In the press: Thames Hub coverage focuses on airport capacity, funding and political will

19 Jul 2012

The debate on airport capacity is becoming increasingly heated as business leaders say Britain is losing ground to rival economies in Europe and the emerging markets as the government stalls over aviation policy.

Over the last few weeks there have been a number of key articles in the UK press, many of which focus on the key issues of funding, deliverability, capacity and the need for a sea-change in political will to deliver airport capacity in support of long-term economic growth.

The Daily Telegraph commented that Airlines and businesses hit out at delay to airport capacity debate” and that Britain is being held back by the Government’s lack of a coherent aviation strategy and the postponement of a long-awaited consultation on airport capacity.

The article, written by the paper’s Nathalie Thomas, reported Sir Richard Branson’s call for an intervention from Prime Minister David Cameron as he warned a lack of a proper aviation strategy was hindering investment in Britain. Others expressed dismay at the delay to a consultation to debate issues such as extra runways in the South East and a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary.

The London Evening Standard continues to debate the key issues with a piece written by Sir Malcolm Rifkind on Thursday 12 July. In his article ‘Enough dithering - an estuary airport is the only option’, Rifkind recounts the time when he was visiting Hong Kong as Secretary of State for Defence and how Hong Kong, like Paris in 1974, Munich in 1992, Athens in 2001 and Bangkok in 2006 have all opted for true airport hub capacity. He points out that since 2006, millions of Hong Kong residents have been freed from the pollution, excessive noise and other environmental damage normally associated with great airports.

Rifkind is also keen to outline the challenges associated with a new estuary airpoirt, “Of course, a decision to build a new airport for London in the Thames estuary would take years, be very expensive and would, no doubt, be opposed by various interests. But that was true in every other world capital where people of vision not only understood but were able to explain that the major advantages far outweighed the significant problems.”

On Monday 9 July, The Financial Times ran the news analysis feature ‘New funding plan eyed for estuary airport’. Written by Andrew Parker and Rose Jacobs, the article focused on how a new hub airport in the Thames estuary could be achieved without forcing airlines to fund the project through steep increases in user fees. The article, which featured comment from Lord Foster and Foster + Partners’ Huw Thomas unveiled the innovative funding model developed by the Thames Hub team – outlining  that an estuary airport could be paid for using funds secured through landing charges and the closure and redevelopment of Heathrow.

The Sunday Times continues to examine the issues of airport capacity and the proposed Thames Hub. On Saturday 8 July, Marie Woolf’s and Mark Hookham’s article ‘Chocks away for Heathrow by the Sea’ reported that transport officials have been ordered to draw up a business case for a new four-runway ‘hub’ airport. They reported business leaders and airline bosses, who argue the economy is being damaged by a shortage of capacity, are lobbying hard for swift action on airport capacity.

In Rachel Sylvester’s and Alice Thomson’s article in the Times on Saturday 14 July, ‘Labour is preparing for power. And we believe in the Project’ they speak to Lord Adonis, the reformer, writer and Labour peer who was Minister for Schools and Transport Secretary under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He comments that, “We have few things going for us at the moment but one of them is international aviation. We should now have an independent inquiry that includes all the options, including a third runway at Heathrow. You can’t play politics over this, it is the single most important growth decision we can make.”

This was a theme also reflected in comments made by Lord Mandelson in the media and reflected in an article in The Telegraph on Thursday 12 July. His solution to the problem – to take the issue “out of party politics” by convening an independent committee of the wisest men in the world

The Daily Mail’s article on the 12 July commented that ‘London has a vision for new airport capacity. Now it needs is the Victorian spirit to get it built and paid for’. Written by Alex Brummer, the paper says “Like the Victorians and the Hong Kong government the UK needs to think bigger, and begin the process of building a new airport in the Thames Estuary complete with high speed rail link to central London.”