COUNTRYSIDE campaigners have declared a “state of emergency” over plans to expand Gatwick Airport.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has taken the “unprecedented” step in response to the new Gatwick “masterplan”, published last week.

The document details the airport’s proposals to expand from one to potentially three runways.

Figures show a second runway created from Gatwick’s existing emergency runway would result in an estimated 14million extra passengers travelling through Sussex every year.

A third runway to the south would add millions more journeys and require “significant changes to the airport and surrounding roads”.

CPRE Sussex chairman David Johnson said: “This plan would have a devastating impact on our countryside. It would change the landscape and rural character of Sussex forever, scarring our areas of outstanding natural beauty and deeply damaging the tranquillity and ecology of our national park.”

Gatwick published details of its masterplan last week when it announced the start of a 12-week consultation.

The document predicts that, with a second runway, the airport could handle up to 70 million passengers by 2032, not far behind Heathrow, which handled 78 million last year.

And the airport also wants to safeguard the site for its third runway, “to meet longer-term demand”.

Earlier this month, the Government launched its National Parks Review, pledging to enhance legal protection for Britain’s national parks and AONBs.

Mr Johnson said: “It is ironic that at a time when one government department is looking to expand the protection of our beloved and treasured countryside another department could be allowing its destruction.

“We do not believe that the destruction of wildlife, our tranquillity, our dark night skies and clean air can be justified by the expansion of Gatwick.”

CPRE Sussex has now written to environment secretary Michael Gove to detail its emergency campaign.

The airport’s chief executive, Stewart Wingate, previously said the that the plans will not add to noise pollution for people living near the airport, but in fact would help reduce noise from planes at night.

He said: “Our draft master plan marks the start of a new phase for Gatwick, building on what has made the airport the success it is today, and pioneering again to take advantage of the exciting opportunities that lie ahead.”