Airport that far fewer people would be annoyed by a new runway at Gatwick than at Heathrow may exaggerate the situation.

See Response.



Wildlife and landscape experts oppose new runway

Dr Tony Whitbread, Chief Executive  of the Sussex Wildlife Trust warns that the idea of a second runway at Gatwick Airport is a great worry to the Trust.  Gatwick Airport at present has a huge ecological impact and adding an extra runway will make this worse.  Read his blog.

Landscape author Dave Bangs describes the value of the land which would be destroyed by a new runway.  Read his article and his expert, comprehensive and well-illustrated description of the landscape .



GACC has submitted a number of other papers to the Airports Commission.

Airport Operational Models describes why Gatwick would be unlikely to succeed as a hub, and warns of the risk of building a 'castle in the air' - with examples of runways around the world which are unused.

Phoney economics.  GACC tells the Commission not to be led astray by the exaggerated claims for economic benefits peddled by the consultants employed by the aviation industry.

Making best use of existing runways.  GACC suggests higher tax on full runways so as to match supply and demand.

Dodgy forecastsGACC suggests that the forecasts of ever-increasing air travel may not be reliable.

Council Shenanigans

Several County and Borough councils have held debates on the Gatwick runway issue.  For a summary of their decisions (and comments by GACC) see council debates.

A survey of local residents by West Sussex CC has been quoted as supporting a new runway, but in fact this was not so.  See note.



GACC booklet produced in 2003 which shows that, because of the constricted topography at Gatwick, any new runway won't work from an aviation point of view. 

See GACC booklet.  Although this was produced in 2003 none of the constricting hills or towns have moved.






There have been several attempts by airlines to use Gatwick as a hub airport.  All have failed.


See GACC document.



The construction of any new runway at Gatwick is ruled out before August 2019 by a legal agreement between BAA and West Sussex County Council. The agreement applies to whoever owns Gatwick, and could only be overturned by legislation which would need to be passed by both Houses of Parliament.
In 1979 BAA, then the British Airports Authority, was seeking planning permission to build the North Terminal. They promised (as they did with T5 at Heathrow) that if they got the terminal, they would never go on to ask for a new runway. So West Sussex County Council asked them to put their promise in the form of a legal agreement. BAA were prepared to do so because they were aware that any new runway was ruled out by the constraints of the site.

The legal agreement merely reflects the physical constraints of the site. They will remain when the agreement expires.


The proposal for a high speed rail link between Heathrow and Gatwick attracted much attention in 2011.  It has been rubbished by many airlines, and by both Heathrow and Gatwick airports -

  • if deep-bored, it would be vastly expensive for little benefit
  • if not deep-bored it would do huge environmental damage
  • it would not be straight, and thus it is doubtful if it could do the journey in 15 minutes as claimed
  • no account of time to walk to and from stations
  • double immigration and customs
  • no recognition that there is no space for a second runway at Gatwick. 
  • ___________________________________________________

In response to a consultation by the Government in 2003, proposals for new runways at Gatwick were carefully debated by many local authorities and voluntary groups. By July 2003, over eighty councils and environmental groups had declared their considered opposition to the runway proposals. They included both Surrey and West Sussex County Councils, and all the District and Borough Councils around the airport. All the local MPs were strongly opposed to the proposed wide spaced runway.

Crawley Borough Council had supported the judicial review in autumn 2002 (which led to the inclusion of Gatwick in the consultation), on the grounds that the merits of a new runway at Gatwick should be discussed. This produced a strong reaction and the formation of an all-party group “One’s Enough”. In June 2003 Crawley Council voted unanimously to oppose any new runway.



In addition to the environmental objections outlined above, there are strong economic arguments against a new runway.  

  1. The main reason why air travel has expanded so fast in recent years is that it receives huge tax concessions - no fuel tax, no VAT, duty free sales. These far exceed the air passenger duty.  Based on Treasury figures, the absence of fuel duty and VAT results in a loss of revenue of around £12 billion a year, while APD brings in around £3 billion.  Thus the total tax subsidy is around £9 billion a year, an average of £90 for each return flight from the UK.
  2. In 2003 the Department for Transport computer model showed that if air travel was taxed at the same rate as car travel the rate of growth of air travel would be halved, and there would be no need for any new runways.  Further information see Hidden Cost of Flying, pages 19-22. 
  3. GACC is not opposed to air travel but believes it should in theory pay the same rate of tax as other industries, and be subject to the same climate change restraints as other industries. 
  4. There are practical reasons why it is difficult for one country alone to impose tax on aviation fuel, or to impose VAT on airline tickets.  But it would be bad economics to build new infrastructure to meet a level of demand which is artificially inflated.
  5. A new Gatwick runway, designed to double the number of flights, would conflict with the climate change target set in 2010 by the Government, that aviation CO2 emissions should be reduced to the 2005 level by 2050 - unless growth were to be constrained at regional airports.
  6. The economy of the region surrounding Gatwick is already too reliant on the airport and far from exacerbating that risk there is a need for diversification, particularly into activities supporting a low carbon economy.



Blight warning

GACC has warned that plans for a new runway may blight over 10,000 houses.  Gatwick Airport Ltd have been asked to extend their existing scheme, which only covers about 280 houses.  See press release with full explanation.

GACC has joined with environmental groups at other London airports to suggest that any airport which wishes to be considered as a site for a new runway must produce a scheme to alleviate blight.  See letter.

See also reply from Sir Howard Davies, Chairman of the Airports Commission.  In the Interim Report of the Commission, however, it is merely left to individual airports to deal with hard cases.(see paragraphs 7.15 - 7.19)

Gatwick history 

Tangled Wings:  Gatwick seen through green-tinted glasses  by Brendon Sewill, chairman of GACC, tells the story of Gatwick as seen from the nearby village of Charlwood, and how proposals for a second runway were defeated in 1970, in 1993, and in 2003.

Full of of fascinating facts, such as that Winston Churchill was unhappy about the process for choosing the location of Gatwick with no space for a second runway

Details and how to order here.


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