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NEWS Last modified on February 28, 2012

Third Heathrow runway preferred option to Thames Estuary Airport – poll

Building a third runway at Heathrow is a more popular option to deal with the UK's airport capacity crunch than a new airport in the Thames Estuary, according to a new poll.
Building a third runway at Heathrow is a more popular option to deal with the UK's airport capacity crunch than a new airport in the Thames Estuary, according to a new poll.

The ICM poll of 1,000 members of the general public – commissioned by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers – discovered that a third runway was favoured by 25% of respondents, with 21% backing the new airport.

When asked if they believed the UK government was right to block Heathrow's third runway, 35% agreed while 32% thought it was the wrong decision.

Philippa Oldham, head of transport at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: "Heathrow, Britain's only hub airport, is heading for a capacity crunch which could cause lasting damage to the economy and cost the UK thousands of jobs.

"However the Thames Estuary airport is not the solution, as it would be an expensive, impractical and – as this poll reveals – unpopular white elephant.

"The government needs to urgently rethink its decision to rule out any potential expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted, which all offer more sensible and cost-effective alternatives.

"We need a clear vision on what UK air capacity should be in ten years' time. This needs to be backed up by a stringent cost-benefit analysis that takes into account provincial airports as well as those in the South East.

"Key questions need to be answered relating to how much airport capacity the government wants in the future, the number of destinations the UK will want to fly to and whether airport capacity will increase to meet business or tourism needs."

A consultation of industry experts sitting on the Institution's Aerospace and Transport Committees detailed the following issues with a Thames Estuary airport:

Cost – A new airport would require massive investment, both public and private, in a time of economic hardship. The billions spent on the airport would be compounded many times over by the necessary investment in supportive rail and road infrastructure, as well as local towns to house workers. More effective, cheaper options are available.

Environment – All of the proposed sites intrude on designated Special Protection Areas or Special Areas of Conservation, meaning the proposed airport would destroy the habitats of rare wildlife. The Estuary is also a nesting ground for hundreds of thousands of birds, which could prove a severe safety risk if they come into contact with plane engines.

Location – A proposed Thames Estuary airport would be located on the wrong side of London for the majority of the British public. Travellers from the west, the Midlands or the North would have to go through or round London to get there. The area is also susceptible to heavy fog, which could compound the safety risk.

The growing airport capacity crunch in the South East has already seen Heathrow hit 99% capacity.

The South East as a whole is predicted to reach full airport capacity by 2030 if nothing is done to remedy the problem. This would cost an estimated 15,000 jobs per year as the UK loses opportunities to Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam, according to an FTI Consulting report published in November 2011.

The consultation favoured the expansion of Gatwick and Stansted, coupled with road and rail infrastructure improvements to provide an integrated transport solution, as a better alternative to an Estuary airport.

The Institution also said the role of provincial airports should be considered, including the potential to improve the use of Coventry and Manston airports.

Re-opening RAF Northolt, just 10km north of Heathrow, as a commercial satellite of the UK's only hub airport could also provide a cost-effective solution.

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