Norman Foster Outlines Thames Estuary Airport Plans

Architect Norman Foster has released details of a self-funded proposal for a huge airport in the Thames Estuary.

The plan, much ballyhooed by Boris Johnson (to general disdain / ridicule by his party, the airlines and other interested parties) is for a floating airport in the Estuary, to alleviate and eventually replace Heathrow. Foster’s proposal is not quite the same as the Mayor’s plan, but is similar in its location, and is nothing if not ambitious. Built on reclaimed land on the Isle of Grain, the Thames Hub would be the world’s largest airport, operating 24 hours a day and serviced by a huge slab of new transport infrastructure that would include the UK’s busiest station, with 300,000 people passing through each day. The airport would be accessible from central London in 30 minutes, and the scheme also incorporates a new orbital rail route around the capital and a second Thames flood barrier.

Foster has nous when it comes to ambitious airports. His firm’s Beijing terminal was briefly the world’s largest, while Hong Kong International Airport is built on reclaimed land (on a perhaps less impressive note, he also designed Stansted Airport). But as Financial Times architecture critic Edwin Heathcoate notes, it is a

complete re-imagining of the UK’s transport, energy and communication infrastructure, a vision of the kind of integration in transport and utilities that has not been considered since the great age of canals and then of railways

The £50 billion project has inevitably won the backing of Boris Johnson, while dissenting voices come from Kent residents, wildlife groups, and Terry Farrell, a not-entirely disinterested party as he is drawing up the masterplan for a transport hub at Old Oak Common in north-west London.

In outlining the project, Lord Foster harked back to Britain’s Victorian traditions of entrepreneurialism and industrial derring-do. Protesting perhaps too much, he said that the project was ‘no pie-in-the-sky’, and that building it would be “the most powerful single statement we could make about the ambition of this country”. Given the country’s miserly economic situation thus far in the 21st century, the notion of spending £50 billion on an airport (to say nothing of the associated infrastructural costs) might strike some less as ambition than fiscal foolhardiness on a colossal scale.

Yet there’s something so bold, so ambitious, so Buck Rogers about the plan that it’s almost impossible to imagine it happening.

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  • Gill Moore

    Alongside the RSPB and a broad coalition of millions, we are wholly opposed to the construction of an airport anywhere in the Thames Estuary because of the immense damage it would cause to the area’s internationally important wildlife and the wider environment. The whole issue was exhaustively investigated between 2002 and 2005 in the Government’s Aviation White Paper. ALL the key players, including the aviation industry, contributed. The idea of an airport in the Thames Estuary was conclusively ruled out and upheld by the High Court. In addition to the unprecedented environmental damage and the resulting massive legal implications, the investigation found that an estuary airport did not make sense economically, would not meet the requirements of the aviation industry and presented a significantly higher risk of ‘bird strike’ than at any other major airport in the UK. Lord Fosters ‘vision’ would potentially be the single biggest piece of environmental vandalism ever perpetrated in the UK.
    and any attempt to build a new airport in or around the Thames Estuary would be fought with relentless vigour
    Friends of the North Kent Marshes
    Conservation and Communities United

  • http://twitter.com/sparticus Mark Walley

    As Gill points out, it’s an incredibly stupid place to build an airport, BUT HOW COOL IS IT? I mean that alone almost sells me on it. The vision is incredible.

    • Dean Nicholas

      Yeah, that’s sort of my (guilty) reaction. Head says no, but heart says… wow.

    • http://twitter.com/lisamoab lisa.moab

      Agree with Dean. AWFUL idea, should never be done, but can you say “Blade Runner”? Why not just launch starships from there? will be helpful to have a platform ready as we flood out…

  • Stevie Henden

    I think it would be a wonderful place to build and airport. Currently huge swathes of London are blighted with noise and pollution from planes landing and taking off from LHR. This amazing plan would transform the lives of millions of people at a stroke  ( on the assumption that LHR was closed). At the end of the day I think that the lives of people are more important than birds…Come on let us be really visionary and do something bold and wonderful !!!

    • Colin

      The problem with this plan is that birds tend to cause a huge mess when they hit an aircraft and can cause it to crash. So moving the hub to the Thames could cause huge loss of life not just a noise problem. Additionally as noise travels further over water, the residents of North Kent and South Essex will get the blight, closing the leisure industry all along that coast. Finally as the airport is alligned East West the residents of East London will get the noise of planes leaving the airport.

  • Gee

    I have to agree that it just looks fab and would put the UK back at the forefront. I work in travel and we have so many clients who will do anything to travel anywhere except via Heathrow – the Majority of flights we sell are via the Middle East and NYC. This would put UK airlines in such a strong position connecting the US with Europe and bringing many more tourists to the UK.

  • HoosierSands

    I care very much about birds-especially those who fly into the engines of the aircraft I may be travelling in.

    • Johnnybrolly

      I’m not convinced about the bird strike argument.  There are plenty of airports all over the world which are sited on coastal areas and/or near major bird populations.  The flightpath into dear old Heathrow has planes down to around 4000ft just as they pass directly over Barnes Wetland Centre

  • Tom

    Why do people care more about the life of birds than people?
    This is a greta idea. I juts hope its not killed off by the Tories who want to drag us back to 1910

  • gully fancier

    As Gill Moore says. Its a terrible idea. 

    It wouldn’t mean Heathrow would be closed. Thus even more people would have to suffer from the effects of air travel.

    Terry Farrell’s plan for a high speed transport hub in West London to better connect Heathrow is much more logical.

    http://www.bdonline.co.uk/news/farrell-attacks-fosters-plan-for-thames-estuary-airport/5026000.article

  • Piers

    Awesome! All we need is to get Ken on board…

  • Geoff G

    The plan covers the whole of the Hoo Peninsular. Has Norman Foster ever been to the area? If he had he would have seen 5 Power Stations with another planned to be started in the near future.He would also have seen a LNG storage facility that can contain 20% of the UK Gas requirements.I don’t think any Government imagines that these could be removed without a crippling effect to the Country. 

  • Ian

    Somebody who actually understands aviation needs to tell Sir Norman that prevailing winds dictate that new runways in the south-east need to be in the direction 240 degrees (not 280 degrees?) and that it is a very bad idea to build the terminal buildings, etc. in line with the ends of runways.