Opinion: Time to take a stand on “Boris Island”

Local politics in the south-east of England, especially in North Kent and London, has been dominated by the proposed HUB airport, it was a key issue in the Mayoral debate, especially for residents of the Medway towns. London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson is pushing for a new airport either on the Isle of Grain where there is an RSPB sanctuary on marshland that was portrayed in Dickens’ Great Expectations or in the middle of the estuary itself.

It is a story that is hardly out of the local press or local Politicians blogs which is why I was reading a Labour Councillor’s blog post the other day and became very confused and angered by one of his comments:

let the public send a message to Cameron and Clegg that no means no

It is my opinion that Nick Clegg should not let this stand.

We have opposed all airport expansion in the South East of England and have already been vocal about the opposition to the proposed “Boris Island.”

The proposed airport would be an ecological and environmental disaster for North Kent, its marshlands and its bird populations. There is a real fear of bird strikes on aircraft and the possibility of a horrific accident with an aeroplane full of people landing in the estuary.

So apart from the environmental damage to an area of extreme natural beauty and significance there is also the concern of what affects it will have on the Medway towns. It is clear our outdated infrastructure will not cope under all the extra strain and houses on the flight path will fall in value.

All the local political parties are opposed to it as we were when there was an earlier proposal for an airport at Cliffe some ten years ago. Yet despite opposing it locally and nationally we’re being lumped in with the Conservatives again and criticised!

I know that at the moment there are bigger issues occupying Nick Clegg and the leadership but this is an issue that has the possibility of causing a lotof upset across North Kent and South Essex. At the moment our local Conservative MPs are dealing with it but are obviously torn by party loyalty. It would be good for the Party, both locally and nationally if Nick or some of our ministers got more involved in this, even came down to Medway and spoke to the Councillors and heard the opinions of local people rather than people with vested interests at the Consultation.

We all want to see a greener economy and transport network. In the wake of the Lords reform it is time, I think, for us to stand apart from the Conservatives on an issue and say, loudly and proudly, “No!”

This is a matter of great concern to residents in our constituencies and it is seldom out of the public eye but it feels that no one in Government is listening. We are the party that listens to people, we are the party that stands up for green issues and now it is time that the Leadership help us sink this island airport once and for all.

* Chris Sams is the Group Secretary for Medway Liberal Democrats

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  • Its also stupid because it would interfere with the existing London airport flightpaths, and its position relative to London would guarantee more traffic over the centre of London because runways are aligned relative to prevaling winds.

  • Keith Browning 11th Jul '12 - 8:29pm

    If you build HS2 rail line, you can then expand Birmingham Airport, which then is only 40 minutes from the centre of London, which is less time than the Piccadilly line takes from Heathrow. You dont need both projects unless you are in the construction business. Do any of the politicians involved have ‘friends’ in the construction business?

  • Peter Hayes 11th Jul '12 - 8:38pm

    I live in the South West and my family live in the North West. For all of us Birmingham, Liverpool or the Midlands airport is a better option. The problem is there are not direct flights. For work Birmingham, Amsterdam and Minneapolis and reverse is better than arriving back jet lagged in Gatwick and having a 2 hours drive.

  • Peter Welch 11th Jul '12 - 9:49pm

    Julian Huppert has been very good on this, and so has Nick: did you miss this http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/9023815/Nick-Clegg-threatens-to-veto-unviable-vision-of-a-new-airport-in-the-Thames-Estuary.html ?

    We are campaigning against this scheme in Southend. There is an online petition here: http://campaigns.libdems.org.uk/Estuary%20Airport%20Petition

  • Richard Dean 12th Jul '12 - 12:39am

    “It is clear our outdated infrastructure will not cope under all the extra strain and houses on the flight path will fall in value”

    It’s quite feasible that the opposite will happen. The failure of the infrastructure may well be recognized and work may then be done to modernize it . Hotels and B&Bs might find trade increasing. New and existing local industries might grow, and many jobs might be created, both to support the airport and to take advantage of proximity when interacting with foreign markets.

    You might actually be onto a financial winner!

    Bu I do prefer the Birmingham, Stanstead, or Newcastle, or Liverpool options, basically for all these reasons.

  • Chris, I shouldn’t worry about “bigger issues occupying Nick Clegg and the leadership ” at the present time, given the amount of time they are devoting to Lords Reform; a matter that fundamentally has little impact on the daily lives of the vast majority of people living in south east England or on the economy and hence of a much lower impact and priority than getting the most out of our airports and transport infrastructure.

  • Robert Carruthers 12th Jul '12 - 8:09am

    The problem is that Heathrow is in completely the wrong place and any further expansion would increase the aircraft noise misery for millions of people living in a vast swathe across West and South West London. I live ten miles from Heathrow and many nights at around 11-11.30pm there is a constant roar of really noisy, heavily laden jumbos taking off for the Far East which makes getting to sleep impossible. Maps of the flight paths expected from an expanded Heathrow would make this infinitely worse.

    If”Boris Island” isn’t the answer on environmental grounds, expanding Heathrow certainly isn’t either.

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Jul '12 - 9:28am

    Apart from the environmental issues raised above the possibility of rising sea levels and increasingly extreme storm events suggest that building airports in coastal locations is a daft thing to do.

    If there is spare airport capacity in the Midlands and/or North of England we should use that. rather than concentrating on hubs in the south east – which seem to me only for the benefit of BA rather than travellers’ needs.

    A bit like the banks really – the banks have lost the plot over their role in servicing the needs of the rest of the economy versus making huge profits in as short a time as possible. The plot is being lost in a similar way over airport capacity – travellers’ needs are not being taken properly into account.

  • We don’t need any more airfields. Thanks to the war this country is peppered with airfields, so if we need a new airport hub anywhere we certainly don’t need to build a new one, and certainly not one that would bring us face-to-face with International Habitat agreements (a bit like declaring badgers a protected species then deciding to cull them!)
    Our Military is reducing in size, bases are being rationalised or made redundant, so it should not be too difficult to allocate one of those for civil use. Existing communities will notice little change, and the threat of ancillary job losses will be reversed. There must be several choices of military airfield that could be converted in this way, and having connections to existing infrastructure would avoid massive investment from the public purse.
    RAF Lyneham, just off Junction 16 of M4, right next to the Paddington mainline would be ideal, and could be operated in conjunction with the other airports along the M4 corridor.

  • Alex Macfie 12th Jul '12 - 1:25pm

    We don’t need any airport expansion, as we already have other infrastructure that could be used to displace short-haul flights? We still have short-haul flights from SE England to mainland Europe (even to Paris and Brussels), yet the Channel Tunnel is running to only 57% of capacity!?!? We need to change the fact that it is still often more economic and practical to fly than to take the train, even when the train is theoretically a workable travel option. It has been supposedly ‘open access’ for passenger rail services through the CT for over 2 years, so where are the competitors to Eurostar? The only seriously proposed new cross-channel rail service is the DB offering, which is now not due to start until 2015. International rail travel to/from UK is not competing on a level playing field with air because of ridiculous over-regulation of cross-channel rail. We need to ditch the airport-style check-in; reduce tunnel access costs for operators; allow mixed UK domestic/international trains to run. [There shouldn’t be anything special about international trains; they should just be normal trains that happen to cross a border, as tends to be the case in the rest of Europe.] Some of this has to be done at the European level, but it should be done. By displacing practically all short-haul passengers to rail, slots would become available for the long-haul services that airport-expansionists say are needed.

  • Barry Fleet 12th Jul '12 - 3:25pm

    A generation ago, there was a proposal to build an estuary airport on the Maplin Sands and I was among the many people who campaigned against it on the grounds of the crippling cost of construction and the huge risk of birdstrike on the main bird migration route. These issues equally apply to ‘Boris Island’.
    There were large numbers of migrating brent geese in the estuary last winter which proves Chris Sams ‘ point.

  • Fred Stephenson 12th Jul '12 - 6:46pm

    The unnecessary death of millions of birds, the loss of valuable sea life, pollution to the estuary waters, and loss of local economy are only a few of the reasons an estuary airport of ANY kind should be set aside. Need we also discuss the possibility of the SS Richard Montgomery, sunk in WWII, and loaded with tons of TNT which would be a constant hazard not only to those of us living on the estuary shores, but to the very airports that Norman Foster and Boris Johnson wish to build? From that, what about the loss of local jobs in seaside resorts, the devaluation of homes, and throw in fouling of our air, noise and raised threats of crime? The list carries on and on.

    I wholly and absolutely agree that Birmingham, Manchester or ANY other existing airport can be expanded and a system worked out in conjunction with Heathrow, with or without a 3rd runway. Not only would this proposal allow us to become on a level playing field with other European nations, we would be bringing jobs to our local economies through the building and maintaining of new high speed rail links and new runways.

    The ridiculous idea of destroying what is left of our beautiful country just to satisfy the greed of London bigwigs is a travesty to us and to our children. It’s time to make use of what we already have in place if we must compete, not destroy our future to prove ourselves worthy.

  • I am always surprised at the support for Birmingham airport, given that its single runway heads straight towards a densely built up area. It is hard to imagine a major expansion being popular. It is also hemmed in on all sides by housing etc. A very odd place to support expansion.

    In contrast the Halcrow/Arup planes for Grain would not have a big noise impact on either Medway (where I grew up) or the North Kent coastal towns. I am not a fan of Boris Island or similar, but we should be honest at admit that it reduces the noise impact of aviation by more than any other proposal. To get an idea of this, cut out the noise contours from this: http://assets.dft.gov.uk/publications/noise-exposure-contours/noise-exposure-heathrow-2010.pdf and stick them on a map centred on Grain.

  • Richard Dean 13th Jul '12 - 9:03pm

    Interesting, thanks Tim! A comparison of Figures 4 and 14 suggests that, except close to the runway, noise levels are not determined by flight paths. Looking at Figures 9 and 14 suggests that noise levels are constrained by terrain heights, which may also suggest both that noise bounes off terrain. Looking at the road layout suggests that, again except within a few kilometers of the runways, signicant noise is actually generated by road traffic rather than aircaft.

    This very useful data suggests that we can indeed extend airports to the same size as Heathrow but with far less noise impact – we can do it by putting the road traffic underground, or by shielding the road noise by embankments or hollows, for example. Puitting roads undergaround could have the added environmental benefit that exhaust gases could be collected from the tunnels and cleaned before release into the atmosphere or back into the tunnels.

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