“The new owners should buy it, shut it and then develop the land. It’s that simple”
The words of Alan Haughton, from Stop City Airport, in a letter published in the Evening Standard (7/8/15).
Is it that simple? City Airport is to be put on the market very soon and could be sold buy Christmas. Could it be bought and developed as something other than an airport? Should it be?
Shutting down an airport in a major capital city sounds ridiculous. But there is a case for using the land City Airport occupies for a different sort of development. The environmental case is obvious. It would cut the noise and air pollution the airport causes. But there is too an economic case.
It was spelt out in Royal Docks Revival: Replacing City Airport, a report published by the New Economics Foundation in 2014. http://s.bsd.net/nefoundation/default/page/file/195fb39e613cea6c01_ddm6bwubt.pdf
At first the argument may seem counter-intuitive. City has the highest proportion of business passengers – 62% – of any airport in the country. It whisks people from the financial and political centres of Europe – Zurich, Luxembourg, Brussels – to Docklands, The City of London and the West End quickly and efficiently.
It contributes £750 million each year to the UK economy. Sound a lot but the Excel Centre in East London, close to the airport and occupying roughly the same amount of space as the airport, contributes £1.3 billion. That suggests it might make good economic sense for the new owners to “buy it, shut it and then develop the land.”
It could work in terms of employment as well. City Airport employs the equivalent of 1,900 full-time people. The proposed Silvertown Quays development, just along the road, estimates it will employ 9,000. Even if that turns out to be an overestimate, the difference remains huge.
But what will happen to the passengers currently using the airport? The New Economics Foundation report found that the closure of London City would not add to the pressure to expand Heathrow or any other London airport. City only accounts for 2.4% of the traffic at the London airports which would be easily absorbed. Moreover, once Crossrail opens, City’s key catchment areas will be within about a half hour from Heathrow.
The unthinkable – closing the airport – is not just practicable but could benefit both the local and national economy.
Blog by John Stewart, 9/8/15