The U.K.’s Airports Commission just rejected Foster + Partners‘ plans for a new international airport in England’s Thames Estuary. The proposal was designed to alleviate air traffic from Heathrow Airport – which is Europe’s biggest air hub and is currently operating at full capacity. Foster + Partners’ plan was strongly supported by London’s mayor Boris Johnson, who labeled the Commission “myopic” and “irrelevant” in his fury at the decision. The decision leaves only expansion plans for Gatwick and Heathrow airports as alternative options.
London’s Heathrow Airport is Europe’s biggest air hub – and it’s currently operating at full capacity. In explaining its decision, the Commission stated that the estuary proposal has “substantial disadvantages that collectively outweigh its potential benefits.” Commission chairman, Sir Howard Davies, stated, “The economic disruption would be huge and there are environmental hurdles which it may prove impossible, or very time‑consuming to surmount. Even the least ambitious version of the scheme would cost £70 billion to £90 billion (approximately $115.5 billion to $148.5 billion), with much greater public expenditure involved than in other options — probably some £30 billion to £60 billion in total.”
But supporters of the estuary proposal say the decision is shortsighted and fails to take into account the long-term capacity restrictions of the existing airports. They insist that the estuary solution will be faster to achieve than the alternatives and would not have substantial cost differences compared to the options still under consideration. Architect Lord Foster said: “I predict that Londoners will be scathing in their condemnation of today’s announcement, when confronted with the inevitability of the blighting influence of Heathrow — the risks, noise and environmental impact of overflying London — and its inability to cope with predicted growth. They will ask why there was not even the courage to further explore — to study — to research — a strategic long-term alternative to the instant gratification of a sadly predictable compromise. Adding a third runway at Heathrow is merely a short-term fix — it will inevitably lead to a fourth runway in order to maintain international hub status.”
The Commission now has three remaining options to choose from. Under discussion are lengthening one of Heathrow’s existing runways so it can be used as two runways, building a third runway to Heathrow’s north-west, or building a second runway at London Gatwick. The Commission will reserve making a decision until after the U.K.’s general election next year and insists it has not already made its choice and that commissioners want to make a decision that will stick.
Images by Foster + Partners