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Foster + Partners launches last ditch bid for Estuary Airport

Foster + Partners has made a final plea for a Thames Estuary airport, responding to a series of reports which claimed the scheme would be ‘costly, challenging and risky’

Last month the Davies Commission published four highly critical feasibility studies which set out the huge financial and engineering risks of building a huge new airport east of the capital - London Mayor Boris Johnson’s preferred solution for the UK’s aviation capacity problems.

The reports were welcomed by critics of the proposal - which would also see Heathrow shut and redeveloped (AJ 16.07.14) - with Val Shawcross, Labour’s London Assembly transport spokesperson, claiming the research confirmed the plans were ‘pie in the sky’.

However Norman Foster’s practice has hit back, saying that the none of the so-called ‘killer blows’ were ‘insurmountable barriers to the development of an Inner Estuary airport’.

In its official response to the reports (see attached), the company counters arguments that the £20billion project would be environmentally damaging, operationally problematic, too costly and pose ‘significant challenges’ in terms of rail and road links.

The document reads: ‘The Commission’s report states than an independent assessment … for the Commission found the costs would reach £68.9 billion. However, the report provides little explanation of how this figure was derived, apart from stating that it includes further allowances for surface transport costs and risk and optimism bias. In order for this figure to be credible, the Commission would need to publish the method used for estimating it.’

It goes on: ‘There are no issues raised in these reports which refute the credibility of an Inner Estuary location. Furthermore, in view of the scale and national importance of the economic opportunity that an Estuary airport provides, it is clear that further work is needed to assess a range of issues where full analysis is lacking. The Thames Hub Team is ready to work with the Commission to address these issues.’

On Friday (8 August) Johnson launched his own ‘aggressive counter-attack’, stating that the Commission’s reports included ‘half-baked calculations’.

According to some sources (see Huffington Post 05.08.14) Howard Davies, chair of the Airport Commission, is on the brink of officially ruling out the Thames Estuary airport and concentrating on either a potential new runway to the south of Gatwick Airport, or one of two options at Heathrow - namely a new 3,500m runway to the northwest of the airport or an expansion of the existing northern runway allowing it to ‘operate as two independent runways’.

Previous story (AJ 10.07.14)

New report brands Estuary Airport ‘costly, challenging and risky’

Boris Johnson’s plan for a Thames Estuary airport could be finished after a series of reports found huge financial and engineering risks with the scheme

The reports found that an Inner Thames Estuary (ITE) airport - the preferred option of the London Mayor - could be an overwhelming failure, lead to ‘unprecedented’ engineering challenges, cost more per passenger than Heathrow and rack up billions of pounds in site preparation.

The three feasibility studies, which were published by the Davies Commission yesterday (10 July), have revealed that closing Heathrow could pose a huge risk and, though a new airport on the Isle of Grain site could create up to 98,000 jobs, there was no certainty it would live up to the estimates provided by the Mayor.

Running to more than 600 pages, the combined reports deal with the major issues thrown up by moving London’s main airport to the Thames Estuary - an idea backed by Foster + Partners. These include the environmental impact, social economic issues such as housing, transport access and the viability of moving airline operations from a major airport such as Heathrow to another on the other side of the capital.

The Social Economic Impact report, which was compiled by PwC concluded that: ‘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’.

‘Overall, there are notable potential risks to both realising beneficial economic impacts arising from the development of a new hub airport in the Inner Thames Estuary area based on the economic and infrastructural capacity of the local area to support such a development, at least without considerable re-direction of current local planning policies and investment’.

The PwC report did however say that a single ‘hub’ airport did offer a small improvement in passenger connectivity compared to the ‘dispersed’ options.

The report also stated that the potential new jobs which the airport could deliver could be curtailed by a lack of housing supply. The Mayor’s recent conference on airports was dominated by the need for new housing in London, which is expected to reach a population of around 9 million by 2020.

The surface transport study, compiled by Jacobs, concluded that there would be ‘significant challenges to overcome to provide a successful rail package for an ITE airport’.

The report noted that the airport would require an additional platform at St Pancras station in central London as well as a number of ‘local issues’ which are likely to require costly solutions.

The report concluded that: ‘Even with mitigation the proposed surface transport access routes would generate new environmental impacts and increase the cumulative effects from the development of a hub airport in the ITE. In particular, there would be wider ranging impacts extending long distances from the proposed airport development’.

The final report, which looked in to the feasibility of moving operations from Heathrow concluded that: ‘Overall, the challenges to transition are considerable and amount to a significant cost and risk to the taxpayer in terms of commercial negotiations, infrastructure development and potential failure.’

Earlier this week the Davies Commission published the environmental report on the ITE, which estimated that the cost of providing alternative habitats for wildlife affected by the Thames Estuary airport would be in the range of £2billion.

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, having already announced it would be looking in more detail at expanding either Heathrow and Gatwick.

Responding to the new studies, Daniel Moylan, the mayor’s chief adviser on aviation, told the BBC: Of course there are risks, but all the proposals being considered by the commission carry risk.

Of course there are risks, but all the proposals being considered by the commission carry risk

‘Our team will now analyse these reports in detail but it appears they confirm the huge benefits to the country’s prosperity that would flow from moving Heathrow to a new location and prove that there are challenges, but no showstoppers, to achieving that.

‘The case studies of how this has been successfully done in other countries are particularly valuable. The Airports Commission can have no alternative but to include the estuary option on its formal shortlist.’

Other comments:

Val Shawcross, London Assembly Labour Group transport spokesperson:
‘We’ve always known that Boris’ plan for a Thames Estuary airport was pie in the sky, but four expert reports inside a week have now confirmed this. Whether it’s environmental problems, expensive transport links or the decimation of employment at Heathrow, we now know for sure that this project poses a devastating risk to the taxpayer.

We know for sure this project poses a devastating risk to the taxpayer

‘Boris has already wasted millions of pounds on this vanity project. He needs to accept that the evidence is now totally against him and that no more public money should be spent pursuing a Thames Estuary airport.’

Previous story: (AJ 09.07.14)
Estuary Airport is ‘huge financial and environmental risk’

Boris Johnson’s plans to build an airport in the Thames Estuary have suffered a serious blow after a new study concluded it would cause ‘huge environmental financial and safety risks’

The feasibility study for the Airports Commission, which was carried out by Jacobs, claimed the habitat loss from the new airport would cause huge problems for hundreds of thousands of migrating birds and could cost £2billion.

A previous study by Foster + Partners had estimated the cost of habitat relocation at £500million.

The mudflats and marshes of the Thames Estuary are home to a number of migratory bids which nest on both the north and south of the estuary. The area is also home to several sites of special scientific interest.

The report states that moving this number of wildlife is ‘technically possible’ but is on an unprecedented scale for the UK.

The study is one of four which have been compiled for the Airports Commission which aim to look at different aspects of the Thames Estuary airport. The other schemes include social-economic issues, surface access and a study on airline behaviour.

The reports have been commissioned to give a more detailed information on whether the Thames Estuary scheme should be included in the final report Howard Davies presents to the government after the next general election over the options for future airport capacity in the South East.

The Jacbo’s research found that even if replacement a replacement habitat could be found, the airport would still be at a ‘high risk’ of a lethal bird strike.

Reacting to the study London Assembly Labour Group Transport Spokesperson, Val Shawcross, said: ‘The idea of a Thames Estuary airport has long been dead in the water, but if a final nail in the coffin was needed, this is surely it.

‘Boris has wasted millions of pounds on this vanity project. With this latest report in mind, he needs to accept that the evidence is now totally against him and that no more public money should be spent pursuing a Thames Estuary airport.’

Readers' comments (3)

  • Written and posted by Richard Dorkin in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has benefitted greatly from the legacy Chep Lak Kok airport and connective infrastructure planned and designed by Foster and Partners and opened in 1998. Would London and more importantly Londoners and the UK not benefit from a similar much needed infrastructure project?

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  • This proposal will be devastating for wildlife, in particular, birds. Boris Johnson claims to respect the environment with his bike scheme but his proposal for the Thames Estuary demonstrates quite clearly that he is only concerned to have his name attached to everything. This is taking self seeking to an extreme and he clearly has not spent time birdwatching in that area, otherwise he would understand the damage it would do.

    The current battling between the various sites underlines the problem of the breakup of the airports into separate companies. If they were still one organisation we could possibly have a sensible solution. As it is, we are certain to end up with something which doesn't fit the bill.

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  • P Buchan's comment ignores the very different geography of Southern England compared to Hong Kong.

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