Boris Johnson airs plan for Heathrow-on-Sea

10.2.2008   (Sunday Times)

Opponents of expansion are reviving plans for a new airport in the Thames estuary.    
The  backlash against the blight of Heathrow has resurrected demands to switch
the capital’s principal airport to the Thames estuary.

Boris Johnson, the Tories’ London mayoral candidate, announced this weekend that
Heathrow was a "planning error" and ministers should consider phasing it out,
instead of pressing ahead with a third runway – and a possible sixth terminal.

His intervention comes as campaigners claiming to represent 2m people under the
flightpath seek to block the expansion plans.   They plan a legal challenge on
the grounds that the consultation, which closes at the end of this month, is not

Lawyers are examining evidence that the Department for Transport failed to include
research predicting a third runway would cause excessive nitrogen dioxide emissions.

Johnson is calling on the government to re-examine plans for a new airport on
artificial islands in the Thames estuary, where planes could take off and land
round the clock without disrupting residents. "If you look at what is going on
in other countries around the world, in Hong Kong, in Washington – it’s not impossible
to move the capital’s biggest airport," he said.

"What we don’t want to do is entrench a planning error of the 1960s by further
expansion at Heathrow.   We should look at whether there’s a solution to the east,
in the Thames estuary."

Heathrow began life as a fighter airfield in 1943, on the west side of London
to shelter it from Luftwaffe attacks.   Since then it has grown into Britain’s
biggest airport, but because it is only 15 miles from the centre of London, most
of the 477,000 flights a year fly in over the capital to land. Campaigners are
concerned that the addition of a third runway, which would see the number of flights
rise to up to 702,000 a year, will increase noise pollution and the risk of an
accident over the capital.

Edward Lister, of the 2M Group that represents 12 local authorities under the
Heathrow flightpath, said: "It’s a daft place for an airport. The more flights
there are, the more the risk of an accident in the most densely populated part
of the country."

Since the 1960s, 13 major cities including Paris, Milan and New York have moved
their airports further out. In Hong Kong, the government spent six years and $20
billion building an airport on an artificial island and linking it by bullet train
to the city.

In Britain, however, similar proposals have repeatedly been blocked. In the 1970s
a scheme to build an airport on Maplin Sands near Southend-on-Sea in Essex was
abandoned because of a shortage of public funds.

In 2005 the government rejected four options to build airports in the estuary
on the grounds of cost, environmental damage and the risk of a plane being downed
by a birdstrike. It approved the expansion of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted instead
after lobbying by BAA, the airport operator, and airlines.

Officials estimate that building a third runway at Heathrow will cost £13 billion
as the government attempts to meet European Union targets on noise and emissions.
Proposals for new airports either floating in the Thames estuary or on the coastline
were costed at £7.6- £13.9 billion.

Sir Peter Hall, president of the Town and Country Planning Association, believes
it is time to "retire" Heathrow and build a new airport to the east of the capital.
"If you located an aircraft properly in the Thames estuary virtually all the flight
movements would be over the North Sea. There would be no constraints on development
at all," he said.

Among the schemes rejected in 2005 was Thames Reach, an airport devised by a
London firm of architects. According to the plans, it would have been built on
reclaimed land in the Thames estuary near Cliffe in Kent and Canvey Island in
Essex, at a total cost of £11 billion.

Mark Willingale, partner of Bluebase, the architectural practice behind the plans,
said: "It’s a terrific opportunity. You’ve got a combination of 116,000 new homes
in the Thames Gateway with new roads and rails to serve them, the location is
ideal for an airport. We just wish the government had the vision to see it ."

The transport department said it has no plans to reconsider its veto on the estuary.
Lord Soley, director of Future Heathrow, a pro-expansion group, said: "If you
build a new hub airport you don’t need Heathrow so what do you do, close it down?
We’re talking 72,000 jobs on the airport alone. It is unrealistic."


Sunday Times   – Comment   10.2.2008  

Time for a new airport


Heathrow airport, unlovely and unloved, will soon become even more unwieldy if
the government has its way. An airport that regularly shows itself to be congested,
badly run, claustrophobic and simply in the wrong place, is to be expanded. Its
fifth terminal will soon be opened, to be followed by a sixth. At the end of this
month the consultation period on plans for a third runway will end. This is a
project that ministers appear determined to speed through the planning process.
The consequence will be that the number of flights using Heathrow will expand
from 480,000 to more than 700,000 a year, inflicting further misery on the 2m
people in 12 local authorities who campaigners say suffer a serious loss of quality
of life as a result of being under the flightpath.

Even at this stage it is not too late to call a halt. The argument is straightforward.
Most countries have built new airports well away from the cities they serve. Heathrow,
the world’s busiest international airport, grew out of an old RAF fighter station,
not careful planning. Flights in and out pass over the city, inflicting significant
noise, pollution and potential danger. If BA flight 38, which crash-landed at
Heathrow last month, had come down seconds earlier, the likely loss of life would
have been huge.

There is a simple and affordable solution. A new airport could be built on artificial
islands in the Thames estuary, away from the overcrowded city but close enough
to be served by fast transport links. Boris Johnson, Tory candidate for London
mayor, has given his backing to it, describing the expansion of Heathrow as entrenching
"a planning error of the 1960s". There is a proposal on the table, an £11 billion
scheme to build an airport on reclaimed land near Cliffe in Kent and Canvey Island
in Essex. Money is no reason to reject it; the third Heathrow runway will cost
£13 billion. Heathrow can never be a sustainable solution to Britain’s 21st-century
needs. A new airport in the Thames estuary just might.