The case against expanding London City Airport

A plane leaves London City. Image: Getty.

In June, London City Airport released its plans for a major expansion over the next fifteen years. Although the company has no intention of expanding its physical footprint by building a new runway or terminal – there simply isn’t the space – it is asking for a relaxation of the restrictions around its operation, in order to “maximise the potential” of existing infrastructure.

In short, the airport wants to be allowed to operate during times that it is not currently permitted, or when flights are limited. That would include an end to the 24-hour weekend closure between 12.30pm on Saturday and 12.30pm on Sunday, lifting the annual cap of 111,000 flights to 151,000 by 2035, and increasing the number of flights that can land and take off during the first and last half hour of the airport’s daily operations.

Any such expansion will impact the lives of ordinary Londoners, who will be forced to deal with yet more noisy planes overhead, during even more antisocial hours. It will also exacerbate the city’s air pollution crisis, which already causes thousands of premature deaths every year.

To add insult to injury, most residents of the capital have never even flown out of London City.

The annual salary of an average passenger from the airport is reportedly £114,000 – four times the median UK income, three times that of the typical Londoner, and the highest of all the airports in the UK. More than half of its passengers are business customers flying directly into financial capitals such as Frankfurt and Zurich, or tax havens like Luxembourg and the Isle of Man.

Those who do use the airport for leisure trips earn far more than middle-income holidaymakers. Most of the planes owned by low-cost carriers, such as EasyJet and Ryanair, are too large to use its runway.

The airport claims that its expansion will be carbon neutral. But even if we could take its speculative claims at face value, these promises don’t go anywhere near far enough. If we’re to meet the goals set out in the Paris Agreement and limit global temperature increase to two degrees centigrade, we need to actively reduce the quantity of greenhouse gases being expelled into the atmosphere.


Simply put, rather than allowing London City Airport to expand to accommodate projected increases in demand, we should be looking to take the heat out of that demand. Nothing short of a cut in the number of flights taken each year will bring us close to carbon neutrality.

So, how do we achieve that in the 11 years the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have left to avert a climate emergency? The Greens support the introduction of an EU-wide kerosene (plane fuel) tax, which would help us move closer to this goal. Many countries already tax fuel on some flights – includeing the US, Australia and Japan – and I am broadly in favour. There is currently an active EU petition calling on the Commission to propose this tax to Member States, which needs to secure one million signatures by May 2020.

We should also be seriously considering the introduction of a frequent flyer levy – an extra tax that would be paid by those who fly more than twice a year, and rise with each additional flight taken. In a recent poll, 56 per cent of people agreed that a frequent flyer levy would be “fair”.

They’re right. The vast majority of people would not be affected by such a tax. Most years, most Britons do not fly at all. And only 15 per cent take three or more flights, adding up to a whopping 70 per cent of all flights taken.

It’s now clear that the wealthiest among us are doing disproportionate harm to our environment. They need to contribute towards fixing this damage, or change their damaging behaviour.

A public consultation on London City’s expansion ends in less than a month. I urge you to respond and reject these reckless, polluting and downright dangerous plans.

Scott Ainslie is a Green MEP for London.

 
 
 
 

A new wave of remote workers could bring lasting change to pricey rental markets

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

When the coronavirus spread around the world this spring, government-issued stay-at-home orders essentially forced a global social experiment on remote work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who are able to work from home generally like doing so. A recent survey from iOmetrics and Global Workplace Analytics on the work-from-home experience found that 68% of the 2,865 responses said they were “very successful working from home”, 76% want to continue working from home at least one day a week, and 16% don’t want to return to the office at all.

It’s not just employees who’ve gained this appreciation for remote work – several companies are acknowledging benefits from it as well. On 11 June, the workplace chat company Slack joined the growing number of companies that will allow employees to work from home even after the pandemic. “Most employees will have the option to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose,” Slack said in a public statement, “and we will begin to increasingly hire employees who are permanently remote.”

This type of declaration has been echoing through workspaces since Twitter made its announcement on 12 May, particularly in the tech sector. Since then, companies including Coinbase, Square, Shopify, and Upwork have taken the same steps.


Remote work is much more accessible to white and higher-wage workers in tech, finance, and business services sectors, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and the concentration of these jobs in some major cities has contributed to ballooning housing costs in those markets. Much of the workforce that can work remotely is also more able to afford moving than those on lower incomes working in the hospitality or retail sectors. If they choose not to report back to HQ in San Francisco or New York City, for example, that could potentially have an effect on the white-hot rental and real estate markets in those and other cities.

Data from Zumper, an online apartment rental platform, suggests that some of the priciest rental markets in the US have already started to soften. In June, rent prices for San Francisco’s one- and two-bedroom apartments dropped more than 9% compared to one year before, according to the company’s monthly rent report. The figures were similar in nearby Silicon Valley hotspots of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto.

Six of the 10 highest-rent cities in the US posted year-over-year declines, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. At the same time, rents increased in some cheaper cities that aren’t far from expensive ones: “In our top markets, while Boston and San Francisco rents were on the decline, Providence and Sacramento prices were both up around 5% last month,” Zumper reports.

In San Francisco, some property owners have begun offering a month or more of free rent to attract new tenants, KQED reports, and an April survey from the San Francisco Apartment Association showed 16% of rental housing providers had residents break a lease or unexpectedly give a 30-day notice to vacate.

It’s still too early to say how much of this movement can be attributed to remote work, layoffs or pay cuts, but some who see this time as an opportunity to move are taking it.

Jay Streets, who owns a two-unit house in San Francisco, says he recently had tenants give notice and move to Kentucky this spring.

“He worked for Google, she worked for another tech company,” Streets says. “When Covid happened, they were on vacation in Palm Springs and they didn’t come back.”

The couple kept the lease on their $4,500 two-bedroom apartment until Google announced its employees would be working from home for the rest of the year, at which point they officially moved out. “They couldn’t justify paying rent on an apartment they didn’t need,” Streets says.

When he re-listed the apartment in May for the same price, the requests poured in. “Overwhelmingly, everyone that came to look at it were all in the situation where they were now working from home,” he says. “They were all in one-bedrooms and they all wanted an extra bedroom because they were all working from home.”

In early June, Yessika Patapoff and her husband moved from San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighbourhood to Tiburon, a charming town north of the city. Patapoff is an attorney who’s been unemployed since before Covid-19 hit, and her husband is working from home. She says her husband’s employer has been flexible about working from home, but it is not currently a permanent situation. While they’re paying a similar price for housing, they now have more space, and no plans to move back.

“My husband and I were already growing tired of the city before Covid,” Patapoff says.

Similar stories emerged in the UK, where real estate markets almost completely stopped for 50 days during lockdown, causing a rush of demand when it reopened. “Enquiry activity has been extraordinary,” Damian Gray, head of Knight Frank’s Oxford office told World Property Journal. “I've never been contacted by so many people that want to live outside London."

Several estate agencies in London have reported a rush for properties since the market opened back up, particularly for more spacious properties with outdoor space. However, Mansion Global noted this is likely due to pent up demand from 50 days of almost complete real estate shutdown, so it’s hard to tell whether that trend will continue.

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus, but many industry experts say there will indeed be change.

In May, The New York Times reported that three of New York City’s largest commercial tenants — Barclays, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — have hinted that many of their employees likely won’t be returning to the office at the level they were pre-Covid.

Until workers are able to safely return to offices, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much office space will stay vacant post-pandemic. On one hand, businesses could require more space to account for physical distancing; on the other hand, they could embrace remote working permanently, or find some middle ground that brings fewer people into the office on a daily basis.

“It’s tough to say anything to the office market because most people are not back working in their office yet,” says Robert Knakal, chairman of JLL Capital Markets. “There will be changes in the office market and there will likely be changes in the residential market as well in terms of how buildings are maintained, constructed, [and] designed.”

Those who do return to the office may find a reversal of recent design trends that favoured open, airy layouts with desks clustered tightly together. “The space per employee likely to go up would counterbalance the folks who are no longer coming into the office,” Knakal says.

There has been some discussion of using newly vacant office space for residential needs, and while that’s appealing to housing advocates in cities that sorely need more housing, Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Company, recently told Spectrum News that the conversion process may be too difficult to be practical.

"I don’t know the amount of buildings out there that could be adapted," he said. "It’s very complicated and expensive.

While there’s been tumult in San Francisco’s rental scene, housing developers appear to still be moving forward with their plans, says Dan Sider, director of executive programs at the SF Planning Department.

“Despite the doom and gloom that we all read about daily, our office continues to see interest from the development community – particularly larger, more established developers – in both moving ahead with existing applications and in submitting new applications for large projects,” he says.

How demand for those projects might change and what it might do to improve affordable housing is still unknown, though “demand will recover,” Sider predicts.

Johanna Flashman is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.