Boris’s experts to look at new airport options

Marion Dakers
MAYOR of London Boris Johnson has put together a team of economists, architects and advisers to thrash out the details of a new hub airport in the south east of England.

Johnson told the transport select committee yesterday that the country needs “a solution that gives us a four runway hub, preferably a 24 hour hub, which is what our competitors are going for and in many cases already have”.

He has appointed advisers including WS Atkins, the engineering firm that worked on the Olympics and the West Coast Main Line franchise; architects Zaha Hadid and Pascall & Watson; professional services giant Ernst & Young; economic groups such as Oxford Economics; and law firm Ashurst.

The team will evaluate around 15 airport proposals and conduct feasibility studies on a handful, which will be handed to the Davies Commission to inform its work on UK air capacity, the Mayor said yesterday.

While he has not dismissed Heathrow entirely, Johnson said yesterday that expanding Britain’s biggest airport would cause an “immense amount of political grief” over noise and environmental concerns.

He argued that Heathrow would cease to exist as a major airport if a new hub in the Thames Estuary goes ahead, but that the site could be redeveloped to “readily replace” the jobs that would be lost in west London as a result.

“I’m confident that the case for boldness is increasingly being heard. One of the game changers has been… the government interest in infrastructure and the Olympics,” he told the committee.

But he skirted the issue of public funding for a purpose-built hub, which he has estimated at around £25bn of the overall £70bn to £80bn cost. He is said to be scouting for investors in the Middle East.

Transport minister Patrick McLoughlin later told the committee that he “is not looking to spend more money on things already provided by the private sector”, though all options remain on the table until the Davies Commission reports in 2015.

McLoughlin sidestepped questions about whether air passenger duty will be altered in next month’s budget, saying the tax is a matter for the chancellor, George Osborne.