There is an economic case to shut down London City Airport

“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.

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

London City Airport up for sale

Press Release

 6/7/15 for immediate use

 London City Airport up for sale

London City Airport is to be put up for sale at the end of the year, its owners, Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), announced yesterday.  GIP is looking to get £2 billion but airport’s value could be limited by its recent failure to get planning permission for a £200m development that could increase the number of passengers it handles to 6m by 2023.

London City won planning permission for expansion from Newham Council in February, but this was then overturned by Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, the following month over noise concerns. London City is appealing against the mayor’s decision. A Public Inquiry will take place in March next year but the outcome is not likely to be known until summer next year by which time GIP hopes to have completed the sale.

GIP has always argued that expansion was essential to the future of the airport because the extra terminal and taxiway capacity would allow bigger planes needed to open up the airport to more distant destinations, such as the Gulf, the Middle East, Russia and North Africa.

Local campaign HACAN East published a report last year which argued that there would be more economic benefits to the area if the airport closed.  The report by the New Economics Foundation found that the economic and employment benefits the airport brought to East London were small in comparison to other new developments in the area.

John Stewart, the chair of HACAN East, said, “When Crossrail opens Docklands and the City of London, the key business markets London City serves, will be within half an hour of Heathrow.  We will be pressing developers to seize this chance to buy the airport and use the valuable land it occupies to build developments which would enhance the local economy without all the downsides of noise and pollution that the airport has brought.”


 For more information:

John Stewart on 0207 737 6641 or 07957385650

City campaigns unite with Heathrow and Gatwick to call for residents’ voice to be heard over flight path changes


Campaigners from London City joined those from Heathrow and Gatwick air today to deliver a joint letter  to Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport, demanding a voice for residents in flight path changes which are expected to be introduced over the next few years.  Campaigners have asked for a meeting with the Transport Secretary.

Read the letter here: Gatwick Heathrow and City Airport Flight Path Letter to DfT

The letter is not about new runways.  There are differences amongst the campaigners on whether a new runway is needed and, if so, where it should be.

The move followers anger from residents at the changes to flight paths which have taken place over the last couple of years. Protest groups have sprung up around Gatwick in response to the changes to both arrival and departure routes.  The recent trials at Heathrow sparked a record number of complaints.  And in East London furious residents staged public meetings at not being proper consulted about London City’s proposals to concentrate flight paths.

The airspace changes are part of a Europe-wide programme to make more effective use of airspace and are now impacting the whole of the UK.  They are designed to enable airlines to save fuel, to allow aircraft to land at and depart from airports more efficiently.   In the UK Gatwick and London City have been earmarked as first in line for the changes.  Heathrow is expected to have its changes in place by 2019 with national changes by 2020.

Residents fear that the changes will result in excessive concentration of aircraft along selected routes.  They are particularly critical of NATS (National Air Traffic Control) and the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), the two organizations who are driving the changes.

John Stewart, who chairs HACAN East, the organisation which gives a voice to residents under the Heathrow flight paths, said, “NATS and CAA are remote from residents.  They plan these flight path changes in their hi-tec ivory towers.  Our letter to the Transport Secretary contains positive proposals for flight paths that could work for both the industry and for residents.  They involve providing all residents with some respite from the noise.  HACAN is actively engaging with Heathrow to see what can be done.  But it does require NATS and the CAA to play ball”.

Stewart added, “London City Airport have been much less willing to engage with us and seem content to simply do what NATS asks them even if it means the creation of noise ghettos.”


London City Airport appeals to Secretary of State against Mayor’s refusal to grant permission to expand

Press Release

 19/5/15 for immediate use

 London City Airport appeals to Secretary of State against Mayor’s refusal to grant permission to expand

London City Airport has announced that is has appealed to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government against the refusal by London Mayor to grant it planning permission to expand.  The appeal is likely to be heard in about five months time.

Earlier this year Boris Johnson overturned Newham Council’s decision to grant the airport permission to create more taxiway space to allow bigger aircraft to use the airport.  City was also given permission to double the size of its terminal and create more car parking spaces.  But the Mayor turned it down because he believed that the airport was not prepared to give sufficient compensation to residents who would suffer noise.

The expansion plans had proved controversial, with a large number of objections coming from residents and a number of local authorities.

John Stewart, chair of HACAN East, which helped co-ordinate much of the opposition, said, “It is not surprising London City has appealed because they are very keen to get the space to allow bigger planes to use the airport.  But we hope the Secretary of State turns down the appeal and backs Boris who stood up for residents whose lives have become blighted by noise from the airport.”

The grounds of appeal are set out here: FULL STATEMENT OF CASE – STATEMENT OF CASE 15 5 15 FINAL


 For further information:

John Stewart on 0207 737 6641 or 07957385650

Newham Council lacks the bravery of Boris to turn down unsuitable developments like City Airport expansion

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.

City Airport celebration

 Now Newham will argue that the airport brings jobs for local people as well as local economic benefits.  In fact, it provides little of either.  No more than about 500 Newham residents are employed directly by the airport and few of the business people – the market the airport largely serves – stop off for a ‘Big Breakfast’ at the local cafes as their cab speeds them to their meeting in the City or the West End.

 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.

Official statistics underestimate the levels of aircraft noise in east and south east London

                                                                                                                    6th April 2015 for immediate use

 Official statistics underestimate the levels of aircraft noise in east and south east London, according to the campaign group HACAN East.  Just a week after the London Mayor Boris Johnson refused London City permission to expand on the grounds of noise, HACAN East has complained that the noise from City Airport aircraft and those heading to Heathrow are measured separately and not added together.

John Stewart, who chairs HACAN East, said, “We need to get a figure for the total noise if we are to get a picture of the real noise levels experienced by residents.  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.”

A report published in 2007 (1) found that “in some areas of East London flown over by both Heathrow planes and City Airport noise levels were comparable to those in parts of West London”.  Two years ago the Greater London Assembly called for joint readings to be taken.

Stewart concluded, “It is not rocket science to assess the cumulative noise.  The suspicion remains that it suits the aviation industry not to paint the full picture.”


 Notes for Editors:









Would London City Airport be so cavalier in dealing with its residents if they were richer?

2nd April 2015

by John Stewart

Last week the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, turned down City Airport’s application to expand on noise grounds.  Although the decision caught people by surprise, there was a widespread feeling that the airport had it coming because of the cavalier way it has dealt with residents, local authorities and elected politicians over the years.  I spelt this out in an opinion piece for the Newham Recorder:

 The question must arise:  would City Airport’s attitude have been different if it was dealing with a wealthier population?  We will never know for sure it certainly impacts on some of the poorest communities in the UK.

According to the latest Indices of Deprivation (2010), Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest are among 15 most deprived local authorities in the country. And Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich, Lewisham and Lambeth make it into the top 50.  Moreover, Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets have highest percentage of deprived people in the UK (1).

They will also be the communities which fly the least.  They are the victims of what Les Blomberg, the executive director of the US-based Noise Pollution Clearing House called ‘second-hand noise’:  “noise that is experienced by people who did not produce it.  Like second-hand smoke, it’s put into the environment without people’s consent and then has effects on them that they don’t have any control over.”

A good neighbour would tailor its strategy, and particularly its communications, to the needs of its communities.  In areas of real deprivation, variable online skills and limited access to technology, a good neighbour would ensure it provided plenty of leaflets and regular face-to-face meetings with the public.  It would make sure its materials were written in clear, simple language.

London City simply does not do this.  The recent consultation on its plans to concentrate its flight paths over particular communities was a prime example.  The consultation took the form of putting a technical document on its website and of informing its supine consultative committee.  Nothing more.  No leafleting of the areas that would be affected.  And by only consulting online, City Airport effectively disenfranchised a huge number of people.  Across the UK, 21% of people can’t operate online, but amongst C2, D and E classes it is 72%; and for those in 65+ bracket it is 52% (2).

 It is hard to avoid the conclusion that London City Airport, rather than trying to tailor its work to meet the needs of the area it impacts, is using the demographics of the area to get away with doing as little as possible.



 (2). Media Literacy: Understanding Digital Capabilities follow-up; Ipsos Mori, 2014

Why Boris was right to refuse City Airport expansion

Opinion piece written by John Stewart, chair HACAN East, for the Newham Recorder

 Boris Johnson’s decision to refuse London City permission to expand may have come as a surprise but it was always on the cards that somebody would stand up to the airport.  London City is paying the price about being so cavalier about noise.

It has a history of refusing to engage with residents and elected councillors over its plans.  Last year it came up with proposals to concentrate its flight paths over certain communities yet it refused to leaflet the areas involved or come to talk with any local authority except Newham. Residents were frustrated, councillors were furious and the Greater London Authority wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport criticizing the airport’s behaviour.

In turning down the expansion application, the London Mayor showed he simply did not believe London City’s claims that an expanded airport, using larger planes, would mean less noise.

Newham is the one borough which has consistently – and controversially – backed the airport.  It does so on the basis it provides jobs.  In fact, the number of people employed by the airport is surprising small, less than 1,000, with another 2,000 or so jobs indirectly dependent on it.

Since the Mayor’s decision, London City spin doctors have gone into overdrive citing jobs that would be created by the expansion plans.  Be very wary! There are less jobs at the airport now than in 2009 when it said it would create 1,500.

The airport’s lack of honesty – be it about noise or jobs – has proved its downfall.  Local people, elected councillors and the Mayor of London simply don’t believe what it says.  Unless it cleans up it act, people may start to question whether East London needs it at all.  It has become the embarrassing relative amongst the exciting new developments which are taking place in the Royal Docks.