London’s Future Hub Airport

Location: Royal Geographical Society, London, UK
Date: 05/02/2013

Participants at last night’s East or West debate, which took place at the Royal Geographical Society, London, voted in favour of developing a transport hub in the Thames Estuary to accommodate Heathrow’s lack of airport capacity and to secure sustainable economic growth and future employment. 64% of the voters were in favour of creating an airport in the East, whilst only 21% voted for adding a third runway at Heathrow (West). The remaining 15% were in favour of alternative developments. The debate comes in light of recent reports stating that the airport’s insufficient infrastructure is costing the UK an estimated £14bn a year in lost trade.

Hosted by World Architecture News and World Cities Network, the event attracted over 100 architects, engineers, economists and key figures from within the industry who discussed the necessity of increasing airport capacity and considered which solution would best improve the resilience of Britain’s infrastructure.

Proceedings were opened with a keynote address from Richard Gammon, Director of Aviation and Transportation at HOK, who spoke in favour of the West. Recognising the importance of retaining Heathrow as a global transport hub, he believes the airport to be an essential part of the UK infrastructure and driver of the economy, and was in favour of the immediate expansion of the existing site to arrest increasing competition from other European hubs. “A third runway is a ready-to-go solution and offers the path of least resistance. The one thing we can’t control is time. Heathrow will get us to where we want to be the quickest,” he stated.

Grimshaw put forward their vision of tackling increasing airport capacity not by proposing a single hub, but by making London the hub itself. The brainchild of CEO, Jolyon Brewis, London: Hub City envisages splitting aviation capacity between a number of existing airports and improving the speed and reliability of links to the city. “A one-hub airport is a model that is relatively short-term. London has a bigger cultural power than other competing airports,” he explained.

Aviation Adviser to Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Daniel Moylan put forward the case for developing a hub airport in the East. He stated that building a third runway at Heathrow would increase noise pollution above acceptable levels and fail to deliver the long-term level of hub capacity required. He went on to say that building an airport in the Thames Estuary would satisfy the capacity needed and allow for long-term future expansion, whilst reducing the environmental, noise and security problems of aircraft over-flying in London.

“We need to get real. We need to look beyond this country and learn something from other countries, like The Netherlands, France, Germany and the USA. But we’re not doing it. The sooner we make this project happen, the better the advantages will be for the country in the long-term.”

Supporting the East argument was global architectural firm Gensler, who spoke of their plans for a floating airport on the Thames Estuary. The groundbreaking scheme would include four runways tethered to the riverbed and be the largest of its kind in the world. Project Director of London Britannia Airport, Ian Mulcahey, stated that the aviation hub would be essential to UK’s infrastructure, offering a much-needed injection of dynamism to the economy.

Foster + Partners’ plans for Thames Hub offer a bold, pioneering approach to future infrastructure development. The proposal aims to revolutionize Britain’s outdated transport and energy infrastructure by integrating transport networks across the country - including an international airport, shipping and rail complex, new Barrier crossing and a high-speed orbital rail line around the Capital.

Other projects under discussion included High Speed 2 (HS2) which has just dropped the Heathrow spur in phase 2 pending the result of the Davies Inquiry; an improvement of the connectivity between existing airports from urban planning guru, Terry Farrell; and proposals for a new four-runway airport at Luton from Weston Williamson.

The government has already appointed Sir Howard Davies to lead an independent inquiry into UK airport capacity. But with findings not due until 2015 and the decision to support recommendations not expected until after the next general election, the future of the nation’s transport network is still up in the air. What is certain is that radical solutions must be implemented soon in order to secure the UK’s current economic prosperity and future sustainable growth.

Categories: World Cities Network Events, Past Events, Design, Governance, Technology, London