City Airport Docklands

King George V Dock, 1984

Back in 1984 I got permission from the Port of London Authority to photograph inside the areas of the Royal Docks which they had closed down three years earlier. I’d been photographing around the edges of the docks occasionally over the past three years and needed to get inside to complete my project. A few pictures were shown and published from it over the years, and in 2013 published the book of the project on Blurb as ‘The Deserted Royals‘. Still available as either a reasonably priced PDF or expensive paperback, and there is a extensive preview on the Blurb page.

By the time I took the picture above, the public planning inquiry into a Docklands STOLport as a city centre air transport gateway on this site six miles from the centre of London had been going for around a month, though detailed planning permission was only granted in early 1986.  Work started immediately, and the first aircraft landed in May 1987, with the airport opening for business on 26 October 1987, though the Queen came and did the formal opening a few weeks later.

Like all airports it grew, and the promises made to the planning inquiry were soon forgotten. There are still some limitations on traffic there, but it is no longer used by the whispering turboprop STOL aircraft it was built for, but people close to the flightpath for miles around suffer from deafening jets which often seem to approach at lower heights than promised. The number of flights allowed has grown hugely over the years and in 2017 there were over 80,000 take-offs and landings – an average of around 220 per day. Fortunately there have been no crashes on approach or take-off but given the highly built-up areas around a major catastrophe remains likely.

I went to the airport with protesters from HACAN East, led by John Stewart, local residents who want their views on the airport and its future to be taken into consideration and are calling for no further expansion, no increase in air or noise pollution and for and end to the concentrated flight paths which have made life a misery for those under them.

They had planned a event to attract media attention rather than a confrontation with the airport, with a team dressed as bakers carrying a 30th birthday cake from the terminal entrance to the airport offices, though in the event only one local newspaper photographer and myself arrived to take pictures. HACAN want a constructive engagement with the airport, and City Airport’s Director of Public Affairs Liam McKay who met them stressed that the airport also wanted to be a good neighbour – though quite how possible that will be is questionable.  The airport owners – who now include a Canadian-led consortium and the Kuwait Investment Authority – will be rather more interested in increasing returns than the health, safety and sanity of East Londoners.

In a civilised gesture we were invited in for tea and coffee, and to share a slice of the birthday cake, though McKay refused my request to photograph him cutting it. It was good coffee and the cake was fine – and I hope the the City Airport office staff enjoyed the rest of it after we left.

30th Birthday cake for London City Airport


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