How many airports does London have?

Gatwick: not, technically, in London. Image: Getty.

How many airports does London have? This feels like it should be a question with a simple and straightforward answer, turns out not to be anything of the sort, and – this is key – concerns a type of transport infrastructure. That makes it CityMetric gold, so let’s have at it.

If we’re going to be absolute purists about this, the answer is just two. The only airports inside the city limits are Heathrow, the behemoth 16 miles to the west, and City, a minnow (Is a minnow the opposite of a behemoth? best check - Ed.), nine miles to the east. So if you want to know how many airports are actually in London, the answer is just two.

Except we don’t hold with official but largely arbitrary city limits around here – honestly, we explained why in one of our very earliest articles, nearly five years ago now – and anyway how many airports are in London is not the same as how many airports London has. Which you can tell from the fact that most of London’s slightly silly number of airports are missing from our list.

London’s second airport, on any measure of size you can find, is Gatwick, located in Sussex, 28 miles to the south of the city and about eight south of its current boundaries. There’s also Stansted (39 miles north-north east in Essex) and Luton (34 miles north-north west in Bedfordshire). Between the three of them, these guys actually move more planes and more passengers than Heathrow does. As our future descendants will one day curse, as the sea laps around their ankles somewhere in the Peak District, London has a lot of air capacity.

But the London airport system – the list of airports online booking systems will consider if you ask for a flight to or from “London (all airports)” – actually includes a sixth option. That’s the tiny London Southend Airport, 40 miles to the east on the Essex coast.

At the moment it handles only about a third of the traffic of even City. It also takes the better part of an hour to get to from London, on a stopping train from Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria. This, one suspects, is the reason why – even though it’s only a mile further away from the city centre than Stansted – it tends to be the only official London airport that sees large number of people on social media whining about how it shouldn’t really be considered a London airport at all.

At any rate: a better answer for how many airports London has is six. It has six airports. Six.

Lydd is the optimistically named London Ashford Airport, which is actually closer to Lille. Look, just don’t ask, okay? Image: Nilfanion/Wikimedia Commons.

Except... well.

For a start, there’s London Oxford Airport out in, well, you can probably guess. That’s, give or take, about 56 miles from the centre of the capital. It’s not an official London airport – not in the aforementioned London Airport System – but it brands itself as London Oxford because, well, you would, wouldn’t you?


Then there’s Southampton Airport. that doesn’t seem to have ever branded itself as London Southampton, best I can tell, though that surprised me a bit because I could have sworn that I once flew from it and it did. What seems to have happened here is that sometimes airlines refer to it as London Southampton in an attempt to get me, and more fool me because it worked.

Anyway. That’s a whole 66 miles from the capital, and takes just over 1hr10 by train, but that’s only 20 minutes longer than Southend so maybe they should chance their arm.

And then there’s Birmingham Airport. Okay, I know this is getting silly now because Birmingham is an entirely different city, and on a strict distance measure it’s 96 miles from London, which is nearly 100 miles, which is a bloody long way.

Except for two things. Firstly, the train journey is 1hr14 which is, to within the margin of error, the same length of time it takes from “London” Southampton airport. That’s only on fast, and so expensive, Virgin trains admittedly. But that leads us to our second thing: in the event High Speed 2 ever happens, it’ll come with a whole new Birmingham Interchange station which, like the already existing Birmingham International, will also serve Birmingham Airport.

At which point two things will happen:

1) The trains from London to Birmingham Interchange will be even quicker;

2) The trains from London to Birmingham International will become, at least relatively speaking, cheaper, in an attempt to compete;

And a third thing will very probably happen too:

3) Some bright spark will come up with the idea of rebranding it as London Birmingham Airport because, once again, you would, wouldn’t you?

At any rate. London has a lot of airports, it has an indeterminate number of airports, and the London Airport System seems likely to grow rather than shrink.

Don’t get me started on private airports, life’s too short.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.