Norman Foster has again hit out at Heathrow expansion, calling it a ‘short-term’ solution to Britain’s infrastructure needs
Foster, speaking in Manchester Town Hall at the Designing the Future: Starting in the North event, hosted by the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust, argued that his alternative ‘Thames Hub’ proposal could be connected to Europe with High Speed 1 and link London directly to cities in the north.
If it was used as a terminus for the planned High Speed 2 rail link, he added, it could help relieve the pressure of freight on the roads.
Howard Davies’s independent Airports Commission, set up by the government four years ago, ruled out Foster’s plans for an airport in the Thames estuary, saying it would be more expensive than the alternative options of a new new runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick.
But Foster, who unveiled his estuary airport plans in 2011, told the audience: ‘I accept that there is going to be a third runway. It’s a band-aid solution. It is short-term. It’s not thinking in terms of the wider issues of transportation.
’What is guaranteed is that when that third runway comes into action, Heathrow will again be at full capacity.’
I would guarantee the absolute inevitability that one day [Heathrow] will no longer be sustainable
He continued: ‘I would guarantee the absolute inevitability that one day [Heathrow] will no longer be sustainable in community terms, political terms – just [on account of] the sheer logistics. It cannot continue.’
’There is only one way to go and that is out in the direction of the sea […] eventually Heathrow will no longer [be] fit for purpose.’
Foster compared the Thames estuary proposal to his successful Hong Kong International Airport, built on the largely man-made Chek Lap Kok island to replace to the closed Kai Tak Airport, whose expansion options were similarly limited.
He argued that an airport on the Isle of Grain would provide opportunities for new developments as London expands, and could be combined with existing initiatives such as the proposal to build a new Thames Barrier.
Foster spoke of the importance of long-term infrastructure plans to Britain’s economy, pointing to how northern cities and the canal and rail systems which connected them drove the Industrial Revolution.
In 2014 the Airports Commission concluded, following a feasibility study, that a Thames hub airport would be too expensive to build.
At the time, Howard Davies said: ‘There are serious doubts about the delivery and operation of a very large hub airport in the estuary. The economic disruption would be huge and there are environmental hurdles which it may prove impossible, or very time-consuming to surmount. Even the least ambitious version of the scheme would cost £70 to £90 billion, with much greater public expenditure involved than in other options – probably some £30 to £60 billion in total.’
Foster’s proposals were previously supported by former London mayor and current foreign secretary Boris Johnson. In 2015, in a letter to The Telegraph Johnson branded the plans for another runway at Heathrow ‘madness’ and ’short-termist’.
The government’s decision to build a third runway at Heathrow was welcomed by Grimshaw, which in July this year beat Zaha Hadid Architects, Benoy and HOK in the contest to design a new ‘hub airport of the future’ as part of Heathrow’s £16 billion growth plans.
It is expected to be another year before MPs vote on the decision for Heathrow and construction is not likely to begin until 2020 or 2021. If approved, the runway could be completed by 2025.