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An airport in the Thames Estuary?

The issue: Should we expand Heathrow and Stansted or build a new airport in the Thames Estuary? 

The facts: The government recognises that air travel is increasing across the globe and the UK must adapt or lose out to foreign competitors. The current plans are for two new runways to be built in the South East, at Heathrow and at Stansted Airport. 

The new runway at Stansted Airport is planned to have its first flight by 2017. With two terminals, Stansted is estimated to have 68 million passengers by 2030. In January this year, Heathrow's third runway was granted the go ahead by the government. The new terminal will be able to have 35 million passengers each year. 

Thames Estuary Airport Company Limited (TEACO) offers an alternative, build a new offshore airport. The current plan is for the airport to be built on a man made island, 47 miles from central London and 5km north of Minister, Isle of Sheppey. The airport would have 4 runways and operate 24 hours a day. 

The case for Heathrow and Stansted expansion over a Thames Estuary alternative: The expansion of Heathrow and Stansted Airport will create thousands of jobs. BAA estimate that the new runway at Heathrow will create 50,000 jobs and the second runway at Stansted will create 13,000 jobs. 

The new runways at Stansted and Heathrow will bring about further investments in public transport. For instance, BAA is currently planning 'Heathrow Airtrack', which will link the South and West of England to Heathrow by a fast rail network. 

According to BAA, Heathrow airport is operating at 99% capacity, with no current room for growth. BAA argues that we're already losing out to foreign competitors, such as Amsterdam, which offer many more destinations than Heathrow. 

The new runway at Heathrow has a high-profile supporter group, Future Heathrow. Members of Future Heathrow include MPs, Peers, businesses and the trade union Unite. 

The main objection to an offshore airport on the Thames Estuary is concerns of damages to the surrounding environment. The RSPB note that 200,000 migrating birds visit the Thames Estuary every year and the new airport would have a negative impact on their welfare.

 The offshore airport is currently not supported by the any of the main political parties. The Shadow Transport Minister recently stated that if the Conservatives win the next election, they will not support TEACO's proposed airport. 

The case for an airport in the Thames Estuary: Expansion of Heathrow and Stansted will create further noise pollution. Campaigners against both airports note that this has a massive impact on communities surrounding the airport, including children's learning at schools and disrupting sleep patterns. 

Stop Stansted Expansion argue that increasing the size of Stansted Airport to a similar size to Heathrow would have a devastating effect on the local communities, changing the lifestyle and feel of the area forever. 

There maybe no need for a new runway at Stansted or Heathrow. The Guardian noted that passengers using the airport had decreased by 6% last year. The campaign group Airport Watch state that flight and passenger numbers are steadily decreasing at Heathrow airport. BAA blames the recession.

To construct new runways at Stansted and Heathrow, many listed and residential buildings would have to be knocked down. Expanding Stansted Airport would result in the loss of 13 listed buildings and 73 homes. The campaign group Stop Heathrow Expansion state that the consequence of a new runway would be the loss of 750 homes and local schools. 

The London Mayor Boris Johnson believes the best solution to our increasing aviation demands is an offshore airport. Boris Johnson writes in his blog, 'There are plenty of people - an increasing number of passionate enthusiasts - who believe we can find a site in the Thames Estuary that presents a minimal threat to bird life, or north Kent marginal seats, and which is nowhere near an unexploded munitions ship, and that could be connected to London by high-speed rail'. 

TEACO's website notes the following advantages of an off-shore London airport:

  • Demand for flights is increasing. TEACO predict that by 2030 aviation travel will increase in the UK from 180 million passengers to 500 million passengers. The new airport will be able to meet the predicated demands.
  • Noise pollution will be minimal, as the airport will be situated in a non-residential area.
  • The airport will be fully accessible by road and rail. TEACO proposes that it will be connected to London by a high speed rail service and also linked to the A249. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link could also be used to connect passengers to the airport.
  • The new airport will need no government investment. TEACO have already secured funding from private investors.
  • Recent estimates suggest that the airport would create between 100,000-200,000 jobs. 

Have your say: What do you think about this proposal? Would you like to see an airport in the Thames Estuary?  What do you think about airport expansion?

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