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Monday, November 14, 2011

Flights of ambition

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In the late Sixties, when debate raged about the need for a third London airport, few predicted the dramatic growth in air travel in the decades since. The Roskill commission, established to consider the need for and possible site of a new airport, concluded that there was no foreseeable requirement for a facility with three, or even four, runways. This effectively scuppered plans to build an airport in the Thames estuary, an idea that had been around since the Second World War. Instead, the existing airport at Stansted was expanded. Further consideration was given to a possible new airport at Maplin Sands, but this suggestion was dropped in 1980.

Now, with Heathrow running near to capacity, and unable to expand because of its cramped location, there is talk once again of an airport in the Thames estuary. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has proposed a new international airport on an artificial island. Not to be outdone, the architect Lord Foster has come up with a plan to site the world’s biggest airport on the Isle of Grain, north of the Medway Towns. It would feature four runways, built above a rail terminal capable of transporting 300,000 passengers a day. High-speed trains would connect travellers with central London, Europe and the rest of the UK, with tidal movements in the North Sea providing a natural source of energy.

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