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Johnson pushes estuary airport idea as four in five say ‘No’

Words: Roger Milne
Thames estuary airport, Foster and Partners

London mayor Boris Johnson has restated the case for a new four-runway airport on the Isle of Grain in the Thames estuary – as four in five survey respondents reject the idea.

Johnson today submitted a new dossier to the Airports Commission outlining the argument in favour of the development costing tens of billions that would support – he claims – some 400,000 jobs UK-wide and generate an additional £7bn a year for the UK economy.

The Commission, charged with looking at how to expand airport capacity in the South East, shortlisted three options in December 2013, each based at either Gatwick of Heathrow. Under political pressure, it agreed to look again at Johnson’s estuary proposal.

Submitting the dossier, Johnson claimed the Isle of Grain development offers the “bigger picture and the longer view”, but that there was a “political fix around Gatwick”, expansion of which is “a sham, a snare, a delusion”.

Airport expansion: What’s on the table?

In December 2013, the Airport Commission shortlisted three options for improving airport capacity in the South East:

- A new runway at Gatwick Airport of more than 3km in length

- A new 3.5km runway at Heathrow Airport to the north-west of the existing airport

- An extension of Heathrow’s existing northern runway to the west to at least 6km, enabling it to be used for both take-offs and landings.

Meanwhile, an online survey of 2,000 adults across the UK, conducted by Medway Council and Kent County Council found that found in five oppose the development of a new airport where the Medway enters the Thames estuary.

The survey found that 38 per cent actually supported an estuary airport. But when they were told that Heathrow, City and Southend airports could close as a result, that support dropped to just 16 per cent.

“We strongly believe that plans to site a hub airport in the Thames estuary are financially, geographically and environmentally wrong,” said Medway Council leader Rodney Chambers.

The case in favour

The dossier submitted by Boris Johnson argues that, with the London population forecast to rise to 10 million by 2030 and 11.3m by 2050, any expansion of Heathrow or Gatwick will be inadequate.

A four-runway Thames Hub airport would:

- add 134,000 net additional jobs in the local area – equivalent to £16.6bn GVA per annum – and trigger a further 138,000 “catalytic” jobs

- support 388,000 gross jobs by 2050, worth £42,3bn annually in GVA

- provide a £2.2bn boost to 15 UK cities and deliver 18,000 new jobs

- improve productivity through “additional connectivity”, resulting in a permanent 0.5 per cent increase in GDP, worth £6.9bn today.

In addition, the closure of Heathrow and its redevelopment as a suburb would create 80,000 new homes and 90,000 jobs, the dossier argues. The figures were put together by Ernst and Young and from studies for Transport for London by the Civil Aviation Authority.

The Guardian claimed that the total cost of building the airport would be in the region of £64bn - £25bn to build, £25bn for surrounding infrastructure and approximately £14bn to buy and close Heathrow. The Airports Commissions’ own calculation put the cost at £112bn – around three times that of any of the other options. Johnson has claimed that much of the money would come from the private sector.

In the new dossier, Johnson says: “It is crucial their [the Airports Commission] considerations take into account the future requirements of this country in 40 or even 50 years’ time. We must ensure that the final outcome is not one that future generations will regret.”

Medway Council leader Chambers insisted, however: “It [the estuary airport] will waste billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money for a project which is on the wrong side of London for the majority of passengers.”

The Commission is due to make its decision in summer 2015.

Image courtesy of Foster and Partners