Sian Berry, the Green Party’s candidate to be the next Mayor of London, wants to buy an airport. She announced on Monday that if she is elected she would form a consortium between City Hall, local council and businesses to buy, demolish, and redevelop London City Airport (LCA), which is currently on the market for about £2 billion.
LCA is a small airport in the docklands region of east London that has 3.3 million passengers a year. By contrast, Heathrow has 72 million passengers and Gatwick 35 million.
City airport might be small, but it’s really convenient for passengers who live in Central London. It’s connected to the tube network by the DLR line. It’s small size also means it possible to through security and outside the airport in less than 10 minutes after your plane has touched down. It has nice restaurants and shops, and because it is used largely by business travellers there are usually fewer screaming children in it. For all these reasons, it’s the favourite airport for London business travellers.
Berry claims she wants to bulldoze City Airport because it’s a great redevelopment opportunity. But she might have other motives for wanting to get rid of the airport.
The Green Party are pretty much opposed to flying on principle and back a “progressive aviation tax” designed to reduce the number of flights in the UK. The Green Party confirmed to Business Insider that closing City would be part of its “general view of aviation.” While other London airports could absorb City Airport’s 3.3 million passengers, if the Greens were in power they would work to bring down the total number of all flights in London.
That said, the plan Berry has put forward actually makes a bit of sense. Using figures from the New Economics Forum (NEF), she points out that the 500,000 square metre LCA contributes £110 million per year to the economy, whereas the ExCeL center which has a smaller footprint and is right next to it contributes £513 million. The NEF also says that the airport directly and indirectly supports 1,900 jobs whereas the largely residential redevelopment of the nearby Silvertown Quays, which is half the size of LCA, is supposed to create 9,000 jobs.
Using some rather basic maths, the Green Party says the airport prevents 16,000 more jobs from being created and has an opportunity cost for the local economy of around £400 million. You can argue about the numbers but the fact is LCA is sitting on a prime piece of under-developed land, and London is in the midst of a housing crisis.
This is what it looks like now…
…and this is what a drawing from Architects Ash Sakula shows it could look like.
Berry says these new buildings could be used for “cooperatives cohousing, community land trusts and selfbuild, sitting alongside innovative, businesses.” That might be a little far-fetched, but it’s clear that LCA’s land could easily be developed in a way similar to Silvertown Quays, which is building offices, a tech hub, and 3,000 new homes on a 250,000 square meter site. EXPLAIN OUT THE MATHS YOU DID FOR THIS NEXT BIT, it’s reasonable to suggest the LCA site could sustain a £7 billion mixed-use development with 6,000 desperately need new homes.
Berry also claims the public pays £2.1 million for policing at LCA, and 17,900 people living nearby are disturbed by the noise. Her briefing paper also makes the claim that using the airport’s land for nonpolluting industries could help London save facing EU air pollution fines of £300 million.
It’s not like this hasn’t been tried before: MunichRiem Airport was turned into a residential neighbourhood and Helsinki is planning on doing the same to HelsinkiMalmi Airport.
Unfortunately for the Green Party, YouGov’s latest poll has Berry on 1%. That’s only 1% ahead of the British National Party (on 0%), and 44% behind poll-leader Sadiq Khan of Labour.
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