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NEWS Last modified on October 8, 2013

Thames Estuary Airport could be built for £24 billion and open in 2027

Development of the ambitious Thames Estuary Airport (TEA) proposal could be achieved as early as  2027, the SMART Airports conference heard today in Munich.

This was the opinion of Huw Thomas, of Foster and Partners for the London Hub, who spoke enthusiastically about his firm's vision for the massive plans, urging people from all sectors of the UK community to think 'holistically' about the hub that is needed to 'address the global markets'.


Costing for just the airport and infrastructure he said would be about £24 billion and he suggested an completion time of 2027, earlier than has previously been mentioned.


Building a four-runway TEA in the East of England is being proposed as a solution to develop London's future hub needs and is seen by some including Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, as the answer to solve the UK's airport expansion headache.


"The best location is somewhere that has the minimal impact on the people and to the East of England seems to be right location. We need a next generation hub.


"We must look at the bigger picture of global connectivity which is critical for people and goods going forward," Thomas said.


The man who was involved in designing the world's biggest building, Beijing Terminal 3, also enthused about moving Heathrow, the UK's main airport.


The architect says Heathrow would need to be closed if TEA was built, but hailed the potential benefits to the UK if a new London borough was created in its place.


"Providing a new borough is one opportunity with TEA, especially with London forecasted to grow by two million people in the near future.


"And you would have to demolish less homes with TEA than to build a third runway at Heathrow,'" Thomas said.


Some commentators have previously declared that the UK could not deliver such a huge project by moving London's hub from Heathrow and building a state-of-the-art facility in its place at a completely new location.


Thomas described this as 'nonsense' and says the UK can deliver, pointing to his own firm's involvement in the massive relocation project of Hong Kong International Airport, which was achieved totally by the British.


"This is nonsense as we experienced first hand moving an airport in Hong Kong, and we delivered that and the British were behind that.


"And if you move one airport's employment it is not such a big task if you have the time to do it," he says.


Environment campaigners are strongly opposed to TEA as they think it would mean birds who migrate to the estuary would lose their habitat as a 20km stretch from the estuary would be lost with flights taking this route.


But Thomas told delegates any developer wishing to construct it would have to have a bird protection scheme in place when constructing.


Another major concern for many is the potential huge cost of TEA, with commentators questioning how this would be raised in the continued tough economic climate and plans in Europe to prevent airports from receiving state aid from their governments for infrastructure and airport projects.


Some have forecasted the total cost of the project from everything connected with moving Heathrow, transport projects and the airport itself at around £50 billion, but others have said it would cost nearer to £100 billion.


Thomas said it could a totally funded through private enterprises and once Heathrow reaches a capacity of 84mppa, TEA could be opened with 84mppa, and up to 110mppawithin 10 years – with expansion eventually capable of receiving 150mppa and one day 180mppa if plans were already secured for a fifth runway.


"And we forecast you can pay back the total cost of TEA 10 years after the opening.


"TEA would give London and the UK and Europe an advantage by creating a facility that can go head-to-head with Istanbul and other emerging airports around the world over the next 20 years, " Thomas concluded.


The London hub is the busiest in the world and Heathrow now only has 1.5% capacity expansion space and a third runway is being proposed to increase capacity.


The Davies Commission set up by the government, is reviewing the UK's aviation capacity and is due to publish an interim report by the end of the year.


A final report recommending whether or not a new airport should be built is set to be published after the next election in 2015.

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