Having raked over the dead past a bit, let’s see how Lord Foster’s fresh ideas pan out against the usual checklist of Thames Estuary Airport talking points:

  1. Birdstrikes – since ‘seabirds’ are actually shorebirds the further out the better. Foster’s site is right on the shoreline and explicitly goes out of its way to preserve the seabird habitats, right along the western approaches to the runways where planes will usually be taking off.  Captain Sullenberger, possibly the only man who can be relied on to cope with this sort of thing, has unfortunately retired.
  2. Access – the requirement is usually expressed as four-track railway, preferably two of them high speed, plus two motorways as Heathrow currently has.  Foster apparently really likes drawing lines on maps and there’s a bold slashing of high speed rail all over the place including a Home Counties high speed bypass of London neatly avoiding, er, London.  It’s not entirely clear what the point of this is, other than to allow a lot of guff about ‘Spines’ – the ostensible reason that the best way from the Midlands to Europe is via Epping and Sheerness rather than London doesn’t really strike me as particularly well thought out.  Furthermore it’s more than a bit slapdash to assume that the ‘regional and local’ rail line doesn’t need to go to the nearest major town of Gillingham, instead following the existing freight branch which meanders off westwards towards Gravesend.
  3. New town – required to house 70,000 airport workers and their families with adequate transport, amenities, public services.  Not really addressed here.  Also not really addressed here is that the site of the airport is mostly not the estuary or even the mudflats but the Hoo Peninsula, which has a number of villages on it including All-Hallows, population 1649, with the eastern end occupying much of the Isle of Grain, which currently has a massive gas import facility which one presumes would have to be moved somewhere.  So that’s an order for enough land for 70,000 workers, their families, schools and hospitals, a few thousand displaced locals, a couple of power stations and a gas import facility.  Any offers from Kent residents to have that lot put down next to you?
  4. SS Richard Montgomery explosive shipwreck – conventional wisdom is that you either pick a site miles away or budget in removing the thing.  Foster contents himself with planting his airport runways 4km west of the wreck, directly between the final approach paths to the four runways.  Bold, outside-the-box thinking there.  It’s all a good laugh until someone hits a flock of gulls on takeoff and parks his Airbus on top of the wreck.
  5. Environment – Boris was sold the idea on the basis that the airport site would allow ‘a 24-hour operation, with no disturbance’.  Lord Foster’s site, 2.5km west of Sheerness, 5km south-east of Canvey Island, east of Gravesend and Tilbury would put 24 hour operations near some quite large populated areas.  It’s also 4km across water from the end of Southend Pier, sound carries and airports make lousy neighbours for other reasons too, such as air and light pollution.  Note: the CGI image of the airport from the east drastically shortens the Pier.
  6. Flightpaths – with the prevailing winds the widebodies heading east to the ‘Asian economies’ beloved of airport pushers are going to have to turn 180 degrees and climb, slowly, right along the north bank of the river and over the well populated bits of Essex around Basildon.  Anything heading to Europe goes the other way, over Gillingham.  Anything heading across the Atlantic now has to cross the London area, possibly via some kind of aerial M25
  7. Support – other than the starchitects, wannabees and construction industry mouthpieces there’s really very little support for the idea (I haven’t seen the airlines exactly queuing up and BAA are still pushing Heathrow expansion), and the local politicians of both main parties remain uniformly negative.

Indeed, what stands out of the Foster plan isn’t so much a bright future for London as a distaste for the place – the emphasis is essentially on avoiding the city the airport is supposed to serve.  Naturally the Mayor is delighted:

Mr Johnson, who believes a new Thames airport would solve the South-East’s growing aviation crisis, told the Standard: “I am delighted that a distinguished figure like Lord Foster agrees that the answer to Britain’s aviation needs lies in the estuary.”

Well, somewhere in the estuary, at least.  The site of Foster’s airport is about 20km from the site of Boris’s famous dredger jaunt.  At this rate the next site Boris will be hailing will be on Potters Fields, and he still won’t be getting the message.


10 Responses to So, Lord Foster, About This Airport Idea…

  1. Sean Baggaley says:

    The “Estuary Airport” project I support is that proposed by Doug Oakervee, not Lord Foster of Willywaving. Architects really shouldn’t be doing town planning or engineering projects. There’s a reason why those jobs require their own qualifications.

    Foster is not the first to suggest a Hoo Peninsula airport and your criticisms against that are perfectly valid. However, they are NOT valid criticisms of the Oakervee proposal, which actually makes a lot of sense…

    1. Birdstrikes caused by waterbirds (other types of birds also exist) are a problem at Heathrow too, or did you not notice all those large reservoirs dotted around it? If bird strikes are not a problem there, why would they be a problem at an estuarine airport? Especially one built entirely on artificial islands as Oakervee’s report suggested? Validity: nil.

    2. Access. HS1 already has ample scope for a branch running out to the (Oakervee) airport site, diverging from the present line just before it plunges under the QE2 bridge and under the Thames to Northfleet.

    Now, given the plans to “solve” Kent’s rail infrastructure problems by just squeezing more and more local trains up and down HS1—heaven forfend anyone actually spends any money sorting the unholy mess out—there’s an obvious problem looking: those Javelin trains only run at 140 mph., so each one takes up more ‘slots’ than a Eurostar, making for inefficient use of the line. Building a loop from HS1 via the new airport, under the Thames, and the Medway Towns, would provide some much-needed relief, as well as opening up some useful destinations. (The Medway Towns, combined, are bigger than Brighton. Surely they deserve a sub-1hr. train service to London via an airport too?)

    Furthermore, there have been *repeated* demands—not requests!—from Kent and Essex residents for more, and better, Thames crossings. Not just rail either, but road too. There is currently a proposal for a cross-Thames road linking the M20, A2/M2 and M11 via a tunnel east of Gravesend. This would provide one improvement in infrastructure, but there are also demands for crossings further out. Given the other projects Oakervee has proposed for the area, another road link is perfectly sensible, and would also help reduce the overloading of the present Dartford crossings by HGVs, most of which are _not_ trying to get into London!

    3. “New Town”. Hello? Thames Gateway Project, anyone? What do you think they’re building over there between Northfleet and Bluewater? A branch off the existing classic line south of the Thames to the new airport would likely be needed—remember that “four tracks” requirement—so these people would be able to get to work by train too.

    4. SS Richard Montgomery: This wreck is now officially recognised as a danger to shipping and is likely to have been removed long before construction on any part of the Oakervee proposal begins. The wreck is rotting and increasingly unstable. REGARDLESS of whether anything is built anywhere near it, it HAS to be removed.

    5. N/A to the Oakervee proposal; he answers all the issues quite clearly in his report.

    6. Flightpaths from the Oakervee site would not be over any major urban areas. Yes, some paths would take planes back over the UK, but Heathrow isn’t perfect there either, and more runways = less ‘stacking’ of airplanes, thus inherently reducing the noise above towns in the vicinity as planes wouldn’t be circling for ages waiting for permission to land!

    7. Oakervee cited a number of Arab interests who were even willing to pay *all* the costs of the airport project.

    No, BAA would not be pleased, but they’re a Spanish-owned facilities operator who were forced to sell Gatwick and have been left with only LHR and Stansted Airport serving London. Any new airport anywhere *near* Kent or Essex would likely result in the closure or downgrading of _both_ their properties, so it’s hardly surprising they have a vested interest in not letting anything like this happen.

    Whose brilliant idea was it to privatise them again? Oh right: that’d be the bloody Tories.

  2. Ian Brooker says:

    Its easy to forget about freight. Heathrow is one of Britain’s biggest ports. It sometimes seems that the whole of West London is covered with businesses supplying Heathrow, servicing Heathrow, or trading through Heathrow. This includes “Silicon Valley” along the Thames.

    Is West London going to be replicated in Kent? Or will all the freight drive round the M25 to West London from Boris Island?

  3. AirResearcher says:

    I’ve just heard that the person advising Boris Johnson and Lrd Foster on this new Thames Estuary Airport is none other than John Olsen, who spectacularly failed to save Dan-Air from bankruptcy in 1991- which I witnessed first hand from literally a few feet away…and he seemed to be the only one who thought he had a clue what he was doing. I seem to remember his track record also included being at the helm of Cunard when the QE2 was going through a disastrous period…which I cant seem to find anywhere on the net oddly ….and someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he was one of the senior managers at Air Europe who also went bust in March 1991…good track record for someone starting a £15bn project? Daniel Moylan, deputy chairman of TfL is keeping a low profile on this having written the last set of recommendations for the Mayor. Could someone be wanting to make an insane amount of money on property development perhaps? http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/corporate/moylan-daniel-declaration-interests.pdf

  4. AirResearcher says:

    Some other points – the Arab Investment would almost certainly mean that Emirates and Qatar would get the lions share of the long haul business with their enormous orders for A380s. Would this create an overreliance on long haul traffic infrastructure which a\wants to make the main hubs in the middle east ( fairly close to the political flashpoints in the region)..and b\ would it make most UK airlines like Virgin unable to compete on equal terms ?
    Lastly Boris’s comment that this is a HUB contradicts what many are saying that this airport will have mainly very large aircraft. The whole point of hubs is to feed large long haul aircraft, so there will be plenty of regiona smaller aircraft flying in and out….as would have been the case if the 3rd runway could have gone ahead… which would have been MUCH easier and cheaper and more logical IMHO…

  5. Guano says:

    I think that the hub concept involves passengers and goods being fed into the airport by rail and motorway. onto large international airliners. That is why there are the lines on the map fanning out across SE England. However this isn’t clearly explained and raises a whole host of other issues.

  6. Building a new airport in the estuary is a challenging academic exercise for the architects and that’s where it should end. The greatest challenge for the future is how to convince the developed industrial countries to slow down and it’s got to be more than a academic exercise.The world financial crisis has exposed the dangers of growing economies without regard to the cost and we should listen to the message coming from St Paul’s demo.

  7. […] this case Boris appears to have had his head swayed by Fosters ‘beautiful scheme’ renderings of a site at Cliffe, and long memoried readers may recall […]

  8. […] representatives of Foster and Partners and Halcrow, whose grandiose scheme we’ve previously covered, and it seems that the PR blitz in November 2011 was a good while after the start of things: But it […]

  9. Geronimo says:

    The airport is a reflection on the ‘Boris years’ – lots of ideas which at first glance seem good – but once you do some proper research you see the pitfalls are greater than the benefits.

    …a bit like the reason Londoners elected him – it seemed like a good idea – but nobody considered how it would ACTUALLY work out.

    I mean this ‘hands off’ thing has resulted in bad planning and much public money wasted as Boris trusts so much to deputies and others (who it appears are largely untrustworthy)

  10. It’s impressive that you are getting ideas from this piece of writing as well as from our dialogue made here.

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