Should the plans for an airport in the Thames Estuary ever come to fruition, what would happen to Heathrow?
A new report, penned by the president of the Town and Country Planning Association suggests that the 4.7 square mile site could be turned into a garden city, with Terminals 1,2 and 3 converted to commercial office usage and T4 transformed into a retail park (would we notice the difference?). T5 could become a higher education institution, and four garden areas suburbs of housing would also be created. The report describes it as “a West London counterpoint to Canary Wharf”, which doesn’t exactly fill us with optimism.
Turning the area into a garden city does have some merit, though, and is appropriate give Heathrow’s origins as the sleepy hamlet of Heath Row. Whether the government backs the plan is another matter. There are increasingly mixed messages from the coalition over the vexing third runway issue. Boris Johnson, long plotting an alternative to Heathrow, has accused the government of “tip-toeing back towards the electrified fence of the third runway”, although it’s reasonable to assume that his opinion is meant for a national, rather than London, level — the Mayor will have little sway over such a huge project happening in Kent, beyond his jurisdiction.
We’ll know more about the future of air travel in south-east England later in the year, when the government publishes a consultation paper on expanding capacity.