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 140.

    re 46. I dont believe HS2 and HS1 will link up. So having spent £32bn and saved 20 mins to get to Euston, you've still got to get along the Euston Road by bus, taxi, walking, or tube to get to St Pancras. What nonsense.
    Why can't we learn from Switzerland? Integration is key. Bus/rail/air and yes, roads.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    I suggest the existing Thames Estuary airport, the one everyone forgets, at Manston in north east Kent. It is already operating for tuition, freight and a revived small airline. It has one of the longest runways in the UK. No population crowded up against the perimeter, possibility of rail link to Ashford & need for jobs in one of the poorest parts of the southeast England make it ideal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Far more sensible would be the second runway at Heathrow- opposition to that notwithstanding. There is no traffic infrastructure to support a huge airport East of London- it would be impossible to move along the A13 west of Barking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    The only question is---Why wasn't this estuary airport built 60yrs ago?

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    The proposed air field is a great idea, why wait until we have an accident due to overcrowding.
    Let’s do it now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    Can you land an engineless Airbus in the Thames? At first glance its makes a lot of sense but then look at it in reality and it is the worst idea possible due to the water fowl and of course rising water levels and predicted storm surges.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    I have seen a far better argument for an airport on the Goodwin Sands off of the south coast of Kent adjacent to the existing Eurostar lines and eventuality as part of a second fixed link to and from France.

    Goodwin Sands International is on the way to somewhere - whereas Boris Island is on the way to nowhere!

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Whatever is proposed there will be some single-interest bunch of NIMBYs protesting against it.
    The government needs to lead not endlessly consult on this issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    "As usual the BBC are falling over themselves to give undue prominence to a non story because it is about the South East."

    If you actually read the PDF file, it states that air travel at London's 5 main airports accounts for 60% of the entire UK air travel. Ever heard of Supply & Demand, you know, simple economics?

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    It is a fact that London has become the heart of global business.
    It is also a fact that business-specific communications should be as effecicient as possible.
    There is no reason why Heathrow should not be dedicated to the international need with holiday traffic accommodated elsewhere e.g. Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff. Or is that too inconvenient for Londoners?

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    4 Minutes ago
    Why not build a major airport at least 200 miles outside London - lets start to break the london centric attitide of this

    Because no-one would want to use it - why would you want to land anywhere other than London/SE?

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    There was me thinking that maybe after the Olympics they might spend some money on the rest of the UK - you know London having all the infrastructure upgrades and the high speed rail already.

    Fat chance. No wonder the Scots want independence, I'd move the border south and join them if could.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Its not the direction they land that's the concern. It's the direction they take off that creates the most noise and air pollution (and with full fuel tanks). So if it is estimated they'll land from the East then pity those who live to the West of the airport. Think again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    A few observations:
    - air travel should not be priced up & reserved for the wealthy
    - as with most things, green credentials are increasingly important and improving all the time
    - regional airports will not take up the slack from a full Heathrow as there is a lack of connectivity - there are more flights available to more parts of the world at Heathrow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Heathrow is certainly a daft place to put an airport. But the place grew out of a simple airstrip, when 1930's chaps first flew bi-planes for sport and fun. The great thundering monsters that take off now hardly fit in with leafy urban tranquility. Tennis and tea.

    Airports are industrial sites not friendly places at all. Well away from human habitation is the best place to park them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    At a fraction of the cost of the Thames proposal why oh why not develope Manston Airport.Infra structure is in place, run a fast rail link hooked up to the existing system from London, Create much needed new jobs to a deprived area, fill the vacuem left by Phizer, once again costng millions less than the other proposal . Surely it's a no brainer ! Come on somebody.

    Roger Combes

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Good to see that this administration is sneakily turning to good old Keynesian solutions, a new airport, new rail link, blimey what next? Unless one considers complete financial collapse to be the solution to our current predicament then there's no alternative to Keynes ideas. After all he was an outstanding person, a genius if you will. Got none of those in the current crop of politicos.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Wonder if we'll have to wait another 40 odd years. We could have had Maplin Sands, what did we get? Standsted and overcrowding at Heathrow and Gatewick. Will we ever learn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Why not build a major airport at least 200 miles outside London - lets start to break the london centric attitide of this, and previous, governments by pumping cash into other parts of this country rather than the over populated areas of subsidy junkies that live in London - which happens to have the highest per person spend of government cash of any region of the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Considering the taxes put on air travel, which raise fares to an extortionate level, I surprised that another airport would indicate that there is a viable market for UK citizens.


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