Gatwick Airport has officially submitted documents to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) to start using its Northern Runway – or standby runway – regularly with an aim to increase departure capacity.

Gatwick said that the application will ensure the Northern Runway – which is currently only used in emergencies – could be used for smaller aircrafts on a regular basis alongside the main runway by mid-2020.

The move is the first step in the Development Consent Order (DCO) application process after which the airport will submit a Scoping Request to PINS, outlining the proposal in detail and key issues facing the process.

The first stages of the application process involve the airport carrying out surveys and formulating environmental information on the plan. A public consultation will then be held in 2020. An application for development consent will finally be made to PINS, which will analyse the proposed plan and, upon providing a recommendation to the government, will reach a decision.

Commenting on the recent move, Gatwick’s chief planning officer Tim Norwood said that the start of the process of using the Northern runway is “a significant milestone.”

“This project has the capacity to offer significant local economic benefits, new jobs and an exciting future for the region. As we take our plans forward, we are committed to working in partnership with our local communities, councils and partners to ensure we grow sustainably and present information in a clear and transparent way, including a more detailed stage of public consultation on the project next year,” said Norwood.

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The plan to regularly use the Northern Runway was revealed in Gatwick’s masterplan in July 2019, which highlighted that using it would be far more viable than the Heathrow runway expansion. “Gatwick is in a much better location to accommodate another runway compared to Heathrow. Gatwick’s expansion can be built much more quickly, cost effectively and with much less environmental impact than either of the Heathrow options,” it said.

Using the two existing runways simultaneously would allow Gatwick to add between ten and 15 additional hourly aircraft movements in the peak hours and serve up to 70 million passengers annually by 2032.

Despite Gatwick assuring that using the standby runway would not increase its noise footprint, the plan has been facing growing criticism from environmentalists. For instance, campaign group Communities Against Gatwick Noise Emission (CAGNE) said Gatwick’s plan to use the Northern Railway “are unacceptable”.

“This is simply a second runway by stealth,” CAGNE said in a post on its website in response to Gatwick’s announcement.

“Their plans for greater profits by using the emergency runway as an interim for growth, gives total disregard for the ever increasing noise complaints and lack of surface access to service tens of millions of people that try to access this airport,” it concluded.