Full Report: East London Aviation Options
By Sian Disson, News Editor

For an introduction to the East or West Aviation debate hosted by World Architecture News and World Cities Network on 5 February 2012 at the Royal Geographical Society in London, please click here.

Daniel Moylan, Aviation Advisor to Mayor of London, Boris Johnson

The opening argument for the East was given by Daniel Moylan, Aviation Advisor to Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Moylan swiftly explained that the capacity issues faced by the UK’s transport system have a direct effect on the country’s economy and that Mayor of London, Boris Johnson ‘knows there must be a compromise’. This is one aspect of the aviation challenge that all involved parties seemed to agree on; that the answer is not as simple as east verses west and we need to consider a variety of potential sites and timescales if the UK is to find a successful solution to its current airport capacity issues.

Moylan gave a strong argument for the East panel, which includes proposals such as Foster + Partners’ Thames Hub, Gensler’s London Britannia Airport, Luton Airport redevelopment by Weston Williamson and Goodwin Airport in Kent by Beckett Rankine.

One of the strongest points raised in Moylan’s presentation was the increase in noise pollution over West London should Heathrow be expanded with additional runways. He explained that of all the residents in Europe this are affected by airport pollution and excess noise, 28% live near Heathrow which is ‘unacceptable’.

World Cities Network is a partner company of World Architecture News which fosters communication between cities to find solutions for urban issues across the globe. During his opening speech, Moylan appealed directly to World Cities Network, stating: “We are here as guests of World Cities Network and you can’t be part of a world cities network without being connected to an international network! We need to get real. We need to look beyond this country and learn something from other countries, like The Netherlands, France, Germany and the USA. But we’re not doing it. There is a real possibility that we may have our main hub airport in another country. The sooner we make this project happen, the better the advantages will be for the country in the long term.”

Huw Thomas, Foster + Partners: Thames Hub

In November 2011 Foster + Partners released details of a radical proposal which, if realised, would redefine travel across the UK and internationally through the construction of a transport hub in the Thames Estuary. The Thames Hub project includes an estuary airport capable of handling 150 million passengers each year connected to a spine of rail, energy, communications and data which would run the length of the UK. A new river barrier and crossing, and shipping and rail complex are also on the cards.


Foster + Partners were represented by Huw Thomas at the East or West? debate. For Thomas, the creation of a new inter-transport hub in the Thames Estuary is the best option for the UK economy, as he explains: “The way we do business has changed a lot in the last 10 years. We have to have access to international markets for the benefit of the economy.”

Another key factor for Thomas - and indeed for many of the attendees to the East or West? debate - is the resilience of Heathrow Airport. Over the past few years, the UK has been hit with blankets of thick snow which have seen operations at Heathrow Airport grind to a halt. Michael Hammond’s opening question of whether 24 hour mixed-mode flights could be a viable option received negative responses from both Moylan and Thomas, with the latter stating that: “Heathrow doesn’t have the resilience for night flight capacity.”

Introducing mixed-mode flights at Heathrow, i.e. enabling planes to take off and land on the same runway at the same time, would allow the airport to increase its capacity by 60,000 planes every year.

Bridget Rosewell, Testrad: London Jubilee International Airport

Thames Estuary Research and Development Company (Testrad) is an organisation which formed to enable the UK to make the best possible choices with regard to the Thames Estuary, taking flood defence, use of wind and tidal power, road and rail crossings, and airport facilities into account. In November 2012, Testrad released fresh details of their London Jubilee International Airport proposal for the Thames Estuary which includes a five-runway airport with the potential for a sixth runway to be added at a later date. Designs also include a high speed rail link to an airport platform and transport links between central London and an Origin and Designation Passenger Terminal.

At the 5 February debate, Testrad was represented by Bridget Rosewell, one of the founders of the organisation. Rosewell took a wider viewpoint than some other speakers, looking beyond Testrad’s own proposals to the core issues at hand. She explained: “There will always be consequences to each proposal. It’s about choosing the ‘least worst’ in terms of the compensation necessary.” One point Rosewell was adamant on however was the need for the UK’s main aviation hub to have four airports to support increasing passenger numbers.

One factor that continued to arise was the different types of passengers that pass through London’s airports. Alongside Origin and Destination traffic there is also a number of passengers who will be passing through London airports on their way to another international or domestic airport. As Rosewell commented: “We must have Transfer traffic alongside the Origin and Destination traffic for volume. We’re reaching breaking point in the West so adding more infrastructure there will be difficult.”

This mixture of traffic flows was a key focus point for Jolyon Brewis from Grimshaw Architects who presented the practice’s London Hub City concept to the panel and industry experts. The proposals involve fast transport links between existing airports, guiding transfer passengers directly through London, turning the city into a hub itself rather than creating an entirely new aviation complex. Brewis’ suggestion that ‘London has a bigger cultural power than other competing airports’ and would therefore be of great interest to international travellers was countered by Daniel Moylan who argued that ‘Grimshaw wants a virtual airport and tries to sweeten this offer with cultural attractions. This Harrods and


theatre aspect is irrelevant’.

Ian Mulcahey, Gensler: London Britannia Airport

Gensler’s London Britannia Airport concept has received much media attention since its release in September 2012 due in part to its ambitious design. The plans involve a 24/7 floating airport hub which would be tethered to the river bed in the Thames Estuary with terminals connected by submerged tunnels. Ian Mulcahey joined the East or West? debate on behalf of Gensler and spoke confidently of the potential environmental benefits of his firm’s concept.

Mulcahey explained: “We have a chance to improve the environment at the Thames Estuary and transform the Heathrow site into an eco-zone.” Gensler’s proposals extend beyond the creation of a new airport hub in the Thames Estuary to the redevelopment of the 3,000 acre Heathrow site. This would see the former airport site transformed into an ‘eco-city’ which would utilise existing infrastructure onsite to create homes for 300,000 residents and employment opportunities for more than 200,000 workers.

The environmental debate was continued by Paul Outhwaite from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) who opened his case with the statement: “We’re not worried about birds hitting planes, we’re worried about planes hitting birds.” Referring to the Thames Estuary as ‘one of the Canterbury Cathedrals of ecology’, Outhwaite explained the difficulties in getting the 300,000 birds that currently live in the Thames Estuary to relocate and the inability to compensate for the ecology that would be lost should a transport hub be constructed at this location.

Sticking with the theme of eco-friendly design was Gordon Rankine of Beckett Rankine who gave an outline of his firm’s 4-runway Goodwin Airport concept in Kent. The currently empty site is a ‘blank canvas’ said Rankine, explaining that ‘the key thing needed is space’. The Heathrow site is congested and running at 99% capacity, however Goodwin Sands offers an expanse of land which has much less bird life than the Thames Estuary and is far enough away from residential communities for the noise pollution problems at Heathrow.

In an anonymous vote from the audience of over 100 architects, engineers, economists and key figures from within the industry, 64% of attendees were in favour of constructing or expanding an airport in the East, while 21% voted for additional runways at Heathrow (West). 15% were in favour of an alternative concept.

Breakdown of the results

Thames Estuary: 41%
Heathrow: 21%
London Hub Concept: 15%
Stansted: 8%
Luton: 8%
Goodwin Sands: 7%

Images top to bottom: Daniel Moylan, Huw Thomas, Bridget Rosewell, Ian Mulcahey

East or West?


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East or West? The Results

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