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'Boris Island' airport scuppered by Airports Commission

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.

Do you think the Airports Commission has made the right decision? Let us know by voting in our poll.

Readers' comments (11)

  • Can't help but think this is the wrong decision.

    Heathrow et al simply don't offer the future proofing a Thames Estuary solution would. It feels like were are lacking ambition here and we'll be back asking exactly the same questions in 15 years.

    Moreover I expect this £70bn figure could be signifcantly challenged with heavy and early contractor input.

    Remember Bazalgette took the largest flows he could conceive of when designing London's sewer network, then simply doubled them. In that single, expensive act he provided the capital with a system which truly has stood the test of time.

    Heathrow might be easier and quicker to achieve but I expect it will prove to be very shortsighted.

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  • Expansion of all southern airports with high speed rail links including LHR, LGW, STN, SOU, BOH, FAB, LTN. LCY. Will create jobs regionally - not just locally too.

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  • This is a worrying trend in this country that should concern us all. Big `world class` Infrastructure projects like this would be immediately seized upon in Europe / Asia, instead they are passing us by. We are continually bogged down in indecision, procedural nonsense or worse - lack of foresight. As Maxi Jazz once said - `You don't need eyes to see, you need vision`, clearly what the Airport commission, and many of the politicians in this country, don't have.

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  • Have to agree with Nathan, expanding Heathrow would be short sighted, but Boris Island is equally as shorted sighted and impractical. It is actally better placed to serve France.

    HS2 needs to rethought out to serve mainly as a link between our existing airports, thereby removing the need to travel domestically in the medium to long term, thereby releasing existing capacity at Heathrow for european and overseas routes.

    In the longterm we might still have to consider a replacement to Heathrow but it needs to be somewhere between London and Birminham and served by rail and road links.

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  • @Paul Lawrence
    We already do have an airport halfway between London and Birmingham. It is also very well served by public transport. Luton airport.

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  • Perhaps time to re visit the concept that expanding an airport outside of the south East would allow that majority of visitors not solely wanting to visit London to shorten their journeys, take load off the transport infrastructure, help avoid gridlock in the South East, share in the economic recovery and so on.

    Or, we could carry on with the philosophy that nothing exists outside the M25 until you get to Wales and Scotland, of course.

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  • We have missed a huge trick here. We had areal opportunity to wow the world once again with our Civil Engineering expertise.
    This would have easily ranked in awe as high as the Channel Tunnel or the Shard etc.
    Why they have chosen to increase the misery that people living near Heathrow or Gatwick will live under, I cannot possibly imagine.

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  • I would love to know how many (and how much they earned arguing the various 'tosses' ) sham-professionals -those who manipulate man's laws- are involved in this decision. Though why should they worry about how long the decision takes, or what it cost? Their livelihoods depend on -prolonging- the conflict, not its outcome.

    Our Victorian ancestors -epitomised by Bazalgette and dear IKB himself told-never asked!- the clerks what was to be done and then did it. If I recall when IKB was asked by the directors of Gods Wonderful Railway which route he would be taking, he replied "not the quickest, or the least expensive, BUT THE BEST!"
    Touche: we have had to put up with these ********s since they crept out of the counting house and into the Board-rooms where they have been causing trouble ever since.

    Imagine the furore if some 'grumpy or cynical Engineer' questioned the need for massive expenditure on 'floating' runways' to provide military support for our defence? I would prefer to see any waste that is going, put to creating the vehicle -business travel etc- to pay for the defence hardware?

    As I believe another blogger has opined: "we will shortly be the best-defended bankrupt country in the world."

    Hey Ho
    Mike B

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  • When are these people going to accept they they cannot just keep expanding existing airports in the south-east?!
    Either plans must be made to retain Heathrow and Gatwick for (primarily) business use and divert 'Tourist' flights to other regional airports, or we have to build a new airport outside of London. Just how short-sighted are these people?

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  • The project would be a tremendous asset to the country and especially to the region. Some airpot capacity at Heathrow would naturally have been essential to continue, rather along the lines of a bigger version of the City Airport. (not a huge urban development site) The key factor however, would be the speed of links into central London. (Shanghai has a maglev, but even there the operating costs are deemed excessive in the absence of a breakthrough in that technology) For high volume tourism traffic the estuary solution makes the best sense.

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