Think before you fly
In 2009 Newham residents Dot and Barry Palmer were invited to give a speech at City Hall about life under London City Airport. The airport has been granted planning permission to further raise the limit on the number of flights – from 73,000 to 120,000 per year. [This is Charles Buchanan’s legacy – he is proud of having got this through without a Public Inquiry.]
Their speech in full:
Dot Palmer: We were born and we lived all our lives in Newham. We came from a long line of poor working families. We lived with two daughters in a small flat in appalling conditions. By that I mean we had no electricity, we had no toilet facilities, and all social services wanted to do was take the children away, but we fought them and we ended up moving into a pre-fab in 1970 because they had to re-house us. Kim was 2 and Collette was 6 months. It was one of the various pre-fab estates across Beckton that were built just after 1945. Social housing was the only option then – private rental was far too expensive and buying didn’t even enter into people’s heads. Home-owning was a fantasy land where fairies come from. But life there was good – then. It was a nice place to live, albeit rather remote. We soon learned 2 standing jokes of the area: on one hand it was like living in the country, on the other hand we were known as the forgotten people on Devil’s Island.
Barry Palmer: Redevelopment in the area began in 1976 and our estate was demolished. We moved to another area in East Beckton. By now we had two boys – Bobby was four and Tony was 2. It was still a nice place to live – we even had a farm at the bottom of our garden. Newham was having a new show estate built by the docks to re-house all the displaced people in the area. This was our first brush with the authorities. The tenants protested about the pile-driving that went on all hours, day and night, seven days a week.
In 1981 this area was also demolished. We had no idea that was going to happen, and we had to move again. We were moved on to the new show estate, and our council house was so new the decorators were still working when we moved in.
Years later developments began that would change the quality of our lives forever. When the airport was first suggested, in one of the most densely populated areas of the country, it was ignored as the raving of a lunatic – in much the same way as the airport in the middle of the Thames is viewed now. But soon the whole asylum turned out saying what a wonderful idea it would be.
Dot Palmer: Locals lobbied against it from the start. We didn’t believe all the PR they told us, and that still continues today as they all prove to be lies. Each time our quality of life got worse. Using your garden in the summer during the day is out of the question. It was too noisy and the smell choked you. Even having the doors or the windows open was a no-no. When we complained we were told “get some fans”. Washing can’t go out on the line because it smelt of aerofuel, and we were told “get a dryer”. I pointed out that fresh air is free, and it would drain our resources. But all to no avail.
People’s lives changed to adapt to this intrusion. Chatting to a neighbour in the street, you automatically paused in the conversation when a plane went over. And then you carried on again afterwards, even without realising you were doing it. And then they have the bird-scarer which bangs and shocks you out of bed at 6.30 in the morning. In 1998 we were promised to have some evergreen arboreal tree barrier, and we helped plant it last year.
Barry Palmer: And when the City Airport stops, the DLR starts. The maintenance trains rattle up and down all hours of the night. You know when they’re coming because the tannoys on the station tell you. Apart from weekends when you can’t hear them because the boy racers use the Docklands spine road as a racetrack. The DLR was originally to be elevated all the way. We protested against the infringement on people’s privacy. Underground was out of the question because of the cost. So the compromise was made: it was going to be in a cut and cover. More lies – we got the cut, we’re still waiting for the cover.
Likewise the Docklands Spine Road. Originally the Docklands Spine Road was going to be a dual carriageway using the road outside our houses as one side of the dual carriageway – a footpath away from where the children come out into the street. Again protest, again a compromise and it was built further south.
These developments in pursuit of the great god money have brought little value to most of the local people, with the City Airport being the worst offender – a little surprising when the average wage of City Airport users is £185,000 a year. A single parking space in London City Airport earns more money than 30,000 families in Newham. Local pollution is 50% higher than EU recommendations. The area has the highest mortality rate for under-30s in the country. It is in the top 3 in the country for cardio-vascular and respiratory diseases, asthma being at the top. Myself and two of our children are long-term sufferers.
We have gone from 30,000 whisper jets a year to 120,000 jets and they are now even boasting a 100-seater to New York. Many thousands of jobs promised have never materialised, but the greatest cost has been to the quality of life of the local communities and the impacts on the environment as a whole
Dot Palmer: We always worked locally trying to make things better, serving on residents and tenants committees, setting up a neighbourhood watch and the Safer Neighbourhood policing team. We still are school governors and we set up and run a local youth watch club for ten years – voluntary I might add. Unknown to us, we were nominated – and then presented with – two of the first twelve Good Citizen awards for our youth work.
But now the Beckton we loved and where we raised our family is no more. The communities are almost gone, the old neighbours either passed on or moved away. What we have now is a transit camp, a car park, and a dumping ground. The area has now been left to go to ruin. What price progress? 40 years on, and we still are a forgotten people.
Thanks to Climate Rush