by Tim Walker and John Doherty
In summer 2022 London City Airport launched its latest expansion consultation, this time proposing to operate all afternoon and evenings on Saturdays, with more early morning flights on weekdays too. The Forest Hill Society made a response, along with many other Londoners and Borough Councils, including Lewisham. We opposed the extension of operating hours, saying that until the airport, together with Heathrow, introduces replacement flight paths, due 2027-28, no changes should be applied for or considered. This is consistent with our approach since City introduced its 2000 ft concentrated flight path over Forest Hill in 2016. The current 24 hour weekend ban on flying gives all overflown Londoners peace and quiet from this centrally located airport at a time when we are enjoying our homes, parks and gardens. City-bound flights over our area occur in east wind conditions, often associated with prolonged periods of fine weather in summer.
That non-statutory consultation was poorly publicised but still drew considerable opposition. Inevitably though, this expansive airport followed up by putting in a planning application running to over 100 technical documents to its planning authority, the London Borough of Newham. Newham was forced to launch their own planning consultation which ended in March. Again, this happened with minimal publicity- the only people written to directly about this lived in a small area close to the airport’s runway. Despite this, some 800 comments, the vast majority being objections, were submitted to Newham – it would surely be many more if all the communities under low City flight paths had been informed directly.
City’s planning application this time proposes flying an additional 7 hours of flights on Saturdays, an hour less in winter. This will include the largest jet we have seen from them so far, the E195-E2. They make a case that this is to meet demand for more holiday and leisure flying from the airport – originally given permission in the 1980’s to open as a small, business orientated airport with no noisy jet flights.
We have spent much time looking at these new proposals and then providing analysis, briefing and information to HACAN East, the campaign group concerned with London City Airport and to our elected representatives including Lewisham Council, our MP Ellie Reeves and the London Assembly. We wanted to support our elected representatives with solid, evidence based information and argument and to encourage them to take a clear position against the expansion of the airport.
One way we did this was to conduct our own noise measurements last summer, comparing the maximum noise levels of City airport jet aircraft at 5 measurement points under the SE London arrivals flight path. Taking 265 separate noise measurements including high up in Horniman gardens meant we were able to compare the maximum noise level of ‘new generation’ aircraft such as the Embraer E190-E2 against its predecessor, the E190. The reason for this is that City Airport has been claiming for several years that the new planes will be ‘quieter’. We wanted to put that to the test.
The LCA flight paths are set out by the airport above. In easterly wind conditions the airport uses a low
(at or around 2000ft ) concentrated single arrivals route over SE London then turning north towards the airport, shown by the pink east-west line.
The results were quite dramatic. Our measurements showed that over SE London the new planes were not noticeably quieter than the older ones. And neither type could be described as quiet, at around 70 decibels as they pass low overhead. When we met with the airport’s noise consultants in late 2022 they were unable to provide measured data to show any different; they said that they would expect perhaps a 2 decibel difference over Forest Hill. But we both noted that the Civil Aviation Authority state that this difference would not be noticeable to the human ear.
We published our results as a ‘Citizen Research Study’ in collaboration with HACAN East, and presented it to the airport’s senior management at their Consultative Committee. We also used it in information and briefings to our elected representatives. We said that claims that new generation aircraft are ‘quieter’ in these consultations without giving people a full understanding of where and when they might be experienced as quieter and how noticeable it would be was potentially misleading. Locally we have been delighted to see support in the form of written objections to City’s planning application from Cabinet Member Cllr Louise Krupski on behalf of Lewisham Council and from Ellie Reeves MP, both drawing on our discussions, information and analysis. At a London-wide level, both influential London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon and the Chair of the GLA Environment Committee Zack Polanski directly quoted from the Citizen Research Study and other briefing we supplied, as members of the Forest Hill Society, to the London Assembly. Our report was quoted or referred to directly or indirectly by a number of other bodies. The full study is here. It’s been a lot of work, but we feel we have done what we can for now to draw attention to this new threat to the peace of our homes, parks and gardens at weekends and to try and make sure our area is represented as best it can be by people in positions of influence.
The next step is for Newham Council to consider the Planning Application. Most, perhaps all overflown London Borough Councils have lodged a strong objection to the application. Newham’s planning committee has the unenviable job of assessing it, probably in May. If they reject it, an appeal by the airport is possible. And at any stage this decision may be called in by either the Mayor of London or by the Department for Transport to take over the issue and make the decision in place of Newham. One positive is that the Mayor of London has recently made it clear that he is against further expansion of this type by the airport.