Close London City Airport

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April 10, 2014

Contact: Ross Haig, Senior Communications Officer
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A new report from the New Economics Foundation (NEF) makes the case for closing London’s City Airport and redeveloping the site to create jobs, boost local business and build new homes:

The need to cut carbon emissions and tackle economic and social inequalities demands urgent reform of how aviation is managed in our cities. New research from NEF exposes London City Airport as an outdated and unproductive use of precious inner city land and calls for it to be closed at the soonest opportunity.

There are more productive things we could do with London City Airport

The airport represents a missed social and economic opportunity for the Royal Docks area. Alternative developments for the Royal Docks would outstrip City Airport on economic value. Despite its much larger footprint, the airport’s direct contribution to the UK economy in 2011 (£110 million) is just a fifth that of the nearby ExCeL Exhibition and Conference Centre (£513 million). City Airport’s own estimates suggest a contribution of £750m per year to the UK economy, but the majority of this is generated through inbound passengers’ spending which would be retained if passengers were directed through other airports.

The airport also punches below its weight on job creation, supporting the equivalent of only 1,900 full-time jobs. In contrast the ExCel is predicted to support 53,000 across the UK by 2017. Only 27% of jobs created by the airport go to local Newham residents, well below the target 35%.

The airport can be closed without loss of transport capacity

Crossrail will vastly improve access to London’s other airports once completed in 2019. Travelling from Liverpool Street to Heathrow will take half an hour, just 4 minutes longer than the journey to London City Airport.

Other London-area airports have capacity to take on City Airports passengers. City Airport is a niche airport, catering for only 2.4% of London’s total aviation demand. With the exception of Luton, every other London-area airport has enough spare capacity to single-handedly absorb London City Airport’s passengers, although of course in reality the displaced passengers would be spread between them.

The benefits of London City Airport are enjoyed by a small, wealthy minority

The benefits of London City Airport accrue mainly to its wealthy business clientele. Three quarters of inbound journeys end in Canary Wharf, the City of London or the City of Westminster, and the average salary of the airport’s users is £92,000. This contrasts starkly with the deprivation in surrounding Newham, where residents have lowest average incomes in London, 40% earning below £20,000.

The environmental costs of City Airport land squarely on neighbouring communities. Air pollution is a major problem across London, but Newham is particularly badly affected. Death rates in the borough from chronic heart and lung diseases – commonly exacerbated by air pollution – are among the highest in London.

Significant levels of noise are experienced by 18,000 people around City Airport. The World Health Organisation recommends a noise level of no more than 50 to 55dB for residential areas, but in the Royal Docks area every local school experiences noise at levels of 57dB.

Helen Kersley, lead author and economist at NEF said:

“Given our current dire shortage of homes, as well as the UK’s international commitments to cutting its carbon emissions, we must seriously question the logic of locating an airport on precious inner city land. London City Airport places a significant environmental and social burden on neighbouring communities, and gives back very little in return.”

“Now is the perfect time to think about alternatives. 70% of the world population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050 – London can lead the way in demonstrating how we can reduce carbon emissions, live within our environmental limits, and achieve a fairer distribution of economic benefits.”

John Stewart, Chair HACAN East, said:

“We have no doubt that the replacement of the airport with alternative businesses would benefit the local and national economy. The development of community land trust model of ownership would complement many of the exciting new developments which have taken place in the area in recent years”.

“This ground-breaking report from NEF shows that closure of the airport would not only help residents in East London blighted by noise and air pollution but would bring benefits to the economy.  It makes complete economic, social and environmental sense.”

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