Huw Thomas, partner at Foster + Partners, argues the case for the Thames Hub

With the debate over airport expansion in the South-east threatening to tear apart not just the coalition, but the Conservative Party as well, four leading thinkers make the case for their preferred option.

Yesterday, Sir Terry Farrell argued the case for better territorial networks - today, Huw Thomas, partner at Foster + Partners, explains why he’s routing for the Thames Hub. Tomorrow’s full feature in print, online and on our tablet app will reveal our last two leading thinkers rounding off the debate



Huw Thomas, partner, Foster + Partners

To secure sustainable economic growth and jobs, Britain desperately needs more hub airport capacity to connect and trade with the world’s growing economies. Our only hub airport, Heathrow, is full, and expanding European and Middle Eastern hubs are seriously eroding its competitive position.
Heathrow cannot expand because of noise. A quarter of the people within Europe who suffer from aircraft noise live around Heathrow and the proposed third runway will only make matters worse. A third runway would be full within a decade of opening and can’t deliver the long-term level of hub capacity required. Its construction requires reconfiguration of an airport already struggling to maintain a good service for passengers.

A split hub, with a rail link between Heathrow and Gatwick, would not provide any additional hub capacity and would result in unacceptable transfer times for passengers, further eroding the UK’s hub airport status. There is spare capacity at Birmingham, Luton and Stansted, which could be better used, but this will not deliver the hub capacity that Britain requires.

The UK can only sustain one hub airport and Heathrow’s inability to expand means that a replacement hub is required. This has to be sited close to its largest market, London, but the crowded South-east severely restricts potential locations. A four-runway, 150 million passenger capacity hub airport in the Thames Estuary offers an opportunity to address the issues of noise and delays that plague Heathrow, and to deliver the long-term hub capacity Britain needs.

Located on the sparsely populated Isle of Grain in Kent, and connected to London via a spur onto the HS1 rail link and an extension of Crossrail, the airport could operate 24 hours a day, with aircraft mostly approaching over water. It could be constructed in seven years following planning consent (which itself will take seven years for any aviation solution) and its £20bn cost funded by landing charges, property taxes and receipts from redeveloping Heathrow, with compensation for Heathrow’s shareholders. It could create a new Thames crossing and flood barrier providing major regeneration for the Thames Gateway.

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