Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Transport for London, London City Airport and The Cable Car

Pictured above: CAA revised London City Airport PSZ Map

We've been closely following the story of the cable car crossing from North Greenwich to the Royal Docks in Newham and the issue around the Public Safety Zone (PSZ/crash zone). Many of you will know we are fairly familiar with matters of the PSZ and have written about it many times before which can be seen here, here, here and here.

Transport For London (and interested parties) want a cable car to cross the Thames, from the South to the North and land at the West end of the Royal Docks, Newham. There's just one problem though: the cable car goes right through the current PSZ of London City Airport. Low flying planes on landing and take off, a cable, cable houses, and an estimated 5000 travellers an hour, all at the end of London City Airport's runway. It's a bit like putting an electric fan heater in the far corner of a bathroom and hoping that it doesn't get splashed with water (please don't take anything electrical in the bathroom, it is a hazard to life). If an incident were to happen where the cable was broken, it appears the whole cable car system would be affected. We do not want to see anything like the Cavalese Cable Car Incident happen in London.

It appears however that the authorities wish to down play, or actually ignore the PSZ policy which is written by the DfT. Richard de Cani , Director of Strategy and Policy at Transport for London, who submitted the planning application, even went so far to state in the Newham Council Planning Meeting minutes that:

"The public safety zone issues relating to the London City Airport were not material considerations for the Cable Car. "

So that's alright then!

What concerns us is that TFL choose to ignore something as important as your safety when the DfT have clearly put a policy in place for all airports to protect and reduce the risk to persons in the areas each end of runways. TFL did however suddenly find an interest in the PSZ as they spent a considerable amount of time and days on this blog during the week of the planning meetings.

The DfT circular on the PSZ policy is quite clear: no new developments are to be built in PSZ areas and the people present in the PSZ should be reduced over time. There is a clause for low intensity transport, but 5000 passengers an hour dangling in cable cars from a cable that goes right across the PSZ and flight path of London City Airport flights is not 'low intensity'. The PSZ has grown as the planes have got bigger and more flights are allowed, so the size of the PSZ is simply a further blight on the use of land in East London for regeneration, but it seems that some authorities want to have their cake and eat it, especially if the risk is someone elses. Who better than the unsuspecting public?

Even London City Airport themselves raised the concern of Crossrail using an area of land within the PSZ in the Royal Docks and objected in their petition to the House of Lords:

"The worksite proposed as part of the Crossrail proposals at the Connaught Bridge falls within the Public Safety Zone at the western end of the airport. This is contrary to the objective of the Public Safety Zone which is to minimise the number of people working or congregating within the Zone.Aircraft operations at London City Airport cannot be modified to accommodate the extent of activity in this area. Should such activity be deemed to be unsafe by the Civil Aviation Authority , restrictions may be imposed on the aerodrome licence , which would severely curtail or prevent commercial operations......."

We are told that Transport for London's Richard DiCani was alegedly clasping an out of date PSZ map as his justification for not needing to consider the PSZ at one of the planning meetings. However considering the ATWP is quite clear that any planning authority considering applications around an airport should always take into account the full masterplan, and that the Civil Aviation Authority had released a new PSZ map in mid December to both Greenwich and Newham Councils (which is a notification, not consultation, there is a distinct difference between the two) which clearly indicated that the cable car was to travel through the PSZ.

The extent of the PSZ (albeit different to the most recently published map) had also been indicated in predictive maps in the London City Airport expansion application, so there is really little excuse for the PSZ and the associated risks not to have been fully considered as required by the DfT circular and policy.

What is even more surprising is that it is very hard to find where the PSZ has been properly addressed at all in the Cable Car application process and three authorities went ahead and approved it 2 weeks ago. It is that which appears to have raised enough concerns from Friends of the Earth and a local Tower Hamlets resident to challenge this approval, both of whom we are assured fully support a cable car, but not at the expense of the safety of those on the ground and passengers.

The latest development in this sorry saga is the release of a wake turbulence report from London City Airport (more to follow on this in the coming days!). The cable car not only sits in the PSZ, it also sits in the wake turbulence path as modelled by Halcrow. At the Greenwich Planning meeting it was stated that "the applicant has been advised by London City Airport that wake turbulence will not be a significant issue". Considering the reports indicate that there have been two incidents of wake turbulence damage recorded (considerable damage to a roof of a building in one) and it appears these have been so since the introduction of larger jets, it seems that the focus should be on the word 'significant'. Wake turbulence is heard 3-4 times a week at the end of the runway, and cannot be ruled out as not a risk to the cable car system at all - hence the use of the word 'significant' no doubt! We suspect that most passengers in the cable car would not wish to be caught up in a wake turbulence vortex, not unless they were expecting a white knuckle ride across the Thames.

To illustrate the impact of wake turbulence on the ground, let alone to a cable car, this may assist: "In the late 1970s I was driving north on I-5, passing the end of SAN Lindbergh Field. A Delta L-1011 was just touching down on 27 and I noticed that a palm tree in the median of the freeway was flailing wildly. A moment later the vortex hit me. It almost rolled my VW bus over." More documentation of just how serious it can be read here and here.

We will be posting a lot more on wake turbulence, what it is and what residents experience in a wake turbulence attack in the coming days.

Now objections have been submitted to the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and he has been requested to call the application in on safety grounds. Boris is going to have to deal with just one of the consequences of his support for London City Airport expansion now, how untimely that it should come so soon!

We are just struck by how the PSZ suddenly became less important and one that apparently local authorities can afford not to fully consider to protect the safety of individuals around airports.