Monday, 12 October 2009

Boris Island gets lost in the Thames Estuary

The Mayor's road toll proposals are (we are told) of the long-term, last resort, blue-sky thinking, frankly never-going-to-happen order of Boris ideas.

However, they do at least make it into his Transport Strategy released today. How about this one:

“Boris Island”, as the £40billion proposed site two miles off Sheerness has been called, could be entirely bankrolled and owned by sheikhs.

The Mayor's deputy, Kit Malthouse, said it could be built within 10 years. Plans indicate it would dwarf the capacity of Heathrow's two runways.

He added: “We have had an incredible amount of interest from countries such as Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE, which have signalled they would like to fund the airport. It is possible we could build it without taxpayers' money.

“Who wouldn't want to own an immovable fixed asset just off the coast? It's extremely valuable and the owners of sovereign wealth funds know they could bequeath it to their children.”

Ooh how exciting. A fantasy airport built by Mystery Sheikhs for the benefit of Mystery Sheikh children. Where's this to be found in the Mayor's Transport Strategy?

Nowhere is where. There is not a single solitary mention of it anywhere within Boris's 356 page report.

So what has happened to this project launched from a dredger last winter, and ceaselessly trailed by failed airline tycoon and Deputy Mayor for Boondoggles Kit Malthouse?

I phoned up City Hall to ask. Where was the now long overdue feasibility study?

"Doug Oakervee's study will be coming out shortly" they told me.

"Is there a fixed date for his report?" I asked.

"No there's no fixed date." they replied.

Oh well, I'm sure it will be worth the wait in the end.

-Update- The Kent Messenger reports:

The idea of an island airport has been universally condemned in Kent, with politicians from all parties and local councils and environmental groups saying it is a non-starter...

A spokesman for the mayor’s office said: “Kit Malthouse made the comments during the Tory party conference.

“There has been interest from all quarters and from different parts of the world but it’s irrelevant at the moment as we are waiting for the feasibility study from Doug Oakervee to come out.

“Nothing is definite at the moment. It is not definite that it can be done or that we would want to do it but there’s a lot of interest in the idea. At this stage the most important thing is the feasibility study.”

Hardly a ringing endorsement is it?


Anonymous said...

All the feasibility study is going to come up with is that building an airport there is technically possible and that it will cost lots of money. Lots of things are possible but it doesnt mean we should do them. Did we really need a year long investigation for Boris to figure that out?

barry rochford said...

I actually like the idea!
It could be built using 10 years of landfill (with non-toxics removed).
It won't require any land grabs.
And, if there's a high speed rail-link to Central London it could work. It could also rejuvenate the economy in the Thames Estuary.
The trouble is I doubt that Boris could pull it off.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Well 'Boris Island' have daft hair attached to it?

AdamB said...

Barry - Whether you like it or not (and I don't as it happens) Boris should know that he has zero chance of ever implementing it. Tory dominated Kent don't want it, the Tory leadership nationally don't want it and the Labour party locally don't want it either. There's also the small matter of it not actually being in London.

Tom said...

"And, if there's a high speed rail-link to Central London it could work"

Alternatively the cost of the rail link alone would get you about 1/3 of the way to Birmingham on High Speed 2, but the latter will be of use when the oil runs out.

Jon Forth said...

What a sour chap you are.

As far as I can tell you are neither and engineer nor an architect. I doubt that you have expertise in hydrology or environmental science. your profile omits to indicate whether you are an aviation or transport expert.

In the absence of such knowledge why wouldn't you wait for the informed view before opining?

AdamB said...

One doesn't know one's place these days I'm afraid. No more opining from me.

AdamB said...

By the way 'Jon' I see you have posted here before as 'anonymous'. As before you have left a rather sour comment on an article related to Kit Malthouse, after arriving here via a Google blog search for "Kit Malthouse".

Come on man, declare your interest.

saifu03 said...

OK then, as someone with a semblance of interest in aviation and a qualification to go with it.

Simple two words for you: bird strike.

Other comments:
Not in London so not Mayor's job
Not in London so not ideal as a London airport - it is not even close.
Extra pollution from actually having to go to the estuary from London and elsewhere.
Massive construction of infrastructure necessary.

Shall I go on?

Before anyone mentions KIX (Kansai), the clue is in the title, it does not serve one city, it serves three separate MAJOR cities.

mnottingham said...

I think this will now be delayed until after the election. The Tories aiming to pick up both west London seats with their Heathrow decision and not threraten winning Kent/Essex seats by pushing this forward.

AdamB said...

Yes that is a worry Mark - that the Tory leadership are poo-pooing the idea before the general election but will support it afterwards. Somehow I still can't see Cameron going for it although you never know.

How is this all going down in Thanet?

Alex said...

Sheikhs. So they're basically assuming a pony, right?

Perhaps it's Suleiman al-Fahim, making offers for things without telling his dad again.

AdamB said...

Indeed Alex, Kit should know that you can't always take these sheikhs at their word:

"Records at American University show that Mr. Fahim was awarded an M.B.A., but there is no record of him receiving a doctorate there — the university does not even offer an advanced degree in real estate."

oh dear

barry rochford said...

I agree that no one wants it - the local Tories, Labour for sure. I'm just trying not to fall into the trap of 'because it's Boris, it must be barmy' even though because it's Boris, it probably is barmy.
Personally I'm in favour of cutting air travel, but if it has to happen consider its merits.
I can't see it happening for practical reasons, although I'm not sure they are insurmountable.
The point about bird strikes and affect on wildlife has hardly ben mentioned in this thread, but that surely is a major concern.
However, I see nothing wrong in principle.
Even if it was remorely practical, Boris wouldn't get out of bed to make it work.

Tom said...

"As far as I can tell you are neither and engineer nor an architect. I doubt that you have expertise in hydrology or environmental science. your profile omits to indicate whether you are an aviation or transport expert."

I've got a master's degree in civil engineering, actually (spent a year in Germany studying, amongst other stuff, estuaries - always did enjoy hydrology, turbulent/laminar flow, Reynolds, Froude and the rest of the gang). Throw in sufficient expertise in transport matters to get onto the Politics Show as a talking head, albeit that that doesn't take as much as you might think. Now bog off.

Bird strikes - less of an issue the further out you go (birds tend to congregate along shorelines), but as we know the further out you go the less use as an airport it is. Can't really win there.

Anyway, perhaps 'Jon' would like to tell us where TEA baggers website has gone?

saifu03 said...

Tom, engineering background too eh? Explains a lot. Bird strikes are less of an issue the further out you go, but you won't be far out at all - you have to build a shoreline. And if you want a big airport, you will need a large shoreline.
From memory, KIX does not have this problem but Japanese construction does not have the best record for environmental awareness!

Frankly, you can ignore almost all of that though - the cost, both monetary and environmental, would be huge. If they are fairly explained, then we can make a decision, but a high speed link from airport (only) seems a waste of opportunity and location.
I actually think Heathrow should be expanded OR Gatwick should be. If air travel is going to increase (as is almost certain), I'd rather it did so with attendant economic benefits to London rather than other places. Another option is to have a larger airport in the Midlands to serve more of the country with a high speed link to London to allow you to get to (actual) London or Birmingham fairly quickly.

AdamB said...

Simon Jenkins weighs into the debate at the Standard, although I can't for the life of me work out what point he's trying to make:;jsessionid=5DD1D22C6218C049E89E25325C29B3EA

Appealing of Ealing said...

The whole thing doesn't make much sense to me. Might as well build it on the Isle of Man.

mnottingham said...

In Thanet the Tory Council is pushing for more night flights from kent International (manston). As it is a planning matter it is a free vote. It is logical that if there is no expansion at Heathrow there will be more flights at places like manston. I live under the flight path so I am against night flights but not the airport, it is not good for children especially.
A half decent media would be juxtaposing the different things that Conservatives are saying in different places about aviation but it is not happening.

stimarco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stimarco said...

I'm surprised at the vitriol being aimed at a "Thames Airport". From a civils standpoint, it's just a matter of throwing money at the problem; there's nothing special about the Thames estuary geologically. (And, unlike Japan, we don't get many earthquakes or typhoons.)

A high-speed rail link is trivial: The Grain peninsula in Kent is rail-connected with the North Kent Line near Gravesend. At the other end of Gravesend, there's a *direct rail link* with HS1 and (eventually) Crossrail. (The latter already has a protected route for an extension to Hoo Junction, east of Gravesend.)

Beefing-up the Grain branch is pretty much all you'd need to do. (On the Essex side, there's the LTS line which can also be easily extended.)

Bird strikes? Seriously? *That* is a criticism? Have you seen how much open water there is around Heathrow? There are rivers, streams and umpteen *reservoirs* there, for f*ck's sake! Oh, and birds aren't *that* stupid. They have no more desire to get smacked in the face by a giant, flying tin can than you or I. They've managed just fine so far.

As for the airport not being in "London", er... what about Gatwick (halfway to Brighton), Stansted (closer to Cambridge than London) and Luton? Nobody seems to mind using those.

BIrmingham has its own damned international airport; let 'em use that instead of making wasteful long-distance HS rail journeys to London and cluttering up our already crowded public transport network.

What about the *2 million people* who live in Kent alone, not to mention Essex? Don't they count?

But the biggest advantage of a new estuarine airport its ability to relieve London's other airports. (You might even be able to justify closing Stansted entirely.)

Heathrow itself would become a development opportunity on the scale of the Docklands area. (The existing terminals can be trivially converted to other uses, such as exhibition halls and shopping. They're just steel, glass and concrete shells. Their contents can be relocated to the new site.)

And, incidentally, I live in Kent and don't actually care much for flying, but even I can see the advantages of moving London's premier airport to a far less stupid place.

AdamB said...

The main criticism for me is that he's pushing for something that isn't wanted. It's not wanted by Kent, not by the current government, not by the next government. The only reasons Boris is pushing for it is a) his deputy's obsession with it b) it's a good way of appeasing the airline lobby whilst opposing Heathrow. It's a fantasy that will never happen under Boris (indeed he has no powers to ever bring it in) and it is diverting energy and attention from dealing with the real transport issues that London faces.

Tom said...

"From a civils standpoint, it's just a matter of throwing money at the problem; there's nothing special about the Thames estuary geologically. "

Meteorologically you've got fog and storm surges, the latter of which imply building the thing quite high - 747s aren't Sea Harriers and don't like ramps to launch them over the boundary dyke.

The southern island is in relatively shallow water, the northern one probably has to be kept clear of what is quite a deep area just south-east of Southend (they park big ships in it, to give you some idea). It's worth noting that the 1970s proposals were mostly on land, rather than solely on massive reclamation.

"A high-speed rail link is trivial:"

No it isn't. Again, in the 70s the plan was a *four* track HSL plus *two* motorways, to cope with the full demand. We've got a 2 track HSL which is already partially used and, inconveniently for airport traffic, has a two hour white period in the middle of the day for maintenance. It's ludicrous to suggest using up the spare capacity for airport traffic instead of for introducing competition on the Paris/Brussels routes and possibly extending to other destinations like Cologne, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Strasbourg etc.

Grain branch - I looked at this, and the problem is it's nowhere near where Kit wants to put his airport terminal, which is at the eastern end of Sheppey. The sketches in the public domain all show a route from HS1 south east of the Medway towns up through the gap between Sittingbourne and Faversham. This puts the junction somewhat south of the North Downs Tunnel.

Crossrail link? - forcing a 40 mile extension to the end of Sheppey it buggers up what Crossrail is supposed to be, and the journey times are too long to be convenient, particularly compared to what Crossrail offers from, er, Heathrow, or Thameslink from Luton/Gatwick or Stansted Express get the picture.

"As for the airport not being in "London","

It's nearly a third of the way to *Holland* mate - the point about the other London airports is that they have *populated bits of the UK on four sides* rather than *the North Sea on three sides*. It's idiotic, do the maths for the number of people you have to shift daily there and back (don't forget tens of thousands of workers, who also need somewhere to live and some way of getting there) and calculate what sort of size of transport infrastructure you'd need. You need to get everyone to the terminals on land and the fuel, baggage, airside workers, passengers, crew, spare parts etc. a further seven miles out to sea.

The problem with throwing the word 'trivial' around is that it just shows to the enlightened that you haven't done any research, even rough back-of-envelope stuff any decent engineer does on Day One to get a feel for the parameters of the problem. Ain't. Gonna. Happen.

Apart from anything else, who the hell's going to move to the acres of new business parks at Heathrow when all the multinationals *that moved there because it was near a major international airport* all decamp to Kent? You'll be building offices in an area full of empty offices. Bright, no?

saifu03 said...

Yes, bird strikes.

You know, the cause of the catastrophic crash off New York not that long ago.
Birds may not be that stupid but they are not fast enough to outrun an airliner.
People are not stupid enough to walk into cars, how many people die in car accidents?

Bird strikes are a fairly major concern for all airport designers (and engine designers), action is taken and it usually does not happen so the layperson does not consider it a risk.

AdamB said...

Councils join forces to fight Boris Island plans

Anonymous said...

Has Boris Johnson bothered consulting with Aviation Experts to do a Risk Assessment to find out if the Thames Estuary is safe due to the wind factor and other weather conditions that may make taking off and landing hazardous. I hope that he has done this before going through the enormous expense of getting survey's and reports done. I say this because the Thames Estuary is very windy and experiences some pretty servere weather in the winter months which could pose a serious danger to aircraft. Aviation experts would have given some very good advice and maybe have done a Free Risk Assessment.

Gill said...

Climate change remains the greatest threat to biodiversity and the construction of a massive new airport in the Thames Estuary will have impacts that extend far outside the immediate area. Emissions from aircraft remain one of the fastest increasing sources of greenhouse gases and the demand for flights should be managed rather than just accepted as necessary.In a low-lying area like the Thames Estuary, the threat of climate change is particularly significant and it is foolhardy to consider building an airport that would only contribute to the underlying problem.The Government’s plans for the regeneration of the Thames Gateway are being promoted as low-carbon and stress the importance of greenspace and the natural environment as part of its success. An estuary airport would remove any possibility of the Thames Gateway being “low-carbon”.
What Boris Johnson and Kit Malthouse are suggesting is environmental vandalism on a grand scale.
Friends of the North Kent Marshes