14 JULY 2014

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Article from BTNews 14 JULY 2014

Airports Commission update special

Last week the Airport Commission published four complex documents discussing the possibilities of a Thames Estuary hub joining the Gatwick and Heathrow shortlist.  These covered ‘environmental impacts’ (232 pages), ‘operational feasibility’ (103 pages), 'socio-economic impacts' (112 pages) and ‘surface access’ (169 pages). 

Comments are required by 8 August.  A decision on 'Boris Island' is expected during the autumn.

The four reports all seem to come to one conclusion.

Val Shawcross, the Labour spokeswoman in the London Assembly, summed it up: "The idea of a Thames Estuary airport has long been dead in the water, but if a final nail in the coffin was needed, this is surely it.  "Boris [Johnson] has wasted millions of pounds on this vanity project.”

The environmental report, which came out on 8 July in advance of the other three, said an airport would "radically and irreversibly" change the landscape, which is "noted for its remoteness" and stated that impact studies lasting many years would be needed.  It could cost up to £2bn to provide alternative habitats for wildlife if the airport was built. 

It noted: "An airport would need to demonstrate that there are no feasible alternatives.” 

The second one covered the operational feasibility, from flood risk and bird strikes to the removal of SS Richard Montgomery ship wreck and the liquefied natural gas facility on the Isle of Grain.

The wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery is 5km from the airport perimeter.  The 1944 munitions vessel contains explosives that have been deemed too high risk and too costly to remove, potentially requiring evacuation of the local area for weeks or even months.

A buoy marked "Danger" protects the wreck of the bomb-laden ship a few hundred yards from the Isle of Grain.

It concluded that although the topics addressed in the report offer “significant but perhaps not insurmountable challenges and risks” on their own, when considered altogether they present “a substantial risk that would incur large costs, in the order of billions of pounds, to appropriately manage.”

It also looked at the attitudes towards the airport and found that “with the exception of Kent businesses, all stakeholders considered the Estuary airport scheme to carry significantly more risk than opportunity.”

The paper on the socio-economic impact of an estuary airport concluded that “Heathrow will need to close in order to make an inner estuary airport commercially viable.”

The owners of Heathrow would expect to receive between £13.5bn and £21.5bn in compensation.

Locally, however, an airport would generate 98,000 additional jobs by 2030 across six local authorities, a 23.5% increase in the current forecast.  But the report warned that this may be constrained by housing availability, labour supply, availability of land and access.

The final report on surface access considered the possible road and rail routes needed for an estuary airport.

There are four viable rail options varying in cost from £9.8bn to £26.9bn, but in terms of engineering feasibility “there would be significant challenges to overcome to provide a successful rail package.”

The M25, M2 and the A2 would all have to be widened at a cost of £10.1bn to £17.2bn.

The proposals have faced opposition from councillors and MPs in Kent and Medway. 

Rehman Chishti, Conservative MP for Gillingham and Rainham, said: "This new report confirms everything that we in Medway have been saying – the local authority, the residents – that the idea of having an airport in the estuary will have huge environmental implications for the South East and also for the area locally, and is unsustainable."

But Daniel Moylan, the Mayor of London's chief advisor on aviation, insists the estuary option should be shortlisted: "Few large scale infrastructure projects avoid significant costs for environmental considerations, but our estimate is that the cost of providing new habitat would be £500m, a quarter of that quoted by the Airports Commission.

"More importantly, their report confirms that every environmental objection can be answered, every obstacle can be overcome and there is nothing in the evidence published that should prevent the estuary option being shortlisted in September.”  https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/airports-commission

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