‘Boris Island’ airport scuppered by Airports Commission

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Inner Thames Estuary Airport: Summary and Decision Paper - .PDF file.

A hub airport on the inner Thames estuary will not be added to a shortlist of proposals to provide new airport capacity by 2030.

Following feasibility studies, the Airports Commission concluded that the four runway ITE airport proposal does not represent a credible option for shortlisting due to ‘cumulative obstacles to delivery, high costs and uncertainties in relation to its economic and strategic benefits’.

ITE, dubbed Boris Island due to strong backing from London Mayor Boris Johnson, was being investigated by the Commission along with three other schemes that proposed: additional runways at Gatwick and Heathrow Airports, and an extension to the existing northern runway at Heathrow to operate as two separate runways.

In a statement, Sir Howard Davies, Airports Commission chair said: ‘While we recognise the need for a hub airport, we believe this should be a part of an effective system of competing airports to meet the needs of a widely spread and diverse market like London’s.

‘There are serious doubts about the delivery and operation of a very large hub airport in the estuary. The economic disruption would be huge and there are environmental hurdles which it may prove impossible, or very time-consuming to surmount. Even the least ambitious version of the scheme would cost £70 to £90bn with much greater public expenditure involved than in other options – probably some £30 to £60bn in total.

‘There will be those who argue that the commission lacks ambition and imagination. We are ambitious for the right solution. The need for additional capacity is urgent. We need to focus on solutions which are deliverable, affordable, and set the right balance for the future of aviation in the UK.’

According to the Mayor’s office, the regeneration of east London and the Thames Gateway via ITE would transform the south east and create 336,000 jobs across the UK, whilst contributing £92bn annually to UK GDP by 2050. Similarly, a regenerated site at Heathrow could provide homes for up to 190,000 people and create as many as 90,000 jobs.

Johnson, said: ‘Gatwick is not a long term solution and Howard Davies must explain to the people of London how he can possibly envisage that an expansion of Heathrow, which would create unbelievable levels of noise, blight and pollution, is a better idea than a new airport to the east of London…which would create the jobs and growth this country needs to remain competitive. It remains the only credible solution, any process that fails to include it renders itself pretty much irrelevant, and I’m absolutely certain that it is the option that will eventually be chosen.’

In a paper published to accompany today’s announcement, Sir Howard added: ‘few people outside the direct advocacy groups support the [ITE] idea. The aviation industry doubts the viability of the plan, local councils are opposed, and business groups are similarly unenthusiastic.’

The Airports Commission was set up by the government in November 2012 to examine the scale and timing of any requirement for additional capacity to maintain the UK’s position as Europe’s leading aviation hub. The commission will now continue its appraisal of the three shortlisted proposals for additional capacity and will publish the appraisal for public consultation in the autumn.

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