Thames Estuary airport plans to be examined

Impression of Thames Hub from the east The Thames Hub would be built partly on reclaimed land, with aircraft approaching over the water

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The government is to hold a formal consultation on UK aviation - including controversial plans for a new airport in the Thames Estuary.

The study, to begin in March, will look at options for "maintaining the UK's aviation hub status".

Downing Street said no decisions had been made - London Mayor Boris Johnson backs the Thames airport idea.

David Cameron has ruled out expanding Heathrow but his deputy Nick Clegg is said to be opposed to the estuary idea.

Labour said the coalition was in a "complete mess" over aviation policy.

Bird life

The airport would be built partly on reclaimed land and could be on either an island or a peninsula.

But concerns have been raised about damage to the environment.

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Campaigners say the site, which is renowned for its populations of wintering birds and is an important breeding ground for avocets and marsh harriers in summer, must be protected.

In his Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne did not rule out a new hub and this was seen by many as a sign that the government was warming to the scheme.

David Cameron is said to be supportive of Mr Johnson's alternative to expanding Heathrow in west London but will await the outcome of the consultation. The Lib Dems oppose airport expansion in south east England.

Job losses

Passenger demand for London's airports is forecast to increase from 140 million a year in 2010 to 400 million passengers a year by 2050, according to a previous report by the Greater London Authority.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of airport operator BAA, which runs Heathrow, said he was pleased the government was recognising the need for more airport capacity.

But he warned that London "can't have two hubs" and a new airport would inevitably mean Heathrow getting much smaller: "The consequences of closing Heathrow wouldn't just be big for my company.

"It would be big for 100,000 jobs in this part of London. It's a huge issue economically, a huge issue politically."

Mr Johnson - who is running for a second term as mayor in May - told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there would be plenty of sovereign wealth funds willing to invest in the project.

"The difficulty would not be the financing of the airport per se... the difficulty obviously would be in the infrastructure, connectivity between the airport and central London, and that's why the consultation is essential," he said.


Start Quote

An airport in the Thames threatens a huge increase in noise, congestion and pollution for millions of people”

End Quote Ken Livingstone Labour's mayoral candidate

"We can't go on expecting Britain to compete with France, Germany and other European countries when we simply can't supply the flights to these growth destinations - China, Latin America.

"We are being badly left behind."

But other candidates for London mayor have all expressed their opposition to the idea.

Labour's Ken Livingstone said: "An airport in the Thames threatens a huge increase in noise, congestion and pollution for millions of people in the east and south east of London, especially Bromley, Bexley, Havering and Barking. It also threatens hundreds of thousands of the jobs in west London who rely on Heathrow."

Lib Dem hopeful Brian Paddick said Heathrow would be "closed down" if the estuary airport was built, causing "devastation" in the area.

"It's a complete fantasy, all the local authorities and the airlines are against the idea, it's just a cynical move by the Tories to try to make the mayor look credible."

And the Green Party's Jenny Jones said airport capacity should not be expanded at all in the south east: "If we were to end unnecessary flights to short haul destinations, space would be freed up for essential long haul flights and there would be no need to build another airport."


The RSPB, Medway Council and Kent County Council have opposed the Thames Estuary idea, saying it is "undeliverable, unaffordable and unnecessary".

The GMB union's civil aviation industry national officer, Mick Rix, also said the estuary plan was "plain daft" and called on all parties to look again at the possibility of a third runway at Heathrow.

Friends of the Earth's executive director Andy Atkins said a new airport in the Thames Estuary "would have a devastating impact on local communities and the environment".

In May 2010 plans for a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow were scrapped when the coalition government took office.

BAA withdrew its plans for a second runway at Stansted at the same time and any expansion of Gatwick before 2019 has also been ruled out.

A Department for Transport spokesman said "no decisions have been taken", adding: "The government will consult on a sustainable framework for UK aviation this spring, at which time we will set out our long-term plans for the sector."

Alternative plans

The idea for an airport somewhere in the Thames Estuary was first conceived in 1943, and many alternative locations and schemes have been proposed.

One scheme would see runways built on artificial islands in the estuary and connected via rail shuttle links to terminals on the mainland.

Map: Island runways

Another recent, much larger concept devised by architect Sir Norman Foster involves an integrated air and high-speed rail hub built on reclaimed land near Grain in northern Kent.

Map: Thames Hub airport

The high speed rail link to London would traverse the river by a new barrier crossing, which would offer greater flood protection and generate power through tidal energy.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Two very practical things are against building the airport at that location.
    1. Weather factor - because it is low lying visibility is often poor.
    2. USS Montgomery precludes this plan and would cost mega-millions to clear IF it could be cleared.
    I suggest expanding Gatwick would be far cheaper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    This has been too long in coming. It is the only place that minimises the noise to mankind, and the access to it can be sensibly planned, compared to the mess of Heathrow.
    There are issues over preventing birdstrikes, but that is not insoluble.
    Any chance of flyingboats again?
    It must be a good idea, because of the selection of opponents it has generated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    this is just another hidden subsidy for london and the home counties

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    When would it be finished and when does the oil run out?

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    The Tories are really desperate for Johnson to win the mayoral election as a sign that the public supports their failed policies. As usual the dutiful lackeys at the BBC are falling over themselves to give undue prominence to a non story because it is Government. inspired and it is about the South East. Not a chance the airport will be built because it is just an election ruse. Wake up BBC

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Approach over water... er, obviously I'm not a pilot but isn't the approach direction determined by the current wind direction? Don't planes land into the wind and as far as I remember, isn't the prevailing wind in that part or the world a westward one? So for a significant (possibly 50%+) time, the approach will be over East London. Careful what you wish for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    7 Minutes ago

    Henchard "Why not build a big airport near Birmingham on the route of HS2 train line with a direct interface with Heathrow?"

    Sorry to tell you but there is already an airport there it's called Birmingham International, and the trains stop there as well, in fact it is a great airport and managing nicely

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    If London air travel is really going to increase from 140 million a year to 400 million a year then:
    1) Where does global warming fit into this?
    2) Where does the oil running out fit into this?
    3) Who are these extra people and do we really need or want them?
    4) Who gains from this most? Is it the 'oligarchs'?
    5) Who loses most? Is it the average man/woman as usual?
    That's just for starters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    The problem with this is that we need to reduce the amount of air travel we undertake, not increase it. With all the communication benefits that the internet provides it seems largely unnecessary to fly for business purposes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Air travel is inconvenient, unhealthy, expensive, heavily subsidised by tax-payers, polluting, a huge drain on finite resources and many of us seem to be as severely addicted to it as if it were crack cocaine. If this comment makes you angry, think about why that is. Is your journey really necessary?

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The much maligned Ted Heath was right 40 years ago wanting to build at Maplin Sands. He was shot down in flames by the Greenies who were a nuisance even then.
    Schipol/Amsterdam and Kai Tek/Hong Kong were both built out to sea on reclaimed land - bringing Flights in and out without flying over Populated Areas - the way to go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Renata and the Delrons, or Muller rice?

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    We've all suffered a 'ring fenced' Heathrow in the past, forcing growth stagnation on all other UK airports. Now the regions are to suffer again with another indecisive white elephant. 2 runways at Manchester and room for expansion at others - stop the duplication of services at one site and allow the rest to breathe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Why not build it in an area of outstanding natural beauty, such as the Chilterns? That's already taken by HS2, but there must be plenty of others - how about the Peak District? It's nice and central, only rich people live there and there are good motorway connections nearby.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    What a stupid place to build an airport it will affect numerous people in Kent and Essex. A better place would be by the Bristol Channel connected to London with a high speed train link. Planes would take off and land almost entirely away from populations, especially if it was sited in Wales. It would also help an unemployment blackspot

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    A good idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Theres no room on land and everyone is bitterly opposed to airport expansion at Heathrow/Gatwick/Luton/Stanstead or anywhere. We built an aiport in Hong Kong on an artificial island, we can do it here, it could also provide a second thames crossing we desperatly need if the airport is connected from Kent and Essex. Stop arguing about and do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    My colleagues and I work for a growing UK company which exports abroad and we travel long haul often. Heathrow will never be allowed to keep pace with long haul air travel demand and was built in the wrong place to start with. The estuary hub plans are worth consideration and we should get on with that without any prejudice or grandstanding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    More localised airports. Good idea!

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    When this came up a few years back I took part in Medway City Councils consultation ... In support of the idea. I wrote a carefully prepared paper pointing out the huge business benefits to the City and was ignored .. By the same people who said no thanks to Euro Star station at Rochester. Seems they want shut the place off and to go back to the transport of Dickens' time.
    New airport yes please


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