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Speak up for ancient woods at Gatwick

Gatwick Airport is surrounded by irreplaceable ancient woodland. The view from the air of the thick green canopy below is iconic - it’s what makes many travellers feel like they’re truly home.

But that view could be threatened in the future, as revealed in a draft master plan for the airport. A public consultation was conducted, and we are now awaiting the results.

We’ve worked hard for over 15 years to defend these ancient woods and influence expansion plans. We’re shocked at the lack of consideration for them in the consultation and accompanying documents.

Our immediate concern is the suggestion that the land surrounding Gatwick could be officially allocated for possible expansion in the future. We’re also wary of possible new infrastructure which could impact the woods and their vulnerable wildlife.

Here are the three options set out in the draft masterplan and our views on them.

1. Main runway: using new technologies to increase capacity

Gatwick says:

In the near term, the airport has explored how deploying new technology could increase the capacity of the main runway, offering incremental growth through more efficient operations.

2. Standby runway: innovative plan to bring existing standby runway into use 

Gatwick says:

Under its current planning agreement, Gatwick’s existing standby runway is only used when the main runway is closed for maintenance or emergencies. However, the 40-year planning agreement will come to an end in 2019. The draft master plan sets out for the first time how we could potentially bring our existing standby runway into routine use for departing flights, alongside the main runway, by the mid-2020s. This innovative development, which would meet all international safety requirements, would be delivered without increasing the airport’s noise footprint and provide greater operational resilience. 

We say:

Options 1 and 2 may not appear to impact ancient woods, but it’s important that Gatwick considers how irreplaceable habitats and trees could be impacted by any new supporting infrastructure proposed for maximising use of the existing runways, like access roads and car parks. These should be properly identified and their status assessed, and the potential impact from any plans must be given appropriate weighting in any proposals.

In addition, to comply with government policy and achieve no net loss of biodiversity, supporting infrastructure must avoid irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland.

3. Additional runway: safeguarding for the future

Gatwick says:

While we are not actively pursuing the option of a building a brand new runway to the south of the airport - as we did through the Airports Commission process - we believe it is in the national interest to continue to safeguard this land for the future as part of our master plan.

We say:

Woods and trees provide immeasurable benefits to the nation, and the safe future of our oldest woodland habitats is in the national interest. An additional runway would undoubtedly cause loss of irreplaceable habitats, hence a net loss of biodiversity. This goes against published government policy ambitions around avoiding loss of biodiversity, and stronger protections for irreplaceable habitats.

In the draft this is termed ‘safeguarding’. But that phrase is not used (as we would use it) to describe protecting the area from harm. We call this ‘earmarking’.  The suggestion of ‘safeguarding’ land is entirely inappropriate for irreplaceable habitats. It’s also unwarranted – national aviation policy makes it clear there is no support for a new runway at Gatwick.

At a more practical level, continuing to earmark some of the land for another runway could impact public access, limit the potential for sustainable productivity from the woods, and stifle opportunities for any new tree planting or long term management.

If the area is earmarked for a new runway it could be just a matter of time before these woods are destroyed. Our ancient woods don’t need ‘safeguarding’ like this. They need a future that is genuinely safe.

Thank you for supporting ancient woods and trees. The consultation is now closed. Look out for an update soon