Thames Estuary airport plans ‘should be rejected’

Plans for a new airport in the Thames Estuary should be rejected and Heathrow expanded instead, a report by MPs has said.

The House of Commons Transport Committee warned that a multi-billion pound hub east of London – favoured by Mayor Boris Johnson and dubbed “Boris Island” – would be prohibitively expensive.

A new airport would also damage wildlife in the estuary and mean the closure of Heathrow, a course of action that would have “unacceptable consequences”, the report said.

Boris Island

The committee’s findings will come as a huge blow to Johnson, who has long campaigned for a new London airport east of the capital.

Instead, the report states that a third runway at Heathrow is “necessary” and that a fourth runway could also be a viable option.

But expansion at Heathrow is opposed by local residents.

Louise Ellman, chair of the committee, said: “Research we commissioned made plain that building an entirely new hub airport east of London could not be done without huge public investment in new ground transport infrastructure. Evidence to our inquiry also showed a substantial potential impact on wildlife habitat in the Thames estuary.

“The viability of an estuary hub airport would also require the closure of Heathrow – a course of action that would have unacceptable consequences for individuals, businesses in the vicinity of the existing airport and the local economy.

Boris Island

“Heathrow – the UK’s only hub airport – has been short of capacity for a decade and is currently operating at full capacity. We conclude that a third runway at Heathrow is necessary, but also suggest that a four-runway proposal may have merit, especially if expanding to locate two new runways westwards from the current site could curb the noise experienced by people affected under the flight path.”

However, the report added that adding new runways to expand other existing airports is not a long-term solution.

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Report by Graham Smith

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  • It’s important to differentiate “Boris Island” – which was an early proposal sited in the middle of the Estuary – from Lord Foster’s Thames Hub, which is illustrated in the report above. Though the error does seem to be so widely perpetuated that it’s become commonplace to confuse the two.

    There is no evidence wildlife would be adversely affected, once mitigations were in place. Especially when set against the broader economic and environmental benefits of the new airport. Boris was speaking this morning about the mitigation plan which will be set out later in the year.

    It is not yet possible for anyone to assert that a new hub would be “prohibitively expensive” as it hasn’t been properly costed yet. The airport itself would easily be funded by Sovereign Wealth, Pension Infrastructure or other private funds, and there’s no reason toll roads and other funding options wouldn’t bear a large part of the cost of opening up huge swathes of land ripe for development along the East London corridor to the new Transport Hub.

    This is investment, not just typical “spend” and the two should not be confused.

    We haven’t heard what the cost of this 3/4 runway LHR proposal would be, but it won’t be inexpensive – re-routing the M25, purchasing land, removing reservoirs, adding rail and tube stations, pollution and cost as aircraft taxi further to take off and land…the list goes on.

    A larger Heathrow would also require a “huge public investment in new ground infrastructure” which would be necessary to expand LHR over some of the most high value land in the country, in an already overly congested M4 corridor, right next to the World Heritage site which is Windsor Castle.

    References to “unacceptable consequences” of closing Heathrow don’t seem to consider that the land would be hugely valuable as a mixed development of housing, university, Shopping Mall and Business Park. The terminal Sheds are perfectly designed to be very easy to change use – T5 is not dissimilar to a Westfield, in more ways than I would care to note!

    I don’t believe this report by the Labour controlled Transport Select Committee is a huge blow to Boris – to a certain extent “they would say that wouldn’t they” and he certainly seemed very upbeat in Today this morning.

    The important report will be the interim findings of the Davies Commission which makes its interim findings at the end of 2013. My predictions are that it will recommend:

    (1) a four runway hub, but not at LHR.

    (2) another runway and terminal at LGW to be built, but not commissioned, prior to 2019 when the Council embargo ends.

    (3) It may recommend another runway at Stansted, though the problem there is more about transport links with London than lack of runway capacity.

    (4) better use of regional airports, possibly via reducing APD taxes in the regions.

    Finally, why is it that adding runways at space-constrained LHR is a long term solution when four is the ABSOLUTE MAXIMUM number space will allow, and the runways must be closed 6 hours per day, instantly reducing the effectiveness of the investment by 25% vs. other options? It doesn’t stack up.

  • VK, thanks for confirming what to the rest of the world is the “obvious”.
    (Hi from Sydney btw)

    How is it that what was completed successfully half way across the planet, under British rule – based on identical circumstances – with identical pro’s & con’s (HKG), can not be undertaken on your own door step (or Estuary).


  • They can’t shut Heathrow. There are literally thousands, probably tens of thousands, of businesses and corporate HQs along the M4 corridor that are there cos of Heathrow. It’s not just an airport, it’s a whole economic ecosystem. To shut down it’s beating heart would be economic suicide. Plus this “Heathrow is full” thing is nonsense, yes all the slots are allocated but there is no city in the world that is underserved from LHR – take Geneva, 10 flights a day, do we need 11? The biggest plane on the route is an A320 with 150-odd seats. Look at Asia, where many (most) regional flights are operated by wide body 777s, or even bigger (CAN-PEK, SIN-HKG, BKK-HKG all see daily A380s) – we have a long way to go before Heathrow is close to “full”.

  • Despite what VK states, and he always seems to get it wrong. the only sensible solution is 4 runways at Heathrow.
    Build on what is already a success rather than find loads of unexpected problems elsewhere. We know what the problems at heathrow are, plan them out…NOW!!!!

  • It’s easy to shut Heathrow. It’s only been there for sixty years; just as people said it was impossible for the London Docks to move east to Tilbury, so it is the case with LHR.

    It would be nuts, and impractical, for ships to dock so near the City, as they did until the 1960s. The Docklands area is a huge success story.

    And Heathrow is ideally positioned for redevelopment; housing, parks, university and shopping mall all connected to London and by fast rail to the new airport.

    Lower paid jobs and businesses supplying the airport would of course have to move, or refocus to the new local economy; but the land they would relinquish is valuable even without an airport. It’s easy to forget how badly LHR was served by public transport (M25 not completed until Mrs Thatcher opened it in 1986, the M4 flyover is crumbling and will require a complete rebuild within 20 years, the overpriced Heathrow Express is hardly a shining light of public access transport).

    The point about smaller aircraft is misleading, because frequency to business destinations like Geneva is essential.

    The problems at Heathrow are self made and largely intractable because of the site used; eliminating that constraint with a four runway vision elsewhere is the right solution for our children, and their grandchildren, rather than the smallminded, self-serving short-sightedness of those who would rather we “muddle on” in an inevitable decline as FRA and AMS take over the role of transit hub of choice for Northern Europe.

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