Last week, we saw a most disappointing decision by John Denham MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He was minded to allow a new neighbourhood in the North East Sector, an area covered by the Pound Hill North ward of Crawley Council. This would be a development of 1,900 homes within the previous full North East Sector allocation area which would have taken 2,500 homes.
With decisions such as these, and the recent history of the North-East Sector, it can be difficult to identify the winners if there are any. Those of us who believe in a decent quality of life for current and future residents see our hopes dashed when inadequate consideration is given to noise that a future second runway would generate.
Believers in a second runway see any such expansion being potentially compromised with new dwellings being built. Perhaps the new homes would limit any expansion to a CPR (close parallel runway) solution which would be of limited use? Proponents of a volume-based expansion at Gatwick should feel let down by the government’s decision. Those of us who advocate smart growth through increasing the proportion of business air traffic are unaffected but that is not central to my argument here.
For some years now with the North East Sector, we have been navigating a sea of contradictions. Crawley Council originally resisted having a new neighbourhood in the area, citing this as a step too far. Local councillors opposed large-scale development referring to an overlaying range of features in the North East Sector. We had proximity to the M23; an abbatoir, a sewerage farm, a flood plain and aircraft noise. When these features were put together on the same map, it appeared to restrict development options. We were overruled by government of course.
Later the government instructed us not to permit large-scale residential development in the North East Sector so they could preserve the option of a second southern runway which could be a full wide-spaced solution. Couple this with the steer that we get from central government on delivering 7,500 new homes by 2026 or 375 dwellings each year since 2006. Then add in the national guidance around noise pollution and what do we get? Well, it is a total mess in policy terms.
From a central government perspective, runway capacity takes precedence or does it; housing takes precedence or does it; quality of life takes precedence or does it? The most recent decision emphasises housing but what good is that steer when some people change their policy priorities as often as they change their socks?
If the government sticks with housing as a priority, the North East Sector can potentially allow a relaxation of new-build density in other parts of the town. Some more difficult policy options for new housing can be reconsidered. We are still talking about a big ‘If’. With this government, it is like living in an episode of ‘24’. Anything can happen in the next hour.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
9th December 2009