The launch of the planned Thames Estuary Hub report has not answered the many serious questions marks dogging this scheme. The planned costs for the proposed hub are over £70 billion, made up of a £20 billion airport with a further £50 billion for the accompanying infrastructure and connections to London and the rest of the UK. As with many large extravagant infrastructure plans this proposal claims that there will be little cost to the taxpayer and will quickly raise revenue for the exchequer. Predictably, as with many similar schemes, as the project develops costs will inevitably balloon leading to private investors becoming increasingly risk averse requiring the state to take greater and greater responsibility for costs. The viability of this scheme has not been shown and this latest report launch fails to adequately address this vital question.
There are many London airports which, with minimal investment, could reap major benefits for customers, airlines and the tax payer. By developing better connections between existing airports we can boost capacity and cut waste. Why, when there are more cost effective ways to boost capacity for London airports, does this report propose wasting more money on a massive white elephant?
The report states that the area for development is sparsely populated, empty and therefore ripe for the construction of a massive concrete slab over the Isle of Grain. This ignores the major environmental difficulty with this scheme. That the proposed airport sits in the middle of a series of important natural and historical zones; a large Special Protection Area (SPA) protected under an EU Directive, a number of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a popular public amenity namely the RSPB Reserve of Northward Hill. There is also the very high risk of a dangerous bird strike on an airplane leading to a potentially serious loss of life. Building an airport in the middle of a historic bird sanctuary is monumentally ill advised. As the danger of more extreme climate events increase for Britain, the marshes offer invaluable natural flood protection for London. The loss of this flood bank would lead to a greater need for expensive man made flood defences for London, pushing up the proposed costs for this hub.
Now is not the time to borrow money for vanity projects. Many London airports could benefit from cheaper, more cost effective methods to boost capacity and effectiveness. In a time of austerity it is wiser to use existing infrastructure more prudently than spend money we do not have on luxury developments we do not need.