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We could always rename Stansted after BoJo

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Boris Johnson has set his sights on a vanity airport. He should look again, says Christine Murray

The trouble with city mayors is their obsession with legacy, and Boris Johnson has set his sights on a Thames Estuary airport as his grand projet. Since Boris Bikes were Ken Livingstone’s idea, as was the bid for the London Games, it’s not surprising that Johnson wants something grander on his CV. So far, Johnson’s projects include two dubious and controversial investments: the estimated £25 million spent on scrapping bendy-buses and commissioning Heatherwick’s double-decker, and the £60 million cable car.

This week, the AJ revealed that Zaha Hadid had been brought in to design a Thames Estuary airport, along with aviation experts Pascall + Watson and infrastructure gurus Atkins. Announced in the week that Hadid was the only architect to make BBC R4’s Woman’s Hour power list, her appointment to the airport job surely cements her incumbent position as the world’s most famous architect.

The shrewd move to appoint ZHA may be enough to make the airport viable - a Hadid project is likely to attract funding, just as her Aquatics Centre is credited with winning the Olympic bid for London. The Middle Eastern connection won’t be lost on Johnson either - his plan to raise the £80 million needed for the airport kicks off with a visit to Dubai, Qatar and Kuwait in mid-April to drum up support for the project.

While the Estuary solution is his firm favourite, Boris has said he will consider the 15 other proposals submitted to his office. But the discussion is about which airport now, not whether London needs an airport at all. It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago we were taking oaths not to fly to save CO2. Now London aviation adviser Daniel Moylan has made the future of London dependent upon an East London mega-airport.

Both Johnson and Moylan would do well to revisit a cautionary tale from the 1970s, when 1976 Olympic city Montreal invested in building a mega-airport to secure its position as a major transit hub. Mirabel was the largest airport in the world in terms of surface area until 1996. But it was a total failure. The existing airport, Dorval, was closer and easier to reach, and the government’s attempt to force airlines to switch just built resentment. Today, Mirabel is used exclusively for cargo, passenger services having ceased in 2005. It’s frequently used as a film set, and the airport starred in Spielberg’s The Terminal. Dorval, renamed Pierre Elliott Trudeau, has since been refurbished and expanded.

If you ask me, looking to invest in Stansted makes more sense and, in times of austerity, cheaper. Having multiple smaller airports is more practical than a mega-hub in a city like London. And, as most people use the airport closest to them, I doubt the residents of Chelsea or south-west London can be induced to trudge across the capital to catch a flight as long as Heathrow is down the road. It may not be as grand a projet for the mayor, but it would be nice if he would invest less grandly and more usefully for a change. We could always rename Stansted after BoJo, if it makes him feel better.

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