Heathrow-on-Sea set for takeoff
a busy day its grey waters are filled with nearly 100 vessels a day, from 1,000ft
container ships bearing tons of clothes and other consumer goods to oil tankers,
passenger ferries, yachts and speedboats.
by the roar of Airbus A380s and Boeing 787s landing at a Thames estuary airport.
linked to mainland terminals by either bridges or tunnels, and powered by giant
as an alternative to the proposed third runway at Heathrow, it was dismissed by
many as fantasy. Johnson, however, took it seriously and in January he commissioned
a study into its technical feasibility by Douglas Oakervee, the engineer who mas-terminded Hong Kong’s international airport island in
at the Institution of Civil Engineers led by Sir David King, the government’s former chief scientist. He will submit
his research to Johnson three weeks later.
the report he has concluded that a four-runway island airport is feasible and
could be built in less than 10 years.
with both the government, which remains steadfastly committed to a third runway
at Heathrow, and his own party, which has rejected both a third runway at Heathrow
and an airport in the Thames estuary in favour of high-speed rail.
on the 200,000 migrating birds that make the estuary their home in winter.
error of the 1960s" because of its proximity to London and should ultimately be
phased out. The addition of a third runway, which will see the number of flights
rise to 702,000 a year, will increase noise pollution and the risk of an accident
over the capital.
rail, which I’m in favour of, we’re going to have to look at a potential solution
in the Thames estuary," said Johnson.
easier to build an airport in the estuary than it was in Hong Kong or Singapore.
Air quality in London would be completely imperilled by a third runway at Heathrow.
It’s environmentally nonsensical."
of the airport is already beginning to take shape. According to sources familiar
with the plan, while the precise location is undecided, Oakervee believes the
environmental impact of the airport will be lessened if it is build across two
islands, rather than one.
them reducing the impact on the flow of the river and enabling more aircraft movements.
Building on two islands would also enable construction to be phased.
river or on bridges running from Essex on the north bank to Kent in the south.
to central London in 35 minutes, and also to the high-speed Channel tunnel rail
link, reducing the need for many shorthaul flights. The terminal would be accessible
by road through a connection with the nearby M2. A smaller terminal in Essex
is also under consideration.
nearly all the airport’s electricity by harnessing the tides.
Heathrow, Oakervee believes they could operate in tandem and has been discussing how to accommodate them both with NATS, the national
air traffic controller, and Eurocontrol, its European partner.
can operate the two airports quite successfully," said the source. "The other
thing is that there is no statutory instrument in place to close Heathrow. Boris
can’t do it."
According to engineers, the process itself is relatively simple.
working on plans for an island airport near Amsterdam, described it as "a piece
around the site of the proposed airport. The dyke is then drained of water and
filled with bricks and sand, and an airport is built on top. In the Far East,
five island airports have already been built, including Kansai airport near Osaka,
Japan, and Hong Kong International.
prove an easier proposition than Hong Kong. The source said: "The geological conditions
are favourable for it [the airport]. In Hong Kong there were much greater depths
of marine muds. In the estuary you’re on chalk much earlier."
obstacles to overcome. One will be any adverse impact on the flow of the Thames, which could lead to erosion, flooding
and the loss of marine habitats.
is an expert on the flow of water in the Thames estuary. Mike Dearnaley, a director,
said the airport’s location would be a key factor.
to the tides that such a structure will cause would change the flow but not create
a huge impact upstream. You could find several locations that would be acceptable."
the second busiest port in the UK, supplying millions of people with food, fuel
and goods. It’s vital that planes don’t disrupt the shipping lanes."
Thames estuary is home to 200,000 migrating birds, while it also contains eight
sites of special scientific interest, three special protection areas and several
big wetlands. The RSPB wildlife pressure group is vehemently opposed to any development.
ecologically, environmentally and economically. An airport would damage or destroy
huge areas of legally protected habitat and present a significantly higher risk
of bird-strike than any other UK airport."
Association, who has contributed to Oakervee’s report, the risk is overplayed.
He said: "It cannot be beyond our technological capacities in the 21st century
to say that this has to govern everything else.
the world. I believe that what Doug is going to say is that it’s doable and
needs to be taken further for more study. There is no show-stopper.
to say this airport cannot be built." By advocating plans for a Thames estuary
airport, Johnson finds himself in a political no-man’s land. Labour is doggedly
sticking to its plan for a third runway at Heathrow, while the Conservatives are
relying on rail and have ruled out airport expansion.
Ferrovial, the Spanish owner of airport operator BAA, is laden with debt and struggling
in the economic downturn. Seven months after being given the green light by the government, BAA has yet
to submit a planning application for a third runway at Heathrow.
planning minister and a supporter of a Thames estuary airport, is convinced both
the government and BAA are biding time on Heathrow until the next election.
He said: "I don’t think the government’s position has changed but a very significant
number of Labour MPs are uncomfortable about Heathrow, and if anything the numbers
need to review the position again.
to make better choices in the future to avoid the serious problems that are inherent
in the location of Heathrow. I never thought that a third runway would be built
and frankly I’m not surprised that they [BAA] haven’t submitted an application."
have made their opposition to Heathrow an electoral issue. Yet they are unwilling to jeopardise the environmental vote by even countenancing
a Thames estuary airport.
the nearby M2 and extending Crossrail to the Kent terminal from southeast London.
It compares with a £13 billion estimate for building a runway at Heathrow.
to persuade the Tories to make the estuary airport an option in the wake of the
general election. Last week he said: "The big advantage [of a Thames estuary
airport] is that you don’t have to fly over a central conurbation to get there.
need a new airport, can we cope with it all by high-speed rail? My long-term
hunch, looking at the graph of aviation use over the last 50 years, is that we
are going to need much more capacity. I hope to persuade my colleagues."