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GLA rejects estuary hub in favour of existing airports

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The Greater London Assembly (GLA) has cast doubt on the need for Mayor Boris Johnson’s preferred ‘Estuary Airport’ arguing there is still unused capacity at Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and Heathrow

The GLA’s report, Airport Capacity in London, recommends that rail connections should be improved to boost the use of the four existing airports instead of focusing efforts on developing a new airport to handle connecting flights.

The assembly said that in 2012 less than a quarter of air travellers used the airports as a connection for onward travel with 127 million passengers - 78 per cent of the total – flying direct to their destinations.

It also found that 47 per cent of runway slots at Stansted were unused, compared to 51 per cent at Luton and 12 per cent at Gatwick. It said that while Heathrow has reached 99 per cent capacity, ‘some evidence submitted suggests increasing aircraft size would allow it to increase capacity’.

Scores of competing projects have emerged in the past two years to meet the political need for increased air capacity in the south east.  

Norman Foster has proposed a four-runway Thames Estuary mega hub airport that will be submitted to the Howard Davies-led investigation into UK airport capacity, which is due to report in 2015.

Foster’s £33 billion proposal would replace London’s existing Heathrow hub with a new facility east of the capital linked by high speed rail to the Midlands and continent.

Foster and Partners said the 150 million passenger-capacity design would ‘largely eliminate the environmental, noise and security problems of aircraft over-flying London into Heathrow.’

In February Boris Johnson appointed Zaha Hadid, Atkins and Pascall + Watson to a feasibility study for an artificial Thames island airport – a proposal known as Boris Island.

In October 2012 Make Architects joined the battle over London’s future air capacity and unveiled plans to transform Stansted Airport into a four-runway mega-hub.

Like Foster’s £50 billion Thames Estuary scheme it would be able to handle around 150 million passengers a year, but practicee director Ken Shuttleworth, who left Fosters to set up Make in 2004, claimed the construction cost would be ‘considerably less’ than Foster’s vision because it excludes the need for significant infrastructure investment.

Weston Williamson has proposed a similar four-runway hub for Luton airport incorporating Crossrail 2 and offering journeys to the capital of 25 minutes.

Already served by Thameslink and the M1 motorway, the single-runway Bedfordshire airport is described by practice director Chris Williamson as the ‘sensible location’ for the UK’s largest airport hub.

The GLA said local demand for airports must be considered by the Davies commission given that London’s airports predominantly serve local geographic areas. In 2010 London airports served 127 million passengers, of which about two thirds (85 million) were from the East or South East England, while 47 million passengers were travelling to or from a London borough, it added.

The GLA questioned the wisdom of a new estuary airport In light of these local demands, and also cited evidence from the National Air Traffic Services showing that further issues would need to be considered ‘including airspace implications with the potential for additional flights and lower flight paths over central London’.

Caroline Pidgeon, Chair of the London Assembly’s Transport Committee, said that based on the evidence it had seen, the Davies commission ‘must examine whether better use of existing airport capacity could be an intelligent cost-effective alternative to building new airports or runways’.

‘The need for additional hub capacity is also under debate, with strong data showing rather than runway capacity limiting airlines ability to fly to emerging markets, it could be low passenger demand from each airport’s geographical area.  As 700,000 residents already suffer from noise pollution as a result of Heathrow flights, we also hope that any plans to expand Heathrow can soon be laid to rest.’





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