Boris’s estuary airport dream

Will it be Boris’s legacy to London or a fanciful dream without a hope in hell of taking off?  It was while he was a candidate for the Mayoral elections in 2008 that Johnson first stumbled across the idea of an airport in the Thames Estuary after reading a newspaper article.

When he became Mayor he set up a feasibility group to look at the possibility but after it was dubbed fantasy island and was condemned by David Cameron, the idea was dropped.

Last week, however, on the back of a report by the Mayor on the need for more aviation in London, Boris hinted it could be coming back, with a second report later this year pinpointing areas of interest for the super airport.

It led to London Chamber of Commerce and Industry leader Colin Stanbridge joking: "Some of us remember Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow and an estuary airport may end up there."

Boris though is not without supporters on the estuary scheme.

One of them is deputy chairman of Transport for London Daniel Moylan, who worked on the Mayor’s aviation report.

He said it would be of huge benefit to regeneration in the estuary area and that it could be twinned with plans to upgrade flood defences.

However, critics of the scheme look at its cost – possibly running to £40billion – while also pointing out that if there is such an urgent need for more aviation now, it’s better to increase existing infrastructure rather than go through at least 20 years of development.

Many give the scheme no chance of taking off and some, mainly environmentalists, believe it will be a disaster if it happens.

London Assembly member Labour’s Murad Qureshi was at the meeting last week. He is a strong believer an airport in the Thames Estuary cannot go ahead.

"There is no room," he said. "There’s a bird sanctuary protected under EU law inland so they have to go out to sea. Then there are shipping lanes and major constructions, such as wind farms.

"Yet he’s opened that door again after being put down by his party leader about it last year. I don’t understand."

It’s a view backed by the environmentalist lobby.

Chris Corrigan, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said the estuary plans were a "pipe dream" that would cause major environmental damage and even create a major safety risk.

"It is home to an immense number of birds and other wildlife," he said. "You can not recreate the estuary nor move the native or migratory wildlife that relies on it for food and shelter.

"I’m sure the Mayor doesn’t want to go down in history as the man who decimated not just birds in the Thames, but global species too, while putting air passengers’ lives at risk due to bird strike."

As well as the risk of damaging the environment in the future, Qureshi said the plan could be of detriment now.

He insisted the mere hint of moving operations from Heathrow to a site off the coast could undermine the Crossrail scheme.

"If he’s seeking contributions for Crossrail while going through an exercise of shifting aviation to the Thames Estuary, it doesn’t make sense," he added.

"But the main point is that the Mayor hasn’t got any jurisdiction over those choppy waters let alone in the air over London."

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