Local politicians unite against the Thames Estuary Hub Airport Proposal
By jayenolan | Saturday, October 29, 2011, 14:04
The different colours of Medway's political spectrum were united on Thursday, as Labour, Liberal and Conservatives voiced their opposition to Boris Johnson's 'Pie in the Sky' Thames Estuary airport idea.
Boris Island - The Estuary Airport Debate: Pie in the Sky or the future for North Kent?
Although the proposals for an airport at Cliffe Marshes were thrown out ten years ago, the Mayor of London has since repeatedly touted the idea of another on the Hoo Peninsula or on an Island off the Thames Estuary, citing London's need for a hub airport to cope with an estimated increase in traffic over the next few decades. At a debate tagged "Friend or Foe", hosted by the Federation of Small Businesses at Gillingham FC's banquetting suite,the BBC's John Warner opened the discussion on whether the UK needs a hub airport.
I've tried to be unbiased but it became apparent when going through my notes that many of those in favour couldn't actually give any specifics, it was all corporate speak without actually spelling out how/why it would be beneficial. However, the 'against' arguments put forward figures and facts that can't be ignored, such as the impact on resources an extra 70,000 workers would have on the local area.
The arguments for:
The Thames Estuary has played a crucial role in connectivity with the rest of the world over the centuries and has always been an industrial heartland; Business, investment, travel and leisure bring economic growth but depend on frequent flights to many destinations - we could lose out to China, India, Latin America and European neighbours.
Heathrow is too small to cope and others are scattered across the south east. In 2030/40 travellers from the south east will have to go to Manchester or Birmingham. (I can't help but think - that would be their choice, surely? You can choose to go to other airports to reduce the cost, can't you?)
It would bring huge economic benefit to the east of London.
We know the area is special and beautiful but also has a history of industry which is in your blood and you should want to be connected to the world.
Airlines are profitable businesses so apart from an initial investment, long term it will pay for itself.
The creation of thousands of new jobs.
Accessibility would be primarily by train.
Think back to the ideas of the HS1 and the Channel Tunnel - we now see the benefits, would the same happen with this airport?
The arguments against:
We simply don't need it - London is now served by five airports, with direct flights to more places more often than any other city in the world; Stansted, Gatwick and Luton all have spare capacity. Regionally, Easyjet have expanded at Southend, Birmingham has enormous capacity and Manston is ready to go - make better use of existing airports. The jobs at Southend and Manston can be created within the next five years.
The cost (£70/80 billion) cannot be justified in the current climate with no return for 30/40 years.
Surveys of both the public and the aviation industry come out heavily against the idea.
Businesses in London would rather the money was spent of better roads and infrastructure.
The environmental concerns - the marshes of the Hoo Peninsula's important biodiversity and special scientific interest: Bird strike is a major health and safety issue that hasn't changed in the past ten years - it is twelve times more likely in this location. Who's going to tell the birds not to fly there and when one does bring down a 747, who'll take the blame? There are 300,000 birds, the area is a designated international wild life site and to bypass the restrictions would be very difficult for developers as there are alternative options. Fog is also an issue, which would cause shut down. You have to draw a line to protect landscape, heritage and environmental. (I'm sure I've heard David Attenborough saying - if we don't look after the bugs and earth, we all die out eventually anyway as the food chain breaks at source - so who'll be using an airport?)
Up until the recession, the biggest problem was under employment - figures seen indicate an airport would rely on a lot of low paid jobs with the only benefit being cheaper holidays - taken abroad and therefore not of benefit to the UK economy.
70,000 are needed to run Heathrow - where will they all come from for the Estuary airport? And with a housing list of 10,000 already, where will Medway put these 70,000 workers?
Sustainable regeneration is needed now - this is decades away. And we don't want a situation in 50 years time, whereby air travel declines and the local population is again hit by mass unemployment as happened when the dockyard closed. Medway needs diversity in employment.
There is an exclusion zone within the area, the site of the Richard Montgomery warship, which sunk in the estuary laden with explosives. There's also the flood plain - feasibility has been checked many times before and plans rejected.
Private companies will not pay for the infrastructure needed and the Thames Gateway already suffers gridlock - the links are needed now to cope with the existing problems - finish the Thames Gateway first.
Surely sustainable businesses should be looking to reduce their air travel - technology lends itself to video conferencing, skype, live web streaming - apart from initial meetings or products viewing, surely more business could be done this way?
Many people will still prefer to drive there, whether there are high speed trains or not.
Clive Lawrence, PR for North Kent FSB, who organised the event said: "We're delighted with the outcome of the meeting, which was designed to launch the full debate about this incredibly important project."
Hearing Vince Maple saying "I agree with Rodney" left me thinking that, with all the parties in agreement for once, they can't all be wrong. I'll leave you to make up your own minds - please do share your thoughts: Should there be a hub airport in the Thames Estuary?
Speakers pictured here, in running order: Daniel Moyland of TFL; Rodney Chambers, Leader of Medway Council; Mark Reckless, MP for Rochester & Strood; Cllr. Mike O'Brien; Stephen Boxall, Regeneration Consultant; Brian Damerill, public; Alan Johnson, RSPB; Cllr. Jane Chitty; Paul Clark, ex Medway MP; Colette, Property Consultant; Roger House, FSB; Anon, public; Cllr. Vince Maple; Cliff Olds, local businessman; Keith Brown, Essex FSB; Dai Liyanage, ex Mayor of Medway; Jill Webb, Cliffe campaigner; Charles Buchanan, Manston aiport; Representative of Essex FSB.