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Thames Hub plans revealed

Plans for the Thames Hub, a new £50bn integrated airport, rail, power, flood defence and communications vision for the Thames Estuary, were revealed this week by a consortium led by consultant Halcrow and architect Foster & Partners.

The ambitious proposal, first revealed by the consortium in the summer, features a brand new four runway hub airport built on reclaimed land in the estuary near the Isle of Grain plus a new rail and road river crossing, flood defence barrier and a tidal power array (NCE 11 August).

However, this week’s report highlights that key to the project is a new London orbital high speed rail line. This provides vital access to the airport for passengers but also forms a much needed freight link between ports at Felixstowe, Tilbury, London Gateway, Southampton and further north at Manchester and Liverpool.

“This is not just an airport plan,” explained Foster’s partner Huw Thomas. “It’s about creating infrastructure and connectivity for global business. We see so much of this kind of thinking taking place around the world and so little in the UK.”

Thomas said that the proposal to construct a 150M passenger a year hub airport to replace the aging and over-capacity facility at Heathrow sits at the heart of the project with an estimated £35bn in economic return.

But, he pointed out that, in fact, much of the project’s estimated £150bn in benefits will flow from the increased passenger and freight transport connectivity and the overall economic growth and business efficiency that this brings across the Thames Estuary region.

The new orbital four-track high speed rail link will follow the route of the M25 around the north of London to, the report explains, prevent the capital from being a “physical barrier” to freight transport and provide the missing link between High Speed 1 and the proposed High Speed 2 scheme for passengers.

The inclusion of a new flood defence system to protect the capital up to and beyond 2100 and integrated tidal electricity generation system also adds to the overall benefits.

The team behind the report includes the Thames Estuary Research and Development Company — founded by past ICE president Doug Oakervee and economist Bridget Rosewell following their earlier feasibility work on an estuary airport for London mayor Boris Johnson. Rosewell is also supporting the plan via Volterra Partners, which she chairs.

The team estimates that with proper government support and policies, the project could be mapped out ahead of planning in as little as 12 months.

Readers' comments (5)

  • Tim Swift

    How fantastic this could be - the infrastructure project of the generation. It could inspire the whole region to invest and to grow as a result. Will the Government blunder this too?

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  • Build the airport, connect it to existing infrastrusture and the future Crossraill. The barrage is a great bidea. Build a new rail line around London? Not likely. Keep thinking constructively.

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  • Graeme Peterson

    This is a visionary scheme and buildable. Connecting to existing infrastructure and upgrading the other parts of the infrastructure together with reducing the importance of Heathrow is what Great Britain desperately needs. However are our politicians brave enough to support this project and take the long view?

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  • Anyone who has recently used Heathrow as "hub" knows how bad it is with minimum 3 hour transit times. The alternative is urgently needed and this scheme offers many other benefits

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  • Peter Mynors

    I hope the new orbital high speed rail link via the new airport to the Channel Tunnel gets better use than the TGV orbital round Paris, which passes through Paris CDG airport. There are currently only five direct trains from the UK per week which use this line (but only as far as Disneyland), none of which stops at the airport. Even the morning 0827 St Pancras to Lille train which used to connect to ongoing services to Strasbourg and places south of Paris has been withdrawn this winter. Are there lessons to be learnt that are relevant to the proposed estuary hub? If the perceived rail demand is coming from trips transferred from short-haul air, will the huge price differential between train and rail be sorted out soon enough?
    One important detail to be resolved before a full range of international high speed services can be provided is how luggage scanning and passport controls are handled. Security is now a major issue in airport design – will the same become true for international high speed rail?

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