Wednesday, March 19, 2008

LCA Expansion Threat Creating An Economic Housing Crisis

From our campaign rep with an interest in all things housing and social:

Thames Gateway and LCA
With so many 'Thames Gateway' homes having already been built in the last 3 years in and around the vicinity of London City Airport and it's flight path - you wonder just how the Councils, developers and airport can seriously expect established and new residents to accept flight expansion, up to 176,000 per year, without feeling rather angry and fighting it all the way.

In the boroughs of Greenwich and Newham alone, there have been approximately 5000 new dwellings built within a mile of the runway in the past 3 years, and it's not stopped yet, thousands more are to be built along the Thames Gateway, but some (around 6000) won't be built if expansion goes ahead. It is questionable that any of the properties built within a mile radius of the airport should have ever have been allowed to, particularly those under the flight path. It smacks of greed from the councils and developers. The majority of the homes are built under the Thames Gateway Project and the focus is on 'affordable homes' (though many are not most would call affordable at all - most now require a hefty income to be elgible) and a mixture of tenures in an attempt to address housing shortages in London for all tenures of residents.
But so far, the mantra of The Thames Gateway Unit seems to have failed miserably in the case of residents in and around East and South East London and the house building programme and aims of the TGU are in complete conflict with LCA begging for expansion. The Thames Gateway Unit quotes on it's website:

"We aspire to see Gateway housing leave a low-carbon footprint to help tackle global warming. There will be an emphasis on making sure there are enough affordable homes for those who have difficulty getting onto the housing ladder, or finding decent rented accommodation. There will also be well-designed public places, where communities can come together".

So while TGU aspire to build homes with a low carbon footprint, the London City Airport on the doorstep of East and South East London residents is all too keen to throw any benefits from that out of the window. In the case of well-designed public places where communities can come together - well that's a great idea but trying to 'come together' under roaring jet planes of 80-90db will be...impossible. 46,000 residents, and growing, will be prisoners in their own homes in an attempt to try and block out the incessant jet noise.

Prior to the application to expand by London City Airport (to 120,000 this year and up to 176,000 flights next year) few residents ever considered this would be an issue at the tiny airport in densely built up East London. So long standing residents, and those new residents who bought into the Thames Gateway product, sold so well by the government, councils and developers, appear to have been betrayed by the current situation with London City Airports masterplan and interim applications to expand. So is it just a case of being unlucky for South East and East Londoners? Or is it the case that these areas are viewed as the 'poor relations' of London and nobody really cares about the residents here? East and South East London has always been neglected, and from what we see now we can see a lot of autocratic decision making taking place, that ignores the real needs, and welfare, of the residents.

Fight the Flights has been talking to residents about their experiences and how the current situation is affecting them, and it's not good at all:

Case Studies

Resident 1
New to area, and purchased new flat from developer in East London less than a year ago. They were showed around the new property on a Saturday, when flights stop at 1pm. The property is less than 1/2 mile from the runway and they were not given any indication that the airport was likely to expand. Upon moving in after a few months they noticed an increase in noise from flights in Spring 2007 after Newham had approved more flexibility to the amount of flights that went out on any one day/evening - meaning that some days the resident experiences a flight every 90 seconds for hours upon end. They say if they had been told about the planned flight expansion that they would not have purchased their home and they now feel very let down by LB Newham.

The resident's property has already lost value on the price paid to the developer, they wish to move as they realise that any expansion will make their home uninhabitable due to the noise levels. They also fear that they may have trouble selling their property due to the noise levels from the flights and this will reduce the value further. They will not get any assistance from London City Airport to reduce noise within the home because their property was given planning permission after 1990.

If they sell, it will be at a financial loss, and in the current market may mean that they lose their ability to get back onto the housing ladder again. They are trapped or face huge financial loss.

Resident 2
First time buyers, purchased shared ownership flat in Thames Gateway development in Greenwich. They too were showed around the property on a Saturday, the only day open for viewing. Hailed by John Prescott as a 'beacon example' of Thames Gateway housing of the future. The developments have been plagued by poor planning and management by Greenwich, less than wholesome selling practices by developers, which resulted in mass fraudulant mortgages, and now mass repossessions. Values of the homes have plummetted - some residents have as much as £130,000 negative equity. The homes were sold as opportunities for key workers and average income earners to get on the housing ladder. The residents asked about the airport when viewing their new build home and they were told it was tiny and could not expand, and would not be a problem.

They too have noticed an increase in noise from the flights since spring of 2007 but had not been aware of the planning application to change flight quotas on any one day. Neither were they made aware of any future plans to expand flights and would not have purchased the property if they had been so. They will not be entitled to any 'noise management' from LCA and therefore will be left with 'putting up with the din for hours on end'. Already one person in their household is suffering from ear/hearing problems - it is currently under investigation, but it is felt that the noise from the increased use of jets at LCA (8o+dbs) has damaged the individuals hearing.
They wish to move if expansion goes ahead but have also lost money on the value of their property and selling will mean that they cannot afford to buy another property in the South East of England - this will mean if they cannot afford private renting in London they will be forced to leave this part of the country. They are trapped or face huge financial loss to escape the onslaught of 80-90db noise levels, for longer periods of time, in the future.

Resident 3
Long term social housing tenant in Newham. Born in Newham and lived in the area all their lives and their family for generations before. Works locally and is on a low income. Has seen the promises of the airport being used only for small Dash 7s and very limited flights eroded and the area become dominated by flight noise and kerosene fumes.

They feel that their quality of life has become reduced considerably by the increased activities at the airport and feel it has made them ill. They cannot open their windows due to noise levels (they are already in the upper noise contours) and have mechanized ventilation which was installed by the airport. They have the option to put their name on the housing waiting list to move - but have been told that as there is such a shortage of housing in Newham that they could wait for many years.
They are trapped in 'noise hell' as they described it.
Are your Councillors/MP helping you?
So just how are the Councils and government going to support the residents who have lived in the areas affected by LCA for generations and those that have been conned into buying into the Thames Gateway housing? It seems to us that residents who socially rent or whom have purchased their homes are those that are the most immobile and will not have the choice to move away from the area without much financial and emotional hardship.

So far few councillors have stood up for their residents, and the same can be said for local MPs, bar a few who have seen the same huge negative implications as we have, and have admirably stood up and been counted.

It's about time local councillors and MPs started realising and taking the effort to find out just how badly the expansion will hit a minimum of 46,000 people - in fact we wouldn't like to hazard a guess at how many are actually going to be affected negatively as it will run into hundreds of thousands.

Of course we realise that big business and many in local government don't really care about 46,000+ people's increase in noise, decline in health and economic/financial loss - but it's about time they did.