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Foster + Partners lodge formal Isle of Grain Thames hub plan with Sir Howard Davies' Airports Commission

19 July 2013
by Dan Bloom

Thames Hub. All photos courtesy Foster + Partners.

Thames Hub. All photos courtesy Foster + Partners.

Thousands of acres of rural Kent would be lost forever in detailed Thames estuary airport plans.

Foster + Partners, the firm behind plans for a £24 billion, four-runway international airport on the Isle of Grain, has lodged its detailed blueprints with the government’s Airports Commission.

The 40-page document will horrify villagers with the vast scale of the firm’s vision.

It admits: “Large terminals and operational buildings, offices, roads and car parks will interrupt the broad open scale of the marsh landscape, in the manner of existing industrial structures.

“The network of ditches and creeks running through the marshes will be severely affected or destroyed.

“The settings of historic buildings and structures adjacent to the airport will be dramatically changed, assuming they are not removed.

New road and rail links to the Thames hub

New road and rail links to the Thames hub

“The low hills of the Hoo peninsula rising out of the surrounding marshland will be lost entirely.

“Existing open views out over the estuary will be lost and replaced by terminal buildings, aircraft hangers and extensive areas of paving.”

A new six-lane motorway, high-speed rail link and Crossrail extension would plough directly through the former army base Lodge Hill - which has already been rejected as a housing site because it is Britain’s best nightingale habitat.

This would have a far more serious impact on Kent villages than Foster’s initial plans for a road and rail link under the Thames estuary, which have been dropped.

The plans do, however, still claim a 1,000-turbine Thames tidal barrier could be built to power the airport.

Thames hub

Thames hub

Elsewhere, the A2 and the A229 between Maidstone and Blue Bell Hill would have to be upgraded.

To the west of the 3.2-mile-long airport platform, near the 1,000-chalet Allhallows Leisure Park, another 2,500 acres would be needed for cargo and employment land.

New housing estates, schools and shops would be needed as well as those already planned by Medway and Gravesham councils, such as the Rochester Riverside development.

Yet they could not go any closer than 1.9 miles from the runways, where safety exclusion zones would stop all new development.

Parking spaces alone take up 544 acres in the plan, which describes the area as “sparsely populated” with comparatively few listed buildings.

Despite the huge scale of the airport, which would run 24 hours a day and take 110 million passengers a year, rising later to 150 million, its architects claim it could open by 2029.

High speed rail links could be joined up in north London to give direct access to the hub from Birmingham and Manchester. Travelling from St Pancras would take 26 minutes.

Two of four park-and-ride stations would be built in Swanley and Rainham, Essex. A new Thames crossing could link to the proposed road network.

Direct buses would run to the airport, which would employ 100,000 people, from towns like Maidstone and Sittingbourne.

“The low hills of the Hoo peninsula rising out of the surrounding marshland will be lost entirely."

It’s claimed 31,000 people would suffer noise louder than 55dB - compared to 750,000 residents in the same situation near Heathrow.

Heathrow itself would close and become an eco-friendly business zone to rival London’s Docklands.

The 4,200 acres of crucial bird habitats lost in the estuary, meanwhile, would have to be at least doubled if not tripled elsewhere in compensation.

The report does not indicate where those new habitats would be.

“Permanent and irreversible” damage would be caused to five listed structures around Grain, namely a church, pub, two sets of wartime sea defences and Grain Tower. But this would be “far fewer... than the list of assets that would be impacted by a third runway at Heathrow.”

Wider rail and road links to Thames hub

Wider rail and road links to Thames hub

And the report claims building the airport would have no effect on the SS Richard Montgomery, an explosives-laden warship sunken off Sheerness.

Led by the economist Sir Howard Davies, the Airports Commission is due later this year to narrow down 70 plans for solving Britain’s air capacity down to just three or four. A final report will only be issued after the next general election.

A statement by the firm this afternoon said: “We have reached a point where we must act, in the tradition of those Victorian forebears and create afresh – to invest now and safeguard future generations. Why should we fall behind when we could secure a competitive edge?”

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