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 120.

    #74. "Gives far more benefit to the UK and can form an integral part of a well thought out integrated transport system."
    If only...
    Successive governments, unlike our European neighbours, have always adopted a piecemeal approach to transport policy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    The obvious first. Not as an extension of the Isle of Grain and certainly not on top of the Richard Montgomery!

    I think it is a brilliant idea if actually on one of the many sandbanks in the estuary. All flights initially over water, possibility of built in tidal power generation, lower noise nuisance; and a really good creator of jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Thames Estuary ?

    Has someone started building flying boats again ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Building an airport in the Thames Estuary isn't the best idea. Bird strikes on aircraft can present their problems and in extreme cases (e.g. Hudson river) be disastrous. Even if it is drained and concreted over I don't think its going to stop flocks of birds from coming to a place they have been to for millennia as a species. Aside from the politics there have to be better alternatives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    #66 "The north needing investment doesn't negate the need expansion in the south" it does if there are limited resources to invest we need to rebalance and cannot continually develop the south east. Expand Birmingham International and link it with HS2. Birmingham is already at the heart to England's motorway network and will benefit far more of the UK than yet another airport in the S.E..

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Re: 95. DB
    "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."

    You are almost correct except you have the direction of landing round the wrong way. The approach from the East (over water) would be significantly more than 50% of the time as it is now coming into Heathrow

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    @59: London doesn't have the world's busiest airport, that is in Atlanta. It's not even got the world's busiest international airport anymore, it was overtaken by Chicago last year. We are falling behind, we need more airport capacity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Crazy location for what will be the UK's major airport - not just London's.
    Why place the UK's major hub to the east of London, making it even more inaccessible to the majority of the UK's population that it to the north and west of London?

    And why is this not being planned in conjuction with HS2? Surely the obvious solution for the UK overall would be to locate the airport on the HS2 line.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    87. Mr Wonderful
    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.
    Thats a joke right? Generally runways are best NOT built onto the side of a hill.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    In Hong Kong they built a new airport on reclaimed land in the space of six years at a cost of $20bn, note it is also designed to withstand typhoons. Today it is highly regarded and one of the busiest airports in the world with flights operating 24 x 7 without causing noise to residents. There is a direct high speed train right in to the centre. Why the heck can't we do this????

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    I'd love it if there were direct, non stop, high speed through trains from London (& other cities in the UK) to European cities further afield. This could free up airport capacity for longer haul flights and bring people right from city centre to city centre. Plus it should be cheaper and more environmentally friendly? It might take be slower but overnight services would be popular I am sure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    If you have ever worked in London you'll realize that the last thing you need is even more visitors. In this modern technical world there is very little need for you to be at the place you are doing business. The thing I'm typing out these irrelevant messages on is marvellous. This is nothing more than another vanity project for Boris, witness Boris Bikes, Routemaster Buses and 'Wiff Waff'

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    An imaginative, ambitious, large-scale plan for major infrastructure? It will never happen. This is Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Lets hope we can resolve the immigration controls before we build it or we will be at 70 million within a year of building it.
    Ps don't bother with petitions nobodies listening at westminster.
    135K and counting with no Debate on No to 70 million still.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    This airport should not be built because of the negative impact on the wildlife in the area. No doubt the conservative governments' new planning laws will make it easier to ignore environmental concerns, but with luck a large, loud and long lasting protest could be organised.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    This is a no brainer - lets get on with it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    95. DB
    "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."

    NO approach will be over the North Sea .. You approach Heathrow over central London

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    If we put half as much effort into actually progressing with these types of projects as we do wondering/debating/whining about them, then we'd be miles ahead of all other European countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    It can be very bleak with fierce winds out on the estuary. I was at the shiiping lock at Galleons Reach on the Thames just recently. Nearly blown off the lift bridge whilst jets touching down at City Airport wobbled overhead

    It would be a bleak welcome to visitors landing in the estuary, This was where Dickens got inspiration for David Copperfield. Magwitch in chains escaping across the marsh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    If the money can be found then building a NEW London Airport is far better than developing Heathrow.
    Heathrow should never have been built where it is. The land is too valuable and the planes go over the land/ people

    Take a leaf out of Hong kong new airport. It goes out to sea.

    It is true that there would have to be a masive the change to the infrasture to accomodate the new airport.


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