During the recent GLA election period we had a debate at the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) where we heard why a Thames Estuary airport is not a viable option for providing additional national hub runway capacity for London and the South-East.
Firstly this is not a new idea at all. Different versions of the same idea have been around since 1943 and been rejected every time. Most recently we’ve had the Mayor’s proposal in Shivering Sands and the Foster proposal in the Isle of Grain to consider.
Secondly, its not clear where the space for the airport actually exists in the Thames Estuary anyway. The coastlines along both Kent & Essex are largely protected, and we have busy shipping lanes and wind farms being constructed. Lets not also forget what the CEO of NATs Richard Deakins recently said of the Foster proposal, that its in the worst position possible for incoming flights into London! Willie Walsh of British Airways has also been quoted as saying “…..its only for the birds”.
The proposal also poses a real threat to the West London economy as Heathrow is responsible for 114,000 jobs and gross value added of £ 5.3 billion. That’s 1 in 5 jobs locally. The reality is that any Thames Estuary airport proposal is only viable if Heathrow is closed and air traffic is forced East. Quite simply, two hubs in London is not viable and it’s not clear that either passengers or the airlines are willing to go there (judging by Medway council’s survey of the airlines and GLA Economics Report ” Come fly with me”.
It goes without saying that the wildlife and local environment impact is huge, with the propsed sites in the middle of one of the most important sites for wild birds in Europe. This could easily cause noise, congestion and pollution problems in outer London suburbs like Bromley, Bexley and Havering as well.
In the meantime, we are seeing better efficiencies in managing airports. For example the A380 double decker planes landing at Heathrow have increased the passenger capacity of Heathrow airport greatly without causing too much local environmental concerns like noise and air pollution. Indeed if you consider available capacity by passenger numbers, there is potential across all the “London” airports. For example at Heathrow another 20 million passengers can be accommodated at the terminals.
In short, this is not the revolutionary new idea we have been led to believe. The space for it is questionable & the Mayor does not have any juridiction over the Estuary anyway. There is also the threat to Heathrow and the West London economy; and of course the biggest question about the threat to the environment in the Estuary. What we need is a different approach altogether which links up the spare capacity amongst “London” airports with better links and connectivity between airports.
For all these reasons and more l’ll be joining the protests outside City Hall on Friday morning against the Mayor’s support for the crazy old idea of an airport in the Thames Estuary.