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Fosters' partner hits out at 'lack of vision' over new Thames Estuary airport

A senior architect at Foster + Partners has hit out at the UK government’s lack of vision on major infrastructure projects

Speaking yesterday (18 June) at an international conference focusing on new airport capacity in London, Huw Thomas, partner at Foster + Partners, said that central government needed to rediscover the ability to both plan and deliver major projects if the economy was to grow over the next decade.

Thomas, who is behind the practice’s Thames Estuary airport scheme backed by London mayor Boris Johnson, said there was a ‘paucity’ of wider thinking about the nationally important infrastructure scheme 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.

‘On occasional projects [such as Crossrail and the Olympics] we may have done it, but we have to do it comprehensively – we have no other choice.’

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

He added: ‘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.

‘When we come back to the UK, we see the paucity of the interrogation of the opportunity.’

He said that the country was set to miss out on a global market if the government continued to dawdle over airport hub plans.

He said: ‘In terms of the wider global economy, we need a hub airport to maintain our global status. People who are one-year-old today will be twenty when any new airport opens.’

Thomas concluded: ‘We started [the Thames Estuary airport project] after the completion of Terminal 3 in Beijing, and that’s why have invested in [the scheme] because we believe we can build a better opportunity for the economy.’

Foster + Partners, which has spent an estimated £1million on designs for a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary, has a long track record in designing major projects overseas, including the 360,000m² Beijing Terminal 3, as well as Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok Airport, which was built on an artificial island next to Hong Kong Island.

Agreeing that the UK needed to rediscover the planning vision from the 1960s and 1970s if London was to live up to its potential, fellow speaker Peter Hall of University College London added: ‘Are we thinking of a short-term fix, or are we thinking of a long-term strategic vision for London and the rest of the South-East.

‘We did have visions once and they were realised and they worked. We had the Abercrombie plan which did move people to decent homes in decent places outside of London. We have the 1970s growth corridor plan, and all I am asking for is a revival of the spirit of those 1970s plans.

‘We stopped believing in planning and planning for growth and started believing in the market. We have to return to a strategic planning approach.’

Readers' comments (4)

  • Is this an airport for London ,or the nation ?
    Where's the synergy with HS2?
    It's bonkers.
    Why climb Everest ?
    Because it's there.
    Why develop an estuary?
    Because we can.
    Even though it's bonkers.
    I'm an architect,by the way.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Lack of vision?

    Vision would be looking beyond something as old fashioned as hydrocarbon based aviation.
    Even better would be a radical reduction of air transport generally and what better way to do this than close a few; not build more.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • For 'benefits for the country' read 'benefits for London', because the proposed site would be less accessible to the rest of the country.
    There seems to be 'paucity of the interrogation of the opportunity' in the minds of Thomas and Johnson - unless, of course, they're entirely fixated on what's best for London and references to 'the rest of the country' are just a cynical gesture to public opinion.
    There is also the question of weather - I've been stuck in Schipol waiting half a day for the fog to clear at London City when flights to the other London airports were unaffected, so just how sensible is the idea of an airport on the Thames estuary?

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  • Alex Seymour

    To get buy-in from this Islamophobic government for the Estuary Airport, Foster and Partners need to stress the security advantages of having an airport in such a remote spot from such viewpoints as facilitation of a state of the art missile defence curtain plus a sophisticated 8 metre high surrounding concrete wall and sufficient space in the surroundings to incorporate a nearby Army and RAF base permanently on standby. As the whole project would be a golden opportunity for Israeli security firms to earn millions in consulting fees the whole project will be a no-brainer which will waltz through Parliament in no time.

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