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Letters: The answer to airport capacity issues lies in the Home Counties


Hard choices: Solving the UK’s airport capacity could mean an end to Heathrow

As much has already appeared in print regarding airport capacity in the south east, I am amazed that none of your correspondents have picked up on a proposal in a Sunday paper a few months ago.

The idea is for a complete new airport in north Buckinghamshire to provide the national hub in place of Heathrow. Most of the objections to current proposals could be solved.

With correct siting there would be no need for aircraft to fly over a major centre of population within 20km of the runway and connections to major conurbations could be easily arranged.

The route of the HS2 railway could be diverted to provide access to London - maybe four track - and to the north west and north east of the country. Also the M1, M6 and M40 motorways are relatively nearby and the A34 can be upgraded to reach the south coast.

The counter arguments relative to other proposals would all be solved. There would be no increase in flights over London, and no problems with the overcrowded rail line from Gatwick into London. The “Boris Island” proposal was always a non starter because of its remote location, and Stansted is off the beaten track with poor motorway and rail connections to middle England.

As regards costs, the value of vacated land at Heathrow would run into several billion pounds, and provide much needed space for the relief of housing demand in the south east.

  • Geoff Longlands (M ret), 45 Westminster Drive, Bognor Regis, PO21 3RE

Avoiding the floods at a cost

In Margo Cole’s flooding article (NCE 29 November) an interesting photograph was selected to accompany the piece.

Although from Cheshire, I happened to walk along the footpath in early June this year and recognised the location immediately. The shot was taken from the Pershore side of Pershore Bridge over the River Avon, Worcestershire.

I recall that the wall you can see to the right of the picture is actually the start of a new Environment Agency flood defence scheme, built in 2011, which protects the house at No.82 Bridge Street and other river side properties.

It was reported (Worcester News, 28 June 2011) that a hedge providing privacy to the house was removed to build the 1.2m wall and an application on behalf of the owners via the EA to increase the flood defence to 2.3m to return their privacy was rejected on the basis of it becoming an eyesore.

I wouldn’t know if the house was saved from flooding this time, but if successful the loss of some privacy was surely a small price to pay to escape flooding. A no doubt common debate for many flood defence schemes in the planning stages.

  • Matt Shillabeer (M), Warrington, Cheshire,

Berlin does it at the right price

According to Wikipedia the new Berlin Hauptbahnhof has five levels, including east-west and north-south main lines, several S-bahn lines and platforms for the U-bahn.

It handles 350,000 passengers per day, and according to Michael Portillo it cost £480M.

The re-modelled Reading station (NCE last week) is mainly devoted to the east-west main line and handles 45,000 passengers per day. It cost £850M according to NCE. Interesting.

  • Professor Peter Bettess (F), Brow Head, Kentmere, Cumbria, LA8 9JL, U.K.

How far have we progressed?

May I add a further point to Mr. Butler’s letter (NCE 29 November) that modern plant does not speed up construction. Robert Stephenson completed the 112 mile long London & Birmingham Railway in just over four years in the late 1830s. This needed some very difficult engineering including large cuttings, several viaducts and tunnels. The upgrade of a 12 mile section of the A1 to motorway, through the flat Vale of York, has taken three years. Is that progress?

  • John Addyman (M),

Solving two problems

The news that Tata is cutting jobs in the steel industry shows that construction is not the only sufferer in the recession. This made me wonder if a little joined up thinking might solve two problems?

Currently, we have a programme of converting to”managed motorways” which involves two distinct aspects. Firstly the shoulder is readied for running and, when this is complete, new gantries are installed to allow speed control.

Both stages deliver roughly equal benefits, however, whilst the shoulder conversion is complicated, involving extensive temporary works and control, the installation of the gantries is relatively simple and can be done during overnight closures.

Thus, if the order of construction is reversed, the new gantries can be used for management and speed control during the civils work which would follow.

This opens up the potential to introduce a single major project to install new gantries across the entire motorway network, bringing in the advantages of speed control much earlier.

  • Peter Styles, Kingsbury, Warks,

A new route for road financing?

I am pleased Mick Oliver (NCE 22 November) started a debate on road financing. I recommended turning the road sector into a public enterprise (NCE 8 November), while he advocates increasing fuel duty and asking the Treasury to allocate some, or all, of the additional revenues to the roads budget.

I used to work for the World Bank where for nearly 20 years we loaned money for road rehabilitation and asked governments to raise road user charges - mainly on heavy vehicles - to finance long term maintenance. Governments invariably raised the user charges and then spent the proceeds on other sectors.

Money raised under the government’s tax-making powers has to be paid into the consolidated fund and each sector then has to compete for the available funds. The road sector nearly always loses out in this competition as the extra funds tend to be allocated to defence, policing, health, education and social services.

This drove us to “invent” the concept of turning the road sector into a public enterprise that could set its own user charges. About 20 to 30 countries have already adopted this model. Yes, it takes more time and it does not always live up to expectations. However, it generally works well and has even been endorsed by the IMF.

  • Ian Heggie (M ret),

Strasbourg tram

Green dream: Making it easier to live and work in communities could ease transport pressures

Time for a more sustainable way forward for transport

I like Gary Grant’s thinking about water (NCE 1 November). He’s pragmatic, preferring suitable engineering to an expensive oversized project. I can see the environmental benefits and long term sustainability of his suggestions. Let’s make ideas like these UK policy.

Why not make similar pragmatic choices with transport? This is more difficult because transport is central to growth.

Unfortunately, today’s growth is largely based on processing natural resources such as rainforests, minerals, iron ore, aggregates, oil, coal, gas, tar sands, shale gas, and much else. This processing is leading to climate change and increasing sea levels, which will present us with new problems.

So what could UK transport be like? We could lead the world in a rational economy, reducing passenger miles and freight miles, while balancing demand with sustainable supply.

We could move investment and jobs closer to population centres, grow more of our own food, become self-sufficient in energy, practise moderate consumerism, and live within our means.

This would take the pressure off our airports, roads, and railways, make our infrastructure dilemmas less intractable, and get our civil engineers into sustainable engineering. As with water, regional policy and details need careful thought.

Holistic engineering solutions look after the planet. In my view, this is the road we need to take.

  • Norman Pasley (M)

Heathrow can’t expand to match future demand

Regarding a possible Heathrow upgrade Mario Donnetti thinks he is pragmatic and judicious and wrongly says Peter Hinson is an emotional protester (NCE 22 November).

Solving a problem in a way that suits the present infrastructure but ignores the fact that the present air quality does not meet EU standards and the noise under the flight path affects the local population, to a greater extent than at any other Western European airport, is not pragmatic or judicious.

It also ignores the safety of aircraft flying over a densely populated area and articles 3 and 4 of the ICE Rules of Professional Conduct which provide for all members to have full regard to the public interest in matters of health and safety and the environment.

Perhaps, in 25 to 50 years, aircraft noise and emissions will be solved but this is well beyond the lifetime of the initial expansion. The safety issue will always remain. If an aircraft was to fall out of the sky onto London then the future of Heathrow would be in doubt.

Why did British Airways cease its operation at Gatwick? Was it because they pragmatically decided that for a hub to be successful their flights should be into and out of a single airport directly connected to hundreds of destinations worldwide?

Transferring passengers and freight from one airport to another, by road or dedicated rail, incurs costs and time to them and their customers. Their customers are driven to use more convenient airports such as Charles de Gaulle or Frankfurt, losing valuable revenue for the British economy.

A new hub airport and road and rail infrastructure that can be expanded with demand is required. With all party good will and a dedicated delivery team this should not take much longer to develop, in the Thames Estuary, than an expanded Heathrow.

  • Denis Stephens (F),

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