The Airport Commission has said it’s a no for Boris Island. The Estuary plan was controversial but it means the capital is heading back to the drawing board with the need to meet increased airport capacity increasing. Clarendon serviced apartments London revisits the key arguments.
With the backing of London mayor, Boris Johnson, the Thames Estuary airport hub perhaps received greater mileage than it should have done. It wasn’t the first plan to build a new airport along the Thames but this, also known as the Thames Hub Airport was criticised by the Airport Commission’s for its cost (they estimated between £70bn and £90bn). The commission rejected the idea, leaving just expansion at Heathrow and Gatwick on the table.
The political arguments and debate will continue to fester until the Airport Commission makes its final decision – Boris Johnson has already described their view as “myopic”. Yet the problem of air traffic capacity in London remains, it is isn’t likely to ease. London is the largest aviation hub in the world by passenger traffic. It boasts six international airports handling in excess of 133 million passengers every year. It’s second busiest airport, Gatwick, is the world’s busiest single-runway airport. Heathrow’s passenger numbers are far in excess of 72 million and rising.
The rejection of the Thames Estuary means the Airport Commission is only looking at Gatwick and Heathrow as recommendations for additional runway capacity in south-east England.
The shortlisted options include; a new 3,000 metre runway at Gatwick, far enough away from the airport’s existing runway to allow it to run an independent operation, essentially doubling capacity at Gatwick; a new 3,500 metre runway at Heathrow towards the north west of the airport; an extension of Heathrow’s northern runway lengthening it to 6,000 metres and allowing it to run as both an arrival and departures runway.
Both are equally controversial. Heathrow in particular has garnered severe criticism and opposition from local residents who cite air pollution, noise pollution and a devaluing of their property along the routes of the proposed new runways.
The UK’s business community is said to back Heathrow. The CBI has argued for a hub airport which can spur the development of new routes and grow. Heathrow is at capacity already, the argument runs, it will need to expand anyway as its passenger numbers increase. It therefore makes sense that it should be part of a wider regeneration of London’s air strategy and offer.
London isn’t just competing with European destinations as a destination. The new Dubai airport is set to become the busiest in the world and it provides easy access to Asia and Australasia. It is also just 16 hours from LA and the West coast of America. To compete with this UAE behemoth London needs to focus on growth, improving connectivity into and out of the capital. A hub airport would provide the finishing touch to the ongoing investment in the capital’s transport infrastructure including CrossRail and HS1.
What international business passengers want is choice. Regular travellers want ease, flexibility and a painfree journey. The increasing capacity at London Heathrow is likely to make it increasingly unattractive to international passengers which could hit the London economy in the long term. The alternative offered by Dubai makes it easy to access Asian finance, innovation and industry. If London does not create a comparable hub airport then the capital could find itself surplus to requirements.
Whatever the final decision made by the Airport Commission the choice has to be one that benefits all of London but also has its eye firmly fixed on the future and the UK capital’s ability to attract footwall, wealth, investment and ideas from around the world as people come to London to do business.