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Foster: ‘The patch and mend attitude to airport capacity is not the answer’

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Norman Foster has hit out at the Airport Commission’s decision to back a third runway at Heathrow

The Airports Commission released its final report earlier today (1 July) with the recommendation that a third runway be built at Heathrow Airport.

The Commission, led by Howard Davies said a third runway at Heathrow would deliver the most economic growth to the country, adding £147 billion to the economy and providing 70,000 jobs by 2050.

But Foster, who had submitted a proposal for a new airport in the Thames Estuary, said that extending existing airports was not the solution to increasing aviation capacity.

The practice’s Thames Estuary airport plan was ruled out last year but Foster said it was the ‘only long term answer’ to maintaining the UK’s global aviation hub status, adding that ‘neither Heathrow nor Gatwick will ever be a satisfactory long term solution’.

Foster said: ‘We need to recapture the foresight and political courage of our 19th century forebears if we are to establish a modern transport and energy infrastructure in Britain.

‘The current ‘patch and mend’ attitude to increase airport capacity is not the answer to the massive challenges we face today. The Thames Hub is part of a larger ideal to create an infrastructural ‘spine’, which binds together the rail, communication, and energy networks currently being built across the country.It is a bold concept that continues to gain validity as the city expands eastward and transport links strengthen.

He added: ‘We believe the Thames Hub is the only comprehensive, durable solution that can ensure aviation hub status and long-term economic prosperity in Britain for this century and beyond. As someone who is close to the world of aviation, I believe there are also serious security risks of overflying the heart of a city at the scale of London.’

Further comments

Terry Farrell, Farrells
‘Expansion at Gatwick is the only deliverable option, and today’s report confirms that. Our proposals have consistently shown that a second runway at Gatwick will provide a much more balanced system of infrastructure, positively affecting the whole of the UK. I remain confident that expansion at Gatwick will still be chosen as the way forward.’

Richard Gammon, director of aviation and transportation, HOK
‘This is the right decision for the south east and UK PLC, however the main thing is how quickly the government can make a firm decision and how Gatwick will fight it if it goes against them. The worst course of action now would be to delay a definite decision with the proposal being kicked into the long grass.

‘The outcome is a significant decision given the time taken and it would be very brave of government to challenge it as it would also undermine the commission. Unfortunately Gatwick and Heathrow are now in a state of paralysis until a firm decision is made.’

Christopher Choa, Aecom
‘I think Davies Commission has done a great service to the nation by taking the politics out of a critical decision on infrastructure! 

‘The best way forward for London, the region, and the country is to allow both Heathrow and Gatwick to expand. These two airports are very specialised, with Heathrow the country’s only international hub, and Gatwick the region’s premier point-to-point airport. They do very different things, but expansion at both puts UK plc on the strongest footing.’

Roger Hawkins, partner, Hawkins\Brown
‘A revised plan including relocation of City Airport to the Estuary, which would provide fantastic development opportunities in the Royal Albert Dock, was gaining considerable support. Why did the Airports Commission reject this? By extending Crossrail to provide fast connections between major London airports we could then provide access and capacity without the need for a major new hub.’

Daryl Chen, partner, Hawkins\Brown
‘The recommendation for Heathrow merely signals further political gridlock. A second runway at Gatwick would provide additional interim capacity while leaving other sites open to consideration as potential new hubs. However in the race for never-ending capacity, we shouldn’t discount the potential impact of disruptive transportation technologies, changing travel patterns, and an increasing environmental toll.’

Tim Beckett, Beckett Rankine
‘While the Airports Commission’s recommendation of an extra runway at Heathrow is no surprise their lack of vision in making this recommendation is a disappointment. The Commission identifies a collection of mitigation measures that it thinks necessary to ameliorate the impact of Heathrow’s expansion, however the deliverability of some of those measures is questionable. In particular the ban on scheduled night flights is unlikely to be acceptable for certain long haul routes. 

‘The Commission’s recommendation that a fourth runway should be firmly ruled out is unrealistic. No such undertaking could be binding and were the operational situation to change, as it inevitably will as the capacity of the third runway is taken up, then the government will have no option but to consider a fourth runway. The Commission was required to consider the need for capacity in the short, medium and long term; by ducking the issue of the fourth runway they have failed their task of providing a long term plan for UK’s airport capacity.’

 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • At first sight both Foster and Farrell's comments seem to make a lot of sense - in the context of London.
    But if you've ever been stuck at Schipol for half a day because London City is closed by fog, or if you've suffered from your plane ingesting a bird on take-off - or you just like estuary birds - Foster's project is unrealistic.
    A Thames estuary airport would likely be even more difficult of access from most of the rest of Britain (unless you fly) than Gatwick is.
    Gatwick's transport connections with London are not as good as Heathrow's, but adding another runway would appear to be a lot less damaging to the locale than adding one at Heathrow.
    Does London really need more airport runways, or is the existing capacity struggling to cope with too many transfer passengers who don't really need to go anywhere near London - or maybe even Britain?

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