December 2003: 9 years ago plans for Cliffe airport were turned down by Government
Nine years ago this weekend, the strength of people power was proved when north Kent campaigners made the then-Government see that a hub airport could never operate in the Thames Estuary. Now the threat is back again. Back in 2002, a new airport at Cliffe was one of several being considered by the Labour Government. On December 16, 2003, after a long-running, passionate campaign by people in north Kent, then-transport secretary Alistair Darling chose to leave the plan out of the Government’s airport expansion proposals. Reasons included the £11.5 billion cost, the risk of environmental damage and, notably, the danger of aircraft colliding with birds. A report by the Central Science Laboratory warned at the time that 200,000 wildfowl and wading birds over winter in the Thames Estuary – plus thousands in migration – should make the area off limits for such a large scale development.
Anti-airport campaigners celebrate in 2003 after Cliffe plan is thrown out by the Government
Campaigners say Thames Estuary airport plan is doomed to fail
December 14, 2012 (Kent news.co.uk)
Nine years ago this weekend, the strength of people power was proved when north Kent campaigners made the then-Government see that a hub airport could never operate in the Thames Estuary.
Fast-forward time and they’re back there again, living in fear that the internationally protected and much-loved area will be destroyed to make way for a huge, multi-billion pound airport, blighting the lives of thousands of people and destroying an important wildlife site.
But surely the Thames Estuary airport plan is doomed to fail. If it was turned down in 2003, why will it be different this time? Therefore is the independent commission, led by economist Sir Howard Davies, wasting time even considering it, rather than focusing on viable plans to increase aviation capacity?
Back in 2002, a new airport at Cliffe was one of several being considered by the Labour Government.
On December 16, 2003, after a long-running, passionate campaign by people in north Kent, then-transport secretary Alistair Darling chose to leave the plan out of the Government’s airport expansion proposals.
Reasons included the £11.5 billion cost, the risk of environmental damage and, notably, the danger of aircraft colliding with birds.
A report by the Central Science Laboratory warned at the time that 200,000 wildfowl and wading birds over winter in the Thames Estuary – plus thousands in migration – should make the area off limits for such a large scale development.
“It is difficult to envisage a more problematic site anywhere in the world,” the document stated.
Joan Darwell, one of the lead campaigners from Friends of the North Kent Marshes, has been fighting airport plans for 10 years.
“The behaviour of birds hasn’t changed in millions of years – so why are some people still determined to blight the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who live in north Kent, Medway and Essex with pipe dreams about an airport in this area rich in birdlife?” she said.
When turning down the Cliffe plan in 2003, Alistair Darling said that without a “comprehensive and aggressive” bird management programme in place, an airport could not operate safely in that location.
He stated that even with mitigation measures in place, the hazard was still severe and “higher than any other major UK airport”.
Mr Darling also stressed that the costs, including the high, upfront constructions fees, posed a risk.
Pro-airport campaign group Demand Regeneration in North Kent (DRINK) released a report last week stating that none of the top 31 objections to a hub airport would kill off the plans.
According to the group, there are six “active” proposals to build an airport in the north Kent area: Foster and Partner’s Isle of Grain plan, Gensler’s London Britannia airport off the Hoo Peninsula, London Jubilee airport off Whitstable, London Medway Airport at Cliffe, Marinair off Sheppey and London Gateway Airport at Cliffe.
DRINK’s report stated that the risk of bird strike “at worst” would be a crash once every 102 years at present levels of bird management technique.
“A few years down the line, there will be better ways to prevent such catastrophes,” it said.
“Nothing is 100 per cent secure and most people would accept this risk.”
The report also said birds would find new, alternative refuges over time.
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 government’s White Paper on Air Transport had to be resubmitted following the decision in the High Court to include Gatwick as an option for expansion. It now joins Heathrow, Stansted, Luton, Cliffe as a possible site for a South East Hub airport. link
From House of Commons Library
by Derek Wyatt, MP
House of Commons Library Note on Airports including the reason why Cliffe was turned down
Early in the process leading up to the White Paper, the Government was urged by a range of interested parties to consider an option for a new airport as an alternative to incremental development of existing airports. A detailed site search considered some 400 possible locations in the South East and other parts of the country, including some offshore. The site near Cliffe (on the Hoo Peninsula in Kent) emerged from this selection process as the leading candidate. In particular “it offered enough land for large-scale development, the potential for good transport connections to key markets in and around London, support for regional planning objectives in the Thames Gateway, and the potential for 24-hour operation (of particular value to freight operators), with relatively low numbers of people affected by noise”.
The Department for Transport’s 2002-03 consultation therefore considered a new airport site at Cliffe among the options.
71 The consultation paper mentioned that the SERAS Study had included a preliminary assessment of the risk of birds colliding with aircraft at Cliffe. 72 The Central Science Laboratory and British Trust for Ornithology were jointly commissioned in September 2002 to conduct further research to assess more fully the risk and identify possible mitigating measures. Their study was published in April 2003. 73 It provided a
74 HC Deb 7 April 2003, c1WS
75 op cit., The Future of Air Transport , paras 11.18-11.23
detailed assessment of the populations, movements and behaviour of birds at and around the site, and the risks of bird-strike after applying mitigating measures to a new airport at Cliffe. The then Secretary of State summarised the study’s key conclusions:
Without a comprehensive and aggressive bird management programme in place, incorporating careful and considered airport design, appropriate habitat management and active bird control, an airport could not operate safely in that location;
Even with such world class management and mitigation measures in place, the hazard proposed by birds was severe and would probably be higher than at any other major UK airport.
Because of high capital costs, the net benefits of Cliffe were lower than for any of the combinations of additional capacity at existing airports involving more than one new runway, including the four-runway option at Stansted. The high up-front construction costs also presented a risk that the financial viability of the project would be threatened if demand proved to be less strong than forecast, or if airlines and passengers simply did not use the airport. Taking all the above factors into consideration, the Government chose not to support the option of a new airport at Cliffe.