As part of yourHeathrow’s ongoing coverage of the UK airport capacity and expansion debate we’re taking a look at one of the major players, London Mayor, Boris Johnson and his plan for “Boris Island”.
What is Boris Island?
“Boris Island” is the term coined by media commentators for one of the proposals for a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary area, championed by Boris Johnson. As part of the estimated £80 billion plan, of which, at least £25 billion pounds would be taxpayer funded, a four-runway new “hub” airport would be built in the mouth of the Thames Estuary effectively replacing Heathrow when finished in 2034. Boris Island is only one of several locations within the Thames Estuary area being explored.
Due to its undeveloped and slightly remote location, the Thames Estuary proposal provides basically a blank canvas for construction and development of a new hub airport. With plenty of space for four runways, if people, businesses and airlines can be convinced or made to move there, the airport won’t have capacity constraints in the foreseeable future. Another argument being put forward by those campaigning for the proposal is that it will reduce pollution for London residents due to its position east of the city, and the prevailing easterly winds in city.
While a blank canvas makes the design process easier, the lack of any transport infrastructure in the area currently represents an enormous cost to the taxpayer within the at least £25 billion estimated public contribution. Another significant con is the time required to build and develop the area (up until 2034) while other hub competitors (Amsterdam’s Schiphol, Frankfurt International Airport, Madrid Barajas etc) continue to provide increasing economic benefits to their nations through more connections to emerging economies, particularly in Asia.
Other cons of the proposal include:
- The need to build over 30,000, or nearly ten-times as many houses built in all of Kent last year, if even one-third of workers at and around Heathrow moved to the Thames Estuary airport.
- Established airlines and businesses would incur large costs in moving their operations, equipment and employees to remain in proximity of a new hub;
- Damage to the native environment and rare wildlife within up to five separate Special Protection Areas;
- Greater travel times between the airport and London for more passengers compared to other options;
- High risks of bird strikes on planes.
- The need to negotiate for use of Dutch airspace in the area.
What’s Boris saying about it?
“The objective of the investigation is to find a solution that gives us a four-runway hub and, preferably, a 24-hour, four-runway hub, which is what our competitors are going for and already have in many cases. That is why “Boris Island” so-called, the inner estuary solution and Stansted are the current options that TFL-Transport for London-has so far identified and is looking at just because those are the three that seem best able to produce that solution.”
What’s Heathrow saying about the issue?
“Expanding Heathrow will put Britain ahead in the global race, connecting UK business to growth more quickly and at less cost to the taxpayer than any other option for new capacity. Heathrow is better located for passengers, business and jobs. Why build from scratch at a new hub when we can build on the strength that already exists around Heathrow today?” – Colin Matthews, Heathrow CEO.
What others saying about the Thames Estuary proposal…
“We looked closely at the three main options by which the UK could increase its hub airport capacity. Research we commissioned made plain that building an entirely new hub airport east of London could not be done without huge public investment in new ground transport infrastructure. Evidence to our inquiry also showed a substantial potential impact on wildlife habitat in the Thames Estuary.” - Louise Ellman, Chairman of the House of Commons Transport Committee.
“At £50bn, it would require up to £30bn in public subsidies, which is hard to justify when public money is scarce. Much of this cash would be needed to build rail and road links to the airport. Heathrow would have to be shut to ensure that passengers migrate to the new airport – a huge disruption for the many businesses located around the old hub.” - The Financial Times.
“There is no “right”, self-evident, politically safe answer – Boris Island is vastly expensive and would take forever; neither Gatwick nor Stansted are easy to expand; and Heathrow would be a big political U-turn, probably causing resignations. Yet something needs to be done.” – Jackie Ashley, The Guardian
Later this week we’ll have a look at the Davies Commission, exploring what it is, why the UK needs it, and what it means for the future. Got a question about The UK Capacity Debate? Leave a comment or tweet us @yourHeathrow.
Also check out part one of our UK Capacity Debate coverage – Heathrow: Best placed for Britain’s future?