31 AUGUST 2015
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From time to time Business Travel News offers the COMMENT column to readers who have a special point to make. Following our headline last week “Is the Mayor out of control?” Gareth Knight, Chairman of the West Ham Conservative Association, makes his point about a man who some see as a future Prime Minister.
Many BTN readers have become increasingly frustrated with Boris’s position on London City Airport (LCY) and I felt it was necessary to clarify the position of the local Conservative Party in West Ham in relation to the ongoing saga of the planning appeal. Every Association officer, and our former parliamentary candidate, has signed a letter to the Secretary of State asking him to overrule the Mayor and support the planning application.
In our letter, we make it clear that the airport’s application has the overwhelming support of the local party, the party’s supporters and the public at large. Our constituency includes Royal Victoria, the relatively new development north of Royal Victoria Dock which will be familiar to anyone using the Emirates Air Line cable car, ExCel London or the Siemens Crystal. This area is directly overflown by planes arriving at and departing LCY.
Our internal polling figures are overwhelming: 70% of residents of the only polling district directly under the flightpath when planes are flying low for take-off or landing, support expansion of London City Airport to levels far and above anything actually proposed by the airport. A key to this is the 24hr weekend shutdown of the airport which means residents are barely aware of the airport being there for the bulk of the weekend. So long as this quiet period is maintained, support for the airport’s expansion is indisputable.
Despite the Mayor using “local objections” as a basis for his hostile approach to LCY, local Conservatives confidently dismiss the objectors as largely anti-aviation extremists and internet trolls that are in no way representative of the residents of Royal Victoria and their views should only ever be treated as individual voices of discontent. A simple look at the names of objectors from Newham Council's website quickly reveals that the vast majority do not even live on the flightpath.
During the recent General Election campaign not a single question was asked about the airport at any hustings for the West Ham constituency and during the local election campaign in 2014 the anti-airport lobby held a debate in Britannia Village in Royal Docks ward and after taking away the candidates, the organisers and representatives from political parties and the media, there were fewer than 10 members of the public present. It is simply not the case that the airport is seen as a political hot potato in the borough.
The latest news, about the lack of a Crossrail station for the airport, is beyond explanation. If this is truly about supporting the Mayor’s message against Heathrow expansion, then one of the arguments the anti-Heathrow lobby have is that airports in London could work as a multi-hub if the connections between the airports were far better, so by fighting a Crossrail station next to London City Airport they are fighting one of the few things that could support their case against expanding Heathrow.
The only explanation we can offer is familiar to all in the aviation sector – the historically poor reputation of the sector’s public affairs strategy, where, far too often, the sector acts defensively and fights itself rather than making the positive case for aviation as a whole.
LCY has, historically, been seen as too close to the Labour Mayor of Newham and it can take time for that bad reputation to wear off. Some of our members work in public affairs and lobbying (agency and in-house) and several have worked with public affairs professionals through their work with politicians. All have agreed that the long-term public affairs strategy of LCY has been woeful at best and they are in many ways their own worst enemy.
Our letter concludes: “We appreciate that the Secretary of State is being asked to consider this planning appeal on the basis of technical planning arguments but we felt it was vital that you be made aware of the level of support held by local residents and the local party for the airport's planning application.
We firmly support the Mayor’s policies but we feel he is seriously out of kilter with party and public opinion on London City Airport. It is a great shame that a Mayor who has been so successful in keeping council tax down, promoting London as a place to do business and, through his ill-fated Boris Island policy, has cemented the need for extra hub capacity in London, is picking a fight with a hugely popular and successful airport in his last year in office.
All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum
Winston Thomas, Pembrey
Mr Boris Johnson is doing a first class job, please see the NATS report regarding the 600 tons of Co2 emissions over London each day