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MPs snub Thames Estuary airport for Heathrow expansion

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The House of Commons’ Transport Committee has branded proposals to build a new aiport in the Thames Estuary commercially unviable and said it would threaten local wildlife

Drafted by MPs on the key select committee, the 124-page report into the nation’s aviation strategy (attached) instead recommends the controversial expansion of Heathrow, arguing for a third and possibly even a fourth new runway at the ‘hub airport’ in west London.

The findings come at least two years ahead of an independent review by Howard Davies into ‘maintaining the UK’s status as an international hub for aviation’ which is not set to publish its findings until 2015.

Louise Ellman, chair of the House of Commons’ Transport Committee said: ‘We looked closely at the three main options by which the UK could increase its hub airport capacity. [It was] plain that building an entirely new hub airport east of London could not be done without huge public investment in new ground transport infrastructure.

‘Evidence to our inquiry also showed a substantial potential impact on wildlife habitat in the Thames Estuary.’

At least six speculative proposals have already been mooted for hub airports in and around the mouth of the Thames - including schemes by Foster + Partners and Gensler - and a further scheme is being drawn up by Zaha Hadid and Pascall + Watson on behalf of London Mayor Boris Johnson.

However the committee said estuary proposals were ‘challenging’, adding: ‘The viability of an estuary hub airport would also require the closure of Heathrow – a course of action that would have unacceptable consequences for individuals, businesses in the vicinity of the existing airport and the local economy.’

The MPs also ruled out ‘linking existing airports by high-speed rail to form a split-hub’ which would result in ‘uncompetitive…passenger transfer times’ - effectively writing off proposed train-reliant solutions by both Terry Farrell and Grimshaw (AJ 25.01.2013).

A four-runway proposal for Heathrow may have merit

Instead the select committee argued that the extension of Heathrow was the most viable and sensible option. Ellman concluded: [A] third runway at Heathrow is necessary [and] a four-runway proposal may have merit, especially if expanding to locate two new runways westwards from the current site could curb the noise experienced by people affected under the flight path. 

‘We conclude that adding new runways to expand a number of other existing airports will not, on its own, provide a long-term solution to the hub capacity problem. We do however encourage Gatwick’s operator to develop a robust business case for their vision of a second runway.’

A day time only four runway Heathrow has never been fully costed

Ian Mulcahey. managing director of Gensler which has drawn up plans for a floating airport east of the capital, said: ‘We are disappointed that the committee would dismiss the estuary options as too expensive when their own recommended option to expand Heathrow to a, day time only, four runway airport has never been fully costed. 

‘We look forward to the Davis Commission which will be able to more fully examine the opportunity for a long term solution to London’s aviation crisis.’

Planning expert Brian Waters, who has been working with transport expert Michael Schabas on a radical proposal to extend Crossrail to an expanded Stansted creating a new UK air travel hub, described the report as ‘another pebble in the pond’ which would ‘create more ripples’.

He added: ‘Expanding Heathrow is more evidence of disjointed incrementalism. There is a case for competition - a city can have two hubs like in New York and Moscow - and [MPs] should open their mind to that. But any rival [such as Stansted] would have to have connectivity.’

Meanwhile Malcolm Dowden, consultant at law firm Charles Russell, said: ‘Creation of a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary would require a massive financial and political investment. 

It is highly unlikely that the government would have any appetite for a new airport project

‘The Coalition government’s hopes of being seen to do something about major infrastructure projects are currently pinned to the HS2 rail project, with two HS2 Bills announced in the Queen’s Speech this week and a crucial challenge by judicial review seen off earlier this year. Even without the Transport Committee report, it is highly unlikely that the government would have any appetite for a new airport project, particularly while memories of the Heathrow terminal 5 public inquiry remain relatively fresh. 

‘That process took eight years, involved an £80 million inquiry bill and hardened attitudes on both sides of the airport debate. For the moment, in terms of government backing for major transport projects, HS2 is the only game in town.’ 






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