Boris Johnson has launched a last-ditch attempt to sway the airports commission into supporting a Thames estuary airport, warning that Sir Howard Davies “may feel daunted by the ambition” of a four-runway hub that the London mayor claims would sustain almost 67,000 more British jobs than an expanded Heathrow.
A decision is expected as early as next Tuesday from the commission whether to dismiss Johnson’s plan for a new airport on the Isle of Grain, or include it on a shortlist alongside an expanded Heathrow or Gatwick for building new runways in the south-east of England.
Research published by the mayor’s office [TfL Report called “Gateway to our Future“] claims that an estuary airport would support 336,000 jobs around the country in 2050 – compared to 269,000 at Heathrow or 62,000 at Gatwick if either had an additional runway – in its operation and supply chains. The numbers do not include additional jobs that the mayor believes would be created in the south-east via new transport connections. The figure is lower than previous estimates given by Transport for London, after forecast future demand for air travel was revised down.
Johnson said: “There is no better example of the stark choice between planning for the future and depressing short-termism. A new hub airport, properly planned, has the potential to reshape the economic geography of London and the whole of the south-east for decades to come. It would be a project of a scale we are no longer accustomed to in this country, though it has become commonplace elsewhere. We simply cannot afford to miss out on the opportunities a new airport would give us.”
In a foreword to his office’s final submission before the commission rules on whether the Thames Estuary case is pursued, Johnson wrote: “Sir Howard Davies and his colleagues may feel daunted by the ambition of what I am proposing.
He added: “Whatever misgivings they may have, on the evidence they have published they cannot sensibly or reasonably rule out the Thames estuary option at this stage.”
Johnson’s case was bolstered by a survey showing strong support from local businesses. The Kent chamber of commerce survey found that more than 40% of 300 businesses polled backed the proposal to build in the estuary rather than expand other airports.
Other backing has come from business groups around the UK, in parts of Cornwall, Scotland, the north-west and north-east that have struggled to maintain air links with Heathrow, but hope to get more connections via a bigger hub.
The airports commission omitted the Thames estuary from its original shortlist last December but tempered the political fallout by agreeing to consider the proposal at greater length, on the basis that it was a qualitatively different plan than additional runways. Davies has said that the south-east requires one net additional runway by 2030, underlining that Johnson’s plan would effectively close Heathrow. The commission will deliver its final recommendation after the 2015 election.
The TfL Report called “Gateway to our Future“
(36 pages, many of them glossy pictures).
Boris says, in his introduction:
“World cities need world-class airports. If we look
elsewhere we see other leading and emerging global
cities served by efficient, effective hub airports, airports
which have the capacity to meet the pressing demand for
international and domestic travel that characterises all
We must give our own economy every possible
opportunity to thrive and, while doing so, ensure that we
provide homes and facilities for all our people. Against
a backdrop of significant national population growth,
London is reliably forecast to grow from 8.3 million people
to hit 10 million by 2030 – a 20 per cent increase that will
place an immense demand on housing, jobs, transport
and other services.
These two challenges – global connectivity and
population growth – sit at the heart of the aviation
debate. London needs to meet these challenges head on
and that is where my interest in this vital policy area lies.”
Boris ends his introduction to the report by saying:
“My appeal now is simple: Sir Howard Davies and his
colleagues may feel daunted by the ambition of what I
am proposing (though it is no less than the challenging
circumstances we face demand); nonetheless, whatever
misgivings they may have, on the evidence they have
published they cannot sensibly or reasonably rule out the
Thames estuary option at this stage. It would limit their
final recommendation too narrowly and would disconnect
their thinking from the practical needs and challenges of
this tremendous, successful and growing city. They must
short-list the Thames estuary option and give it a fair
crack of the whip alongside the other options.
My Infrastructure Investment Plan, published very
recently, shows how a new hub airport and the
redevelopment of Heathrow, alongside other long term
investment that London needs and can deliver, will enable
us to meet the challenges ahead.
We simply cannot afford to miss out on the opportunities
a new airport would give us. We need to keep that option
on the table, for the sake of the rising generations.”
Comment from an AirportWatch member:
It is understood that the Commission has had a very large amount of pressure from Boris and his staff, urging them repeatedly – regardless of the evidence – to get the Thames Estuary airport plans onto the short list. Interesting to see what Boris does if the Commission manages to stand its ground, stick to its evidence, and decide to continue with just Heathrow and Gatwick. It may not be a pretty sight.
Four Inner Thames estuary airport studies for Airports Commission finally kill off “Boris Island”
The Airports Commission has now published all four of the studies it has commissioned on an Inner Thames Estuary (ITE) airport. These reports are on environmental impacts, operational feasibility and attitudes to moving to an estuary airport, socio-economic impacts, and surface access. The first report, on environmental impacts was utterly damning, confirming the massive extent of the harm done to highly conserved habitats and their wildlife, and the near impossibility of successfully moving the wildlife elsewhere. Now the report on the feasibility of moving the airport shows the problems of flood risk, fog, wind direction, bird strike, explosives on the SS Montgomery and the Isle of Grain gas terminal – with many practically insurmountable. The report on socio-economic impacts demonstrates that aeronautical charges would have to be very high to pay for the airport, and be too high to compete with Dubai etc. Heathrow would have to close, at immense cost. The surface access report shows the cost of even minimal rail services to get most passengers to the airport would be £10 billion and more like £27 billion for a good service. The cost of road improvements would be £10 to £17 billion. The reports’ conclusions now make it nearly inconceivable that a Thames Estuary Airport will ever be constructed.