Boris Island sinks

estuary aug 14The Airports Commission has announced its decision not to add the inner Thames estuary airport proposal to its shortlist of options for providing new airport capacity by 2030.

Following detailed further study into the feasibility of an inner Thames estuary airport the commission says the proposal has “substantial disadvantages that collectively outweigh its potential benefits”.

Airports Commission Chair Sir Howard Davies 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 recognise 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.

Sir Howard continued: “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.

Anticipating criticism from the Mayor of London, Sit Howard said: “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.”

Alongside today’s announcement the commission has published a paper in which it sets out in more detail the reasoning behind its decision.

Sir Howard Davies will continue looking at the three remaining options – Heathrow Airport’s own third runway plan, the Heathrow Hub plan to extend one of the existing runways, and a plan to add a second runway at Gatwick.

Many in the business community will be relieved the estuary plan has been shelved. Any of the remaining plans would be delivered quicker, and business argues generally that expansion is required now. Also, all three remaining schemes would be largely privately funded, with more certain costs – recently it was reported that the environmental remediation costs of the estuary plan could approach £2bn.

However, the Mayor of London, who has relentlessly backed the estuary plan, will be dissappointed. His advisor, Daniel Moylan, told the BBC that the dropping of the plan is “sadly short-sighted”.

The Mayor must now decide how to respond, especially in the light of his desire to stand for election as MP for Uxbridge, a constituency neighbouring Heathrow. It seems unlikely he will adopt Heathrow Airport’s recent call for him to back expansion at one of the key drivers of employment in his proposed constituency, but he has consistently said expansion at Gatwick is not the solution.

The commission will now continue its appraisal of the three shortlisted proposals for additional capacity and will publish the appraisal for public consultation in the autumn.

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