Wednesday, 16 April 2014
masthead+quote+image
Advanced search

Proponents of Thames Estuary airport welcome extra scrutiny

One of the firms proposing a Thames Estuary airport has welcomed the Airports Commission’s decision to further study the idea before finalising its shortlist of recommendations next year.

The government-appointed body last month announced that expanding Heathrow and Gatwick were the only options that have so far made the shortlist and that all other proposals have been ruled out, except those for an airport on the estuary’s Isle of Grain.

Mark Willingale, director of Metrotidal, said he was delighted to have the opportunity to explain his company’s plans in more detail as he felt the Commission hadn’t really understood the full proposal, which involves building flood defences and a road and rail tunnel under the estuary, as well as an airport on an artificial island.

‘It is an adventurous, complex and bold proposition,’ he said. ‘It needs a lot of analysis. They’re going to be a bit wary about what we’re saying and that’s quite right.’

A new or extended runway at Heathrow or a new runway at Gatwick are the options currently on the Commission’s list, and ideas proposing new airports in other sites, an expanded Stansted or Birmingham airport, or new transport links between London’s existing airports have been ruled out.

The Commission, led by economist Sir Howard Davies, isn’t due to make its final recommendations until after the election in 2015.

But the interim report also put forward suggestions of how existing infrastructure can be used more effectively in the short-term including greater cooperation between airports, improved air traffic management and better surface transport links.

The report said: ‘While the potential [Thames Estuary airport options] offered to reduce aviation noise impacts in the South East of England and to support economic development on the eastern side of London was attractive, they presented many challenges and uncertainties.

‘They would be extremely expensive, with the cost of an Isle of Grain airport (the most viable of those presented) around five times that of the three short-listed options at up to £112bn.

‘They would present major environmental issues, especially around impacts on protected sites. The new surface access infrastructure required would be very substantial, with potential cost, deliverability and environmental challenges of its own.

‘And the overall balance of economic impacts would be uncertain – particularly as an Estuary airport would require the closure of Heathrow for commercial reasons and London City for airspace reasons.’

However, Willingale said the Metrotidal proposal would only cost £24bn, half of which would be spent on the ground transport infrastructure and environmental protection, and that Heathrow could be closed gradually.

‘If you let it last for two or even 10 years, yes you’re harming your hub function – it’s not as ideal – but you’re getting 10 years’ extra squeeze out of Terminal 5 and other infrastructure,’ he said.

He also pointed out that expanding Heathrow would impact its current operations as the airport is at 98 per cent capacity, but that building work on a Thames Estuary hub could progress 24 hours a day because it was in an unpopulated area.

The Commission ruled out increasing capacity at multiple airports as inefficient and that building an entirely new hub wouldn’t be cost-effective because of the extra infrastructure needed and may ultimately reduce capacity by forcing the closure of other London airports.

The Thames Estuary idea, however, has been left on the table because its benefits have been deemed so great that they may outweigh the costs.

 

Related Files

Readers' comments (4)

  • The Estuary option is a no-brainer. It just needs some bold, imaginative, and long term thinking by Government. The Heathrow option is just a short term fix and the UK will be forced to revisit the problems of airport expansion again within the decade. Of course the estuary option would lead to closure of Heathrow but in an ever growing civilised society, that would not be a bad thing. Or is the wildlife of Kent and Essex more important than the non-wildlife of Middlesex?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • It still ignores all of us lesser humans north of Watfford Gap

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • To anyone who is going to question why a new airport is being built in the south east the answer is quite simple.
    That is where the capacity is needed.
    Heathrow runs at 98% capacity on two runways with 70 million passengers per year. It flies to 170 destinations.

    The north does not currently need a new airport. Manchester is another 2 runway airport with only handles 20 million passengers a year with an estimated spare capacity of 30 million per year. It also flies to 200 destinations so choice is evidently not lacking.

    The government will consider expanding airport capacity in the north when it is actually required (or projected to be required soon).

    On a separate note I think the Isle of Grain Airport idea is much better than the other proposals. Its integration with Metrotidal is an even better idea. I do hope they factor in room for further expansion so we don't have this problem again though.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The only reason that Heathrow runs at 98% is because the rest of us are forced to travel there because that is where the long haul flights go from. It is absolutely ridiculous.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

Mandatory
Mandatory
Mandatory
Mandatory

My saved stories (Empty)

You have no saved stories

Save this article

Digital Edition

The Engineer March Digital Issue

Poll

The roundtable feature in our current issue looks at issues surrounding graduate recruitment into engineering. Which of the solutions proposed in the feature would make the biggest contribution to boosting the number of graduates finding jobs in engineering and remaining there?

Previous Poll

Europe's largest tidal array in the Pentand Firth off Orkney will eventually generate up to 86MW of power. What will it take for tidal energy to make an appreciable contribution to the UK's energy needs?

Read and comment on the results here