Bird life in the Thames estuary a significant reason to block project

Article about Kent concerns about an estuary airport. Include the threat of catastrophic bird strike and the destruction of wetland habitats protected by EU and global treaties. “They will cull all the birds but then they will sterilise the land. If you want to stop attracting birds to go near an airport you need to make sure the land is not attractive to them”. Lord Foster’s plan would destroy five nature reserves and disrupt hundreds of hectares of marshland designated as SPA under the EU Birds Directive and the Ramsar Convention. The RSPB  -backed by a million members- sees the Thames Estuary  as a test case.


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Birds may keep estuary airport grounded
Thousands of migratory wading birds took wing as the tide filled the Thames Estuary. One of the great sights of coastal Britain, these winter visitors may thwart plans for an airport in the estuary, just as they did a decade ago.
George Osbourne told Parliament this week that he would look at all options other than the expansion at Heathrow, including an airport in the estuary, to maintain  Britian’s standing as a global airline hub.
But at his mandarins return to the North Kent Marshes they will find a nascent protest movement driven by concerns over quality of life and the destruction of protected wetland habitats. They will also walk into a fierce debate about the Government’s promotion of green issues and localism, which opponents say would be undercut by the imposition of a vast infrastructure project.
Advocates of a new airport say that it is vital to stop Britain falling out of the front rank of the world economy.  Our very status as a trading nation and tens of thousands of jobs depend on increasing aviation capacity – or so they say.
Some including Boris Johnson back an island airport off the Kent shore of the Thames estuary.  Lord Foster of Thames Bank, architect of airports in Beijing and Hong Kong, and of the terminal at Stansted, proposes four parallel runways on shore at the Isle of Grain.
But a visit to the estuary illustrated the drawbacks. The shore is a winter home to some 47 species on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds “amber list‚” – endangered birds with fewer than 300 breeding pairs in Britain.
As flocks of dunlin, knot curlew and turnstones massed on the mudflats yesterday, a skein of Brent geese flew over Grain Costal Park, at the end of lord foster’s runways, at the perfect height to be sucked into airliner engines.
The threat of catastrophic bird strike and the destruction of wetland habitats protected by EU and global treaties were both cited when the government abandoned plans for an airport ten miles up river at Cliffe in 2005.
“They will cull all the birds but then they will sterilise the land. If you want to stop attracting birds to go near an airport you need to make sure the land is not attractive to them” said Samantha Dawes, conservation manager for the RSPB.
Lord Foster’s plan would destroy five nature reserves and disrupt hundreds of hectares of marshland designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the EU Birds Directive and the Ramsar Convention, a treaty designed to preserve wetland habitats.
Boris Island would damage the Outer Thames Outer Protection Area – a vital wintering ground for red-throated divers. The RSPB backed by a million members, sees the Thames Estuary  as a test case.
There are signs that Mr Osbourne is ready for that fight.  He said in his Autumn Statement that he would stop the “gold plating of EU rules things like habitats”, putting “ridiculous costs” on British business.  The Government then announced that it would review the EU Habitats and Birds Directives.
In the estuary, councils and residents are also ready.  Robin Cooper, director of regeneration for Medway Council, said that up to 6000 homes would be destroyed on the Hoo Peninsula.
“We have not seen that kind of move in this country since the slum clearances of the 1960s,” he said, adding that an airpot handling 150 million passengers a year would put impossible strain on transport across the South East. ‚”To add another 150 million people into the most congested part of would create gridlock.”
There is no room to house the likely airport workforce of almost 100,000.  “We physically could not accommodate that number of houses‚” Mr Cooper said.   Noise and air pollution would affect 250,000 residents in Kent and many more on the Essex shore.
Yet to an outsider like Boris Johnson, the attraction of an airport on flat land near the capital that spares 5 million Londoners who live under Heathrow’s flight paths is compelling.
The Kent shore already has much heavy industry. The Isle of Grain is surrounded by three power stations.  It is home to London Thamesport, a container terminal, and it ships in 20 per cent of the gas brought into Britain.  Five vast gas storage tanks and chimneys spewing sulfurous waste into the sky have not put off the birds.
In Great Expectations Dickens portrayed the Medway marshes as a forbidding place. The villages of Cliffe, Grain, Allhallows, Stoke Cooling and High Halstow are ready to fight off this latest onslaught.
“We all work together and we would certainly work together to defeat these proposals” said Gill Moore, founder member of Friends of the North Kent Marshes protest group.   “It seems so strange that the Government predicts that Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted will be full by 2030, but it has ruled out expanding them. Theresa Villiers, the Minister of State for Transport said:   “e’ve got no plans to build an airport in the Estuary, or in Medway or in Kent.‚”
Mr Johnson told LBC radio: “And that’s the problem. They’ve got no plans.  I think they need to get one.”
North Kent Marshes are protected by EU Birds Directive and the  Ramsar Convention.  Hundreds of hectares of unique wetland habitat are threatened.  Flocks of geese and gulls are dangerous to aircraft.
The Government would have to prove a compelling case in the national interest.  It would have to convince a judge that all possible alternatives have been properly considered and found unworkable.
The arguments against :
We cannot afford it.  The plan by Lord Foster of Thamesbank would cost £50 billion, “Boris Island” up to £70 billion.  Public finances are in meltdown. The public purse can ill-afford such a massive outlay. However, sovereign wealth funds are said to be waiting in the wings to bankroll Britain’s infrastructure.
It would disrupt Dutch and German airspace    An airport east of London would put aircraft on collision course with jets flying into Frankfurt and Amsterdam. Estuary traffic would affect arrivals and departures from Amsterdam. Would also affect Luton, Stansted and London City airports and transatlantic flights from western Europe. None of these factors is insurmountable. But it would take lots of work (and money) to fix.
Sunken Shipwreck poses risk of explosion  The SS Richard Montgomery sank off Sheerness during Second World War taking cargo of 1,400 tons of explosives to the mud below.  Developers of a deepwater port on the opposite bank retrieved several live shells. A risky and expensive business, but can be done.
Who’s in favour
Boris Johnson Mayor of London   The idea of a potential vote-winner for Mr Johnson, who is seeking a second term.  Five million Londoners would be spared noise and air pollution. The environmental effects of aviation would be felt instead by people living in Kent and Essex.
Lord Foster of Thames Bank  The off-shore architect is eyeing a legacy of epic proportions, having built airports in Hong Kong and Singapore.  Sees the hub as part of a scheme that would include an orbital high speed railway, flood defences and tidal power.
Baroness Valentine of Putney, chief executive of business group London First, and
Simon Walker, director general of the institute of Directors, say all options must be considered.
Philip Pank
Environmental reporter
The Times