Britain considers €60bn Thames airport to meet demand

BRITAIN may build a £50 billion (€60.5bn) airport on the mudflats of the Thames estuary instead of expanding Heathrow as the government examines how to meet burgeoning demand for flights.

Options for boosting capacity include the new base east of the capital, prime minister David Cameron’s office said yesterday. Construction of a third runway at Heathrow remains off the agenda.

With Europe’s busiest hub operating at the limits of runway capacity and hemmed in by urban sprawl, London mayor Boris Johnson has led a campaign for a new site at the mouth of the Thames.

British Airways said more flights are needed but that a new airport may not be feasible and would damage existing links.

“A Thames Estuary hub would be an extremely complex project with many technical, operational, environmental and financial hurdles. It would require the closure of Heathrow, which would have profound effects on jobs and business locations in west London, the M4 motorway corridor and the Thames Valley.”

A document setting out a framework for British aviation policy is to be published in the spring.

Boris Johnson said yesterday that sovereign wealth funds will be “only too happy” to invest in a project — dubbed “Boris Island” by the British media — which he says is key to London retaining its status as a global city.

Heathrow “is fundamentally in the wrong place”, he added, with the government “absolutely right to start looking at a more imaginative solution”.

While Cameron has given his provisional backing to the project, according to reports, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, is against it. Mr Clegg’s Liberal Democrats has opposed all airport expansion in southeast England on environmental grounds.

BAA, Heathrow’s owner, said its own hub will need to be expanded whether or not a new airport is built elsewhere.

“Aviation capacity constraints are damaging the UK economy. A new airport in the Thames Estuary would cost up to £50 billion and take decades to build. During this time we would be handing over on a plate the UK’s historic trade advantages. Growth can’t wait.”

Billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways said that a quicker fix is needed. “The government should consider all the possible options, not just a Thames Estuary airport. The UK needs one strong and viable hub, and the impact on jobs and business of moving this away from west London must be considered.”

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