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.


UK’s Network Rail promises minimum disruption to Tarka Line

Network Rail, the authority responsible for the United Kingdom’s rail network, has promised to keep passenger disruption to a minimum during improvements to the line between Exeter and Barnstaple in Devon, which is known as the Tarka Line.

The work is to be carried out during March, and two closures will be necessary to facilitate the upgrade work; however, there will be no closures over the weekend of the Easter holiday.

A closure is scheduled for the section of line between Crediton and Barnstaple from 11pm on Sunday March 10, to 3pm on Wednesday March 13, with work to include track and bridge improvements near Lapford and upgrades at Umberleigh. First Great Western, the train operator for the line, is to provide a bus service calling at all affected stations during the closure.

A second closure is scheduled for Saturday March 23 and Sunday March 24, when buses will again be used to replace trains between Barnstaple and Exeter.

Network Rail customer service manager for the West Country, Tim Maddocks, said, ‘Working with First Great Western, we’ve been able to plan this vital work in a way that avoids the busy Easter weekend. We would like to thank passengers for their patience while we complete these essential improvement works to make the Tarka line safer, smoother and more reliable.’

The Tarka line takes its name from Henry Williamson’s book, Tarka the Otter, due to part of its route travelling through the area of Devon where the book was set. It follows the rivers, Creedy, Yeo and Taw, with a branch to Okehampton that is known as the Dartmoor Railway.