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Calls To Close London City Airport

Josiah Mortimer

June 22, 2022.

There have been calls to shut down London City Airport now that the Elizabeth line has stepped up Heathrow’s connectivity with the rest of the capital. London City Airport opened in 1987 and is seen as a hub for business customers going to and from European destinations for work.

The London City Airport area, which covers half a million square metres, could be repurposed as a leisure, entertainment and housing hub, according to a 2016 study by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), backed by City Hall Green Party figures.

Since it was written, the Elizabeth line has boosted Newham’s connections to the rest of London - including Heathrow - suggesting the space could be an ideal hub for new homes. NEF authors and former London mayoral candidate Siân Berry argued redevelopment could create at least 16,000 more jobs and add an additional £400 million to the UK’s economy if it were freed up for other uses.

The calls have been given a fresh boost by aviation commentator Matt HB, who wrote on Twitter last week: “With the Elizabeth Line open and through running on the horizon, serious thought should be given to the closure of London City Airport. It blights a large part of East London and takes up a huge amount of prime land that could be used for house building.” Another London Transport commentator replied: “The case is even stronger than in 2016. Crossrail could make it a super connected new community.”

The left-leaning New Economics Foundation think tank argued that the airport would become "irrelevant" once the Elizabeth line opened. The TfL-run route provides a link between Heathrow and Canary Wharf in just 39 minutes. And Green Party campaigners argue the airport causes “untold health and environmental problems” to residents. Newham is one of the worst-hit boroughs in the country for air pollution.

Green London Assembly member Siân Berry said: "Closing City Airport is possible and long overdue and now Crossrail is open, this is not only realistic, it’s necessary. People living around the airport in Newham, have put up with this noise and pollution on their doorstep for long enough. They are the people who first alerted me to this idea, and they need to have this huge area of land under their control at last.

"With City Hall now next door, fiercer climate targets and a deepening housing crisis, this area could be an amazing new quarter for London, with space for new homes, new green spaces, and new green businesses. The owners have already put their expansion plans, which Sadiq Khan approved, on hold. Now is the time to start talking about more sustainable ways to make a profit on their investment because shutting down London’s smallest airport and using the land for good would have massive, long term benefits for London."

How the site could look if the airport was closed

Ash Sakula Architects via My London

A briefing from the party - which has received fresh impetus following the launch of the Elizabeth line - said: “If this prime piece of the land were used sustainably ­for innovative businesses, residential areas, leisure, cultural facilities and shops, it would go a long way towards solving many of London’s problems at the same time. Pollution-related death rates around the airport are among the highest in the country, and ‘crash zone’ rules are preventing development in the local area. All for the sake of a tiny number of passengers.”

A spokesperson for London City Airport said: “Our recovery this year - set to nearly reach three million passengers - the ambitions of airlines to add more routes from LCY, and our ability to create even more jobs for local people points to an airport that plays a key, distinct and important role for London, now and in the future.

"We’re excited about the decade ahead and, as detailed last month, we have set our plans on how we can be the first London airport to achieve net zero emissions and how we can play a leading role in realising the potential of zero emission flight.”

In 2019, before the pandemic, City Airport carried around five million passengers, compared to 81 million for Heathrow in 2019 and 47 million for Gatwick. Amid flight bans in 2021, that dropped to 720,000 passengers compared to 19 million for Heathrow.

© Josiah Mortimer / My London 2022.

Since it opened, London City Airport (LCY) has blossomed into one of the capital's most vital transport assets. Given its proximity to Canary Wharf and the ease with which the City of London can be accessed, the airport has enabled a greater level of prosperity to flow into not just London but the UK as a whole. The same point applies to the other London airports as well as the UK's other airports around the country.

Talk of it becoming unneeded now the Elizabeth Line is up and running is misleading. Firstly, LCY serves a very different market to that of Heathrow (not to mention Gatwick and Stansted). Secondly, the easier links both across the city and to Heathrow are another cog in the wheel of keeping London at the forefront of world affairs. Third, consistent calls from the Green Lobby to send civilisation back to the stone age will do nothing to improve life for anybody.

Fourth, while commercial aviation remains an easy target for climate activists, the anti-aviation brigade continually fail to take into account (or conveniently ignore) the huge benefits brought to societies the world over by the airline and airport industry. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, aviation remains at the forefront of increased development of clean and green fuels, along with continued noise reduction efforts.

Yes, there is some way to go but there will come a time when aircraft arrive and depart without being heard.

All images Kevan James unless stated otherwise.


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