Tower Hamlets Council opposes London City Airport growth proposals

London City Airport. Pic: James Petts.

Tower Hamlets Council members have agreed a motion in opposition to London City Airport growth proposals.

Council members have criticised the environmental damage that would be caused through any increases in operations and highlighted the negative impacts that the airport may have on residents living in the East End, including Tower Hamlets.

The City Airport Development Programme (CADP) is a £500 million investment which includes eight new aircraft parking stands, a parallel taxiway and an extended and reconfigured passenger terminal. This development received planning permission in July 2016 and is already in progress, with facilities coming into use from 2022.

The airport is currently consulting on a number of proposals as part of its draft ‘Masterplan 2020-2035’, including lifting the limit on passenger numbers and increasing its annual flight limit from 111,000 to 151,000.

Although the airport says it does not want to expand its physical footprint by building a new runway or terminal, it is calling for the relaxing of rules that require it to close between 12.30pm on Saturdays until 12.30pm on Sundays, and hopes to introduce more flexibility on the number of flights during the first and last half hours of operations during weekdays. The airport currently has an eight-hour overnight curfew.

In March, Tower Hamlets Council became one of the first local councils in the London to declare a Climate Emergency and have committed to becoming a carbon neutral council by 2025.

Around 40 per cent of residents in Tower Hamlets live in areas with unacceptable air quality.

Cllr Val Whitehead, proposer of the motion, said: “Alongside many other councils and governments around the world, we’ve declared a climate emergency in Tower Hamlets. We need to take solid steps forward to reverse environmental damage, but airport expansion would mean taking several steps backwards. I’m grateful that colleagues supported this motion and I hope it sends a clear message that we’re serious about meeting our climate obligations”.

The east London airport opened in 1987 and is a short distance from Canary Wharf. Due to its location it has served primarily as a business airport. However, the airport is seeking to expand its market to a 50/50 split between those travelling for business and those travelling for leisure.

In the last five years London city Airport’s passenger numbers have grown by 40 per cent, hitting 4.8 million in 2018. The plans forecast that the airport will reach its current passenger cap of 6.5 million and 111,000 annual flights in 2022. It also forecasts demand for up to 9.8 million passengers by 2030 and 11 million passengers by 2035 from the airport.

The airport predicts that its growth could create up to 2,500 additional jobs for local people and will deliver an overall economic contribution of £2 billion per year by 2035.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “While the airport does bring benefits to Tower Hamlets we need to think very carefully about the impact of any expansion on the environment and the many residents who live nearby or under the flight paths. I’m concerned that increasing flights at the airport would lead to increasing noise levels and exacerbating climate change. The level of noise coming from new aircraft also needs to be tightly regulated and the 24-hour weekend closure needs to be retained and early and late flights tightly controlled as at present”.

Robert Sinclair, Chief Executive Officer for London City Airport, said: “These proposals reflect the airport’s changing role, with an increasing proportion of leisure passengers choosing the airport, and East London’s continued transformation. Most importantly, sustainability is central to our thinking”.

Sinclair continued: “We have carefully developed these plans to strongly incentivise our airlines to re-fleet to cleaner, quieter new generation aircraft, minimise further construction activity, reduce emissions, limit aircraft noise, preserve air quality, and create meaningful opportunities for our local community.”

Despite the airport’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2050, the plans to nearly double the airport’s number of flights have been met with opposition from local campaign group HACAN East.

John Stewart, chair of HACAN East said: “For all its green talk, this plan would be disastrous for residents.  Flight numbers could double from today’s levels.  And, to rub in the pain, the airport is looking to ease the restrictions at weekends and in the early morning and late evening”.

If plans go ahead, they will also affect Hackney and Lewisham.

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