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UK airport debate: Is taking Crossrail to Stansted the answer?

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A radical proposal to extend Crossrail to Stansted and enlarge the airport to create a new UK air travel hub in Essex has been revealed.

A radical proposal to extend Crossrail to Stansted and enlarge the airport to create a new UK air travel hub in Essex has been revealed.

Just weeks after the government launched an independent commission into the country’s aviation capacity chaired by Howard Davies, London planning expert Brian Waters and transport consultancy guru Michael Schabas have unveiled a ‘near-term’ vision to tackle congestion.

Waters chairs the National and London Planning Forum while Schabas played a key role in the development of the Jubilee Line Extension when vice president Transport of Canary Wharf Developments (see also Planning in London).

The scheme is the latest proposed solution to south east England’s airport shortfall, which so far includes Norman Foster’s £50 billion Thames Airport and a floating airstrip by Gensler.

The proposal features a new £3 billion Crossrail spur linking Heathrow, the City and Canary Wharf to the Foster-designed 1991 airport which they claim has room for three new runways.

Although plans for a new Stansted runway were withdrawn two years ago, a new owner could revive the expansion. Earlier this month London mayor Boris Johnson said a Thames hub or expanded Stansted were London’s best options.

Terry Farrell, who criticised Foster’s proposal to redevelop Heathrow and create a new Thames Estuary airport, said Waters and Schabas’ scheme possessed ‘considerable merit’.

Weston Williamson’s Rob Naybour was also supportive, suggesting it would be ‘relatively straightforward’ to extend the rail line. ‘Residents of Bishop’s Stortford may not be in favour but it would take decades to come to fruition so they would have plenty of time to move,’ he said.

But HOK aviation and transportation director Richard Gammon said overseas competitors were already benefitting from the UK’s ‘slow response’ to the capacity shortage and called on the government to act ‘decisively’ to support growth in the ‘UK’s only true international hub’ at Heathrow.

Chris Bennie, principal director at TP Bennett, said environmental, political and population density factors meant expanding Heathrow or Gatwick would be ‘stop-gaps’
solutions at best.

Stansted’s advantage over the Thames Estuary proposal, he added, was the fact it already existed and appeared to possess no physical or technical barriers to expansion. While a ‘blank canvas’, the Thames Estuary scheme included ‘cost, programme and deliverability’ unknowns and would require a full environmental impact assessment. ‘None of which bodes well for an early delivery,’ he said.

Proposal: Crossrail to Stansted Location: Essex Status: Proposed Cost: £8 billion Architect: Brian Waters

Proposal: Crossrail to Stansted Location: Essex Status: Proposed Cost: £8 billion Architect: Brian Waters


Further comment


Chris Johnson, regional managing principal at Gensler
We endorse the Mayor’s view that new hub capacity is urgently required and that the best place for this is to the east of London.

It is our view that Stansted and Gatwick will continue to have an important role to play in the long term aviation strategy for London but that a major new hub with an intercontinental high speed interchange must be central to this strategy.

While we would support improvements to the rail links to both Stansted and Gatwick the new Estuary Airport offers a unique opportunity to create an integrated interchange between international high speed rail, national rail and metro. It is essential that Crossrail is connected to the new hub airport and the easiest and lowest cost option is to provide a single stop extension from Abbey Wood.

The strategy for London Britannia Airport is to provide a long term strategy for airport capacity and for securing London’s economic future. To provide four appropriately located runways is a minimum but their needs to be flexibility for six runways in the future.

Richard Beastall, principal director at tp Bennett
As architects we work with many global businesses and it is so crucial to finally resolve the problems of over capacity at Heathrow so we can continue to attract dynamic expanding businesses to the London region and the UK. These businesses have offices all over the world and travel frequently between them and can therefore relocate at short notice.

We have a client in Geneva who is moving his Corporate Head Office to the UK, who was bemoaning the lack of flight connections to Geneva. He wants and needs to be able to get to his global offices with a single overnight flight!

The lack of regular flights to expanding economies should be of major concern to the UK. Delays and queues due to congestion at Heathrow are becoming totally unacceptable to time poor business travellers and it is ludicrous to have planes circulating in ever increasing circles over London depositing huge quantities of pollution and generating unnecessary noise over millions of people.

A third short runway at Heathrow would only be a stop gap, we need a decent world class 4 runway airport hub with good transport connections and room to expand, without delay, whether at Stanstead or in The Thames Estuary.


Jerry Tate of Jerry Tate Architects
Whilst everyone should fly less for environmental reasons, realistically we have to compete with other growing transport hubs across the world and have to address the growth of our aviation capacity. Heathrow is clearly not the best location for an airport in London (why have planes flying low over Kew?) and a new island (ignoring wildlife concerns) seems attractive. The big problem is the lead-in time for any new airport and infrastructure; a government which decides to go ahead is unlikely to be in power when the project is completed. We need a politically ‘selfless’ decision now in order to give certainty for the future transport capacity of our capital.



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