The advent of a new Secretary of State for Transport in the form of Putney’s tube-using Justine Greening seems to have triggered off another estuarine tsunami of nonsense, mostly in the usual paywalled Sunday Times, saying MUST HAVE AIRPORT NOW OR ELSE DEATH MURDER RECESSION FAMINE DEATH DID WE MENTION DEATH WAAAAAHH. Or words to that effect.  Regular readers will know this flailing act is nothing new, in fact there’s a part of the GLA website proudly headlined ‘Thames Estuary Airport’ stating:

At this stage, the Mayor is not committed to a particular solution

Well that’s true, whatever ‘stage’ means.  He’s been committed to at least five or six, noisily, for PR reasons, before it all goes quiet.

His primary concern is that positive action is taken to address the aviation needs of London and the UK…


…he believes that a new Thames Estuary airport offers a strong solution for both London and the UK.

He believes it, but has an open mind.  Clear as Thames mud.

The result of all this, coupled with the fact that everyone knows that Boris’s wild enthusiasms are usually backed with wads of public money, is a never ending stream of wacky ideas pushed by wacky people, the latest [PDF] of which is from Lord Foster, who knows at thing or two about architectural megalomania and on this evidence should perhaps, for the good of the nation, be bought a copy of SimCity and locked in a quiet room somewhere.  More on this in a moment.

Of course, the eagle-eyed (Helen, for one) will have spotted that the document isn’t just the work of Foster + Partners and therefore taking the piss out of My Lord Foster isn’t the full story – the other names on the front of the PDF include Halcrow, the engineering consultants recently bought out by CH2M Hill and apparently struggling for work:

Pre-tax profits at Halcrow almost halved to £8.8m last year on sales of £468m, down from £508m the year before. Projects were cancelled or put on hold and margins came under pressure in the UK and the Middle East, the company’s biggest markets.

So clearly no interest in promoting hugely expensive long term transport projects there.

The third contributor, Volterra, is of course Bridget Rosewell, aka the GLA’s highly thought of economics guru Boris inherited and who pulls in a nice wedge for advising him.  It’s something of an inside job, therefore, since Rosewell is also on the Boris-appointed Thames Estuary Steering Group, whose meeting minutes you’ll find on the GLA website mentioned above as well as being involved in making the PR case for High Speed 2 and prior to that, Crossrail’s byzantine funding package.

Let’s examine the Steering Group’s work a bit. They’ve held four meetings:

  • 4/12/2009
  • 4/2/2010
  • 29/4/2010
  • 20/5/2010

since when, like an A320 flying into a flock of estuarine geese, silence has descended.  Does the last set of minutes offer any clue to why this high powered group of people have apparently packed it in?


Well, first off those present included both Boris and TfL Deputy Chairman Daniel ‘Frequent Flyer’ Moylan, so you can’t say he’s not taking a personal interest here.  Secondly, the presence of the construction industry’s pet MP Nick Raynsford (Lab, Greenwich) isn’t a surprise, since I suspect he eats bricks and drinks concrete.  Thirdly, Terry Farrell, who has long had his own megalomaniacal schemes for the area, must now be seen as a competitor to Lord Foster, so it’s interesting to note that Volterra has now been involved with both.

What else? Well, considering the assembled talent, there doesn’t seem to have been an awful lot of action taken.  The presence of Baroness Valentine of the business pressure group London First may explain this note of sanity:

‘..from a business perspective it was more about journey time to an airport rather than actual location’

which could be translated as ‘don’t put the damn thing halfway to Holland, for God’s sake’ and may explain the subsequent western migration of the site.  Valentine is also on record as welcoming the subsequent washing of hands by the Coalition of the whole Thames Gateway thing and, in point of fact, handing much of it to Boris.
Characteristically, Boris didn’t hang about for the tricky detail:

The group agreed that an understanding of the long term economic impacts of aviation in the south east was important when investigating different options and that this could  be examined as a side study. [The Mayor left the meeting at this stage]

Bless. Probably had to choose the moquette for the bus or the shade of paint for the cable car or something equally vital.

A final indication that the desperate tactic of trying to get the Thames Gateway moving by handing it to Boris might not be crowned with success comes from this:

It was reiterated that thinking outside the box was very important.

That someone thought this important enough to minute for posterity does suggest that this whole thing was something of a talking shop.  After 1hr 45 minutes of this they broke up at 3:45pm with no date for the next meeting.  There is still no date for the next meeting.


3 Responses to What Happened To The Thames Estuary Steering Group?

  1. Sean Baggaley says:

    So you’re happy with keeping the status quo, then? London is unusual in having a ring of tiny regional airports, none of which are all that easy to get to unless you already live nearby. Or are happy to throw money at mini-cabs or taxis.

    I’ll grant, Boris himself is about as effective as a chocolate teapot, but Doug Oakervee’s report makes a pretty good case for what would be essentially a ‘free’ airport. (Note that the whole crux of his report is that there’s a lot more infrastructure needed out in that neck of the woods, including at least one new—preferably _untolled_—Thames crossing, which is well beyond urgent already. The need to replace the Thames Barrier sometime in the next 20-30 years is another reason. Nobody’s suggesting the new airport be built tomorrow!)

    Furthermore, Heathrow has a reputation for offering a terrible passenger experience. If you’re not flying with BA, you’re faced with labyrinthine terminals, ridiculously long distances between gates and terminus facilities, and more. It really is a truly awful airport. It’s also very obvious now that it’s unlikely ever to get any more runways, which makes it a very _dangerous_ airport too. It’s an accident waiting to happen.

    Heathrow Airport is in a bloody stupid location—slap-bang in the middle of London’s suburbia—and would actually make for a prime redevelopment site—imagine Docklands, but with the transport infrastructure already in place! With the huge pressure London already has for new housing, this is a perfect opportunity to build some. At the same time, it could also provide a new, western, focus for businesses (preferably NOT in the financial sector), such as IT and media.

    And the notion of an airport to the east of London isn’t even new: it’s been talked about since the 1970s, back when people first began to realise that Heathrow was something of a planning blunder.

    If not an Estuary Airport, then where? Where else can you build such a massive piece of infrastructure without turfing hundreds of people out of house and home? The only other options that are even remotely plausible are the “London Oxford” proposal (where a new, 4-runway airport would be built out near Didcot), or the present suggestion to connect Heathrow with Gatwick using High Speed Rail—which is a bizarre choice given that the Brighton Main Line is already very close to capacity and in dire need of another route into London. HSR to Gatwick alone won’t fix that: you’d need to build it all the way to Brighton!

    London Heathrow Airport is nearing the _end_ of its useful life. It cannot expand further. Locals are demanding less and less noise. It has to limit night flights. It is at capacity. Even if every single flight into the airport uses Airbus A380s, replacement, or downgrading, are its _only_ viable options for the medium term.

    Given how long it took for T4 and T5 to get approval, it makes good sense to start the early studies, reviews, and, eventual planning processes started sooner rather than later. The processes can take _decades_.

    And no, HS2 won’t change this.

  2. John Walker says:

    Quote .from a business perspective it was more about journey time to an airport rather than actual location’ Unquote

    I have submitted two reports to TfL, HS2 Consultation, and several other organisations for a proposed solution, called the Very High Speed Train (VHST), to all of the problems associated with HS2 and how to make the Thames Estuary Airport economically viable by using the VHST scheme instead of the HS2.
    VHST is 67% of the cost of HS2, and now approaching 60% of HS2 with the recent announced cost increases of HS2. VHST is twice the speed of HS2, and gives a 10 minute journey time from Heathrow to Thames Estuary Airport or the Isle of Grain Airport.
    It seems there is a fixation with HS2 and little desire to think “out of the box.”

  3. Geronimo says:

    I REFUTE the claim that Justine Greening has EVER travelled on the tube.

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