Chris Packham and Sir David King slam disastrous Gatwick Airport expansion plans at planning inquiry - Extinction Rebellion UK

Chris Packham and Sir David King slam disastrous Gatwick Airport expansion plans at planning inquiry

Experts line up to warn expansion would exacerbate climate breakdown, harm public health and make Gatwick a stranded asset

BBC TV presenter and wildlife campaigner Chris Packham, and the government’s former Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, yesterday (2 May) joined MPs, scientists and residents, to issue a series of warnings against Gatwick Airport’s expansion plans during a key planning hearing.

The Climate Specific Hearing, which took place at the Sandman Signature hotel, near Gatwick, is part of a six month-long planning inquiry by the Planning Inspectorate into Gatwick’s expansion plans.

The airport is proposing opening a second runway which would increase passenger numbers to up to 75 million passengers a year by the late 2030s, up from a record 46.5 million passengers in 2019, rising to more than 80 million passengers by 2047. This would make Gatwick passenger numbers almost as large as Heathrow’s, and increase carbon emissions by 1 million tonnes a year [1] and put the UK Government’s Carbon Budget Delivery Plan in even greater jeopardy. [2]

Giving evidence, Chris Packham told the panel that the plans are “disastrous” and asked the planning inspectors to consider their own children’s future: “Your decision is not only important in the short term, it will clearly define how you consider and care for the future health of yourselves, your children and grandchildren. This is not a casual choice that you can make on a contemporary whim or business case. It’s a choice that comes with a considerable legacy. What do you want that legacy to be? That you played a brave role in pulling life back from the brink, or you shoved it further towards hell in a handcart. That is your choice.” 

He said: “Our government’s own climate change committee says there should be no more airport expansion until the aviation industry starts to cut its CO2 emissions. But if sanctioned, these plans would make Gatwick as big as Heathrow is now.”

Packham also denounced claims that sustainable aviation fuels offer a “green” alternative to jet fuel: “Let’s be very clear, the current celebration of sustainable aviation fuels is either poppycock or BS depending on your choice of language,” he said. “Sustainable aviation fuel is unachievable, even at the rates we currently fly. Competition for arable land causes further biodiversity loss, rising food prices and water shortages, none of which we can countenance. In fact, so-called biofuel can actually result in even more emissions than fossil fuel.”

Former Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King, warned the panel that the climate crisis is already in a new critical phase with extreme events occurring faster than climate scientists have previously predicted. Pointing to the heat dome in Canada, the wild fires in Greece, excessive temperatures in India and the increasingly rapid melting of the polar ice caps, he said: “For the Earth  to navigate away from this precipice requires collective action at every level. For all of us to continue to exist in the way we do today means we have to move away from burning fossil fuels.”

He also warned that Gatwick’s expansion could become a stranded asset: “Just as new oil and gas recovery ventures are going to be stranded assets equally, the expansion of Gatwick Airport, which is going to take decades to reach its ultimate objective, is going to be fruitless because that kind of air travel will not be the way we can continue as a civilization.”

Tim Crosland, lawyer and director of climate justice charity PlanB, warned the panel that the historic European Court of Human Rights ruling against the Swiss government last month undermines any case for Gatwick’s expansion and brings to an end the UK government’s tendency to ignore its commitment to the Paris Agreement. He explained: “For the first time the court ruled that member states have a positive legal obligation arising under Article 8, which is the right to private and family life which encompasses our health and to implement policies to ensure compliance with the Paris Agreement. That ruling applies not just to Switzerland, but all 46 countries of the Council of Europe, including the UK.

“So plans to expand passenger capacity from Gatwick are incompatible with the 1.5 degrees limit, which demands an urgent reduction of emissions across all sectors of the economy including aviation. Inconvenient as that may be, following the decision in Strasburg, those overwhelming legal obstacles and development consent should be refused now.”

Witnesses at the hearing also raised concerns about the health impacts of the proposed expansion. Peter Knapp, air quality researcher at Imperial College London and environmental activist, told the panel: “Jet engines produce particles under 100 nanometers. They’re called ultra fine particles. These are so small that they can pass through the eyes. They’re so small that they can get into your blood. They’re so small that they can pass through your nose and into your brain. They cause cancers, strokes, diabetes, asthma, dementia, and heart disease. Ultra fine particles increase the risk of cancer mortality. Ten million of these are found in every cubic centimetre that you find at the end of a runway. They spread to nearby towns and villages.”

Pointing out that aviation emissions are responsible for an estimated 24,000 early deaths globally every year he warned that Gatwick’s expansion would increase that number of early deaths and worsen pre-existing health conditions, especially in the neighbouring town of Horley. 

He added: “The cost of the NHS from air pollution is at least £1.6bn from 2017 to 2025 and this does not even include the cost from ultra fine air pollution. When the limits of ultra fine particles are legislated for  – and this will happen  – then Gatwick will have to run at a lower capacity than it is run now and will be a huge waste of money and resources because, as David King says, it will become a stranded asset.” 

Author and biologist George Tsakraklides also gave an impassioned speech against the expansion plans. He warned the panel: “We are losing this planet like sand slipping through our fingers. As we speak everything around us is in a collapse trajectory. This, my dear friends, is the context which I want you to remember throughout this process, because you are living in the climate crisis and it is bigger than you, it is bigger than Gatwick and it is definitely bigger than the economy, jobs, flights, your friends, your family, global security. It’s bigger than food. It’s bigger than your children and everything you like to do in your spare time, because you won’t be able to do any of those things, if we continue on this path of self-destruction.”

Earlier this week, Extinction Rebellion joined with local residents, Gatwick campaign groups, as well as local politicians and councillors, to demonstrate outside the Sandman Signature hotel – where the six month planning inquiry is being conducted – in support of the Climate Specific Hearing and to call on the inspectorate to oppose Gatwick Airport’s expansion plans.


Images and videos from this week’s protest outside the inquiry HQ at the Sandman Signature hotel, Gatwick:

Archival link:

Notes for Editors

[1] Why Gatwick Expansion Adds To The Aviation Carbon Headache, The Aviation Environment Federation: 

[2] “The Government didn’t want to publish these climate risk tables – here they are”, Good Law Project:

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