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Davies speech means Thames airport option is still on cards, claims Boris

London mayor Boris Johnson’s fight to win support for a new hub airport in the Thames estuary has received a major boost, his top aviation adviser claims.

Daniel Moylan, chief adviser on aviation to the Mayor of London, hailed as a breakthrough a speech given by Howard Davies, head of the government’s Airports Commission, at a conference on London’s future airport capacity, at which Davies acknowledged the commission’s inquiry needs to look ‘very hard at what the housing implications of a new major airport would be’.

Moylan believes this means the review is now looking beyond aviation capacity towards the wider city issues implied by the creation of a new airport. 

Johnson is backing plans to close Heathrow and replace it with a new purpose-built transport hub in the Thames estuary and recently appointed Hawkins\Brown, Rick Mather Architects and Maccreanor Lavington to draw up plans for a new town on the site of the existing airport.

Moylan said: ‘The Mayor has been arguing throughout that a decision where to locate a major piece of infrastructure, such as an airport, has to be seen in the context of his spatial development responsibilities and, in particular, seen against the challenges in terms of the need for new homes, jobs and transport links arising from an additional population of two million forecast for London by 2030.

‘What Howard said this week acknowledges our case and shows, I hope, that the mayor’s legal responsibilities are being as fully embedded in the Airports Commission’s thinking as other legal constraints, such as climate change.

‘Howard is now acknowledging that any decision on aviation capacity has consequences for housing in a growing city. That is welcome.’

Speaking at Stratford Old Town Hall, Davies said: ‘I think [the housing dimension] is very important […] You can see that the process of argumentation is that we do have a lot more imagination and innovation built into these proposals and a lot more thinking about the way in which they fit into the future of this city than they had before.’

Mike Pearson, UK director of airports for Atkins, which has been commissioned to work on a masterplan for the Thames Estuary airport scheme, said the new argument went further than simple airport capacity. He said: ‘It is important to hear that the Davies Commission is awakening to the debate and the wider picture of what an airport contributes to London and the South-East as a whole. To say “actually, let’s not make this about an airport, let’s make this about much more” is an opportunity to think differently about what is coming.’

Meanwhile, Huw Thomas, a partner at Foster + Partners, which has drawn up its own proposal (pictured) for an airport sited on the Isle of Grain, said there was a ‘paucity of wider thinking’ about the Thames estuary option and its benefits for the country. He said: ‘We are embarking on an extraordinary period of demand for decision-making, which we haven’t done for 20 years.’

Thomas compared the lack of progress within the UK with the speedier delivery of major infrastructure schemes abroad.

He said: ‘More than 90 per cent of [our] work comes from overseas and we have extraordinary exposure to what other markets are doing. We see why other people are making decisions and why they are delivering both for themselves and for future generations.’

The appraisal framework for the Airports Commission states that the housing, jobs and social infrastructure should be considered in the commission’s final findings. 

The commission is due to decide in the autumn whether to include a Thames estuary option in the shortlist to identify where new airport capacity should be built.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Is it within Boris Johnson's gift to close Heathrow? - He's mayor of London, not England boss (yet); Heathrow serves a great deal more of the country than just London, and serves it far better than an airport down the Thames estuary ever could.
    To be perfectly cynical, property developers might call the shots in London, but they don't pull England's strings to the same extent.

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  • Boris champions cycling as being environmentally friendly yet proposes to destroy an area which is vital to wildlife. The Thames estuary is important for both migrating, resident and nesting birds. Putting an airport there would cause untold damage. It is a typical headline grabbing but poorly thought through idea.

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