Sun rises over plans for London Gateway Airport

Appointment of Douglas Oakervee to feasibility study brings controversial airport plans a step closer

by Niki May Young 17 November 2008
Realisation of controversial plans to build a new airport on reclaimed land in the Thames Estuary came a step closer this week with the appointment of revered civil engineer Douglas Oakervee to conduct a feasibility study. London Mayor Boris Johnson hired Oakervee as further pressure mounts and MP’s lobby to resolve problems caused by Heathrow’s limitations.

Bombarded with images of queues at Heathrow’s terminals, complaints of noise pollution as planes are forced to fly over residential areas, and faced with the reality of the expansion restrictions of an airport closed in by residential areas on all sides, MPs from across the UK’s political parties have joined force to lobby Government into a review of plans to build a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow. Plans for an airport on reclaimed land to the east of London, similar to the massive Hong Kong International Airport have been considered for decades but twice rejected. This week’s revelation shows that these plans are now being given fresh gravitas.

Previous Mayor Ken Livingstone set out his opposition to the Heathrow extension in March stating that, “The Government fails to explain how an additional 48 million passengers will travel to Heathrow without plunging west London into gridlock” as well as raising concerns over noise pollution and the loss of houses, concluding that the extension “does not hold water”. Oakervee’s appointment suggests that, at least on this solitary issue, current Mayor Johnson concurs.

Not everyone is in favor of Johnson’s actions however. Last week Sir Terry Farrell talked to WAN giving a stark warning to Johnson against rushing into any solution saying, “My advice to Boris is as follows: Now he is elected, now he is Mayor he shouldn’t be coming up with single ideas, again one bound we are all free kind of stuff, I call that solutioneering. The reality is that we have a lot of airports around London and it’s the Mayor’s first task to do a statesman-like appraisal of what’s correct for London and Londoners and I think this needs a big ecological study of what is the least damaging way forward.”

Further opposition comes from BAA who own and run Heathrow Airport. Communications Director Tom Kelly issued WAN a statement: "What the UK and London need now is new runway capacity, if we are to avoid losing our connections to the world, particularly India and China,” he said. “The questions raised by the proposal for a new airport in the Thames Estuary have been examined twice before and rejected. Is such an idea feasible or desirable when there is an alternative at Heathrow ready to go?

"Further questions focus on the environmental implications and costs associated with building an airport on one of Europe's most sensitive environmental sites, a development which the RSPB says would be the most destructive ever undertaken in the UK.

"Then, there is the question of the costs involved in constructing a new island in the Estuary, a four-runway airport and all the associated transport infrastructure and housing required to support such a development. Then, there are important questions around the 77,000 jobs currently based in West London and which rely on Heathrow."

But a symbol of hope for a London Gateway Airport comes from the Far East in the form of Hong Kong International Airport. At a cost of just £1.6 billion HK International provides inspiration and proof that an airport at sea is not only possible, but could be a comparatively affordable and viable permanent alternative to extending Heathrow. Furthermore the Thames Estuary Airport Company Limited (TEACO) claim to have achieved funding and developed plans for what they call MARINAIR, an offshore airport which would replace Heathrow and answer capacity issues. Requesting that the government include their proposal when reviewing airport development sites TEACO stated, “After a number of years of negotiation with international funding bodies, TEACO has in place unequivocal and irrevocable commitment options to the funds necessary to plan and construct a major airport in the Thames Estuary (MARINAIR) plus supporting access and facilities.”

With support now coming from within the Government and with funding apparently secured for a London Gateway Airport, parties involved will be teetering on the edge of their seats to await the results of Oakervee’s study.

Niki May Young
News Editor

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