Thames Estuary airport champion and former ICE president Douglas Oakervee this week publicly reaffirmed his commitment to the scheme.
He dismissed as “nonsense” suggestions that his failure to attend a London Assembly meeting threatened the scheme.
Concerns had been raised over the future of the project after Oakervee was forced to pull out of a meeting with the London Assembly’s Environment Committee.
Political support also appeared to be waning after London mayor Boris Johnson told BBC’s “Question Time” programme that he did not want to build the Thames Estuary airport. Johnson had asked Oakervee to conduct a feasibility study of the proposal.
A spokesman for the mayor said that the scheme still had his backing. “The mayor was referring to the fact that there are no actual plans in place to build an airport,” he said. “However he believes the complex and critical decisions on Britain’s aviation future require mature exploration of every possible option. “
“Because [the airport scheme] goes across different government departments and political parties I’m not certain central government is best placed to deliver it.”
However, Oakervee told NCE that far from abandoning the airport scheme, he had broadened the scope to study the wider redevelopment of the Thames Estuary region. This now includes looking at flood management for the River Thames and transport connections between Kent and Essex.
“It’s not a question of us closing down,” he said. “In fact, I was turning it into something else. The Thames Estuary really has more issues to consider than just an airport.”
Oakervee stressed that although he was unable to attend this week’s Assembly meeting due to work commitments with Laing O’Rourke in Hong Kong, he had chaired a meeting of consultants and planners with Thames Estuary experience last month.
“A lot of valuable work has been done in the Thames Estuary. But it’s all been done for different government departments,” said Oakervee. “They have agreed to map all the work they’ve done to bring it all together.”
Oakervee added that the airport project is more likely to be driven by the private sector.
“It is better that the private sector liaises with the government at key points in the planning process”
“The mayor’s got not money for it. So how do you take it forward? Because it goes across different government departments and political parties I’m not too certain that central government is best placed to deliver it.
“It is better that the private sector takes the initiative and liaises with the government at key points in the planning process,” he said.
Oakervee said the Thames Estuary Research & Development Company that he set up with Greater London Authority chief economic adviser Bridget Roswell last year would assist with this.
“Really, we’ve found a starting point,” he said. “The thing with various committees is that because you’ve done some desktop studies, they think you’re going to be able to go out and build it tomorrow.
“This is a 40 year programme. But if I can get it up and running, I’ve achieved my goal.” (See this week’s letters)