Defence secretary Philip Hammond has become the first Cabinet minister to call publicly for a second runway at Gatwick.

Hammond strongly rejected expansion at Heathrow and also ruled out a four-runway hub at Stansted, as well as what he called the “fanciful” Boris Island idea.

The former transport secretary claimed a second runway at Gatwick, followed later by an extra runway at Stansted, would provide “decades worth of passenger growth capacity” while preventing a “disastrous” closure of Heathrow.

Writing in his local paper, the Surrey Herald, he said: “The need for more capacity at London’s airport system is undeniable, but the idea that this has to mean four-runway airports needs to be challenged.”

But he was criticised by Brendon Sewill, chairman of the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign, who told the Evening Standard: “I doubt if he has walked around the area – if so he would see there is no room for a second runway.”

Sewill said expanding Gatwick would be another example of the “short-term solutions” that had blighted British aviation policy for 60 years.

Gatwick bosses are keen to expand and say a second runway there would affect fewer homes than new runways at Heathrow. However, under an agreement with the local community, a second runway at Gatwick could not be built before 2019.

Hammond said: “Any solution that implies the closure or even the downgrading of Heathrow would be a disaster for the economy, not only of Runnymede and Weybridge, but of the entire west London and Thames Valley corridor.”

He said the traditional hub was less crucial because new aircraft had less need to pause on journeys, and most airlines were in alliances that transferred only between partners.

“So why not reflect that reality with a multi-airport model and expand London’s existing single runway airports at Gatwick and eventually Stansted, to two runways each, providing decades worth of passenger growth capacity.”