Aviation experts rubbish Thames estuary replacement for Heathrow

Replacing Heathrow with a new hub airport east of London would raise many more problems than supporters of the project suggest, an aviation seminar in London heard yesterday.

Chris Chalk, director of aviation at engineering and development consultancy Mott MacDonald, said: “People have written off Heathrow without fully comprehending its importance.

“Moving elsewhere means Heathrow must close otherwise the hub won’t move. It means losing London’s biggest employment site.”

Chalk told the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum: “It would be like a heart transplant, with all the risk of that.”

Medway Council director of regeneration, community and culture Robin Cooper said: “Forty thousand people with homes or livelihoods in the area [of the new airport] would be displaced.

“We build about 750 houses a year in Medway. The airport would require 170,000.”

Cooper said: “There are massive environmental problems: 300,000 birds live in the Thames estuary. The chance of a bird strike would be 12 times that at any other UK airport.

“There are 1,400 tonnes of unexploded bombs in a [sunken] ship at the end of one ‘runway’. One fifth of UK gas comes into a terminal by the side of the airport [site].”

He argued: “It is the most-congested place in the UK. Everyone who came through the airport would have to go through or around London. It seems illogical to put the UK’s biggest airport in the most-crowded bit of the country.”

Birmingham Airport head of government and industry affairs John Morris argued there were problems with both options. He said: “A third runway at Heathrow would account for just 7% of UK aviation capacity by 2050.

“The implication is you would have to build a fourth and a fifth runway. Let’s be honest about that.”

However, Morris said: “If you built a Thames estuary airport you would need a city the size of Manchester to support it in an area that already requires five new reservoirs.”

He argued: “You could take out 10% of capacity at Heathrow if Birmingham served passengers where they are [because] 3.3 million passengers a year clog roads travelling from the Midlands to Heathrow.”

Cooper quoted a Deutsche Bank report on the proposal to replace Heathrow, which concluded: “The costs are vastly underestimated. It will take a lot more public funding than has been acknowledged.”

Chalk warned: “The amount of scrutiny from competing airports as to whether any Thames estuary airport received a public subsidy would be intense.”

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