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Flights of Fancy: London's airport options revealed

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As the deadline for submissions to the Davies Commission passes, the AJ presents the leading options for London’s future airport expansion

Foster + Partners, Make and Gensler are among the architects to have made submissions to the government-appointed Airports Commission, headed by former Financial Services Authority chairman Howard Davies.

Each of London’s major airports, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton have submitted plans for expansion along with several proposals for new hubs to be built in the Thames Estuary.

Last week the the mayor of London, Boris Johnson said his preferred solution for the so-called aviation crisis was to build a hub on the Isle of Grain - an idea first mooted by Foster + Partners and Halcrow back in 2011. However the construction of a new airport in the Thames Estuary has been attacked with Terry Farrell, the mastermind of Gatwick’s runway expansion plans slamming Johnson’s ‘obsession’ with plans to build an airport in the Thames Estuary, quipping that the vision was Hitler-like.

The commission will not submit its report until after the next general election in 2015, although it is expected to recommend options by the end of this year.

If your practice has submitted a proposal to the commission please email it to the AJ.

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.

What they say - Ian Mulcahey, project director and managing director, Gensler: In many respects this is the most ambitious of all the airport proposals, the least contentious, the easiest and the most cost effective solution. Our professional team have spent many months identifying the optimum location in the Estuary for the new airport. Unlike the historic Maplin Sands site and the Isle of Grain we have settled on a location that avoids the sensitive land adjacent to the Estuary and instead will create a new island.’

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

Read the full proposal for Britannia

Stansted Airport - Make Architects


Make are proposing to expand Stansted into a four runway hub.

What they say - Ken Shuttleworth, founder of Make: We believe our submission represents one of the most deliverable, affordable solutions and provide wider benefits to the UK than many of the more London-centric options. Regardless of the final decision, we are hugely proud of all the work our team has put in to get us to this position and of our input into the debate surrounding the UKs future aviation strategy.

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 propose 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.

What they say - Tim Beckett, director, Beckett Rankine: ‘There are numerous proposals for the Airports Commission to consider, but most of them come with such severe social and environmental impacts that I doubt they are politically deliverable. Goodwin Airport has the least adverse impact of any new runway proposal and does not blight any community. Uniquely Goodwin has the ability to serve as northern Europe’s hub airport, enhancing the UK’s competitiveness and integration with our neighbours. I believe Goodwin Airport is the most sustainable solution available.’

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 are proposing a new four-runway hub airport to be built on the Isle of Grain in the Thames Estuary.

What they say - Norman Foster, founder, Foster + Partners: The choice is not about time or money. A new four-runway true hub airport in the Thames Estuary, at £24 billion, costs less to build than two extra runways at Heathrow and can be realised on a similar timescale. Our funding model shows that it could pay for itself within a decade of opening.

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.

What they say - Colin Matthews, Heathrow chief executive: ‘After half a century of vigorous debate but little action, it is clear the UK desperately needs a single hub airport with the capacity to provide the links to emerging economies which can boost UK jobs, GDP and trade. It is clear that the best solution for taxpayers, passengers and business is to build on the strength we already have at Heathrow. Today we are showing how that vision can be achieved whilst keeping the impact on local residents to an absolute minimum.’

Cost £14 billion - £18 billion

Read the full proposal for Heathrow

London Luton Airport - Weston Williamson



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

What they say - Chris Williamson, director Weston Williamson: ‘A new four runway airport at Luton is by far the best solution. The new Luton Terminals would be fed directly by Thameslink and by a light rail spur linking the West Coast mainline at Tring (10 minutes) and the East Coast Mainline at Stevenage (7 minutes) making use of the existing infrastructure. New junctions to the M1 and the A1 offer excellent connectivity.’

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

Read the full proposal for Luton

Gatwick Airport - Farrells


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

What they say - Terry Farrell, partner Farrells: ‘London, both as a world city and a metropolis, is itself the hub and its airport infrastructure needs to evolve and grow with the city as it changes. I have no doubt that the constellation system of airports brings not only certainty of delivery, but also resilience and flexibility for London’s future.’

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 propose extending Crossrail to the Foster-designed Stansted terminal and enlarging the airport to create a new UK air travel hub in Essex.

What they say - Bryan Avery, Avery Associates Architects: ‘It seems to me that the only sensible place to put a new hub airport for the UK is as close to the centre of the population as possible and the best answer has to be Stansted. There the new hub can interlink with both London and the southeast and with the midlands and the north.

‘This of course requires a new rapid transport system which Brian Waters and Michael Schabas have worked on for many years as an extension to cross rail. His link between London and Stansted could then open up the possibility of linking Stansted with Cambridge and its international research facilities and thereby creating a dynamic new centre of excellence for UK industries and integrate the proposals for new settlements in the Cambridge London belt into a cohesive future strategy.’

Read the full proposal for Stansted

Hub City - Grimshaw

Hub city

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

What they say - Jolyon Brewis, chief executive, Grimshaw: ‘Grimshaw’s submission to the Airports Commission is built around a vision of London as the most accessible city in the world. London’s role as a key aviation hub is supported by radical solutions for the capital’s transport network, making sure that passengers can move between the city and all of the airports as quickly and easily as possible. Hub capacity can be redistributed, and London can secure its place as a global Hub City’.

Read the full proposal for Hub City

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