In response to the UK Airports Commission's call for evidence, Foster + Partners has released a detailed feasibility study supporting their plans for a new airport on the Isle of Grain in the Thames Estuary. Their plan proposes a four-runway airport built on a 35 square kilometre platform constructed partially in the mouth of the Thames. The scheme is popularly called "Boris Island" thanks to its most prominent supporter, Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
Norman Foster said "Since the Airports Commission submission a year ago, the need for increased airport capacity has become even more urgent. It is time to get serious about the issue of airport capacity. Britain needs an effective long-term solution, not the usual short-term fix that is Heathrow’s proposed third runway. London today needs to follow in the footsteps of its nineteenth-century forebears and invest boldly in infrastructure. Only long-term thinking will properly serve the demands of our future generations."
Read on for a breakdown of the information contained in the report
The study sheds light on a number of factors in the decision, arguing that the new airport is a significantly better option than the plan to add a third runway to Heathrow Airport in the West of London. Heathrow already has a significant problem with noise pollution, and the report argues that adding a third runway, combined with the increasing population in the UK's capital, would in the future put up to a million residents within the airport's noise footprint.
By contrast, the Thames Estuary Airport is located in a less populated area and would allow planes to take off and land over water, significantly reducing the number of people affected by the noise. Furthermore, it would allow Heathrow to be closed and developed into a new town on the edge of London, an idea which Boris Johnson has already supported by commissioning ideas from three architects earlier this month.
The report also focuses on connectivity, highlighting that Europe is ideally placed as a hub for the major cities of the world - with 94% of global GDP produced within a 13 hour flight of London. Currently the UK is falling behind its local competitors thanks to airports in Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, but the report predicts that the new airport could comfortably cater for 167 million people a year, far higher than the predicted capacity for a three-runway Heathrow which could cater for 130 million - a calculation which the report claims is based on running at an unsustainable 98% capacity.
Furthermore the report highlights the proposed airport's proximity to major transport connections, with only a short railway spur required to connect it to the high-speed channel-crossing HS1 railway, as well as local and regional railways. The travel time to central London by train is predicted at 26 minutes.
Another focus is the cost of the development, with a calculation costing construction of the new airport at just under £15 billion (just under £20 billion including all associated costs), which is not significantly higher than the £11 billion required for a single new runway at Heathrow, and significantly lower than the £112 billion price tag estimated by some. It also debunks another myth about the development, saying a new airport would not require the closure of Southend and City Airports - something which the Echo Reports is costing the idea half of its supporters.
However, the report does admit that the proposed airport would have an effect on the local environment, and the estuary habitat would need to be replaced elsewhere. The report offers three precedents which show how this habitat replacement can effectively be achieved.
The final decision by the Airports Commission is expected next year, however an interim report from December revealed that Foster + Partners' plans were not on the shortlist.