Tuesday, 27 January 2015

'I grow and I rejoice'. An essay in support of London Gatwick airport expansion

Cities once grew by rivers. Then at the intersection of roads with the Romans. The biggest cities of the last 150 years grew most rapidly when linked with major rail routes. The 21st century city will prosper around the airport. Thats how people, goods and business move these days.
It's not even about nations anymore. City hubs are all important, global south mega cities are close already to dwarfing European nation states.

Global demand and the need for major hub airports.
Put simply, cities which invest in airport growth will see population, jobs, and prosperity grow.
Cities that don't invest are doomed. It's not just that the additional jobs will go elsewhere instead. Ultimately, the existing ones will too.
The reasoning is stark. If we don't invest in a major hub airport, a nearby European neighbour will, and the long term flow of business will get rerouted.
In this world economy, the demand for rapid movement of goods, services and people, airlines will look for and relocate to the next nearest hub airport that can connect them to their customers. Our small UK airports diminish in the face of larger European hubs that simply offer more choice and more global connections.

The argument against increasing capacity of UK regional airports.
The proposal to expand regional airports to Manchester or Birmingham, suggested by some, is enticing. Lower housing costs, the bonus of spreading employment around the country, kick starting economic improvement in less dynamic regions. Sounds good?
I love Manchester having lived there for 10 years, it's a great airport. However, this isn't a debate about the north south divide. Brace yourselves - The world economy and big business don't care for the north, the east or the west of Britain. they want London. It would be the same in France, global demand means they want Paris. 
Such global demand requires major international hub airports, not regional expansion. If expansion doesn't come to Gatwick, Heathrow or a new London airport where goods, services and business want to be, then the major players will defect to Frankfurt or Paris. That's it - whilst we argue amongst ourselves about regionalisation and local class politics, a multi billion dollar per year industry will up sticks and move its significant throughput to Germany or France!

This is the stark choice. It's near London where most business and travellers want to be, so it's near London that we must expand.
Take India as a case study. They are building airports by the dozen as their population multiplies - recognizing the need for 21st century cities to be globally connected. India is projected to have a burgeoning wealthy middle class of over 100 million by 2025 who will all want to travel out of their new airports to see the world. Only a well connected London hub airport could attract and handle the throughput of these kind of passenger numbers, and all the add ons which come with them. Do we really want them to go anywhere else? Talk of increasing capacity at regional airports around the UK and spreading the load is missing the point entirely!

Local Government short term ineptitude, long term demise.
For West Sussex County Council and Crawley Borough Council to vote against supporting the expansion of Gatwick is short term and misinformed. It's like deciding to invest in canal boats just as the first steam trains are being unveiled.
Local government may want to keep things as they are, but we've already established, it's not a neutral decision. I've heard plently of talk that the airport is big enough already. But the global market demands that if we don't grow bigger to accomodate them, then we must inevitably grow smaller. 
Such safety first, backward thinking will leave us one day seeing the current era as the last of the glory days for Gatwick. It ensures that over the next 20 years a trickle, then gradually a flood of airport flights, then services, then jobs, then more ancillary services and then yet more jobs, all move onto the next forward thinking airport hub.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difficult but brave decision that would ensure this town grows and all of the South East benefits. For local government to vote no over infrastructure concerns or to attempt to 'lock' Crawley at it's current size and spread, is a vote to one day destroy the town and relegate Sussex to a backwater county.

Migrant jobs are good.
The view that jobs created with future airport expansion will not be local jobs, but migrant workers is accurate . Of course migrant workers will come to a town with already full employment. Again, that's how cities grow.
An economic hub gains momentum, jobs are created, skills are required, people move into the area. They buy and rent homes, put their kids in local schools, pay their taxes, spend money in local shops, bars and restuarants. More services are created, more people move in to support them, and so on. It's been that way since ancient Rome grew on the seven hills, or the industrial revolution when migrant workers came out of the countryside, leaving behind their agricultural trades to join the newly emerging cities.

To use the migrant worker argument against growth in Crawley of all places is even more counter intuitive. We didn't exist as a town 60 years ago. We are in fact, a test case, a shining authentic model for this kind of growth.
Non local people moved into this northern Sussex new town with the post-war housing boom. More housing was created to meet demand, more migrant workers come. The airport grew, and with it, related jobs, industries and infrastructure -  more migrant workers come, and so in the space of two generations, the town grew from a few villages to 100,000 plus people. People who now consider themselves thoroughly local Crawley residents.
Who is to say this pattern won't be repeated with the next wave of airport growth? Studies of every growing city show this to be the case. Crawley won't be the exception to this rule. Indeed, because of the unique nature of the new town ideal, which has shown an ease at assimilating different tribes alongside one another in a way that other, older and more settled towns and cities have not, Crawley is better placed than any to welcome migrant workers of all backgrounds.
For local councillors who themselves have arrived in Crawley not because of heritage, but because of economic migration - to now contend that such workers are bad for the town is another nonesense argument.

'I grow and I rejoice'.
Of course there are valid concerns surrounding infrastructure, new schools, roads, affordable housing, noise and compulsary purchases. Scaremongering and fear spreading by local interest groups and Councillors are not the answer here though. It's clear that standing still with airport expansion at Gatwick is no longer an option, just a vote for going backwards. Instead of sticking heads in the sand, or alienating business interests,  the local authority could engage in the creative development of infrastructure ideas, recognising that any transition costs will be far outweighted in the long term by the overall increased revenues from a major international hub airport. (Just remember the 100 million Indians, never mind the rest of our travelling planet and global business!)

The ability to expand fast, build quick, welcome strangers, create community, produce jobs, establish an airport - these are the qualities which made Crawley out of nothing, to something, in such a short space of time. The motto of our town is Seneca's 'I grow and I rejoice.'
Therefore Crawley should swallow hard, and continue to make the kind of courageous long term decisions regarding the airport which made her grow and prosper in the first instance. Only in holding to such a course, and accepting that population and infrastructure growth are not the enemy, rather the means to prosperity, will Crawley have the kind of happy civic future which Seneca dreamed of.

No comments:

Post a Comment