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Foster and Partners reveals vision for Thames Estuary hub airport

Published: 04/11/2011   RSS

Lord Foster, chairman and founder of the architecture firm Foster and Partners, has launched proposals for a new Thames Hub entitled: An Integrated Vision for Britain.

Under the proposal the Thames Hub would comprise of a Thames river barrier and a four-runway airport linked by a new high-speed orbital rail network linking the capital with the rest of the UK and Europe.

The study’s proposals describe a Spine, fed by the Thames Hub, which would synergise communications, transport, freight and energy demands in one, single solution. The spine would incorporate data cabling, water and energy distribution routes within the transport networks via conduits in the ground, which Lord Foster says would not damage the visual landscape of Britain.

Taking inspiration from Hong Kong International the proposed airport would be located on the reclaimed Isle of Grain, located in the middle of the Thames Estuary. Under the proposals the airport would be capable of handling 150 million passengers per annum, while avoiding the noise and security issues that come with flying over London and prevent existing airports from operating 24 hours a day. By comparison Heathrow handled 65.7 million passengers in 2010.

The rail complex would comprise of a four-track, high-speed passenger and freight route which would avoid the congestion of central London by operating on an orbital route around the capital. By tracing the route of the M25 motorway and placing stations close to existing junctions with the proposal suggesting that the new rail network would help to alleviate lorry traffic from Britain’s overburdened motorways. This would then link onto London’s rail lines, a future high-speed rail line to the Midlands and the North, the Thames Estuary ports and the High Speed 1 channel tunnel line connecting the network to mainland Europe.

As outlined in the proposal the new river barrier would not only provide carbon free tidal power to the new hub but would also help free up flood protected land for future housing developments and provide a platform for an integrated rail and road crossing.

According to the study the newly integrated transport network would help Britain maintain its status as a major international transport, trade and communications hub. It would provide better and more efficient links with Europe and would also give the regions, specifically the Midlands and the North of England, quick and direct connections to London and beyond.

The proposal sets out to confront what it sees as the pressing concern of Britain’s oversaturated existing transport infrastructure. With its two current major airports of Heathrow and Gatwick both working to near 100% capacity a new hub solution could be the answer.

Lord Foster said: “If we are to establish a modern transport and energy infrastructure in Britain for this century and beyond, we need to recapture the foresight and political courage of our 19th century forebears and draw on our traditions of engineering, design and landscape.

“If we don’t then we are denying future generations to come. We are rolling over and saying we are no longer competitive.”

The proposal is the result of a self-funded project undertaken by Foster and Partners in collaboration with Halcrow, a firm specialising in sustainable planning, and economist Bridget Rosewell, chairman of Volterra Consulting and founding member of The Thames Estuary Research and Development Company (TESTRAD).

This proposal comes following the news that a third runway at Heathrow is not forthcoming as Labour dropped its support of the project (see online news 31/10/2011). Several alternative solutions have been proposed including a high speed rail connection creating a ‘virtual hub’ between Gatwick and Heathrow airports, dubbed ‘heath-wick,’ and London mayor Boris Johnson’s proposed ‘Boris island’ airport, also in the Thames Estuary.  

It is unclear yet how the estimated £50 billion project would be funded, be it out of public funds, private investment or a combination of the two. According to Foster and Partners preliminary discussions have already seen interest from private investors from overseas including sovereign wealth funds. However Lord Foster asserts: “The cost of doing business as usual is unaffordable and is certainly greater than this initiative. It is a true investment for the future.”

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To see a video of detailing the vision as outlined by Lord Foster go to Seatplans TV here:

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Scott Carey

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