Tom Allett spoke to Tim Beckett, Director of marine engineering company Beckett Rankine about the firm’s ambitious plans for Britain’s next-generation gateway airport.
The debate about where Britain’s primary international gateway airport should be located has been on-going since the 1960s and has yet to reach a conclusion. The Davies Commission, set up by the current British coalition government, is due to be published after the next general election in 2015. Its job is to determine the country’s runway capacity needs for the foreseeable future and looks set to be the critical factor in deciding if the south east of England needs a new major airport and, if so, where it should be.
All of the existing major airports in the south east have already thrown their development hats in the ring. However, so far, most of the national press headlines have been grabbed by the suggestion that a new facility may be built on reclaimed land in the Thames estuary. Dubbed Boris Island because of the huge support it has received from London Mayor Boris Johnson, its ambitious design, created by internationally-renowned architect Lord Foster might also have been dubbed the Marmite plan because most interested parties seem to either love it or hate it. (If you don’t know Marmite then Google is your friend!)
With the possibility that a man-made island could solve its airport capacity problems already firmly cemented in the nation’s mind-set, the London-based marine engineering company Beckett Rankine has put forward a timely alternative.
It believes that sandbanks – specifically The Goodwin Sands – that lie in the English Channel, 1.8 miles (3km) from the UK’s south east coast, might provide the answer to London’s requirement for a new hub airport.
Company Director Tim Beckett explained: “We believe that an offshore hub airport is the only option that can realistically provide the four new, independent runways that research reveals London needs.
“If the Davies Commission endorses the long-term requirement for a new, four-runway hub airport for London, then locating it at Goodwin will have the least adverse social and environmental impact of any option. It is certainly the most sustainable solution available.”
Mr Beckett said the Goodwin Sands site has several advantages over its rivals.
“Firstly, it comfortably provides space for four runways 1.5km apart enabling independent runway operation to maximise capacity – other alternatives [including the Thames Estuary idea] do not.”
In addition, he says the Goodwin Sands location could offer “excellent transport links,” with a 40-minute high-speed rail connection to London via the existing (high-speed) HS1 line or vehicle access via existing major roads and newly-created tunnels. He added that linking the Goodwin Sands airport to the existing Channel Tunnel rail lines would give passengers a high-speed rail connection to and from Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam in the same way that the Eurostar rail network does. Indeed, the Goodwin Sands plan is scheduled to have a press launch in Calais, France, this February, following on from its UK launch in December.
Other benefits from a planning and permissions point of view are that the proposed site is within UK territorial waters and owned by the Crown Estate. In addition, unlike the land-based solutions, this proposal would allow take-offs and landings over water, thereby enabling unrestricted 24-hour operations.
The estimated cost of the Goodwin Sands Airport is put at £39bn (US$62m) – compared to a projection of £50bn (US$79.7bn) for the Thames hub solution.
With regard to the environment, Mr Beckett says the Goodwin Sands site will not impact on any protected environment or interfere with any shipping lanes and no residents would need to be relocated.
He added: “Since the 1970s there have been several proposals about a new airport in the Thames Estuary including Lord Foster’s plans.
“Because of the coastal and inlet nature, all of the suggested locations within the Thames Estuary contain at least one internationally designated environmentally sensitive area.” He explains that as the Goodwin Sands are located out in the English Channel, the site isn’t subject to such high-level environmental worries, adding: “Goodwin Airport doesn’t have these disadvantages.”
The Mayor of London’s Aviation Adviser Daniel Moylan is reported to have said: “The Mayor has been encouraging proposals for a new airport to the east of London and this proposal is welcome as a contribution to a critical national debate and as a demonstration that a new airport is feasible and deliverable.
“The arguments for the construction of a new hub airport in the UK are overwhelming and this proposal offers one option of how to build it. We now urgently need to recognise that a new hub airport is the answer to our aviation capacity problems and press ahead with considering the best way to deliver that airport.”
In terms of opposition to the Goodwin Sands idea, Mr Beckett says that the only people/organisations that have come out against the plan are potential competitor airports and a local Member of Parliament, Charlie Elphicke, who described the idea as: “completely bonkers” (on the grounds that the site is historically and environmentally sensitive).
Despite this, Mr Beckett points out that the Goodwin Sands location is: “politically deliverable” and, if given the green light by government, “could be built in five years”.
He backs up this claim by pointing out that in the same timespan (including two years on the design) the company completed the construction of a major shipping port in Qatar that is larger than the proposed Goodwin Sands Airport but acknowledges that the political will to carry out such projects is far greater there than in the UK.