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‘Only a matter of time before Boris Island rises from grave’

Airport supporters are still harbouring hopes of turning Kent into Dubai.

The government’s Davies Commission is due to report back on options for UK airport expansion next month – with either Gatwick or Heathrow set to be earmarked for further capacity.

But while the idea of a new hub airport on the Isle of Grain was dismissed by the commission last year, there are muted rumblings that the concept could return if the Davies Commission proposals flounder.

DRINK campaigners with London Mayor Boris Johnson
DRINK campaigners with London Mayor Boris Johnson

These have been magnified by the biggest proponent of the idea, Boris Johnson, becoming an MP for Uxbridge – virtually in the flightpath of Heathrow – and perhaps more importantly taking a seat at cabinet meetings.

Dai Liyanage, of pro estuary airport campaign group Demand for Regeneration in Kent (DRINK), said it was only a matter of time before the idea of “Boris Island” – so called because of support by the London Mayor for the estuary airport – “rose from the grave.”

“Heathrow can never become a hub,” he said. “Where the hell will they put it? Will they get rid of Richmond?

“I was in Dubai last week – everybody who goes to Dubai sees that it’s a proper airport – that’s what I wanted to see in the estuary airport, because that’s a hub.”

He believed Kent could still be transformed into something akin to Dubai, but that it wouldn’t be any time soon.

“Realistically I can’t see anything happening with the estuary airport for the next three to four years, then we’ll start making moves to get it back on the table.”

That said, it seems the DRINK campaign has floundered since the loss of driving force Clive Lawrence, who died last year.

“There are three of us left that still talk to each other,” added Mr Liyanage.

“We keep in touch but there’s no real campaign going on.”

And there are even more vociferous supporters of the Boris Island scheme still harbouring hope.

Among them is Huw Thomas, of architects Fosters + Partners, the firm behind plans for the four lane international airport on Grain, who said expanding an existing hub would be the right answer if it was in the right place, but that doing so at Heathrow was “undeliverable”.

Thames Hub. All photos courtesy Foster + Partners.
Thames Hub. All photos courtesy Foster + Partners.

He warned that while other countries were building the “next generation” of airport hubs, Britain was slipping behind.

“What we need is a 24-hour, four runway airport,” he said. “You’re not going to get it at Heathrow or Gatwick.

“If you look at a shop window saying ‘I really want a four-runway hub for Christmas,’ and Santa brings you Gatwick, you’re going to burst into tears.”

He predicted the Davies Commission’s proposals would be met with huge objection – which would eventually force the government to look back to Boris Island.

“It will come back” he added.

And yet, there is of course huge opposition on the Isle of Grain and around Medway to that plan.

Departing Medway Council leader Rodney Chambers, takes pride in having seen off the idea twice and believed hope of it returning was wishful thinking on behalf of pro-airport campaigners, as the idea no longer had the support of the Prime Minister.

“To be honest I think there will be a complete review as to why we need a hub airport or an expanded hub airport,” he said. “I’ve always advocated Birmingham would be a good place for it, or anywhere on the northwest side of London. I can never see the point in putting a hub airport in the furthest point east.”

Nevertheless he said those fighting to protect the Isle of Grain needed to remain vigilant, adding: “We may have won the battle but we need to be sure we win the war.”

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