By Daniel Hunter
The Mayor of London visited an airport built using land reclaimed from the sea this week and said that no-one should doubt that Britain could show the same ingenuity and skill in building the new hub airport the country so desperately needed to replace Heathrow.
Chep Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong was built to replace an airport in an urban location, which was close to densely populated areas and had no room for expansion; a situation that the Mayor pointed out bears uncanny similarities to the conditions at Heathrow Airport.
The Mayor is in Hong Kong while on a week-long mission to help London forge close ties with business leaders, key investors and politicians from China; where a massive programme of airport construction is planned including a mega-airport with up to nine runways on the outskirts of Beijing, which is expected to open in 2017 and handle over 130 million passengers every year.
Today the Mayor warned that business leaders and politicians were kidding themselves if they thought the UK could continue to compete with its global rivals without building its own new multi-runway hub airport.
Officials from Hong Kong’s airport authority took the Mayor on a tour of their facilities and explained the debt the airport owed to British engineering expertise as it is was planned and designed by Mott MacDonald with support from architects Fosters and Partners and was built by British engineers. They described how the airport was built in just six years using pioneering design techniques and has since become the world’s third biggest international airport.
The Mayor also trailed new research that reveals a new four-runway hub airport in the UK could support over 4,200 long haul flights every week to 205 destinations, including 192 flights every week to 14 destinations in China. By contrast, opting to deal with the aviation capacity crunch by “making do” and adding second runways at Gatwick and Stansted would result in 1000 fewer long haul flights to 80 destinations every week, including 70 flights to 7 destinations in China.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “The Chinese authorities have clearly figured out that aviation is absolutely key to economic growth and they are building a legion of mega-airports that will link them to every market in the world. It is hugely impressive yet also devastatingly depressing when you consider that, as long as the vision for aviation in the UK remains steadfastly wedded to Heathrow or a make do solution, we will not be able to access many of the mega-airports opening here or in the many other dynamic economies building new airfields around the globe.
"The people of Hong Kong overcame their doubts and delivered a fantastic hub airport at Chep Lap Kok that has since turbo-charged their prosperity and economic success.”
While at Chep Lap Kok airport officials explained to the Mayor that moving to a new site was part of an infrastructure programme designed to address a series of key challenges for Hong Kong. They included:
• New connectivity: The new airport was responsible for the first road and rail connection to Lantau Island from the city. Previously it was only accessible by ferry. That work is comparable with the accessibility improvements across London, north Kent, and south Essex — including a new Lower Thames Crossing — that new infrastructure serving a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary would provide. New links serving a new hub airport at Stansted would also bring a wide-range of accessibility improvements across London and the South East. Both options for Britain’s new hub airport would substantially increase the proportion of people who travel to airports by public transport.
• New housing: North Lantau New Town has been built in Tung Chung to the south of the airport. When the final phase is completed it will be home to 330,000 people and is comparable to meeting the potential for new homes across the Thames Gateway or in the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor.
• Major development: Land has been reclaimed in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island around new rail stations on the airport link. Those transport hubs have underpinned major new development and regeneration districts and are comparable with the regeneration potential of the area around a proposed London Riverside station on the airport express line.
• Economic activity: The new infrastructure provided on Lantau island has been directly responsible for construction of AsiaWorld-Expo (one of the city’s two main exhibition and concert venues) and Hong Kong Disneyland.
Earlier this year the Mayor set out a detailed vision for transforming London into the greatest economic powerhouse of the 21st century, with a new airport to complement the seaport about to open in the Thames estuary, new road and rail connections to boost the economy of east London, Kent and Essex and the opportunity for a new town in west London housing up to 250,000 people on land currently occupied by Heathrow Airport.
The research he has submitted to the Davies Commission demonstrates conclusively that there are three optimal locations for a new airport: on the Isle of Grain in north Kent; at Stansted; or on an artificial island in the middle of the Thames estuary. Those sites would yield enormous potential economic benefits. They would be able to support more than 375,000 new jobs by 2050 and add £742bn to the value of goods and services produced in the UK.
The Mayor of London added: “There are absolutely no circumstances in which the expansion of Heathrow will be acceptable to London or of long term benefit to the country. Ambitious cities like Hong Kong have stolen a march on us and built mega-airports that plug them directly into the global supply chains that we need to be part of. They have moved heaven and earth to move their airports away from their major centres of population and for London and the wider UK to remain competitive we also have to build an airport capable of emulating that scale of growth.”
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