The Mayor of London has set out his vision a new airport for London, presenting three options for sites, none of them Heathrow. He said his proposals would make London the “greatest economic powerhouse of the 21st century”.
The proposed new airport would complement the new seaport about to open in the Thames estuary, and provide new road and rail connections to boost the economy of east London, Kent and Essex.
He suggests the present Heathrow site could become a “new town” housing up to 250,000 people.
He said the year-long review undertaken by TfL staff showed that there are three optimal locations for a new airport: on the Isle of Grain in north Kent; at Stansted; or on an artificial island in the middle of the Thames estuary. He announced that he would be submitting detailed proposals for all three sites to the Davies Commission later in the week.
He said nothing of the cost of delivering the new airport, or the surrounding infrastructure.
A Heathrow spokesperson commented: “The Mayor’s proposals would leave 114,000 people facing redundancy, cost taxpayers more and take longer to deliver than building on the strength we already have at Heathrow. We will be submitting our options to the Airports Commission this week.”
The Mayor counters the jobs argument, saying there would be “enormous potential economic benefits” to a new hub, that it would support more than 375,000 new jobs by 2050 and add £742bn to the UK economy. These would of course not be in West London, and would involve some economic migration away from the present Heathrow area.
The central ambition of keeping London in the premier league of World cities is sound. The Mayor said: “Ambitious cities all over the world are already stealing a march on us and putting themselves in a position to eat London’s breakfast, lunch and dinner by constructing mega airports that plug them directly into the global supply chains that we need to be part of.”
He believes though that aviation should be far from population, saying: “Those cities have moved heaven and earth to locate their airports away from their major centres of population, in areas where they have been able to build airports with four runways or more. For London and the wider UK to remain competitive we have to build an airport capable of emulating that scale of growth. Anyone who believes there would be the space to do that at Heathrow, which already blights the lives of hundreds of thousands of Londoners, is quite simply crackers.”
Noone argues that Boris lacks ambition, or a vision of a future where London is great and Heathrow is a new town, but vision alone is not enough to guarantee future prosperity. Architect Sir Terry Farrell, a Place West London speaker, former Thames Gateway chief planner, and advocate of a rail hub at Old Oak, said in an Evening Standard interview: “When people say that you have got to have vision, well Hitler had vision.
“Vision can be a madness where you get so obsessed you throw everything you have got on the roulette table and hope you got it right.”
The Mayor’s analysis says that a four runway hub airport could quadruple the number of destinations London serves in China and South America, add another fifty per cent more destinations in the United States, and restore domestic routes to nine cities across the UK.
Speaking about the present Heathrow site, and the jobs it sustains, he said that with four tube stations, Crossrail and National Rail connections, and the space and infrastructure to generate up to 100,000 new homes that London badly needs, the site would “offer hope to millions of Londoners increasingly priced out of decent accommodation”.
Redeveloping Heathrow would be similar to developing an entire new borough of London in what is presently one of the most dynamic, economically vibrant and accessible areas of the capital.
Boris failed to go in to detail about how the new town on the Heathrow site would attract employers, or which sectors they might be from. Some workers at Heathrow would relocate to the new airport he said, but many others would find work on a newly developed Heathrow.
Deputy leader of Hounslow Council, Colin Ellar, told the BBC: “Closing Heathrow is sheer lunacy. Boris’s plans to solve London’s housing crisis and replace the thousands of jobs lost appears to be based on a wing and a prayer. “We and many sensible commentators don’t seriously think Boris Island, wherever it is in the estuary, will ever take off.”
Many business commentators have expressed doubts that enough new businesses would move to a redeveloped Heathrow to replace the jobs that would be lost with the closure of Heathrow, let alone to provide employment for those new inhabitants who wanted to work in the area. Some have also questioned whether there would be a market for the many thousands of new homes, with jobs being some distance away.
Daniel Moylan, the Mayor of London’s chief adviser on aviation, said: “Heathrow can never solve our problems and our studies show that we’re better off with a new site. The immense noise, pollution and congestion that would result from expanding an airport located in the heart of our suburbs would potentially devastate the greatest city in the world. Whereas the three potential sites for a new hub airport portray a compelling vision for the infrastructure, the economy and the international competitiveness that London and the wider UK could benefit from if we take the clear opportunities that are in front of us. A new airport would be accompanied by world-class public transport connectivity, it would have the resilience to withstand the worst the UK’s weather has to offer; and it would have the capacity to save you from being stranded in a never ending spiral of aircraft over the suburbs.”
The three sites proposed by the Mayor are:
- The Isle of Grain, on the Hoo Peninsula: The Mayor says this is close enough to London to provide smooth and fast access by public transport, yet located so as to allow take-off and landing over water and so impact on as small a population as possible. It sits in an area with a strong industrial history, and is across the water from the new DP World London Gateway Port.
- An Outer Estuary site: An airport on an artificial island off the Kent coast would remove all problems of noise pollution and give the airport the freedom to operate in whatever way it needed.
- Stansted airport: Developing a major four-runway airport at Stansted would have the attraction of building on existing infrastructure and being sited in a relatively sparsely populated region, Stansted has none of the environmental or wildlife issues that would need to be overcome in the estuary.
The Mayor has tested the TfL findings on an independent peer review group which includes Mike Forster, Director, Forster Associates – a former senior BAA employee; Professor Sir Peter Hall, Bartlett Professor of Urban Regeneration and Planning, UCL, and Ealing resident; Bridget Rosewell, Senior Partner, Volterra Partners, who are a leading consultant on the estuary proposals; and Roy Vandermeer OBE QC, the Inspector on the Heathrow Terminal 5 Inquiry who stipulated that T5 should be permitted on the condition that no further runways were built at Heathrow. An executive summary of the submissions to the Davies Commission and a shortlisting paper are available from www.newairportforlondon.com.