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Terry Farrell hits out at Foster's estuary airport scheme

Terry Farrell has criticised Norman Foster’s proposed new £70 billion airport in the Thames estuary, instead advocating a new rail hub connecting existing airports on a site he is masterplanning in west London

Unveiled in August, Foster + Partners’ contentious concept for an airport on the Isle of Grain, east of the capital, immediately came in for criticism from wildlife campaigners and local politicians.

Now Farrell has hit out at the plans, suggesting they are unsustainable and could still leave London needing further airports. The move potentially places him at odds with mayor Boris Johnson, who supports a new airport east of London and who appointed Farrell to an airport steering group two years ago.

Speaking at a property summit in London, the design advisor to the mayor of London said there was a ‘much more convincing case’ for proposals to connect the capital’s existing airports. He said: ‘21st-century planning must be based on making what we already have work, rather than spending billions demolishing one set of infrastructures in order to build another.

‘If we build a new multi-billion airport to meet today’s demands, what will we do after 20 years of growth – build another one?’

Farrell’s ‘cost-effective and sustainable alternative’ links Birmingham, Luton, Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports using planned high-speed and existing mainline railways, and would be the centrepiece of Farrell’s 90-hectare Park Royal City masterplan at Old Oak Common in west London.

A spokesperson for the mayor said Johnson was keen to see a ‘serious and open discussion of the best possible location [for a new hub airport] begin as soon as possible,’ and added: ‘His priority is to persuade the government that a new hub airport is a must if London is to retain its position as the heartbeat of global business.’

Foster + Partners declined to comment, but will unveil a detailed study on the airport later this month.


Terry Farrell’s vision for Park Royal City in west London


Phil Holden of Pascall + Watson

There is some significant capacity in the existing airports around London that is still worth considering.  Both Stansted and Gatwick could support growth if they were sanctioned with second runways and a high speed rail link connecting London to the rest of the UK, not only has the benefit of allowing Birmingham to add to its International capability, albeit with an extended runway, but also helps to service other parts of the country. 

Eventually the capacity issues make a further London Airport a practical proposition and the Thames Estuary appears to be a favoured site for such a development.  Such a proposal would need to build on the proposed rail infrastructure to be a success.

In summary they are both needed in the long term, we need some joined up thinking to ensure that any proposed infrastructure investment is wisely spent to enhance our future opportunities.

HOK senior vice president and director of aviation and transportation Richard Gammon

We fully support the development of the UK’s rail infrastructure to provide better connectivity between airports, however this proposal will do little to address the extremely complex issue of airport capacity shortage in the south east unless the journey between the airports presents a tangible benefit to the passenger, is commercially viable and, with Heathrow’s hub status declining, presents a real alternative to transferring via a European hub.

We need to face the fact that London’s status as a major world hub is declining, and the only way to arrest that decline is to provide more capacity where it is needed, in London.


Councilor Rodney Chambers, leader of Medway Council

I welcome the view of such a renowned architect as Sir Terry Farrell that the Thames Estuary airport is a non-starter. This confirms the view of Medway Council and Kent County Council, as well as people across the country, including the airline industry, and the government.

We have always said the Thames Estuary airport proposal is a pie in the sky plan and we note that Sir Terry who – as well as working closely with ourselves on the Thames Gateway plan – is a highly respected adviser to Boris Johnson.

We would urge the Mayor of London to listens to the views of all – including his own adviser – and realise that the overwhelming consensus is against his airport plan, which is not needed, will cause serious damage to the environment and could cost up to £70billion.

The fact that the majority of people do not support the Thames Estuary airport was something we showed in the past few weeks when an independent poll carried out by ICM for Medway Council showed that 76 per cent of people across the UK opposed it.

Medway Council has always stated that we need to fully utilise the existing capacity at airports already in place and to better connect these with infrastructure that includes high speed rail.



Readers' comments (1)

  • Christopher Choa

    Christopher Choa of AECOM

    The economic potential of any city is defined by its ability to trade and exchange. In this century, in an extraordinarily competitive age of globally-connected cities, the defining means of trade and exchange is aviation. And our livelihood depends on it. Every regularly scheduled long-haul service that goes through a hub supports around 3000 direct and indirect jobs. And London has to get this right - not just to prosper, but to remain relevant if not just to survive.

    London has become a constrained worldwide hub, with growing consequences to its economy and every other aspect of sustainability Even now, worldwide connectivity - and the sustainable benefit of that connectivity - are slipping away to global hubs on the continent that are not shy about developing their aviation capacities at the expense of London.

    Rail connectivity between London's five existing airports, even when combined with the occasional runway addition - as difficult as all that represents - helps only the short term; this is not the long-term solution. Until London seriously embraces an expanded 24-hour hub and reciprocal comprehensive land-side regeneration, there is just vanity and puffery.

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