Thames Estuary airport rejection no surprise

Image copyright Foster and Partners
Image caption The airport plans on the Isle of Grain were designed by Lord Foster's architectural firm

Few people will have been surprised by the announcement that a hub airport in the Thames estuary will not now be one of the options considered by the government when it looks to increase aviation capacity.

The plan, championed by the London Mayor Boris Johnson, was certainly ambitious and always looked like it only ever had an outside chance of being adopted.

It would have led to the development of a four-runway airport on the Isle of Grain and was up against huge environmental issues.

Financially it was also seen to be prohibitive - with even the least ambitious version of the plans costing about £70m more than the other options.

Mr Johnson is - as you'd expect - deeply disappointed with the decision to rule out the estuary option, which he said was "a gigantic smokescreen for a U-turn on Heathrow".

He also said that politicians "have not got the guts" to admit the real reason for the estuary plan being rejected.

Mr Johnson said Sir Howard Davies had ruled out the estuary project "because he has not got the support in Whitehall to go ahead with it".

'Vanity project'

Image copyright PA
Image caption Boris Johnson has championed the Thames Estuary airport plan

Those who backed a new Thames estuary hub point to the fact it would have helped regenerate a deprived part of Kent and created thousands of jobs.

But Labour reacted strongly, saying that including the Thames estuary option in the Davies Commission was a waste of time and money.

The shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh added: "Time and public money should never have been spent on his vanity project whose costs have been put at up to £100bn.

"This back of a fag packet scheme was designed less for the country's economic future and more for the omnishables mayor's political ambitions."

The Davies Commission will now look at the three remaining options: building a third runway at Heathrow, constructing a second at Gatwick or lengthening the existing runway at Heathrow.

Arguably, the rejection will not damage Boris Johnson's reputation - he can claim to be a visionary politician who has opposed Heathrow expansion.

No closer

In recent days he has softened his stance on that issue too - suggesting Heathrow Airport could continue to exist as a secondary airport alongside a four-runway "Boris Island" hub on the Thames.estuary.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Isle of Grain is located on the Hoo Peninsula and is almost all marshland

His apparent U-turn on the decision will also be helpful to him when he stands as the Conservative candidate for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which would be affected by the job closures resulting from Heathrow's closure.

So, today we know that a brand new hub airport will not be built in the UK but we are no closer to knowing how the government plans to tackle the country's lack of aviation capacity.

This long and drawn out saga also shows no sign of reaching a conclusion any time soon, as the Howard Commission won't report back until after the next election.

And while hub airports are being expanded and developed elsewhere in Europe, Heathrow is running at almost 99% capacity.

There's a feeling amongst business leaders that whatever the decision on the future of aviation, it must be taken soon.

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