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. 

Airports Commission reports final kill “Boris Island”

10.7.2014 (the “No Estuary Airport Campaign”
(South East Essex Friends of the Earth).

On 4 July the first of four reports prepared for the Airports Commission dealt a body blow to Boris Johnson’s plan to close Heathrow and create a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary.

On 10th July the three remaining reports were released, finally laying to rest any hope the Mayor of London had of destroying the Isle of Grain in Kent and parts of south Essex to fulfil his dream.

The sheer level of detailed analysis contained in the reports, and the conclusions reached, now make it inconceivable that a Thames Estuary Airport will ever be constructed.  Never before has so much effort gone into the analysis of the merits of the various estuary schemes and the conclusions are crystal clear.

Jon Fuller of the “No Estuary Airport Campaign” said: –  “the most detailed study into proposals to build a Thames Estuary Airport has categorically proven this to be the wrong location for a hub airport. It has always, and always will be unsuitable for an international airport. We appeal to the Mayor of London to stop wasting time, effort and huge sums of public money in promoting this scheme. It is time for him to accept that his proposal is dead and we appeal to him to now focus upon what he can do to reduce the noise and pollution misery inflicted upon the residents of west London. It is time to reduce night flights and ensure the cost of flying reflects the impact it imposes upon millions of people.”



Airports Commission website

Inner Thames estuary airport studies

1.  Inner Thames estuary feasibility study 1: environmental impacts

On 4 July the first report for the Airports Commission looked at the environmental impacts of the proposed estuary airport and concluded that the scale of environmental damage and the legal protection to wildlife habitat probably made the challenge of building the airport insurmountable.
A devastating analysis of the Mayor’s plan can be seen at

The 3 reports published on 10th July finally killed off any prospect of the scheme ever getting off the ground.

2.    Inner Thames estuary feasibility study 2: operational feasibility and attitudes to moving to an estuary airport

See 11-1 Summary and Conclusions   (PDF pages 92-94)
Flood risk, fog, wind direction, even bird strike may be surmountable, but the SS Richard Montgomery and the Isle of Grain gas terminal are not. And the killer business and political argument is that Southend Airport and London City Airports would have to close.
A Thames Estuary Airport reduces UK capacity.
The need for a phased transition from Heathrow to an estuary airport is also seen as exceptionally challenging.

3.    Inner Thames estuary feasibility study 3: socio-economic impacts

See Executive Summary: Pages 2 – 5 (PDF 4 – 7)
The PWC report identifies a large number of benefits and losses, weighing up the various costs. The report is not all one sided, but the cost of closing Heathrow is almost certainly ruled out with the conclusion that: –      “Our review has assessed the existing evidence in relation to the compensation that would be payable to the owners of Heathrow. The current estimate is in order of between £13.5 and £21.5 billion for Heathrow.”


4.  Inner Thames estuary feasibility study 4: surface access

See Conclusions. 8.2   (from page 136).

The Jacobs report states that (at 8.2.11) “By 2050, rail option 4 is the only credible option, due to the  predicted growth of London, and even then some capacity issue still remain.”  At table 30, page 139 option 4 is said to be:    £26.970,000 million !

At 8.2.16 the new road building costs are said to be between £10.1bn and £17.2bn. And the environmental impacts identified on page 140 are shown to be insurmountable.



Airports Commission

Open consultation

Inner Thames estuary airport studies

The Airports Commission is seeking views on a number of inner Thames estuary study reports. Specifically, we are inviting responses in relation to 2 questions:

– is there information in the reports which is factually inaccurate?
– is there any new information or evidence that you wish us to consider before making our decision?

Email to:   by 5pm on Friday 8th August 2014.



Looking at the conclusions of these reports:

1.  Inner Thames estuary feasibility study 1: environmental impacts

 Inner Thames estuary feasibility study 1: environmental impacts

Report for Airports Commission on environmental impact sinks Boris’s estuary airport plans

Boris Johnson’s dreams of a massive airport in the Thames Estuary have had a major setback, from the new report produced for the Airports Commission, looking at the environmental impacts. The study shows it would cause huge environmental, financial and safety risks and would cause “large scale direct habitat loss” to hundreds of thousands of migrating birds. The cost of creating replacement habitats could exceed £2 billion and may not even be possible. Even if replacement habitat could be found, planes using the airport would still be at a “high risk” of lethal bird strike. In order to counter this risk, even larger areas of habitat would need to be destroyed to secure the airport. The report also found huge regulatory hurdles to any potential estuary airport going ahead. Under environmental regulations,the airport’s backers would have to prove there were “imperative reasons of overriding public interest (IROPI)” for placing the airport in such an environmentally sensitive area. Even if that could be proven, they would also need to demonstrate that all of the habitat displaced by the airport could be placed elsewhere. The report found that while this was “technically possible,” it was highly uncertain, as such a large scale displacement had never been attempted before.

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2.    Inner Thames estuary feasibility study 2: operational feasibility and attitudes to moving to an estuary airport

 Inner Thames estuary feasibility study 2: operational feasibility and attitudes to moving to an estuary airport

The report, by Leigh Fisher, looks at flood risk, fog, bird strikes, wind, explosives on the SS Richard Montgomery, airspace implications, energy facilities, transition and attitudes.

The concluding paragraphs of the section called
“Examined individually, the topics addressed by each chapter of this report have, in the main, highlighted significant but perhaps not insurmountable challenges and risks to the successful development of an airport in the inner Thames Estuary. Considered together, however, they appear to present a substantial risk that would incur large costs, in the order of billions of pounds, to appropriately manage. Part of that risk may not be mitigated or costed to a reasonable degree, including the risk to safety, the on time delivery of the airport, the consequential impacts on local and regional economies, the attractiveness of
the airport to airlines and their customers, and ultimately the success of a hub airport located in the inner Thames Estuary.
“There are many aspects to the Estuary airport scheme that have no useful precedent nationally or internationally. For example, there are no known examples of successful treatment of explosives such as are held within the SS Richard Montgomery. There are no examples of LNG Terminals located adjacent to large airports and no real world cases of an LNG facility suffering a major storage tank fire or explosion. Equally, there are no known examples of an airport of comparable scale relocating the distances involved, with the requirement to relocate and house (or make redundant, replace and house) a workforce of
considerable size. The complexity of the interdependencies between airlines, airports, businesses and passengers means that any delay to programme delivery could have far-reaching consequences. Yet there appear to be many issues that will involve complex commercial negotiations, planning policy and execution, stakeholder commitment, social change, and substantial amounts of construction, all of which carry great risk of compromise to delivery by 2030.”

3.  Inner Thames estuary feasibility study 3: socio-economic impacts

 Inner Thames estuary feasibility study 3: socio-economic impacts

The report, by PWC, looks at  the rationale for airport closure, commercial considerations, national and local socio-economic impacts and local catalytic impacts and spatial implications.
It comes to no specific conclusions, though a few paragraphs are copied below here:
Our review suggests that the commercial assumptions required to make an inner Thames Estuary airport commercially viable would require aeronautical and non-aeronautical revenues per passenger to be significantly higher in real terms than at Heathrow and competing European hubs
High capacity utilisation would also be required from the outset. Failure to capture sufficient
passengers from Heathrow airport could push charges higher in order to remain viable, but this is likely to offer a greater competitive advantage to competing hubs in Europe and the Middle East.   Available evidence suggests that these hubs will have the capacity to handle additional traffic when the Estuary airport opens. All of this means that Heathrow will need to close in order to make an inner Thames Estuary airport commercially viable.
The resources invested in building a new airport in the inner Thames Estuary will have substantial economic impacts. However, these impacts are another way of measuring the cost of a scheme and under government appraisal guidelines (as set out in the Green Book) should be treated as a cost, not a benefit. It is also important to highlight that the activity created in the construction phase will largely be temporary because once construction is finished, they will no longer be needed.
Operating an airport in the Thames Estuary will also have large-scale employment and GVA effects, as can be seen from around Heathrow at the moment. TfL have estimated the direct, indirect and induced effects of the operational phase of an inner Estuary hub airport to be in the region of 280,000 jobs and £20.9 billion in GVA per annum in 2030, rising to 388,000 jobs and £42.3 billion in GVA by 2050.  These estimates are critically dependent on the airport being a commercial success and achieving passenger traffic of 90 million per annum on opening in 2030, rising to 170 million passengers per annum in 2050. These forecasts are significantly higher than the Airports Commission forecasts in
2050…..A more fundamental economic impact from aviation is the catalytic or supply side impacts from improving the UK’s connectivity with the rest of the world. There is extensive academic literature capturing catalytic effects via the association between aviation connectivity and GDP, although the direction of causality in this relationship is unproven.
The review of local economic impacts shows that an inner Thames Estuary proposal has the potential to generate approximately 98,000 additional jobs in 2030 across the six local authorities closest to the proposed airport, a 23.5% increase in the current baseline forecast. However, the deliverability of this employment uplift and its potential benefit to local people may be constrained by local housing availability, labour supply, availability of land and surface access. These constraints are likely to be experienced differently by individual authorities depending on their opportunities and barriers to growth.



4.  Inner Thames estuary feasibility study 4: surface access

Inner Thames estuary feasibility study 4: surface access

This report by Jacobs looks at the 4 proposals for an estuary airport and the road and rail surface transport issues.They say:
The assumptions and surface access options proposed in each of these four submissions were reviewed by Jacobs early in the study programme. A key assumption made in three of the proposals was a high public transport mode share of 60-65% for air passengers making surface access trips to the airport. Foster + Partners and MTTRA stated explicitly in their 2013 submissions that the rail mode share for air passengers would be 60% while the Mayor of London indicated that for testing purposes it was assumed all public transport trips would use rail. These submissions also indicated that a high proportion of airport employees would commute using public transport, ranging from 60% using rail (identified in both the MTTRA and Foster + Partners proposals) to an overall 75% public transport mode share (identified by the Mayor of London) – as with passengers, the Mayor assumed for testing purposes that all employee commuting trips by public transport would be made by rail.

While the submissions differed markedly in terms of surface transport proposals they put forward, there were a number of common elements across many, as follows:
 The provision of an express service via High Speed 1 (HS1) from St. Pancras connecting to the airport via a spur to the south east of Gravesend – included in all submissions with minor variations and assumed by Jacobs to take approximately 26 minutes between St. Pancras and the airport;

 The extension of both branches of Crossrail from Abbey Wood in the south via Dartford,
Gravesend and Hoo Junction and from Shenfield in the north via Billericay – the southern branch extension was included in all three submissions, while both MTTRA and Foster + Partners included a northern branch extension – the southern branch service was assumed to take approximately 51 minutes between Tottenham Court Road and the airport;

 The provision of a semi-fast service from Waterloo to the airport via Bromley South and Swanley – included in the Foster + Partners and MTTRA submissions, and IAAG highlighted the potential for a similar service to Waterloo via Ebbsfleet/Gravesend – this was assumed to take 42 minutes between Waterloo and the airport;

 Regional services linking to North Kent and South Essex (via a river crossing to the Fenchurch Street line) – included in the Mayor of London, IAAG and Foster + Partners submissions.

In addition, the Mayor of London proposed a new express service from Waterloo via London Bridge, Canary Wharf and Barking Riverside that was assumed to take 28 minutes to travel between Waterloo and the airport. This and the schemes summarised above were assembled into four rail packages for assessment.


They looked at 4 options, for rail services, from just covering the minimum requirements, to more extensive services with more lines.
They conclude, on page 138 that:

Thus in summary, while rail Option 1 would accommodate predicted demand in 2030, it is dependent on 4 rail paths per hour being available on HS1 and a significant proportion of ITE passengers (around 45%) would experience crush capacity loadings of above 90% on the central sections of Crossrail.  The rail elements of this option would cost around £5bn, rising to around £10bn with rail and optimism bias included.
In comparison, rail Option 4 would provide an additional express rail service to London (the AEX), which would both improve the resilience on relying on available HS1 train paths, and provide faster connections to south and west central London. The predicted Crossrail sub mode share of this option reduces to 27%, so fewer ITE airport users would have to experience Crossrail crush capacities in the core sections. However, the rail elements of this option would cost around £13bn, rising to around £27bn with rail and optimism bias included. By 2050, rail option 4 is the only credible option, due to the predicted growth of London, and even then some capacity issue still remain.
On roads they say:
Roads assessment
8.2.12 The roads assessment involved using a route assignment model to forecast the impact of road trips to the ITE accounting for the impacts on capacity related purely to expected growth in background traffic. The costs of mitigating for these background traffic-related impacts have not been assigned to the airport.
8.2.13 The analysis detailed the following road widening requirements due to the ITE airport, covering works required in both 2030 and 2050 – our model indicated that these links exceed 100% of capacity as a result of airport-related traffic:
 88km widening of the M25 (73km single lane widening and 15 km double lane widening);
 17km single lane widening of the M2;
 17km widening of the A2 (2km single lane widening and 15km double lane widening);
 Around 30km single lane widening of the A12/A127/A13 roads on their approach to the M25 from outside London.
8.2.14 Additionally, the construction of the ITE airport brings the predicted Volume/Capacity Ratios (VCRs) above the critical 85% threshold on the following links, and additional road widening may be required as follows:
 20km single lane widening of the M25;
 3km single lane widening of the M2;
 Around 55km single lane widening of the A12/A127/A13 in various locations.