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  • Tim Walker

Peaceful Saturday afternoons and evenings in the balance

It will be in the hands of the incoming Government as to whether London City Airport will introduce arrivals low over Forest Hill on Saturday afternoons and evenings.


London City Airport is currently not permitted by its planning authority, Newham, to fly in the 24 hour period between Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes. The condition was set in order to give an essential quiet period to overflown Londoners, including Saturday afternoons and evenings. This was when the airport was originally given permission to open with mainly quiet propeller aircraft for the then small City business airport back in the 1980s.


Since then with successive expansion applications over the years the airport has grown hugely, and it now flies medium range jet aircraft low over London homes for both business and leisure. Last year, Newham refused the latest planning application - for the airport to extend hours to fly all day and up to 7.30pm on Saturdays, saying that this additional disturbance would be an unacceptable loss of amenity for overflown Londoners. Newham and many others argued that we would significantly lose the enjoyment of our homes and outdoors spaces. Objectors included many London Boroughs including Lewisham. Faced with this, the Airport decided to appeal the planning decision and it went to a Planning Inquiry, held in December 2023 to January 2024.

View of the clock tower at the Horniman museum with a plane passing above in a clear blue sky
A London City jet arrives low over Forest Hill on a warm summer evening

Lewisham is affected because it lies under the low – under 2000ft- concentrated arrivals flight path that crosses the Borough from east to west in easterly wind conditions – this usually correlates with fine weather and summer conditions. So the new proposed new Saturday hours would affect enjoyment of homes and gardens in this most important of respite periods. Lewisham also of course has aircraft noise from Heathrow.


The airport’s appeal against Newham’s planning refusal was held by the Planning Inspectorate in December and January. The Forest Hill Society’s team, Tim Walker and John Doherty have been working for the Society on flightpath and airport issues for several years, and this time we joined forces with HACAN East, the main campaigning organisation concerned with London City, to be the third party in the Planning Inquiry, alongside Newham and the airport. With a successful crowdfunding campaign and a generous contribution from the Society, we gained just enough support from across London to instruct expert legal counsel and expert witnesses to present our objections, with detailed supporting evidence collated over several months against tight deadlines.


Along the way, we drew up an itinerary for the Inspector to visit specific locations across east London to observe London City aircraft for herself as she formed a view on what decision should be made. We made sure, against strong opposition from the airport, that Horniman Gardens was one of those locations.


Our lead legal counsel, Estelle Dehon KC, is a specialist in environmental issues, and helped us to make and defend our case against a formidable, well funded and resourced team from the airport, determined to have their own way. Our expert witnesses included Dr Alex Chapman from the New Economics Foundation who provided evidence to show that the claims of economic growth through additional Saturday flying were not well founded. Our noise expert witness Dr Christian Nold showed the Inquiry that over SE London the so called new generation aircraft promised by the airport are not in fact perceptibly quieter over our area than the aircraft they would eventually replace. We also demonstrated how this application could be in breach of planning and other regulations.


Newham’s team made strong legal representations to defend Londoners’ rights to not have this new source of noise introduced in the weekend period. Along with MPs and Councillors, many local people from across East London Boroughs gave moving evidence in person of the impact that aircraft noise already has on their lives, and implored the Inspector to refuse this Appeal. Lewisham’s environmental lead and now deputy Mayor, Cllr Louise Krupski, led a 6 borough consortium in putting a joint environmental based statement to the Inquiry. Some support was also received by the airport but that was very much in the minority.


The Inspector’s report has now been written, and sits in the in tray of the incoming Government along with two other airport expansion planning decisions. We don’t know what the report recommends, and will only find out when the new Secretary of State eventually publishes their decision.


Reflecting on all this, Tim said “when the Planning Appeal was announced, we thought we should put in to the Inquiry all that we have learned about aircraft noise and flight paths over the past few years and do everything we could to stop this – aside from local impacts there must come a point where we say no to ever more expansion of multiple UK airports”. John added “It was a huge amount of work to make a proper legal case at a Planning Appeal, but with our legal team we did all we could to make our best case and now we wait - it’s all in the hands of the new Government now”.


Whatever the decision, we continue to work with Lewisham, who have been very appreciative of the Society’s work and of our analysis and views. We also continue with both Heathrow and London City where we remain closely engaged in their plans and consultations as they completely redesign all flight paths over London over the next few years.

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