May 25 2013 Latest news:
By Marijke Cox, Reporter
Friday, August 3, 2012
Better options could spell the end of controversial plan
The idea of a Thames estuary airport is not new.
Looking back over the last decade, the site has been outlined several times as a possible solution to the south east’s growing aviation needs.
And taking it back even further, the north Kent coast has been the focus for airport plans since as early as 1943.
It’s likely that even if the latest ambitious proposals, one by architect Lord Foster on Grain and the other by London Mayor Boris Johnson on reclaimed land in the estuary, are scrapped, the plan will be back on the table before campaigners have time to dig out their placards.
Anti-airport protesters quite rightly state that unless a viable alternative is put forward, plans for an estuary airport near or even on the north Kent coast will never go away.
But it’s whether any of the proposed alternatives will convince the Government they can provide what a multi-billion pound new hub airport can provide.
In its discussion document Bold Steps for Aviation, Kent County Council stressed that action must be taken to meet increasing capacity demands.
“Adjusting schedules and changing flight slots will not solve Heathrow’s lack of capacity but neither will building a new multi-runway hub airport in the Thames estuary which cannot be delivered in time to stop the UK’s continued slide against its competitors,” a spokesman said.
“The UK needs to be able to connect with emerging markets now and the quickest way of addressing this is to build on our current aviation infrastructure.
“No action is not an option.”
This was echoed in a report by consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff Ltd for the South East Local Enterprise Partnership.
Aside from the devastating impact an estuary airport would have on the environment and the safety risks linked to bird strike, a major argument is the length of time it would take to build – around 15 years - and the money, at least £50bn including the additional infrastructure.
Alternative options already have the advantage of being likely to take significantly less time.
These options will form the basis of the upcoming aviation consultation, due to be launched by the Government in the autumn.
The first and most high profile of these is a third runway at Heathrow, an almost equally as controversial prospect as the estuary airport, which has seen the coalition split.
The Lib Dems are against such expansion, but a number of senior Tories, including Chancellor George Osborne, are warming to the idea.
David Cameron hinted at a u-turn after previously ruling out a third runway, which raised hopes this could put the final nail in the coffin to estuary hub plans.
But Boris Johnson is continuing to push for an estuary airport.
Other alternatives to this include the addition of a second runway at Gatwick, an idea attacked by Tonbridge and Malling MP Sir John Stanley.
He wrote to KCC, which included this option in its aviation document, stating it would have environmentally devastating consequences for west Kent.
Another alternative to the estuary airport, repeatedly being brought up, is for the use of existing airports, such as Manston in Thanet and Lydd in Shepway.
KCC called for further development of these regional airports, but others have argued this would be no substitute to a hub airport.
However, a new campaign group calling itself “Why not Manston?” is hoping to raise the profile of the Thanet airport in the hope it will become a serious option in the aviation consultation.
A spokesman for the group said: “Manston could be a major airport in the south east and help relieve the strain on the other airports in the area.”
Other options are to improve rail connectivity to main airports, which the Government is already committing to do in south west England and Wales with a £500m investment.
Aviation capacity will be discussed later this year in the long-awaited, previously delayed consultation, with a decision expected next year.
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