On Wednesday, a revolt broke out over plans for the biggest airport in the world to be built in the Thames Estuary. Six Tory MPs joined forces to demand a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron as the government gets ready for a consultation for the £50 billion project, which is heavily supported by London Mayor Boris Johnson.
The London mayor has called the project "irresistible". However, he has in the past called for an airport to be built on floating islands around Whitstable. Recently he has praised Lord Foster's designs for a four-runway hub with a 30-minute train link to London that will be capable of serving 150 million passengers a year. This idea is due to be included in the consultation for the nation's aviation strategy this spring. This follows the government ruling out a third runway being built at London Heathrow Airport.
The six Tories – former ministerial aide Adam Holloway, Mark Reckless, Rehman Chishti, Tracey Crouch, Gareth Johnson and Gordon Henderson – have urged Cameron not to support these ideas. The proposals don't appear to be backed by the public or the aviation industry, they said. They warned that the plan will be devastating to the environment and significantly effect the hundreds of thousands of people living nearby. One MP said it's not right for the environment, economy, Kent or Britain. It's believed that a number of ministers and Tory whips are unhappy about a new massive hub airport being built on reclaimed Thames Estuary land or the Isle of Grain.
Cameron said in October 2010 that the government didn't plan to build an airport in the region. However, he went back on this earlier in the month by announcing that the government will examine the feasibility of a new multi-runway hub airport.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says that he isn't persuaded that a Thames Estuary hub airport needs to be built. He doesn't think a decision to concrete vast areas of the estuary should be made on a whim. He is happy to look at a wide-ranging consultation for UK aviation, but he is sceptical about the airport plan. There are four big airports in the London area, and three of them don't even operate at capacity yet. He believes things like this should be examined first, he added.
Industry analysis has also revealed that a new airport will mean airlines pay seven times the amount of Heathrow landing fees. Senior high-profile executives say that it currently costs about £15 per passenger at Heathrow, and this could rise to £100 for a new airport. This figure was based on the estimated £50 billion cost of the Thames hub, which is four times as much as the regulated £12 billion asset value of Heathrow. However, some analysts say the estuary airport could cost up to £70 billion.
The high landing fees would discourage airlines from flying from the airport rather than European rivals in Madrid, Paris and Amsterdam. Plus, carriers will be likely to stay at Heathrow if the government doesn't close it.