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Boris Island airport in Thames moves ahead

Ambitious plans for a new airport in the Thames Estuary moved forward this week after a feasibility study found there to be “no overwhelming constraints”.

The study was carried out by former ICE president Doug Oakervee for London mayor Boris Johnson. It concluded that the project was technically viable and that further detailed studies were urgently needed.

Oakervee was the engineer behind Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport and more recently was executive chairman of Crossrail. “I cannot emphasise enough the importance of progressing this work,” he said.

“I cannot emphasise enough the importance of progressing this work.”

Doug Oakervee in feasibility report

Oakervee’s report concluded that a new major airport serving London and the South East will be needed by 2030 and that the Thames Estuary was a credible location. But he said: “We are not yet in a position to decide when or how or exactly where it should or could be built.”

The report did not favour a specific location, but said the Thames Estuary’s weather, geology, hydrography, shipping lanes, fishing activities and leisure services presented no “insoluble issues”.

Oakervee said the “delicate ecology of the area” and “very large bird populations” must be central to any decision. He said further studies before summer 2010 so that new airport capacity can be delivered by 2030.

The Department for Transport’s “overwhelming” evidence showed a capacity shortfall of “about 70M passengers per annum by 2030, even when all other potential expansion is put in place,” says the report.

Important and urgent need

Oakervee identified an “important and urgent need” for studies to maintain London’s infrastructure development and the Thames Estuary’s safety.

He said the studies should be holistic, with climate change as the main driver, and suggested there should be “a 30 year plan to be reviewed every five years”.

“A properly integrated infrastructure approach could nevertheless produce substantial savings over all.”

Doug Oakervee in feasibility report

Oakervee also said that a Thames Estuary airport could come in under the original £40bn estimate, especially if economies of scale are provided by adding in estuary crossings and renewable energy farms.

“A properly integrated infrastructure approach, involving additional estuary crossings and renewable energy sources, could nevertheless produce substantial savings over all,” he said.

Despite his support for the Thames Estuary airport, Johnson this week held back from including the scheme in his draft transport strategy document which outlines his vision for the next 20 years.

“It is too early a stage to warrant its inclusion in such a strategy,” he told the London Assembly transport committee. He added that he considered it a “very interesting idea” but did not have “any aspiration to construct such an airport”.

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