Thames Estuary airport: Architect Huw Thomas rubbishes claims by Medway Council 20,000 people would be displaced
An aerial view of Lord
Foster's proposed four-runway airport at Grain
No more than 1,300 people would lose
their homes under plans for the world's biggest airport in the
Medway Towns, according to the company behind the huge scheme.
In an exclusive interview, Huw Thomas
from Foster and Partners revealed more details of their vision for
a four-runway hub at Grain.
He boldly claimed some people living
on the peninsula would not even realise an airport is there.
The firm admits an airport would
irrevocably change the area and affect people's quality of life,
but Mr Thomas argued that is the case wherever infrastructure is
"If you put a project in place and you ensure people get the benefits and adequate mitigation is in place people should just be winners from this..." – Huw Thomas
He said it was
"scandalous" teachers had persuaded children to write to him
claiming Medway is the wrong place to put an airport because of the
location of the explosives-laden SS Richard Montgomery.
If the sunken ship was the danger
people suggested it was, and he was sceptical about that, then it
needed to be dealt with regardless of whether or not an airport was
Mr Thomas also hit back at claims from
Medway Council that nine villages would be destroyed and 20,000
people displaced, labelling them "ridiculous".
Speaking from the firm’s riverside
office in west London, he said: "It’s absolutely right you should
argue your corner, but get your facts straight."
Mr Thomas said the council's
communities chief Robin Cooper had got himself into a muddle in a
presentation on the impact of an airport on the Towns.
The man who was involved in designing
the world’s biggest building, Beijing Terminal 3, said Mr Cooper
had mixed up feet and metres when superimposing JFK airport in New
York on to the peninsula, making it appear much bigger than it
He said people had a "fear of the
unknown which was perfectly understandable", but added: "If you put
a project in place and you ensure people get the benefits and
adequate mitigation is in place people should just be winners from
Mr Thomas also revealed:
- Up to half of the airport would be
built on reclaimed land
- It would be built up seven metres
above ground level
- Allhallows would be outside the
footprint of the airport, and could be developed into an "airport
city" full of hotels, conference facilities and office space
- The Cliffe Marshes would be
protected from development
- Listed buildings could be moved
brick by brick and placed elsewhere
The estuary project is taking up an
"enormous" amount of Mr Thomas' time, and he insisted Foster and
Partners, headed by famous architect Lord Foster (pictured
right), were serious about building an airport on the
peninsula, a location he said that was unique.
"The peninsula is incredibly lightly
populated for where it is – it's extraordinary," he said. If you
were to superimpose the Hoo Peninsula over Heathrow Airport, the
area would have a population of 350,000 people, Mr Thomas said.
One of the biggest arguments against
an airport is the cost, opponents claim it could be anything up to
A report by an economics consultancy
released in January estimated the public would have to fork out
£10-£30 billion to get it off the ground.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson has said
the bill could be £70-£80 billion once compensation for reducing
the size of Heathrow was included.
But Mr Thomas batted such concerns
aside, and said much of it was "gumph".
He claimed just £1 billion of public
money would be needed for the Thames Hub – to extend Crossrail from
Abbey Wood to Gravesend.
The total cost would be £50
This includes the airport (£20
billion), a rail link skirting London (£20 billion), a new Thames
Crossing on the western side of the Hoo Peninsula (£6 billion) and
upgrades to existing infrastructure (£4 billion).
He added that the Grain airport would
open with capacity for 84 million passengers a year and up to 110
million could be handled using existing infrastructure.
Those who call for capacity at
existing airports to be used instead are "missing the bigger
picture", Mr Thomas claimed.
He said: "We’re missing out on
should be 20 years from now. A third runway at Heathrow would be
full again in 10 years’ time. We think someone has to stand up and
say ‘where is our economy heading’?"
A Medway Council
spokesman accused the architects of "playing fast and
loose with reality", and said they had been guilty themselves of
getting their facts wrong.
He said Mr Cooper did not get
his measurements mixed up: "We would be delighted to welcome them
to Medway, where they can explain to our residents why they want to
turn north Kent into a concrete jungle with its ill-conceived,
ill-thought-out and unaffordable plans for one of the world’s
"The presentation that Mr Thomas
is referring to is one which our director used to show how Fosters
claims its plan, which will carry up to 140 million people a year,
will only affect a part of the peninsula when airports that carry a
lot less passengers, such as JFK in New York which carries 50
million, are much bigger.
"Foster + Partners should stop
playing fast and loose with reality and admit that if its plan ever
went ahead it would change north Kent beyond recognition,
especially when you factor in all the extra roads, railways, tens
of thousands of new homes and even, potentially, extra Thames
crossings that would be needed.
"After all, this firm has already claimed that Heathrow is
foggier than the Thames Estuary – which a report by the Met Office
has disproven; that one road would be needed for its airport and
that the infrastructure needed to service the airport would cost
£4bn, when even the Mayor of London admits it would need £25billion
of taxpayer’s money for this."
A commission set up by the government
to decide what to do about the country’s aviation capacity is due
to issue an interim report this year narrowing down the options.
Its head is the economist Sir Howard Davies.
A final report recommending whether or
not to build a new airport will be published after the next
election in 2015.
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