Marine engineering specialist consultant Beckett Rankine this week set out a new multi-billion pound vision for a high capacity hub airport on the Goodwin Sands 3km off the east Kent coast at Deal.
The first £39.2bn stage of the three phase so-called “hub for Northern Europe” plan would see a new three runway airport built with dedicated high speed rail, road and ferry links, which would provide capacity for 150M passengers a year.
Depending on demand, the airport could be extended in future to first four runways then six or more, with 24 hour a day take-off and landing made possible by its offshore location.
“We have concluded that putting a four runway hub airport on land in the Southeast is not politically deliverable,” said Beckett Rankine director Tim Beckett, pointing out that any long term aviation strategy had to be “honest about what it means to Heathrow”. Goodwin Sands lines up transport
“There are two options - either Heathrow doubles its number of runways or Heathrow closes as a hub,” he added. “I can’t see any middle way if you are trulybuilding for the next 30 years.”
Having already been given a thumbs up in principle by both the National Air Traffic Agency and the London mayor’s office, Beckett said the scheme was a very credible alternative to runway development at Heathrow but also to existing plans for a new airport hub in the Thames Estuary.
Potential advantages of a hub for Northern Europe
“It really comes down to a single question - where is the best place for a four runway airport in the Southeast,” said Beckett Rankine director Tim Beckett. “I believe that this is the only sensible place to put a new airport.”
- Space for more than four runways
- Take-off and landing over water, enabling unrestricted 24 hour operations
- No impact on environmentally protected sites
- No interference with shipping lanes
- No interference with wind farms
- No demolition of houses or displacement of residents
- High speed rail to London via existing HS1 in 40 minutes
- Road links via A2 and M20
- Direct Eurostar connections to Europe
- Fast ferry connections to Dover and Ramsgate
- Site owned by the Crown Estate
- Creates thousands of jobs in economically deprived Thanet
“The mayor has welcomed the plan as a useful contribution to the debate,” he said.
The Goodwin Sands are around 3km off the east coast of Kent and, due to being around 3m below sea level so largely submerged, have been a major hazard to shipping for centuries.
The Beckett Rankine plan would impound an area of 25km square to create an airport platform. As is the case at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, this platform would be below sea level, reducing the volume of fill required and therefore the cost to construct the island. The first, three runway phase of development would feature a single terminal building with satellite units served by a new high speed rail link to the existing HS1 route, a road link and ferry terminal.
The platform would be constructed sufficiently large to enable a fourth runway and second terminal building to follow as demand grows.
Beckett maintains that the size of the Goodwin Sands site, which is owned and maintained by the Crown Estate, means that construction of further runways and terminals thereafter would not be hindered by space but would simply require further land reclamation.
Beckett said that the £39.2bn cost estimate for phase 1 was “as accurate as anyone can be at this stage”, and was backed by the firm’s own project experience and other recent transport project examples.
He added that, while the programme to construct such an ambitious project was largely dependent on planning timescales, the firm’s own recent experience on the Ras Laffan port in Qatar demonstrated that, technically, such a project could be built fast.
“Ras Laffan is roughly the same size and took two years to design and three years to build,” he explained. “Consent period is typically the sticking point, but the whole area is owned by the Crown Estate, and so the land acquisition should be easier. The Goodwin Sands are also outside any environmentally protected area and there is plenty of space.”
Beckett pointed out that, while moving the UK’s airport hub would of course have a major impact on employment in west London, businesses would have at least 10 years to prepare.
The boost to the economy of East Thanet, one of the most deprived parts of the Southeast, would, he said, be immense, and trigger much needed regeneration.
However, he did not entirely rule out maintaining Heathrow as a future airport facility.
“I don’t see us closing Heathrow, but once we have a new hub airport established I see it being downgraded to a size rather like City Airport,” said Beckett. “Heathrow cannot be a competitor. You only need one hub.”
“Heathrow’s location is in many ways an accident of history, and at some point we have to say that we made a mistake,” explained Beckett. “We need a long term solution that is expandable. This is a 30 year plan and we then should look to the next 50 or 60 years.”
Beckett said the next step was to present the plans to the ongoing independent aviation commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, to identify and report on options for maintaining the UK’s status as a global aviation hub.
“It is clear that Davies intends to come out with a long list of options in November 2013 that he will then bring down to a shortlist,” said Beckett. “We would like to be on that shortlist.”