Institute of Directors' David Philpott talks about Boris Island plans

Mayor of London Boris Johnson
Mayor of London Boris Johnson

by David Philpott
Chairman, Institute of Directors, Kent branch

I was recently asked to attend a press briefing on proposals for a new London Airport.

Held at the Institute of Directors' flagship building on Pall Mall, the meeting saw the launch of the Mayor of London's intelligently argued strategy/consultation booklet, which sets out the case for the economic benefits of a new hub airport.

In his speech, Boris Johnson made it clear that we should abandon any notions that additional airport capacity can be resolved by adding a third runway at Heathrow.

Nor was a so-called "Heathwick" solution deliverable, he said.

His rationale – it seemed to me – had less to do with physical inhibitors and a lot to do with well organised local opposition.

Mr Johnson was unambiguous in stating that he thought the solution lay in building a new hub airport to replace Heathrow in the Thames estuary.

He expressed no preference for any particular scheme – at least three have been put forward - only that it should be east of London and not west.

Suggestions that Birmingham airport could be better utilised in the "mix", operating at only 40% capacity and less than an hour from central London, seemed not to have been seriously considered.

We at the institute have made no secret of the fact that we think the government, notwithstanding the deficit reduction strategy, should be investing in infrastructure.

We are calling for visionary schemes that will get Britain moving – both people and freight – so that we can compete with the rest of Europe in the race to stand still, let alone gain trade from the emerging mega economies of China in particular and Asia in general.

However, if the past few years have taught us anything, it is surely that we should not grasp for prosperity at any price.

Indeed, none other than Mr Northern Rock 'n' Roll himself, Richard Branson, said recently: "We need a new way of doing business to get out of the present crisis. Absolute greed has come close to bankrupting the world."

There is no doubt about it. A purpose-built airport in the Thames estuary would transform the economies of north Kent and south Essex, not only during the construction phase but for decades to come through all the jobs that would be created for the running of a successful international airport.

The Kent branch of the IoD is taking the matter very seriously and working hard to establish the facts. Only when we know what the real benefits and the real costs are, including environmental costs, will we be able to give a steer to the business community.

But with Medway – soon to be City (hopefully) – Council in staunch opposition, I personally doubt this project is politically deliverable.

If Middlesex saw off runway three and High Speed 2 – the proposed rail link between London and the North – and mobilised such effective opposition, I predict many a strange bedfellow gathering under the Invicta flag to dispute the desirability of an airport in their own back yard.

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