With a new report, London Mayor and Conservative MP Boris Johnson has re-pitched his Thames Estuary Transport Hub, dubbed “Boris Island” by some, as an alternative to additional runways at Gatwick and Heathrow Airports. The project is in a similar vein to the Riker's Island La Guardia airport expansion proposed by Jim Venturi.
The proposal, initially launched in 2013, was masterplanned by Norman Foster. With other major infrastructure projects like High Speed Two (new high-speed rail lines that would link London to cities as far as Leeds) and CrossRail already in the pipeline, “Boris Island” has never been a fit for UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s austerity government.
In 2014, the Airports Commission ditched the scheme due to its high capital costs. Two years later the idea has resurfaced, along with the Mayor’s newfound political clout as he defies his incumbent party leader David Cameron in backing an E.U. exit.
The plan promises rail, sea, aircraft, communication and power infrastructure amalgamated into one hub on the Thames estuary in Kent by the medway. New flight paths into the capital would also mean much less noise pollution, something that already plagues areas adjacent to the two-runway Heathrow airport. Additionally, Foster cites how every three months, a plane low on fuel or with an engine failure flies over London, a risk this plan would alleviate.
A proposed rail network would also run around the capital, instead of through it, to reach the airport island and Europe beyond. This, in Foster’s eyes, would bridge the UK's North/South divide and create more trade with the European continent. This rail network would also link up to the existing and under-construction High Speed 2 and CrossRail network.
Also part of the plan would be a new hydroelectric facility in the Thames that would power the hub. With an existing barrier already in action downstream, two miles east of the Isle of Dogs, this new construction would further protect against rising sea levels.
Foster + Partners does have a good track record in delivering similar schemes. Both Beijing's airport—the biggest airport in the world—and Hong Kong's airports were delivered on time and on budget by the firm. They were also voted by travelers as “the best airport experiences in the world.”
In his report Landing The Right Airport, Mayor Johnson states that Foster’s hub is the only way to secure enough capacity. "Our analysis predicts that they would offer around double the number of long haul and domestic destinations served by Heathrow today, while exposing 95% fewer people to significant aircraft noise,” he says.
According to the BBC, Daniel Moylan, aviation adviser to the Mayor, says the plan could cost up to $35 billion—with an extra $35 billion needed for road and rail connections. A third runway could cost $28 billion.
However, opponents argue the transport hub would cost significantly more, at around $130 billion. Not only that, it would also disrupt wildlife habitats as well as rendering Southend and London City airports obsolete. Meanwhile travel time into central London would also be longer compared to Heathrow.
Johnson though, remains undeterred. "If we are to secure the connectivity we need to support our future growth and prosperity and do so without dire impacts on public health—then we must do better than Heathrow,” he concluded.