The plans for Thames Estuary Airport – or to some, better known as “Boris Island” looks like to be heading to the bin, according to the BBC and the Financial Times (Paywall).
Thames Estuary Airport – or Boris Island. Rendering, Foster + Partners.
Sir Howard David, who is leading the commission states in its report:
“We are not persuaded that a very large airport in the Thames estuary is the right answer to London’s and the UK’s connectivity needs.
While we recognise the need for a hub airport, we believe this should be a part of an effective system of competing airports to meet the needs of a widely spread and diverse market like London’s.
There are serious doubts about the delivery and operation of a very large hub airport in the estuary.
The need for additional capacity is urgent. We need to focus on solutions which are deliverable, affordable, and set the right balance for the future”
As the Airports Commission prepares to report on how to proceed forward, the ideas for the Thames Estuary Airport seems not to fit, with the commission preferring to examine existing options – namely expanding Heathrow and Gatwick.
Three options will remain on the table:
- A second runway at Gatwick Airport
- A third runway at Heathrow
- Lengthening a runway at Heathrow.
So why is the Thames Estuary Airport idea going to be pretty dead in the water? It’s simple – the lack of any infrastructure to support it as well as the cost of developing the project.
Whilst new roads and rail links could be built, these will come at a cost – and projects in the UK have this bad habit of overrunning in terms of cost. In some respects this is very much like the Hong Kong International Airport project (which itself was a victim of cost overruns). Even the best estimates placed that cost at £24 billion. Combine this with a distance of 34 miles away from London, and the possible environmental impact (the area in question is popular with migratory birds), and it doesn’t add up.
So with Thames Estuary Airport dead in the water, it will be down to Gatwick and Heathrow to battle for the extra capacity (although if there was real guts, build both Heathrow and Gatwick up to allow them to fight for airlines).
And political will be a key factor. Plans were afoot for a 3rd runway at Heathrow when the current political administration came to power who withdrew support for it.
The final report is due in 2015, after the next general election (and kicking this problem down the line to the next government).
So we’re at the same position, with political powers scared to act. Why?
Lets look at this map below
Results of the 2010 General Elections in the London and South East Area – Data – BBC.
Blue = Conservative held seat, Red = Labour held seat, Yellow = Liberal Democrat held seat
With the expansion of Heathrow heading into Conservative territory (and Heathrow falling in the Hayes and Harlington constituency), it stokes the interest of the locals who do not wish for more jet noise – or the change of their land with another runway being muscled in.
Either way, if Heathrow is to expand, it’s going to annoy someone. Even if Gatwick expands (which it cannot do until 2019 at the earliest), it will ruffle the feathers of locals who don’t want to see a bigger airport there.
Any way you cut this, this has a long way to go. But fort Thames Estuary Airport, that idea remains pie in the sky…
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