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Airports Commission rejects plans for an inner Thames Estuary airport

The Airports Commission has announced its decision not to support the plan to build an inner Thames Estuary airport on the Isle of Grain.

The Commission had been debating whether the four-runway airport should be added as a fourth option for a shortlist of airport capacity solutions, however its report found that the substantial costs and environmental disadvantages outweighed the potential benefits.

Sir Howard Davies, Airports Commission chair, said, “We are not persuaded that a very large airport in the Thames Estuary is the right answer to London’s and the UK’s connectivity needs. While we recognize the need for a hub airport, we believe this should be a part of an effective system of competing airports to meet the needs of a widely spread and diverse market like London’s.

“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-£90bn (US$116-US$149bn) with much greater public expenditure involved than in other options – probably some £30-£60bn (US$50-US$99bn) in total.

“There will be those who argue that the Commission lacks ambition and imagination. We are ambitious for the right solution. The need for additional capacity is urgent. We need to focus on solutions which are deliverable, affordable, and set the right balance for the future of aviation in the UK,” added Davies.

Established in November 2012, the Airports Commission was setup as an independent body to examine the UK’s airport capacity options by 2030, in terms of maintaining its status as a leading European aviation hub.

Its decision means that there are three remaining shortlist options including lengthening the existing northern runway at Heathrow, adding a third runway at Heathrow and building a new runway at Gatwick.

Commenting on the decision, Stewart Wingate, chief executive for Gatwick Airport, said, “This is an important juncture in the aviation debate because now Britain’s choice is clear; expand Gatwick and support genuine competition, lower fares and greater choice for passengers or expand Heathrow and return to the stale monopoly of the past and watch the cost of going on holiday, traveling for business and exporting goods and service go up.

“We believe Gatwick has the strongest case. It is the only option left on the table that can be delivered with more certainty than either of the Heathrow options, and it can be delivered without the significant environmental impacts expansion at Heathrow would inflict on London. It can be delivered faster than any other option, and at low cost and low risk.

“Furthermore, expanding Gatwick will ensure the UK is served by two successful world class airports. It can liberate hub capacity at Heathrow and open up the opportunities for affordable long haul travel to emerging markets for the benefit of everyone, made possible by new generation of aircraft such as the Dreamliner,” added Wingate.

Also commenting on the decision, John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s CEO, said, “We have always agreed with the mayor that Britain needs a successful hub airport to compete in the global race for jobs and growth. Heathrow is now the only hub left in the race. We would like to work with the mayor to deliver Heathrow expansion in a way that benefits the whole country while reducing noise impacts for local people compared to today.”

Despite the lack of support over the Thames Estuary airport dubbed ‘Boris Island’, Mayor Boris Johnson remained defiant and argued that each of the remaining three options by the Commission would be met with fierce opposition from the public.

According to a report by the BBC, the mayor said, “In one myopic stroke, the Airports Commission has set the debate back by half a century and consigned their work to the long list of vertically filed reports on aviation expansion that are gathering dust on a shelf in Whitehall.

"Gatwick is not a long-term solution and [Sir] Howard Davies must explain to the people of London how he can possibly envisage that an expansion of Heathrow, which would create unbelievable levels of noise, blight and pollution, is a better idea than a new airport to the east of London that he himself admits is visionary, and which would create the jobs and growth this country needs to remain competitive.”

To read more on the BBC report please click here.

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