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

Posted on April 26, 2015

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.

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 Newhamranked 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

Posted on April 16, 2015

                                                                                                                    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?

Posted on April 2, 2015

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

Posted on April 1, 2015

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.