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Island airport bid fails as London aims to stay on top

02 september 2014, 22:48
0

  London mayor Boris Johnson's grand plan for a new airport in the Thames Estuary was rejected on Tuesday, leaving few options on the cards for the city to stay an international hub, AFP reports.

The Airports Commission turned down the idea in a report, with its director Howard Davies saying the island airport proposal had "attraction" but would be too costly and complicated.

Johnson had backed replacing Heathrow with the construction of four runways some 50 kilometres (31 miles) east of the city by 2030 -- a project referred to as "Boris Island".

Davies was quoted in the report saying the proposal would "remove the aviation noise nuisance from many west London residents" and would be far from residential areas.

But the report concluded that "in view of the obstacles to delivery, high costs and uncertain benefits we will not shortlist the scheme for further consideration".

Among the obstacles identified by the commission were the land expropriations that would be required, the need to protect wildlife in the area and the proximity of the site to a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility.

It also underlined the enormous cost of the work -- between £67 and 120 billion (85 and 152 billion euros, $110 and $198 billion).

The commission said some expenses could be offset by selling Heathrow and potentially the new airport itself but the cost to the taxpayer would still be £30 to 60 billion.

"We are not persuaded that a very large airport in the Thames Estuary is the right answer to London's and the UK's connectivity needs," Davies said.

 'Myopic' decision 

Johnson criticised the commission's findings as "myopic" and lacking in a long-term vision.

"The Airports Commission has set the debate back by half a century and consigned their work to the long list of vertically filed reports on aviation expansion that are gathering dust on a shelf in Whitehall," he said.

The three options left on the table are either building a new runway at Heathrow or expanding an existing one or alternatively enlarging Gatwick.

Johnson said Gatwick was "not a long-term solution" and expanding Heathrow "would create unbelievable levels of noise, blight and pollution".

The mayor, who wants to run for parliament in next year's general election and is rumoured to have ambitions to replace Prime Minister David Cameron as Conservative leader, also argued a new airport to the east of London would create "jobs and growth".

A final political decision is only due by the end of the next parliament, which would be in 2020, and construction is planned to be completed by 2030.

The aim is to retain London's status as the world's top international air travel hub.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) lobby group has warned that London Heathrow is under pressure from competition from Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris for lucrative emerging market destinations like the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

Heathrow is the world's biggest airport in terms of passenger traffic, with 67.3 million transiting through in 2013.

by Patrice NOVOTNY


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