London mayor proposes Heathrow closure, new hub

London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, has proposed closing Heathrow airport, one of the busiest in the world, and replacing it with a major new hub to the east of the capital.

Johnson also put forward three proposals to end Britain’s severe air capacity shortage, saying that a new four-runway airport would create thousands of jobs and enable London to compete with international transport hubs.

‘For London and the wider UK to remain competitive, we have to build an airport capable of emulating that scale of growth,’ Johnson said. ‘Anyone who believes there would be the space to do that at Heathrow, which already blights the lives of hundreds of thousands of Londoners, is quite simply crackers,’ he added.

The proposals come amid contentions that giving Heathrow another runway would lead to intolerable levels of noise and air pollution for people who live nearby. Despite being one of the world’s busiest airports, Heathrow in west London has only two runways and is running at 98.5 percent of its capacity.

Johnson’s plans include a four-runway hub on an artificial island in the Thames Estuary, previously dubbed Boris Island. The other two ideas are to expand Stansted airport northeast of London, which currently has one runway, and to build an airport on the Isle of Grain in Kent on the River Thames.

The new hub could open by 2029 and would cost approximately USD75 billion or EUR58 billion, including the construction of road and rail links to the airport, Johnson claimed.

‘Of all the three, I still think the Isle of Grain seems to me to combine the regeneration with the connectivity and with the ease of communication to London,’ said Johnson. British politicians had been ‘sitting around like puddings for the last 40 years doing nothing’ while rival countries built up their air capacity, he added.

Johnson said that a new hub airport would be able to support more than 375,000 new jobs by 2050 and add GBP742bn to the value of goods and services produced in the UK. Up to 100,000 homes could be built on Heathrow’s site, as well as a new university campus, he said.

‘There is a fantastic opportunity here for London and the United Kingdom,’ he said, adding that the plan would help to solve London’s ‘catastrophic housing shortage’.

Commenting on the proposals, deputy leader of Hounslow Council, Colin Ellar, said: ‘Closing Heathrow is sheer lunacy. Boris’s plans to solve London’s housing crisis and replace the thousands of jobs lost appears to be based on a wing and a prayer.

We and many sensible commentators don’t seriously think Boris Island, wherever it is in the estuary, will ever take off.’

The plans will be submitted to the government-appointed Davies aviation commission by July 19. The commission, chaired by ex-Financial Services Authority chief, Sir Howard Davies, will consider a number of options to maintain the country’s status as an international hub for aviation. It is due to give its recommendations on the future of British air transport in 2015.