At the last Environment Committee meeting we looked at the planning conditions imposed by Newham Council on City Airport as a pre requisite for its expansion from the current 80,000 to 120,000 flights annually. This includes safeguards to mitigate noise and air pollution. Nonetheless, despite the conditions which City Airport are obliged to meet, l still felt the Mayor should have been able to call this one in.
Since the permission was granted, there has of course been a judicial review challenge in the High Court which was lost. This is not surprising considering our legal system can be a rigid tool with little regard for common sense, in other words, the failed legal challenge in this instance illustrates well the old adage that the law can be an ass! The issue of airport expansion is often a 3 dimensional concern rather then just 2 dimensional. Flight paths leading into and out of an airport have an environmental impact on adjoining boroughs as well as in the borough in which the airport is physically based.
Therefore, it is surprising that when airports make a request to increase capacity, the Mayor of London does not even get a look into the matter. Naturally, the local authority in which the airport is based has a vested interest to secure what is often a major employer in its borough, however, airport expansion has far reaching affects beyond its borough’s boundaries and for this reason, it commands the strategic powers of a Mayor to make a strategic decision in the interests of the whole of London. The Mayor’s powers to call in a decision is unfortunately limited by various conditions which are required in order to trigger his intervention, for example, when there is a construction of a facility at an airport or when there is an application to increase passenger numbers by 500,000, however, if the Mayoralty is going to stand up for anything then it be should at least be for Londoner’s increasing concerns about airport expansion within Greater London.
Powers to call in a planning application with a strategic impact on London should be devolved to the Mayor by central government, regardless of number thresholds. This way the Mayor would not be able to pass the buck to the local planning authority when asked about these issues, as he did at People’s Question Time in Ilford on the 18th of January 2010. It is not good enough for him to use disingenuous arguments as he did then, that relevant noise issues can be assessed and resolved at a borough level by the relevant local planning authorities, rather than at a strategic or London wide level.
Airport expansion in the South East and the Mayor’s ideas for this has been a much widely debated topic recently, however, the Mayor’s scope for intervention should begin a lot closer to home looking at real plans which propose expansion for real airports which actually exist and impact upon people across London now.