Gatwick buyout raises tensions
by Adam Hignett | 2nd January 2019
Plans to sell the controlling stake in Gatwick airport to a French conglomerate have increased the likelihood of a second runway, campaigners fear.
Last week it was announced by the airport’s owners, Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) that 50.01 per cent of Gatwick’s shares are to be sold to the French firm VINCI Airports for around £2.9billion.
The deal, which values the business at £5.8billion, is due to be completed in second half of the year and has been hailed by the airport’s Chairman Sir David Higgins as a “vote of confidence in Gatwick and its future potential.”
But talk of Gatwick’s ‘future potential’ has riled campaigners opposed to the airport’s expansion, as they believe the VINCI would not have pledged the investment if it was not confident of bringing more runways into use.
It comes after Gatwick was accused of trying to open a second runway ‘by the back door’ after it unveiled steps to gradually bring the existing emergency runway into regular operation.
Opponents claim the move would see an additional 84,000 flights per annum, leading to a vast increase in aircraft noise, damage to the environment and unsustainable strain on local infrastructure.
However, in an interview with the Times, Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate played down concerns over aircraft noise by suggesting new technology has already led to the latest models of jet being ‘50 per cent quieter’.
He also said the proposals would lead to a net economic benefit of £2billion and 20,000 additional jobs in the regional economy.
In December, a YouGov poll of 3,000 residents living in Kent, Sussex and Surrey suggesting two thirds of respondents support the idea was dismissed as ‘purposefully misleading’ by campaigners.
The proposal to use the emergency runway was included in a draft edition of the airport’s master plan which was released in October.
The master plan also suggests land adjacent to the airport should be safeguarded for the creation of a second runway, despite Mr Wingate insisting the airport is no longer actively seeking to build one.
News of the tie-up between VINCI and GIP, which will maintain an integral role in the airport’s management, has been met with incredulity by campaigners.
Sally Pavey, chair of the Campaign Against Gatwick noise and Emissions (CAGNE), which represents residents under the airport’s flightpaths, including those in Tunbridge Wells and Langton Green, said: “VINCI’s interest clearly illustrates Gatwick’s scheme to inflate its share price with the emergency runway proposal has worked.
“This does not bode well as clearly VINCI will want to make its money back and therefore will push harder to increase capacity with additional runways.
“The only goal of these companies is to increase profits regardless of the damage it does to local communities.”
Ms Pavey urged opponents to make their views heard before the consultation on the master plan ends on January 10.