Robert Sin­clair makes the case for a sta­tion

Why putting a Cross­rail sta­tion at Lon­don City Air­port will right a wrong

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There’s an en­ergy to Robert Sin­clair as he talks to me after de­liv­er­ing a key­note speech at the Thames Es­tu­ary Growth Day. Lon­don City Air­port’s CEO is ex­er­cised, more like a man tak­ing the reigns fresh than some­one who’s been in post a full 12 months.

“What we can’t do is be sit­ting here and hav­ing the same con­ver­sa­tion in five years’ time,” he said.

“That would be a dis­as­ter for the en­tire re­gion.”

Sat in Ex­cel, we’re dis­cussing the cam­paign to ex­tend Cross­rail from Abbey Wood to Ebb­s­fleet in Kent, and to cre­ate a sta­tion on the net­work at Lon­don City Air­port – in his words to “right the wrong” no ded­i­cated stop was in­cluded in the orig­i­nal scheme.

With 5mil­lion pas­sen­gers us­ing the Royal Docks ter­mi­nal each year and swathes of res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment around it, the case for a se­cond sta­tion serv­ing the area is com­pelling.

Robert said: “I don’t know why it didn’t hap­pen, it was long be­fore my time. I sus­pect it was re­lated to the fact at the time Lon­don City was a much smaller air­port than it is now.

“I’m not sure the peo­ple at the time could quite see its po­ten­tial or how trans­for­ma­tional Cross­rail could ac­tu­ally be. Cross­rail to Ebb­s­fleet is such a great op­por­tu­nity – it’s fun­da­men­tally sen­si­ble to con­nect mul­ti­ple trans­port modes.

“Just be­cause there was a missed op­por­tu­nity in the past, the big­gest mis­take would be that we don’t get that part of the pro­ject in place now.

“If you look at Lon­don City we have an ex­cel­lent do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional net­work. We have the DLR which is in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar – the high­est pub­lic trans­port use of any air­port in the UK, nearly 70% – so our pas­sen­gers are used to us­ing pub­lic trans­port to get here.

“The air­port is chang­ing. His­tor­i­cally it has served Ca­nary Wharf and the City – the fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal in par­tic­u­lar – our catch­ment area is now grow­ing and in­cor­po­rat­ing more of cen­tral Lon­don.

“We’re keen to ex­tend it to the south as well as to Es­sex and Kent, and to cre­ate more of a main­stream air­port serv­ing all of Lon­don. So it makes a great deal of sense to be prop­erly con­nected to the rail in­fra­struc­ture and get peo­ple to and from Lon­don City even more eas­ily.

“We know from a lot of the sat­is­fac­tion work we do with our pas­sen­gers they value the cer­tainty be­ing on pub­lic trans­port gives them. It’s one of the key rea­sons peo­ple choose Lon­don City Air­port.

“If we can con­nect to Cross­rail we can give peo­ple that seam­less abil­ity to trans­fer right across Lon­don and into the air­port, and it means we’re con­nected to Heathrow.

“It makes em­i­nent sense for the ca­pac­ity con­strained Lon­don mar­ket, which we will be in for some time, to con­nect it at the other end to Lon­don City.

“What you do is cre­ate the abil­ity for pas­sen­gers to fly into one air­port and out of the other, and vice versa.

“That’s what air­lines do. They build sched­ules both at Heathrow and Lon­don City so they’re com­ple­men­tary to pro­vide that flex­i­bil­ity for pas­sen­gers to use both air­ports.”

Philip Ham­mond failed to ear­mark fund­ing in the re­cent bud­get to in­ves­ti­gate the next stage of the pro­ject, so those back­ing the ex­ten­sion have a chal­lenge. But with the Thames Es­tu­ary 2050 Growth Com­mis­sion hav­ing set out its vi­sion for the area in June and due to re­port on its find­ings be­fore the end of the year, Robert re­mains con­fi­dent.

“The link should hap­pen as soon as pos­si­ble,” he said.

“We were dis­ap­pointed the money for the fea­si­bil­ity study wasn’t con­firmed in the bud­get.

“We’re con­scious the com­mis­sion will be re­port­ing on its find­ings so we do be­lieve there’s a sen­si­ble op­por­tu­nity that with the ben­e­fit of the re­port the funds should be con­firmed. For me it’s a very log­i­cal pro­ject. The line is re­served and there’s cross party sup­port, mul­ti­ple coun­cil sup­port, busi­ness sup­port.

“It’s rel­a­tively easy to do and for a fraction of the cost of the whole Cross­rail pro­ject. It makes a great deal of sense just to get on with it.”

The ben­e­fits of the pro­ject are twofold. In his speech, Robert draws a par­al­lel with the Thames Val­ley cor­ri­dor along the M4, with pros­per­ity and growth closely linked to con­nec­tiv­ity to an air­port – Heathrow. He be­lieves a sim­i­lar swathe of pros­per­ity can be cre­ated with jobs, homes and eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity stretch­ing out to the east of the cap­i­tal. Specif­i­cally the com­mis­sion’s wider vi­sion aims to de­liver £190bil­lion of ad­di­tional added value in the re­gion, a mil­lion new homes and 1.3mil­lion jobs.

“It’s very clear the time for the Thames Es­tu­ary is now,” said Robert.

“We must col­lab­o­rate to pro­vide the most com­pelling data and the global in­vest­ment com­mu­nity.

“We can’t be com­pla­cent, Lon­don and the South East are in a race with Sin­ga­pore, New York, Frank­furt and Paris.”

The se­cond ben­e­fit of the pro­posal is more lo­cal. Lon­don City Air­port is chang­ing and link­ing it to Kent and Lon­don more ef­fec­tively sup­ports that pro­ject.

Robert said: “We be­lieve the ev­i­dence is very com­pelling. The fastest grow­ing parts of Lon­don are within 30-60 min­utes of the air­port.

“Ac­cord­ing to Sav­ills there will be 4.1mil­lion homes within that ra­dius by 2026 and 6.7mil­lion jobs by 2041.

“That is a seis­mic shift east and it’s a very ex­cit­ing prospect.

“That move­ment in the cen­tre of grav­ity of Lon­don is pretty scary too. It in­di­cates the scale of the chal­lenge. What we must not do is cre­ate is­lands across east Lon­don and the es­tu­ary. In­stead we must con­nect com­mu­ni­ties and, fur­ther still, think about how we can con­nect them to other parts of the UK and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

“We’re press­ing the re­set but­ton on the air­port – that re­ally re­flects the di­rec­tion of travel we’re on now.

“We’re shift­ing per­cep­tions – they’re lag­ging the re­al­ity of the air­port. Peo­ple think we’re largely or en­tirely a busi­ness air­port. The re­al­ity is the leisure spilt is around 50-50. I think that’s in part down to the re­gen­er­a­tion of east Lon­don – the growth in pop­u­la­tion on our doorstep who are see­ing Lon­don City as their clos­est air­port, not just for busi­ness but for leisure as well.

“That’s very much driven by our air­lines that see a real value in driv­ing leisure traf­fic. Some places that we fly to – Am­s­ter­dam and Mu­nich – are great places to go for a long week­end as well as for busi­ness. And we shouldn’t think leisure is just out­bound.

“Lon­don City is the best gate­way to Lon­don – in my opin­ion the great­est city in the world.”

With the of­fice blocks of ABP Royal Al­bert Dock ris­ing across the wa­ter from its run­way, the £500mil­lion pro­ject to re­de­velop the air­port’s ter­mi­nal, re­claim­ing land the size of 11 foot­ball pitches from the wa­ter and set for com­ple­tion in 2022, seems ap­po­site.

When open, the ter­mi­nal will be four times the size of ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties, re­liev­ing a struc­ture al­ready op­er­at­ing at ca­pac­ity dur­ing peak hours. As part of fu­ture de­vel­op­ment Robert said the air­port would be will­ing to con­trib­ute to the cre­ation of a Cross­rail sta­tion, not least to de­liver a more re­silient set of trans­port op­tions for trav­ellers.

“We don’t know what in­fra­struc­ture will be nec­es­sary but, along with oth­ers, we ab­so­lutely

We’re press­ing the re­set but­ton on the air­port – that re­ally re­flects the di­rec­tion of travel we’re now on Robert Sin­clair, Lon­don City Air­port

want to be part of the group that gets this up and run­ning,” he said.

“A year on, the op­por­tu­nity I hoped and ex­pected would be there with Lon­don City ab­so­lutely is.

“The com­mis­sion’s vi­sion is spot on, I think there’s so much more this cor­ri­dor can do.

“The es­tu­ary is a vi­brant area that’s just re­gen­er­at­ing around us.

“From the air­port’s per­spec­tive, we’ll con­tinue to grow next year de­spite the head­winds of Brexit and eco­nomic un­cer­tainty – we’ll be more than 5mil­lion pas­sen­gers next year.

“We are see­ing our ma­jor car­ri­ers com­mit ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity to the air­port, like Bri­tish Air­ways for in­stance, ac­quir­ing four new air­craft. We’ve seen Aer Lin­gus just start op­er­a­tions. TAP Por­tu­gal is do­ing well. KLM is do­ing very well.

“And we have LOT Pol­ish air­lines com­menc­ing early in the New Year to War­saw and Bu­dapest, and that is a re­flec­tion of the chang­ing na­ture of the air­port.

“Peo­ple can use Lon­don City as a way to ac­cess the world.”

PIC­TURES: MATT GRAYSON

Lon­don City Air­port CEO Robert Sin­clair be­lieves ac­tion should be taken now to ex­tend Cross­rail from Abbey Wood to Ebb­s­fleet with a con­nect­ing sta­tion at the air­port

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