A new decision by the U.K. Airports Commission has squashed London Mayor Boris Johnson’s dream of building a gleaming £100 billion hub airport east of the British capital in the Thames River estuary.
The commission, convened in late 2012 to devise a long-term plan for reducing air congestion in London, announced Sept. 2 that it decided not to add the so-called “Boris Island” project to its shortlist of proposals. That means either Heathrow or Gatwick, London’s two largest gateways, will be on the receiving end of new infrastructure investment. Both are vying for the one new runway the commission says will be needed by 2030.
Always controversial, Boris Island seemed forward-looking to some and overly ambitious to many. Sir Howard Davies, chair of the commission, acknowledged as much in his opening statement to a 46-page document outlining the reasons for the rejection.
“The aviation industry doubts the viability of the plan, local councils are opposed, and business groups are similarly unenthusiastic,” he wrote.
Still, the commission gave it a good look and found that the risks of building such a huge airport outweighed the promised benefits of a dedicated hub and reduced flights over central London.
Because of its distance from the city center, investment in surface transport would have been staggering, and even then, the transit time would have been 20-25 percent longer than it is from the current gateways. Other risks included uncertain environmental effects and the economic upheaval that would have come with decommissioning Heathrow.
“No other city has moved the operations of an airport on anything like the scale of Heathrow anywhere near as far as would be implied here,” Mr. Davies wrote.
He affirmed the spirit of the hub argument, that a global city such as London needs an adequate hub to continue attracting corporate headquarters. But the commission doesn’t necessarily adhere to the “one hub or none” argument that some have circulated.
“While we recognise the need for a hub airport, we believe this should be a part of an effective system of competing airports to meet the needs of a widely spread and diverse market like London’s.”
Heathrow and Gatwick both have new runway proposals on the shortlist. Heathrow also has a proposed plan to extend its northern runway to the point that it can operate as two separate runways.
Airport City ATL last year traveled to Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester to report on their preparations for the Davies Commission and their airport-area development efforts. Click here to see that reporting.