Robert Sinclair makes the case for a station
Why putting a Crossrail station at London City Airport will right a wrong
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.”
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