LONDON – London Mayor Boris Johnson said he will submit plans to close the British capital’s Heathrow Airport on the grounds that it’s too noisy and replace it with a four-runway hub in one of three locations east or north of the city.
The government could buy Heathrow for about £15 billion ($22 billion) and use the 1,220-hectare site to build 100,000 homes for as many as 250,000 people, creating an entirely new borough that would help ease a national housing shortage, the mayor said Monday.
Johnson said Europe’s busiest airport should be replaced with a hub at one of two undeveloped sites in the Thames estuary or at an expanded Stansted Airport 55 km north of London. The mayor said he will submit the proposals to the state-appointed Davies Commission on British airport capacity later this week.
“It’s true that we have squandered decades and that other countries are now eating our lunch, but we still have time to get this right,” Johnson said.
Heathrow, operating close to the capacity of its two runways after attracting 69.9 million passengers in 2012, isn’t suitable for further growth because of noise, pollution and congestion issues and should be closed, he said, adding that plans for the site envisage the creation of 40,000 jobs.
“To build a third runway in the west of London would be completely the wrong thing and to build a fourth runway would be catastrophic,” Johnson said.
Residents of two west London boroughs close to Heathrow voted almost 3 to 1 in May against building a third runway at the airport. The leader of Hillingdon Council, Ray Puddifoot, a Conservative like Johnson and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, said the result was a reminder of local sentiment.
Johnson said that of the three proposals he’s recommending, one for an airport on the Isle of Grain, or Hoo Peninsula, on the north Kent coast probably has “the edge.”
The site is close enough to London to provide fast access by rail but would have a minimal impact on the local population because planes could take off and land over the sea. Its location across the water from DP World Ltd.’s new London Gateway deep-sea container port would also offer scope for a “future logistics heartland for the U.K.,” he said.
The mayor said that an outer-estuary site, dubbed “Boris Island” when he first proposed it, would remove all noise-pollution concerns and give unfettered operational freedom.
Expansion of single-runway Stansted Airport is attractive because it entails building on existing infrastructure in an area with a relatively sparse population that also lacks the wildlife issues of the estuary options, Johnson said.
The Thames mudflats are regarded as internationally important feeding grounds for migratory wildfowl, and Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has previously dismissed the notion of development there as “utterly absurd.”
Designed by U.K. architect Norman Foster, Stansted ranks as London’s third-busiest airport behind Heathrow and Gatwick. New owner Manchester Airports Group is looking to boost traffic and leverage relationships with large carriers such as Emirates and Etihad Airways.
Johnson reckons a new hub would support 375,000 new jobs by 2050 and add £742 billion to the value of U.K. goods and services. Heathrow provides about 76,000 direct jobs and is reckoned to employ the same number again in support industries.
A four-runway airport could quadruple the number of cities in China and South America served from London and add 50 percent more in the U.S., while restoring domestic routes to nine U.K. locations, many of which are currently served only by Amsterdam Schiphol, which boasts of being Britain’s premier hub, he said.
Heathrow Airport Ltd. is scheduled to present its ideas to the Davies Commission on Wednesday, with the gradual migration of the existing infrastructure to the west seen as the most likely proposal after plans for an additional runway to the north met with opposition from local residents and politicians.
Commission Chairman Howard Davies said in November that he would examine all options for securing additional runway capacity in southeastern England, including the upgrading of Heathrow. In addition to long-term measures, Davies is also considering recommendations including night flights and “mixed mode” operation, in which runways are used for takeoffs and landings simultaneously, to boost capacity over the next five years.