by John Stewart
Yesterday I had a great time with the local people who live in the Royal Docks close to London City Airport. We were having a little ‘do’ to celebrate the fact that the London Mayor Boris Johnson had overturned Newham Council’s decision to grant permission for the airport to expand.
As I watched the children playing and the local choir singing, I couldn’t help reflect on the odd situation: a Conservative Mayor had helped this community – not natural Tory voters I suspect – to defeat the airport’s environmentally-destructive plans backed by a Labour council, the party which has traditionally supported low-income communities
It was clear at Saturday’s event that the local community regards the airport on their doorstep not as a benefit but as problem which brings noise, air pollution and blight. They feel they would be better off with something else there. And, indeed, that would make economic sense. City Airport contributes £750 million each year to the UK economy. The nearby Excel Centre, which occupies roughly the same amount of space as the airport, contributes £1.3 billion. The airport employs the equivalent of 1,900 full-time jobs. The proposed Silvertown Quays development, just along the road, estimates it will employ 9,000.
Newham Council lacks the imagination or the bravery to consider an alternative to the airport. No one questions its sincerity in wanting to bring work to the borough. But the way it has gone about it has blighted the lives of so many of its residents. And of those living in adjoining boroughs. Newham has championed City Airport since its inception in the 1980s, backed the destructive M11 Link Road in the 1990s and allowed Westfield Shopping Centre, to provide 5,000 car parking spaces in the noughties.
And with little effect. In 2000 Newham ranked as the 5th most deprived borough in the country; in 2004, the 6th; in 2007, it slipped to the 2nd most deprived; rising to 8th in 2011.
Its policies have not brought the dreamed-of prosperity. What they have brought, though, is blight to so many people’s lives, whether it’s the noise and pollution from the airport or the roar of traffic on the M11.
I wrote in my book Why Noise Matters, published by Earthscan in 2011, “The high noise levels in many poor areas are caused, at least in part, by the activities of much wealthier people. Poor people have no cars to drive on the roaring new motorways which cut an ugly swathe through their fragile communities. The congestion on the city streets is not of their making. The flash new airports are not for them. They are the victims of other people’s lifestyles”. I was writing about the emerging economies of the world. I could have been writing about Newham. Only a tiny proportion of the borough’s residents have ever used the airport.
Newham needs to get smart about development. The other political parties which opposed the expansion – the Conservatives, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats – as well as other Labour councils are not against development. They have simply got the self-confidence to say no to proposals, like the expansion of City Airport, which blight people’s lives.
In the 17th century the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns started his poem To a Mouse with these words, “wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie”. He could have been describing Newham Council under Robin Wales, its mayor for the last 20 years, who hails from the same part of Scotland as Burns. Newham has been so ‘tim’rous and fearful that it won’t get jobs and prosperity that it has grasped at any development however environmentally destructive it might be.
Perhaps Labour in Newham needs recapture the Victorian values the labour movement had in its early days when it regarded an improved environment as important as raising the wages of the working-class or extending the right to vote. There was no division between environment, employment and democracy.
Unless and until it does, it is Boris, not Robin Wales, who will be the toast of the people’s party in the Royal Docks.
Campaigners at London City Airport demand true noise measurement – combining Heathrow + London City flight noise
Campaigners at London City Airport are calling for a change in the way aircraft noise is measured, and more needs to be done to protect people living under noisy flight paths. The group’s chair, John Stewart, says the problem is partly down to a lack of measurement of the cumulative noise produced by flight paths from several airports (Heathrow and London City here) which both affect one area. He believes separate measurements of just each airport’s noise fail to give a true picture of the impact on residents, resulting in official statistics that underestimate aircraft noise levels. Both need to be combined in order to get a figure for the total noise in order to get an accurate assessment of the real noise levels experienced by residents. John said: “In the areas of east and south east London, where people get planes from both London City and Heathrow, noise levels will be a lot higher than official statistics show.” The concerns remain despite mayor of London Boris Johnson’s blocking of London City Airport’s proposed expansion. HACAN East says the Greater London Assembly backed cumulative noise readings, from both airports combined, two years ago, and that the airport should recognise this. It suits the aviation industry to deliberately keep the noise figures separate.
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Boris turns down London City Airport expansion plans on noise grounds
Boris Johnstone, the Mayor of London, has refused London City Airport’s plan to expand on noise grounds. In a letter he has instructed Newham Council, who had approved the application, to refuse it. The Mayor says the application does not “adequately mitigate and manage its adverse noise impacts.” Newham’s decision was always dependent on the Mayor’s approval. London City Airport wanted permission to build new taxiways to permit larger planes to use the airport. It also wanted more car parking spaces. The decision will be a bitter blow to the airport as it will now no longer be able to bring in the larger planes it wanted to serve new destinations. John Stewart, chair of HACAN East, which campaigned against the expansion plans, said “The airport is paying the price for being so cavalier about noise. Quite simply, Boris did not believe its claims that it was dealing adequately with noise. We salute his decision”. The decision appears to be final, and it is unclear whether London City Airport can appeal to the Secretary of State. They may do so.
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City Airport wants to press ahead with controversial flight changes despite only 3% support in recent consultation
London City Airport wants to press ahead with controversial plans to concentrate flight paths despite only 3% of people backing them in the recent consultation. Its consultation ended in November 2014, and the airport produced a report report on the consultation on 13th February. The report now goes to the CAA for approval. London City Airport’s consultation was widely criticized in 2014. The airport had refused to leaflet or hold meetings in the areas that would be worst affected by the new concentrated flight paths. It justified its minimal consultation on the grounds that the changes it was proposing were not significant. Despite criticism from MPs, local authorities, residents’ groups and members of the Greater London Authority, London City has defended its consultation in its report to the CAA. It is also refusing to withdraw or modify its original plans. Residents’ organisation HACAN East, which coordinated much of the opposition to the changes, believes the airport has been typically arrogant and unresponsive – and not given any consideration to the possibility of respite for various areas, at different times of day. London City Airport expresses very little concern for its neighbouring communities. HACAN East say the fight by residents will continue, and they will be pressing the CAA to order the airport to carry out a fresh consultation.
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London City Airport expansion plan gets go-ahead but campaigners say it will create ‘noise ghettos and misery’
Newham Council has granted planning approval London City Airport’s plans for an extended terminal, a new taxi-way and additional parking stands for larger aircraft. A new six-storey four-star hotel with up to 260 bedrooms will also be built on site. The expansion will increase the number of take-offs and landings at the airport from 70,000 a year to 111,000 and will almost double the number of passengers to 6 million a year by 2023. The number of aircraft stands will increase from 18 to 25, and the newer, larger planes they will accommodate will expand the airport’s reach from destinations in western Europe to Russia and North Africa. It has been described as a boost for London’s aviation capacity, while the arguments for and against a new runway at Heathrow or Gatwick (or neither) continue. There are claims for a large number of jobs, and Newham believes many will be for their residents – and there are claims of huge economic benefit for the local and UK economy. The expansion involves the tripling of the size of the terminal to 51,800 ft square and will see the number of flights increase from 38 to 45 during peak morning and evening rush hour times. Building work, subject to final planning approval being given by Boris, is expected to start by the end of 2015, with the first new aircraft seen on the runway in 2016.
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