Thames airport 'should be rejected' - MPs report

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Media captionLouise Ellman MP: Heathrow closure "would mean massive disruption and loss of jobs".

The government should reject the "Boris Island" Thames Estuary airport plan and expand Heathrow instead, a report by MPs has said.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has argued for a new four-runway hub airport in the Thames Estuary, to the east of London.

The House of Commons Transport Committee said that would be hugely expensive and damage wildlife habitat.

It also said a new hub could lead to the closure of Heathrow.

Gatwick Airport said a third alternative, namely a second runway to the south of London, "will be the most deliverable solution and will provide the connections the UK needs whilst minimising environmental impacts".

But the Transport Committee said adding new runways to expand other existing airports was not a long-term solution and dismissed the Gatwick idea.

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Media captionBoris Johnson: Trouble with building a third runway is it just compounds the mistake

The MPs said a third runway at Heathrow was necessary instead, and even suggested that a fourth runway might have merit.

One of several proposals that would eventually see a fourth runway being built comes from think tanks Policy Exchange and Centre Forum.

They suggest shifting the new runways 3 kilometres, or about 2 miles, to the west of Heathrow, but admits that at least 700 properties would need to be demolished to make room for additional capacity.

'Global aviation hub'

The committee's report also proposed that:

  • residents affected by increased noise at Heathrow should be compensated
  • the government should consider an "unrestricted open skies policy" outside the South East to boost regional airports
  • Gatwick and Stansted should get their own dedicated express rail services
  • the government should consider reducing or scrapping air passenger duty.

John Longworth, director general at the British Chambers of Commerce, welcomed the committee's conclusion.

"Businesses across the UK will certainly be encouraged by the publication of this report," he said.

"Now it is time for the government to stop dithering and make this strategy a reality."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "This government is determined to find a lasting solution to maintain the UK's global aviation hub status."

'Huge public investment'

A third runway at Heathrow is opposed by both residents and councils in west London.

Mr Johnson said a four-runway airport to the west of London would be "politically undeliverable" and would "consign millions of Londoners to unacceptable levels of noise pollution", while a three-runway airport would be "obsolete" as soon as it was built.

"Moving London slightly to the east" would be cheaper, he said in an interview with the BBC.

But Transport Committee chair Louise Ellman MP, disagreed: "Research we commissioned made plain that building an entirely new hub airport east of London could not be done without huge public investment in new ground transport infrastructure.

"Evidence to our inquiry also showed a substantial potential impact on wildlife habitat in the Thames Estuary.

"The viability of an estuary hub airport would also require the closure of Heathrow - a course of action that would have unacceptable consequences."

Mr Johnson said: "The committee is bang on the button in saying we need a proper hub airport. But by suggesting that Heathrow should double its runways from two to four, the committee is putting four fingers up to hundreds of thousands of Londoners."

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