Big Debate: Should houses and firms replace Newham’s City Airport?

London City Airport

London City Airport - Credit: City Airport promo

This week’s debate asks if London City Airport should be converted into homes and businesses.

John Stewart, left and Lloyd Johnson

John Stewart, left and Lloyd Johnson - Credit: Archant

Last week Sian Berry, the Green Party’s candidate for London mayor in May’s election, announced a radical plan to boost business and housing in the borough – by abolishing London City Airport and building homes there instead. She claimed the airport brings £100million into the economy, but a transformation could see the same space raise £500m. So we asked John Stewart, chairman of Hacan East, and Lloyd Johnson, chairman of Newham Chamber of Commerce: Should London City Airport be converted into homes and businesses?

John Stewart, chairman of Hacan East

Green Party mayoral candidate Sian Berry is quite right.

It would benefit the economy of east London if City Airport was converted into homes and businesses. The facts speak for themselves. A recent report by the New Economics Foundation showed that the redevelopment of the site would create 16,000 jobs and contribute £400million more to the economy than City Airport. The airport employs 2,000 people.

The problem right now is that little of the money generated by the airport circulates in the local economy.

The businesspeople who use London City rush through east London on the DLR or by cab to their appointments in the West End or the City of London. They don’t stop off for a big breakfast in Canning Town. Berry’s proposals would mean not just more local jobs but also more money circulating in the local economy.

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But wouldn’t the national economy suffer if London City closed? It has the highest proportion of business passengers – 62 per cent – 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. A useful function but, when Crossrail opens, Heathrow will be within 30 minutes of Docklands.

And Heathrow could cope with those extra passengers. The New Economics Foundation report found that the closure of London City would not add to the pressure to expand Heathrow. City only accounts for 2.4pc of the traffic at the London airports which would be easily absorbed.

London City contributes £750m each year to the UK economy. Sounds a lot but the ExCeL in east London, close to the airport and occupying roughly the same amount of space as the airport, contributes £1.3billion. It makes economic sense to close City Airport.

Lloyd Johnson, chairman of Newham Chamber of Commerce

The Chamber believes that having an airport within the borough holds significant value to both its businesses and its people.

In terms of the local economy it is reported that London City Airport contributes approximately £750million per year to the UK economy through jobs, passenger spend, the broader supply chain and productivity benefits.

It attracts international visitors predominantly travelling on business – and provides the international connectivity that will attract inward investment to the area and facilitate the regeneration of east London.

It also provides 2,000 jobs on-site – two thirds of which are filled by local residents – and has a number of initiatives to help it operate in an environmentally friendly way.

The airport operates one of the strictest noise regimes of any European airport.

It also operates a sound insulation scheme with the lowest daytime trigger level in the UK and an extensive LED lighting roll out in terminal and office areas.

In addition, 71 per cent of the passengers travel to, or from, the airport on public transport.

If the airport expands, the development programme will create 1,600 new jobs and 500 in construction, and will increase the economic contribution the airport generates to £1.5billion by 2023.

When it comes to the thoughts of residents, the airport is strongly supported.

ComRes polling shows that 75pc of residents think of it as an asset to the area.

Not only that – 68pc support its expansion.

MP for East Ham Stephen Timms, meanwhile, has labelled Sian Berry’s plan “an affront” to workers at the airport and explained that politicians should be working to “build jobs and investment, not destroy them”.

It is therefore not in the interests of the borough to destroy its only airport.