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Heathrow and Gatwick expansion favoured as hopes for estuary airport fades

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The much-anticipated review into the UK’s aviation capacity has poured cold water on plans for a huge hub airport in the Thames Estuary by recommending an extra runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick

Howard Davies’ independent review said it favoured either a 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’.

The interim report said it had not shortlisted any of the Thames Estuary options - including Gensler’s London Britannia Airport - because there were ‘too many uncertainties and challenges surrounding them at this stage’.

However, the door remains slightly ajar for Foster + Partner’s Isle of Grain proposal which Davies said he would revisit early next year to see whether it offered ‘a credible proposal for consideration alongside the other short-listed options’.

Meanwhile the commission also ruled out expansion at Stansted - schemes had been proposed by both Make Architects and Brian Water/Avery Associates - and Birmingham. Davies added, however, that there was likely to be a case for considering them as potential options for any second new runway by 2050.

The report’s contents will come as a blow to most of the 50 architects, designers and consortia who had submitted a raft of options to the commission, such as Weston Williamson’s Luton airport proposals.

It is understood the commission wants to see worked up designs for the Heathrow and Gatwick plans by May - and will further assess the Isle of Grain suggestion - before delivering a ‘robust final recommendation to government’ in summer 2015.


Norman Foster, Foster + Partners

‘We are pleased to see that the initial work by the Airports Commission has confirmed the need for increased hub capacity and recommends an Isle of Grain airport for further study in 2014. We are ready to demonstrate to the Commission that costs for our Thames Hub proposal are affordable, the transition through closing Heathrow achievable and a fear of the future unreasonable. We look forward to engaging further with the Commission and to continued collaboration with those who have supported us so far, together with those now keen to lend their support. We aim to demonstrate that a new four-runway airport in the Thames Estuary is the right answer for the future of Britain and it’s economy.’

Terry Farrell, Farrells

Expanding Heathrow is not an option and bulldozing it is not an option either

‘Howard Davies review has come to the right conclusions in questioning the need for a hub airport and talking about sequencing of new runways in 2030 and 2050. I strongly believe the next runway should be at Gatwick which would relieve pressure at Heathrow, keep fares competitive and cause the least environmental damage. In my view, expanding Heathrow is not an option and bulldozing it is not an option either, so we have to look at a third way which is the constellation system favoured by world cities like New York and Tokyo where the metropolis IS the destination, unlike stopover airports like Amsterdam and Dubai.’

Jolyon Brewis, Grimshaw

‘I am very pleased to see that the Airports Commission: Interim Report has focused on options that utilise London’s existing airport and surface access infrastructure, rather than the creation of a new multi-runway hub airport.

‘The short-listing of a new runway at Gatwick Airport, together with a clear indication of the potential for relocation of one of the major airline alliances, points towards a multiple hub system that could deliver all of the benefits set out in our proposal for London as a ‘Hub City’. I urge the Commission to develop the short-listed runway options, and the associated surface access and ticketing strategies, in the context of a powerful and integrated vision to make London the most accessible city in the world.’

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London

‘Howard Davies’ recognition of the importance of a hub airport to the economy and his decision to include the option of a new hub in the inner estuary on the Isle of Grain is both sensible and pragmatic, and is welcome news for Londoners and for the future competitive needs of the UK population as a whole.

‘It is clear that Gatwick is not being considered as a hub airport, meaning a second runway there would only provide temporary relief to Heathrow. And that means he has effectively told the Government it has two choices – proceed with the creation of a monstrous Heathrow, on a constrained site that won’t solve our capacity crisis, but would inflict untold misery on hundreds of thousands more Londoners through the din of many more jet engines in parts of the capital and home counties that have not so far experienced it; or proceed with the construction of a new hub in the inner estuary that can be built for the same cost as a four runway Heathrow, and would bring new jobs, homes, and long term competitiveness.

A new airport in the inner estuary is the only credible hub option left

‘A new airport in the inner estuary is the only credible hub option left, and the only one that would uphold this country’s claim to be the natural financial, commercial and economic capital of Europe. By keeping it on the table Davies is saying you have a choice – between a damaging u-turn or a radical new vision for expansion. We will be fighting the former and hailing the latter, and I’d urge the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to do the same.’

TESTRAD Consortium

‘We are surprised by Commissions modest assumptions regarding the need for capacity but will be evaluating the detail in the Commission’s report with our partners over the next few days. We still retain absolute belief in the viability of our proposals for an international hub airport in the Thames Estuary.’

Tim Beckett, Beckett Rankine

‘The Davies commission’s conclusion that there is a need for additional runway capacity in the south-east makes sense but the short listed options for additional runways at either Gatwick or Heathrow is disappointing. While Gatwick and Heathrow have set up well funded campaigns for the expansion of their airports the environmental impacts of a new runway at either site are severe. Expansion plans at both airports have previously been defeated by local action groups and it remains questionable whether a new runway at either site is politically deliverable.It is now certain that airport expansion will be a deciding factor at the 2015 election in constituencies around Gatwick and Heathrow. We will have to wait to see whether the anti-expansion campaigns and the election results have any influence on Davies’ final report.

Finding a new site to increase airport capacity is a challenging task which needs vision

‘The problem of finding a site for new airport capacity in the densely populated south of England is undoubtedly a challenging task which needs vision; it is unfortunate that there seems to have been little vision in the preparation of the commission’s short list. Beckett Rankine developed proposals for a new hub airport on the Goodwin Sands to replace Heathrow because we believed that now is perhaps the last chance to correct the historical mistake of locating the UK’s hub airport too close to London. And if we are to have a new hub airport it should be in the location which has the minimum environmental impact and the maximum opportunity for serving not just the UK but also northern Europe. If the Davies commission short listed options fail to secure the necessary political consensus, as seems likely, then more radical options, such as Goodwin Airport, will remain available.’

Chris Williamson, Weston Williamson

‘Many people thought that the Commission was set up to get Heathrow expansion back on the Agenda. The surprise is that it has been quite so strongly endorsed. Although the report keeps open a possibility of a new hub airport at Stansted or the Estuary it is mainly concerned with the short term fix.The whole process has been bizarre. Many of the proposals in front of the Commission to review answer completely different issues because the problem we face has not been defined. 

The estuary is the only place for a hub airport operating 24 hours a day

‘Do we need a hub airport which operates 24 hours a day?  If so the Estuary is the only place. But it is a high risk strategy as Heathrow would need to close and this now seems even less likely.

‘Our proposal is for an incremental expansion of Luton into a hub airport but with some increased capacity at Gatwick and Stansted and other regional airports. It would allow Heathrow to operate direct flights. It also makes sense of the recent expenditure on West Coast Mainline, East Coast Mainline and Thameslink all of which are 10 minutes to Luton and could have a DLR type link directly to the terminals. It also envisages that HS2 will remove significant numbers from the West Coast Mainline enabling this to be a rail air link.

‘The only problem is the owners have no ambition to expand on that scale. Also there are so many vested interests and pressures from many interested groups now that the airports are privatised and in competition.So we have a beauty parade. It has been left to architects, engineers and airport owners to develop proposals from which the Commission can choose.

It is left to architects and engineers to develop proposals

‘The last time the problem was properly considered the 1971 Roskill Commission proposed the location of Cublington (near Luton as it happens) and ruled out the Estuary. But after going through the parliamentary process and all the lobbying nothing happened. We have been here before. And will probably be here again. In the meantime a deal will be done with Boris to allow Heathrow a new runway.

‘The Estuary Airport is actually a good location for London and would mean new homes, schools, hospitals, infrastructure, communities which could house some of London’s projected 2m growth. But it is a bad location for the rest of the country. Luton is perfect. But first we need to define the long term problem and then apply some joined up thinking.’

Val Shawcross, London Assembly

‘The Airports Commission should prioritise the immediate needs of London’s economy to use existing airport capacity better. Our research shows Stansted and Luton airports are only operating at half their potential capacity while Gatwick has 12 per cent of runway slots available.

‘Rather than further blight the lives of hundreds of thousands of people living near Heathrow or under its flight paths, the focus should be on making the most of that existing underused airport capacity and improving transport links to all London’s airports.

‘Whatever options are eventually chosen for expanding airports in London and the South East there must be adequate protection against excessive and oppressive noise pollution. We strongly support the establishment of an independent aviation noise regulator to both beef up and simplify the regulation of aircraft noise.’

Richard Gammon, Director of Aviation and Transportation, HOK

‘The only practical solution to the issue of UK aviation capacity is the option that Heathrow has outlined for a third runway and for that reason it is reassuring to see the shortlist that the Davies Commission has announced. While it is only right that the commission consider all options, the proposals focused on Stansted or the Isle of Grain would take decades to materialise and therefore cannot offer an effective response to our immediate lack of aviation capacity.

The proposals for Stansted or the Isle of Grain cannot offer an effective response

‘We are already seeing competitors in Europe and beyond benefitting from our slow response and it is widely accepted that if the UK is to retain its position as a global destination for business this needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.  Therefore our response must recognise the enormous effort that Heathrow has made to retain and develop its status as the UK’s only true international hub. Heathrow is vital to the economic prosperity of both London and the UK, and supporting its ability to evolve to meet the needs of the global marketplace must be a core part of maintaining UKPLC’s global competitiveness.’

Proposals for airport capacity expansion

Thames Estuary, London Britannia Airport - TESTRAD Consortium

Thames estuary

Following a schematic merger with Gensler the TESTRAD Consortium are proposing a six runway built on a new island in the Estuary.

Capacity 172 million passengers per annum (MPPA)
Cost £47.3 billion

Read the full proposal for Britannia

Stansted Airport - Make Architects


Make has proposed to expand Stansted into a four runway hub.

Capacity 120+ million passengers per annum (MPPA)
Cost £18 billion

Read the full proposal for Stansted

Goodwin Airport - Beckett Rankine


Marine consultant engineers, Beckett Rankine initially proposed a three runway sheme built on Goodwin Sands, with possible future expansion to five runways. The airport will be connected to London with an additional spur of HS1.

Capacity (phase 1) 90 million passengers per annum (MPPA) (Five runway expansion - 150 MPPA)
Cost (phase 1) £39.2 billion

Read the full proposal for Goodwin

Isle of Grain - Foster + Partners


Foster + Partners has proposed a new four-runway hub airport to be built on the Isle of Grain in the Thames Estuary.

Capacity 110 million passengers per annum (MPPA)
Cost £24 billion

Read the full proposal for the Isle of Grain

Heathrow Airport


The west London airport has proposed three options for a third runway either to the north, north west or south west of the existing terminal.

Cost £14 billion - £18 billion

Read the full proposal for Heathrow

London Luton Airport - Weston Williamson


Weston Williamson proposed adding three runways to the current one runway airport to create a four runway hub.

Capacity 110 million passengers per annum (MPPA)
Cost £25 billion

Read the full proposal for Luton

Gatwick Airport - Farrells


Terry Farrell’s proposal centres around creating a constellation of Airports around London. The proposed plan will build an additional runway at Gatwick while keeping Heathrow open, and in time perhaps adding a new runway at Stansted.

Read more about the Gatwick proposal

Stansted Airport - Avery Associates Architects with Brian Waters and Michael Schabas


Avery Associates along with London planning expert Brian Waters and transport consultancy guru Michael Schabas has proposed extending Crossrail to the Foster-designed Stansted terminal and enlarging the airport to create a new UK air travel hub in Essex.

Read the full proposal for Stansted

Hub City - Grimshaw

Hub city

Grimshaw has proposed to increase airport capacity in the capital by routing transfers through the capital. The vision would see new ‘super express’ rail links connecting Luton, Stansted and Gatwick to the capital.

Read the full proposal for Hub City


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