Boris Johnson has claimed that the Government’s airport commission will become “increasingly irrelevant” after it ruled out building a new airport in the Thames Estuary.
On Tuesday morning the commission confirmed rumours reported on Monday that it was not shortlisting the Mayor’s ‘Boris Island’ scheme which would see flights into Heathrow moved to a new airport in Kent.
Commission Chair Sir Howard Davies said: “There are serious doubts about the delivery and operation of a very large hub airport in the estuary.
“The economic disruption would be huge and there are environmental hurdles which it may prove impossible, or very time-consuming to surmount.
“Even the least ambitious version of the scheme would cost £70 to £90 billion with much greater public expenditure involved than in other options – probably some £30 to £60 billion in total.”
Sir Howard added: “There will be those who argue that the commission lacks ambition and imagination. We are ambitious for the right solution.
“The need for additional capacity is urgent. We need to focus on solutions which are deliverable, affordable, and set the right balance for the future of aviation in the UK.”
The commission will now continue to assess 3 shortlisted proposals – a new runway to the south of Gatwick Airport, an extra runway to the north west of the existing northern Heathrow runway, and an extension to Heathrow’s northern runway – before publishing its appraisal for public consultation in the autumn.
Responding to the decision, Mayor Johnson said ruling out the estuary scheme meant the commission’s work would become “increasingly irrelevant” because, he claimed, no Government would back Heathrow expansion.
He said: “In one myopic stroke the Airports Commission has set the debate back by half a century and consigned their work to the long list of vertically filed reports on aviation expansion that are gathering dust on a shelf in Whitehall.
“Gatwick is not a long term solution and Howard Davies must explain to the people of London how he can possibly envisage that an expansion of Heathrow, which would create unbelievable levels of noise, blight and pollution, is a better idea than a new airport to the east of London that he himself admits is visionary, and which would create the jobs and growth this country needs to remain competitive.
“It remains the only credible solution, any process that fails to include it renders itself pretty much irrelevant, and I’m absolutely certain that it is the option that will eventually be chosen.”
City Hall says the Mayor “will continue to make the case for a new airport to the east of London”.
London Assembly Conservative spokesman Richard Tracey has accused the commission of “heading down a blind alley, whilst wasting time and taxpayer cash.”
He called on ministers to “pull the plug and adopt the Mayor of London’s Estuary airport solution.”
Labour’s London Assembly transport spokesperson, Val Shawcross AM, said the Mayor owed Londoners an apology for spending £5m of their money on a scheme he knew would not happen.
Ms Shawcross said: “Boris Johnson has long known that an estuary airport option was simply not viable, but has ploughed on regardless and wasted more than £5m of taxpayer money pursuing this pie-in-the-sky vanity project.
“If anything, Londoners now deserve an apology from their Mayor. He has wasted valuable public money promoting an estuary airport to raise his profile, when the expert evidence all along suggested the idea was environmentally and financially doomed.”
Liberal Democrat AM, Caroline Pidgeon AM, said: “The Mayor of London has shown immense folly and wasted immense amounts of public money in pursuing the fantasy of a Thames Estuary airport.
“On grounds of practicality, cost and environmental impact the airport commission have rightly thrown out his proposal.
“It is time the Mayor finally accepted defeat and stopped wasting Londoners’ money.”
Green party AM, Darren Johnson, said: “The commission has finally sunk Boris Island once and for all.
“The Mayor, has already squandered three million pounds of his five million budget on this non-starter. He must stop wasting any more money on it.”
“Expanding Heathrow is not the solution either. For anyone who genuinely cares about the future, the only sensible solution is no expansion at all. London is already served by five airports and six commercial runways.
“Further aviation expansion would be madness, causing further noise misery and undermining efforts to tackle climate change.”
On Monday, Croydon North MP Steve Reed said the “obvious answer is a 2nd runway at Gatwick,” adding that the proposals mean fewer people would be “affected by noise” while offering “big benefits for Croydon”