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Letters: Let’s not be seduced by the glamour of a new hub



Thirty-two years ago I was preparing evidence on behalf of the three county councils around Stansted on surface access issues for presentation at the long-running public inquiry into the airport’s expansion. It is surprising how few of the major issues have changed since then.

At present, we find a government that has stamped on expansion of Heathrow at a time when there is broad agreement that demand at Heathrow already exceeds capacity and has the potential to grow further. So, runs one argument, if we cannot expand Heathrow, let’s go and build a modern, high capacity airport down in the Thames Estuary.

But what is a hub? This question is fundamental, because surely we cannot have two hubs for London. A very good reason why British Airways refused to operate out of Stansted was because interlining between there and Heathrow was so unattractive. Nor is it attractive between Heathrow and Gatwick. Interlining between Heathrow and an Estuary airport just does not bear thinking about.

However, a hub also has a very great deal to do with accessibility to its passengers and workers and the great assortment of businesses that locate there. This function of a hub suggests in the simplest terms that it should be near the centre of its diaspora, not stuck somewhere out of its fringe.

The glamour of a new state-of-the-art airport in the Thames Estuary is beguiling, but before we get carried away there are some very difficult issues that need to be thoroughly examined. Perhaps we will find that for any number of reasons we must get on and enlarge Heathrow as a much cheaper and less disruptive option.

  • Peter Fells (M),

A recent NCE was full of discussion about High Speed 2 (HS2) and the proposed Thames Estuary airport (NCE 19-26 January).

Looking at the map of HS2, I see that there is already an airport centrally connected to the proposed HS2 system: Birmingham.

Perhaps it is time to talk in terms of HS2 putting Birmingham airport within so many minutes of London, and look for the growth potential there. Is there a good reason why the possible expansion of Birmingham airport is not included in the discussion? A central airport location is more likely to reduce overall home-to-airport travel costs and energy consumption than a location in the Thames Estuary.

  • John Ratsey (M), Swindon, John

Innovation on the highways

It was with interest that I read your recent article on highway maintenance (NCE 26 January).

It is good to know that Staffordshire County Council has recognised the importance of investing in the maintenance of the road network and is proposing to inject £20M additional funding over the next two financial years.

However, I was surprised to see that the article did not refer to the innovative highways work at Hampshire County Council, which is currently in the second financial year of investing additional funding of £10M per annum into its road network following the damaging effects of recent winters.

In 2010/11 the county embarked on Operation Restore, to restore the road network back to its condition before the damaging effects of the winter weather.

Operation Restore was recognised by ICE South East England and was awarded winner of the Constructing Excellence Award for 2011 in the Major Projects category with the judges commenting specifically on the approach to target planned rather than reactive highway maintenance.

Operation Restore has now developed into Operation Resilience for 2011/12, which is asset management based and focuses on investing in the highway network to ensure the infrastructure is more resilient to the extremes of weather, and importantly aids economic recovery by ensuring less unplanned maintenance which inevitably leads to greater congestion of the roads.

So, well done to Staffordshire County Council, and other highway authorities who are bucking the national trend and putting more funding into highways.

Hopefully, their leads will inspire others to recognise the vital importance the road network plays in the economic prospects of an area and the quality of life for those who live there, and how essential it is to ensure the road infrastructure does not deteriorate through insufficient planned investment.

  • Colin Taylor (F), assistant director, highways traffic and transport, Hampshire County Council,

Integration and its problems

Your Comment on the aspiration for transport integration in the UK should do little to inspire civil engineers (NCE 19-26 January).

We might well be on the government’s radar as enablers but undertaking the right projects for the right reasons is what we should be central to, not just in executing a multi-transport system devoid of any real integration.

Many see a current piecemeal approach for rail: a bit of railway track here (High Speed 2) that might be extended in future generations to there (HS3) and then to other locations (HS4 and onwards).

For air travel: the flavour of the period is an LAH5 (my derivative for a new London air hub) due to LAH1 to 4 being close to capacity. But why London?

These sub-systems along with the transport sub-systems of underground, road, canals, sea, etcetera have historically never been blessed with integration for the benefit of UK society as a whole.

By all means start with a blank sheet. The successful creation of a future effective joined-up transport system is what needs to precede some of the decisions currently being taken. Also, with bankruptcy approaching knowing how it is to be financed would be a useful piece of the integration process.

  • Professor Albert Hamilton (F), 10 Baskerfield Grove, Woughton-on-the-Green, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire MK6 3EN

Scottish bank debt and rail costs

As you have printed R Pritchard’s purely Scottish view of the cost of infrastructure that does “not get within 300km of Scotland” (NCE last week) I trust you will print an English opinion.

Pritchard seems to have conveniently forgotten the odd £200bn or so cost to the UK economy of the of the two Scottish banks’ mismanagement.

I hope on independence that these two banks and their enormous debts are returned to Scotland so we in England can try and turn our economy around without that particular millstone around our necks. It would pay nicely for High Speed 2, Crossrail and the Olympics and would leave a lot over to more sensibly improve our rail system generally.

Let’s hope our politicians are as canny as [Scottish first minister] Alex Salmond, although unfortunately I very much doubt it.

  • A Baldwin,

How fast can a journey be?

It is unreasonable to compare car journey times with times for High Speed 2 and conventional trains (NCE 19/26 January). Cars go door to door while trains need to have times for the start and finish sections of the journey added, often longer than the rail journey itself.

Your comparative times for different modes of transport from a London suburb to a Welsh town as described in an earlier edition of NCE were more representative of real journeys for many (NCE 20-27 August 2009).

Whole journey times matter. Faster jets were not the way of improving times when it took longer to reclaim baggage than to fly from Prestwick to Gatwick.

  • Stuart Fisher, Longcroft, Mill Lane, Corston, Malmesbury, Wilts SN16 0HH

HS2 will free up congested airports

Living where I do in Northumberland I welcome the High Speed 2 decision.

We will nonetheless be one of the last countries in western Europe to build a high speed railway connecting major cities.

The published articles in NCE omit any reference to the fact that the southern ends of both East and West Coast main lines are already being used to their full capacity.

We need to build new railways to meet both current and future demand increases. Passenger numbers are continuing to rise despite the fact that railway funding arrangements have resulted in our fares being the highest in Europe.

But why do we need a Thames Estuary airport? If we develop a complete high speed rail system in line with the rest of Europe, the demand for domestic flights will fall dramatically, freeing up capacity at Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted airports.

Already many of us in the North and the Midlands use our local airports for international and European flights via Dubai, Schipol, Frankfurt etcetera. Why would we even consider using a Thames Estuary airport?
If a financial business case is to be made, it needs to exclude the idea that those in the Midlands and North will use it.

  • Colin Wheeler (F), Gin Gan House, Thropton, Morpeth Northumberland NE65 7LT

Put a freeze on predicting the weather

I am pleased to see that Mystic Meg is alive and well and working for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

To say that anyone can project to any accurate degree what the climate will be like in the 2020s, 2050s or 2080s, when meteorologists still cannot accurately predict the weather a month ahead, is stretching the bounds of credibility too far.

Furthermore, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “projection” as “an estimate or forecast based on present trends”; in other words a “prediction” not a “possibility of a risk occurring”, which is pure tautology and indicates a lack of faith in their own figures.

I suppose that on this basis when I next sign off a design I should issue a caveat on the possibility of the risk of it falling down but I don’t think I would keep many clients.

  • D Hindle (M),

Readers' comments (1)

  • For a country with the majority of its population concentrated in a strip of land around 250miles long ( London to Preston) and 30 miles wide we seem able to make the most irrational decisions possible. HS2 needs 4 tracks so it can provide a local service that connects to the high speed track and provide adequate levels of redundancy for maintenance. We must make it wide enough for a third track in each direction. Just think what another 4m of space on each carriageway of our motorways would have saved us in widening costs in the last 30 years. It needs to connect to the M25 with a full interchange and we need to build a replacement for Heathrow along it.

    Then build a replacement for Manchester and Birmingham airports and then with 2 Denver sized airports each with 6 runways and fully linked by a high speed railway system linking the majority of our population we then have a starting point for a UK PLC transport infrastucture.

    Lets get it right once.

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