Thames Estuary Airport
Airports Commission gives comprehensive & unambiguous decision not to short-list a Thames estuary airport
2.9.2014 As widely leaked, the Airports Commission has decided against short listing an inner Thames estuary airport scheme, for further consideration. The Commission had intended not to short list the scheme back in December 2013, but were persuaded to give the concept further thought. The Commission’s report wording is unambiguous. They say, to take a few direct quotes: ” we are not persuaded that a very large airport in the Thames Estuary is the right answer to London’s and the UK’s connectivity needs.” “To roll the dice on a very risky project, where delays and overruns are highly likely, would be reckless.” “…Commission has concluded that the proposal for a new ITE airport has substantial disadvantages that collectively outweigh its potential benefits. Cumulative obstacles to delivery, high costs and uncertainties in relation to its economic and strategic benefits contribute to an assessment that an ITE airport proposal does not represent a credible option for short-listing.” And “…if UK carbon emissions are to be kept within the overall cap, concentrating a very high number of flights in one location could limit the scope for growth elsewhere and hence reduce the overall diversity of the UK airports system.” So a very definite NO. Link to the report
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History of attempts to build an airport in the Thames estuary
House of Commons Library: Briefing on the history of attempts to get an airport in the Thames Estuary
Standard Note: SN/BT/4920 Last updated: 19 January 2012
History of Thames Estuary airport proposals
Here’s a list of some of the main highs and lows, of the various plans and schemes:
1946 – Cliffe rejected as an airport location in favour of Heathrow, flying boat operation suggested instead.
1948 – Flying boat plans dropped.
1954 – Cliffe rejected in favour of Gatwick.
1963 – Cliffe rejected in favour of Stansted, Foulness identified as a potential third London airport option.
1966 – Recommendation that Cliffe option be further considered at Stansted public inquiry.
1967 – Cliffe rejected as an airport option again.
1968–1971 – Roskill Commission finally selects Foulness (Maplin Sands) as option for an airport. The risk to the nature conservation importance of the estuary was apparent but un-quantifiable – leading to the establishment of the Birds of Estuaries Inquiry (run by the BTO) the forerunner of the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBs) which continues to provide vital information to support wise decision-making to this day. Foulness kick-started the modern objective evidence-led approach to site protection.
1974 – Plans to build an airport on Maplin Sands off Foulness, Essex were scrapped.
1979 – Further promotion and consideration of the Maplin option (at a smaller scale) was rejected by the Government.
2002 – South East and East of England Regional Air Services consultation once again brought Cliffe into consideration prompting the RSPB to launch No Airport at Cliffe. A second proposal on the Hoo Peninsula (Thames Reach) appeared.
2003 – Aviation White Paper rules out the Estuary airport at Cliffe on the grounds of cost, environment damage and a greater risk of birdstrike. Thames Reach proposal also rejected.
2008 – London Mayor Boris Johnson begins serious promotion of an estuary airport as an alternative to a third runway at Heathrow – this continues a series of such proposals dating back to the 1980s.
2009 – Douglas Oakavee issues a preliminary assessment of ‘Boris Island’ and recommends further studies.
2012 – The Thames Estuary is included in the Government’s Strategic Review of Aviation as an option for the site of a hub airport.
2013 – The Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, produces a shortlist comprising two runway options at Heathrow and one at Gatwick. The Commission rejects all Thames Estuary airport proposals whilst giving Lord Foster’s proposal on the Isle of Grain more time to provide further evidence.
A new airport in the Thames Estuary Airport – there are now 4 competing schemes.
1. Boris Island scheme, (off Whitstable) “London Jubilee” Douglas Oakervee and Bridget Rosewell. Details
2. Foster scheme (Hoo Peninsula – Isle of Grain). Details
3. Gensler scheme (floating somewhere in the middle) “London Britannia” Details and more details for press on 11.11.2013 at “Testrad Consortium present London Britannia Airport to the Press” and http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/?p=18321
4. Goodwin Airport (on Goodwin sands, off Deal) Details
It is estimated that a Thames Hub (considering Boris Island in particular) would take 16 years to build at a cost of some £50bn. The airport would cost £20bn, orbital rail £20bn; barrier crossing and tidal power generation of green energy to power the airport £6bn; and improving infrastructure £4bn. Boris has now admitted that it would also cost the UK taxpayer £30 billion for the road and rail links alone. link
Also London Gateway Airport at Cliffe (John Olsen) Details..
and Marinair off Sheppey
View of “Foster’s Folly” on the Isle of Grain – how it might look
Southend Pier on the north shore is a mile long. (Artist’s impression, from the east)
Diagrams of what a Boris Island airport might look like (though the exact location is not known – perhaps Shivering Sands)
Artist’s impression of what the Gensler scheme might look like
Artist’s impression of what the Goodwin Airport might look like
Map of the Thames Estuary, showing sites of 5 planned airports, past and present
1. Cliffe. 2. Foster scheme. 3. Maplin (Foulness). 4. Off the Isle of Sheppey. 5. Shivering Sands (“Boris Island”). 6. Now Goodwin Sands way off the east, off Deal.
For news about the Thames Airport schemes see
Weblinks for various current and older airport proposals
Expansions and additions:
Birds in the Thames Estuary, and why their presence makes the area unsuitable for an airport
The RSPB have been vocal in their opposition to plans for a Thames Estuary airport, on account of the bird life in the area. See
Thames Estuary Airport proposal: AEF position paper
Having read the Oakervee feasibility study, the Aviation Environment Federation
(AEF) is concerned about the environmental impacts of a new airport in the Thames
Estuary in terms of biodiversity loss and likely increases in greenhouse gas emissions
as a result of increased aviation activity. Purported environmental benefits of
in terms of noise, air pollution and risk, meanwhile, remain uncertain.
AEF believes that all UK aviation expansion plans should be put on hold pending
a review of the fundamental evidence underpinning Government policy on airports.
In the meantime, the AEF are opposed to the building of a new airport in the Thames
Estuary and consider that rather than investing further public money into consideration
of new airports, investment should instead focus on provision and promotion of
low-carbon alternatives to aviation.
A position paper, written in December 2009, sets out the AEF’s position, and
looks at the arguments on both sides, as well as the history of the project.
THAMES ESTUARY AIRPORT
Foster+ Partners – artist’s impression of what it might look like
Architect, Lord Norman Foster, outlines proposals for a new London airport.
Location: London, England
Important developments: Proposed new airport
Scheduled completion: TBC
Principle companies involved: Foster+Partners, Halcrow and Volterra
Total investment: €58 billion
Although considered fairly ambitious by most corners of the aviation industry, the architect Lord Norman Foster’s plans for a €58 billion airport in the Thames Estuary in London has now reached a step closer to becoming a reality.
Located on reclaimed marshland on the Isle of Grain in Kent, the new 24-hour hub, would be designed to handle 150 million passengers a year – double that of Heathrow – and would cost around €58 billion to build.
The proposed gateway would boast four runways, each at 2.5 miles (4km) long, with flights approaching from the northeast over the water.
Meanwhile, Lord Foster unveiled plans to build what would be the UK’s largest railway station underneath the airport, capable of handling 300,000 passengers per day.
With the new rail link, the airport would be accessible from central London in 30 minutes.
The scheme also incorporates a new orbital rail route around the capital, as well as high-speed rail links to mainland Europe via the Channel Tunnel, and future high-speed links to the North of England and the Midlands.
Lord Foster’s firm, Foster+Partners, joined forces with infrastructure consultants Halcrow to conduct a self-funded €116,000 study on which these latest designs have been based.
The plans also include the construction of a second Thames barrier to offer flood protection and generate carbon-free energy from the tide.
In terms of funding, the architect said that the new airport would not need to depend on public funding, but would be attractive for private investors across the globe.
He said: “Britain can no longer trade on an inadequate and aged infrastructure.
“A fast-growing population and an evolving global economy demand that the quality of the UK’s infrastructure be improved and its capacity increased dramatically.
“The Thames Hub will lay the foundations for the future prosperity of Britain.
“It will put in place the transport connections Britain needs in order to maximise its trade links with the rest of the world.
“It will create jobs across the UK, balance the economy between North and South, and boost the economies of the Midlands and the North by providing them with direct connections to the cities and markets
The proposed project also includes a new technical spine providing underground routes for high-voltage power, broadband fibre and water distribution, which would be integrated within the new flood barrier and rail routes.
Lord Foster, whose company designed Hong Kong International Airport – which was also built on reclaimed land – added: “If we are to establish a modern transport and energy infrastructure in Britain for this century and beyond, we need to recapture the foresight and political courage of our 19th century forebears and draw on our traditions of engineering, design and landscape.
“If we don’t, then we are denying future generations to come. We are rolling over and saying we are no longer competitive – and this is a competitive world. So I do not believe we have a choice.”
“Alongside the RSPB and a broad coalition of millions, we are wholly opposed to the construction of an airport anywhere in the Thames Estuary because of the immense damage it would cause to the area’s internationally important wildlife and the wider environment. The whole issue was exhaustively investigated between 2002 and 2005 in the Government’s Aviation White Paper. ALL the key players, including the aviation industry, contributed. The idea of an airport in the Thames Estuary was conclusively ruled out and upheld by the High Court. In addition to the unprecedented environmental damage and the resulting massive legal implications, the investigation found that an estuary airport did not make sense economically, would not meet the requirements of the aviation industry and presented a significantly higher risk of ‘BIRD STRIKE’ than at any other major airport in the UK. It would potentially be the single biggest piece of environmental vandalism ever perpetrated in the UK”.
Gill, Friends of the North Kent Marshes
Wikipedia on the history of estuary airport proposals
During the 1950s and 60s the predicted growth in air traffic led the government to question the capacity of London’s two main passenger airports, Heathrowand Gatwick. The government-appointed Hon. Mr Justice Roskill to head a Commission to review 78 sites and select one for a third airport, pioneering a comprehensive Cost Benefit Analysis to direct their judgement. Cublington in the Vale of Aylesbury was its chosen site.
One influential member of the Roskill Commission, Colin Buchanan, dissented on environmental and planning grounds and proposed an alternative site at Maplin Sands, Foulness. This opened the door to strong political opposition against Cublington and in April 1971 the government announced that the site at Maplin Sands had been selected for the third London airport, even though it was the most remote and overall the most expensive of the options considered, and that planning would begin immediately. In due course the Maplin Development Act received Royal Assent in October 1973. In 1973 a Special Development Order was made under the Town and Country Planning Acts granting planning permission for the project, and the Maplin Development Authority was constituted and began its work. The project would have included not just a major airport, but a deep-water harbour suitable for the container ships then coming into use, a high-speed rail link together with the M12 and M13 motorways to London, and a new town for the accommodation of the thousands of workers who would be required.
The Maplin airport project was abandoned in July 1974. The development costs were deemed unacceptable and a reappraisal of passenger projections indicated that there would be capacity until 1990 at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, aided by regional airports. The scheme was abandoned in favour of a cheaper plan to enlarge Stansted Airport; the requirement for a container ship harbour was to be discharged by the development of Felixstowe.
In 2002 the government identified a site at Cliffe on the Hoo Peninsula in North Kent as the leading contender among potential sites for a new airport for London. The proposal was for up to four runways arranged in two east-west close parallel pairs, with a possible fifth runway on a different alignment, which might be used only at night and in particular weather conditions. In December 2003 the government decided against the Cliffe proposal on the grounds that the costs of a coastal site were too high, and there was a significant risk that the airport would not be well used.
The Cliffe project was rejected by the Government in the December 2003 White Paper in favour of expansion at Heathrow and Stansted. In a 2008 Commons debate, the Secretary of State for Transport explained why the scheme had been dismissed:-
After careful consideration, that proposal was rejected for three major reasons—high up-front costs; lower benefits than the options for the development of existing airports; and a significant risk that the site would not be financially viable—and it should be noted that it was the best of the options for a completely new airport. The bird populations in the area were also a significant consideration, given the significant safety implications arising from the risk of bird strike.
Since 2008, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has been leading scoping studies for a further airport in North Kent. Suggestions have included the development of a major International hub at Cliffe which would link in with the HS1 line to Kings Cross St Pancras.
The Cameron government is currently committed to a full Aviation Review and a scoping study was released in March 2011.
Isle of Sheppey
The ‘Marinair’ proposal was put forward in the 1990s, in which an airport would be built on an offshore artificial island in the Thames estuary, north east of the Isle of Sheppey. When the proposal was put forward again in the government’s 2002 consultation, it was rejected on the grounds of insufficient information and prohibitive expense The Marinair plans had been developed in the years prior to 1990 by Covell Matthews Partnership, and a Thames Estuary Airport Company Ltd established to manage the project, under the direction of A. E. T Matthews, Managing Director.
However the proposal was revived in 2008 by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, located a little further to the East towards the Shivering Sands area, north-east of Whitstable. The deputy mayor, Kit Malthouse, has supported a Thames estuary airport since before taking office. In November 2008 the mayor appointed Doug Oakervee (executive chair of Crossrail) to lead the Greater London Authority’s preliminary feasibility study which determined in October 2009 that there is “no logical constraint” to the plan.
The proposal has acquired the popular nickname of Boris Island, and is frequently referred to as such in the press.
The Thames Hub (nicknamed “Boris Island” after Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London) is a proposal for a new approach to integrated infrastructure development in the UK that combines rail, freight logistics, aviation, energy and its transmission, flood protection and regional development in the Thames Estuary and connects this infrastructure to a trade and utilities spine that runs the length of the country.
The aviation component of the Thames Hub is for a four runway airport, built on a platform straddling the land and sea, on the Isle of Grain, capable of handling 150 million passengers per annum. It would be connected to London by high speed rail and provide fast connections to the rest of the UK via an orbital rail route around the capital linking the Midlands and the North.
The site was selected for its proximity to London – at 34 miles (55 km) from the centre, it can be reached in 30 minutes by rail. The proposal to build the airport on a platform, like those at Chek Lap Kok and New Doha International Airport would allow flights to take off and land over water, significantly reducing noise impacts and enabling the airport to operate 24 hours a day.
The airport would accommodate long-haul airline schedules and growing demand in the Asian market. Thus it would reassert London’s geographical advantage as the stop-off point between North America and Eurasia, which is being eroded by a combination of new long-range aircraft and the emergence of networks centred on a global hub, such as Dubai.
The Thames Hub proposal was developed by architects Foster + Partners, infrastructure consultants Halcrow and economists Volterra and launched at theInstitution of Civil Engineers in London on 2nd November 2011.