CROYDON COMMENTARY: In the week when the Airport Commission is expected to deliver its verdict on runway expansion – Heathrow or Gatwick – PETER UNDERWOOD expresses his concern at the uncritical outlook of our local politicians
One of Chris Philps’ first acts as the new MP for Croydon South was to host an event for the rich developers behind plans to build another runway at Gatwick.
Putting aside the negative impacts expanding airports will have on the climate and the fact that even people in the air industry think that expanding Gatwick is a bad idea, it is disappointing to see that Philp is not willing to take a stand and defend his constituents from yet another plan to reduce air quality in and around Croydon.
We know that poor air quality is killing thousands of people every year and it is clear that airport expansion at Heathrow or Gatwick will breach air pollution laws. You might hope that our elected representatives would stand up for the best interests of their constituents.
On a recent edition of the BBC’s Sunday Politics there was a discussion about airport expansion in the south-east. Mention was made of Zac Goldsmith and Boris Johnson, Tories who are campaigning on behalf of their constituents against expansion at Heathrow. One of the guests on the show was Paul Beresford, one of the group of MPs south of Croydon campaigning to defend their constituents against Gatwick expansion.
Another guest on the programme was Christian Wolmar, a Labour contender for the Mayor of London, who clearly had a strong grasp of the issues and spoke with passion about defending Londoners from even more pollution.
The final member of the discussion was Philp.
Here was Croydon South’s new MP’s chance to champion the cause of the people who had just voted for him. So what was his response? He said he thought he could see pluses and minuses for both Gatwick and Heathrow proposals and that he would wait and see what the Davies Commission recommended. It sounded like someone who would do exactly what his party HQ will order him to do. It certainly didn’t amount to a call to the barricades on behalf of the people of Croydon.
Besides, away from the television cameras, Philp seems to be backing Gatwick.
Philp’s position does fit in with the type of response we get from other elected, and unelected, politicians of the duopoly which controls Croydon. Our councillors seem overjoyed with the idea of Gatwick expansion and are happy to promote it without any thought to the negative impacts on our air quality.
Some have had very close ties with the Gatwick expansion campaign: Sarah Jones, the Labour candidate at the General Election who came so close to winning Croydon Central, worked in Gatwick’s PR department before concentrating on her election campaign.
What of our representative on the London Assembly (we do have one, but you could be forgiven for not noticing)? Tory Steve O’Connell loves the idea of airport expansion so much that, ignoring all possible ridicule for the ridiculous notion, he wants to re-name Gatwick as “Croydon International Airport”.
And what about other developments that will worsen our air quality?
The incinerator planned for Beddington will spew toxic pollutants all over Croydon, so what have our representatives said? The Tories on Croydon Council (including Steve O’Connell) signed up to the plan in the first place with the LibDems in Sutton. Labour in Croydon said they were against it when in opposition, but since they have been elected they have refused to do anything to stop it.
When Philp has been asked about the incinerator, the most he could manage was just some vague muttering about it being “the least bad option”.
What about another plan in the offing, to concrete over half of Duppas Hill Park to build a multi-lane flyover and bring even more traffic pollution through Waddon into the heart of Croydon?
A few local councillors had the decency to stand up for the residents of Waddon but they’ve had no luck in getting their colleagues on the council to take a stand, or even make a comment. From Philp, our newly elected MP who has Waddon within his constituency, the silence has been deafening. At City Hall, it has been left to other Assembly members to defend our interests and speak out against the plans, because O’Connell – who is supposed to represent us – has so far said absolutely nothing.
As soon as someone starts talking in millions of pounds and mentions the word “jobs” or “development”, our elected representatives seem to just roll over, ignoring any possible negative impacts on us. They are happy to support plans that increase pollution and leave us to choke on their poor decisions. If only we had elected politicians with the backbone and decency to stand up and defend the health and best interests of people of Croydon – wouldn’t that be a breath of fresh air?
- Peter Underwood was the Green Party’s candidate in Croydon South at the General Election. He is the chair of his local party
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