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Thames Estuary airport plans to come under spotlight

A cross-section of Lord Foster's plans for a new Thames Estuary airport

The case for a Thames Estuary airport is to be put under the spotlight by a powerful group of business chiefs and council leaders in the region.

The South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) is to commission a major study into airports in the region.

The study will consider "the optimum location for a potential hub airport" in the area.

The LEP is a group of business and council representatives set up by the government to steer job creation and boost investment in the region.

It has identified the Thames Gateway as a key area for its aim of helping create 113,000 jobs in North Kent and south Essex over the next 20 years.

Both Kent County Council and Medway council are represented on the LEP and their opposition to airport plans for north Kent are well known. Some business leaders, however, are supportive of the idea because of its potential to create thousands of jobs.

The LEP’s study could be influential in making the case for or against the plans for a new hub airport and is likely to be a major contribution to the government’s consultation around the issue.

As well as the proposals for a new airport, the study will also focus on how best to increase capacity around the existing airports over the next decade.

It will examine the possibility of increasing capacity at Manston Airport in Thanet.

In a four-page statement on the study, the LEP says unless something is done to improve capacity, businesses will relocate from the south east to northern Europe.

"Already London Heathrow is losing routes to European competitors due to the overcrowding."

The comment echoes the arguments put forward by London Mayor Boris Johnson in advancing his case for an aiport in the Thames Estuary.

However, the LEP says there are question marks over all the proposals for the Thames Estuary airport, saying all pose "significant environmental and logistical problems" and "are unlikely to be brought forward in the next decade by which time the airports of the south east will have exceeded their capacity".

The LEP says a more detailed study of a hub airport will be carried out if there is evidence that existing capacity in the south east is insufficient.

A Medway Council spokesman said: "Medway welcomes the LEP study on airport capacity in the South East. We are not in the least bit convinced of the need for a new hub airport as promoted by Boris Johnson or Sir Norman Foster.

"The study will see what capacity we already have available and how that can be better joined up rather than look at pie in the sky ideas, which are unlikely to ever see the light of day."

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