Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Gensler (AS 111)

1. Introduction

1.1 The following evidence is prepared by international design firm Gensler to assist the Transport Committee’s consideration of the Government’s aviation strategy.

1.2 Gensler are a firm of architects and planners with extensive experience in the planning of large scale urban development and the design of new airport facilities. Gensler employ 3,400 people worldwide located in 42 offices and have had an office based in the City of London for 25 years.

1.3 Gensler have developed a concept for a new UK aviation hub, Britannia Airport, located in the Thames Estuary. The concept overcomes many of the difficulties of constructing a new airport in the estuary with a practical solution that can be delivered quickly and economically. This evidence will explain why Gensler believe the Thames Estuary provides the most suitable location for accommodating the UK’s primary Hub Airport and allows for long-term aviation expansion.

2. The need for hub capacity

2.1 Gensler support the widely held belief that the UK needs additional aviation capacity and that the greatest pressure will continue to be on the UK Hub Capacity currently accommodated at Heathrow. The Department of Transport’s own forecast for passenger growth highlight the unprecedented demand for new airport capacity.1

2.2 International connectivity by air is essential for the UK to retain its global economic trading position. For many years the UK has benefited from the status of Heathrow as one of the world’s busiest international airports. However, Heathrow is increasingly losing ground to other European airports who have invested heavily in expanding airport capacity. The choice of destination, and connectivity with rapidly emerging economies, is increasingly being undermined by Heathrow’s severe capacity constraints.

3. The criteria for selection of the preferred location

3.1 In evaluating the most suitable location for the additional airport hub capacity Gensler used the following criteria. The best location will be one that:

results in the least disruption to residents

minimises environmental impact

can accommodate direct high speed rail connectivity to the UK and Continent

can enable rail and metro connections to London and the UK

can be future proofed allowing for expansion to four and eventually six runways

can be delivered within an acceptable time frame and cost

can assist in long-term economic growth and regeneration of the UK

4. The Estuary Option

4.1 Following an evaluation of the various options for accommodating UK hub capacity Gensler concluded that the Thames Estuary provides the best long term prospect for the UK. The key reasons include:

the potential to build the largest airport in Europe

the opportunity to minimise impact of noise and congestion on local residents

24 hour flying can be accommodated

maximises operational efficiency

direct high speed rail connections can be provided to both the UK and the Continent.

a simple one stop extension to Crossrail can be implemented

local rail and metro services can be easily provided

connectivity to the rest of the UK can be secured

four to six runways can be accommodated

opportunity to continue eastward regeneration of London and the Thames Gateway

minimises disruption to residents

minimises the impact of pollution on residents2

5. The Proposition

5.1 Although Gensler believe that the Estuary provides the best location for future aviation expansion we are aware of the challenges. In 2011 we set about developing a concept that could enable a new hub airport in this location but one that could overcome some of the more critical constraints, these include:

disruption to people from congestion, noise and air pollution

environmental damage to marine life

dangers of bird strike

avoiding disruption to shipping

dealing with flooding and sea level change

avoiding demolition of homes and industrial infrastructure

ensuring flexibility for expansion

the impact of obstacles such as the American Liberty Ship, SS Richard Montgomery

5.2 Critical to addressing these issues is identification of the optimum location within the estuary itself. Although this work is still in progress it has become increasingly clear that a more centrally located site within the estuary could provide the solution. However, to reclaim large areas of water to create land for the airport has its own problems, particularly with respect to the environmental impact on the river.

5.3 By floating the runways and their associated hard standing it is possible to avoid the negative effects of land reclamation. The location of the airport can then be optimised to avoid the most important bird feeding areas between high and low water. The floating concept provides much greater locational flexibility within the estuary, avoiding the very sensitive estuary edges, known obstacles and avoiding disruption to shipping and fishing.

5.4 Britannia Airport utilises the UK’s world leading capability of marine construction, developed for the oil and gas industry, by incorporating four full length floating runways, some 4.5 km long. The runways are tethered to the sea bed and to the final departure concourse which provides access to marine rail tunnels connecting directly to central London, and the European High Speed Rail Network.

5.5 The airport will provide a massive increase in capacity with potentially 150 million passengers per year served by some 400+ gates. The airport runways will extend over an area of approximately 1,400 ha punctuated by areas of open water as opposed to hard standing or grass to maximise opportunities for light to penetrate the water below.

5.6 The more central location within the estuary enables the airport to generate some of its own power from marine turbines within and adjacent to the floating runways.

5.7 Britannia will have unparalleled accessibility to the UK and Europe with a combination of international high speed rail with a connection to HS1, domestic rail with a single stop connection to Crossrail, London Underground and Network Rail Services. The scheme allows for direct ferry and catamaran services both to central London and the Continent. The scheme also includes purpose built cruise liner with direct access into the arrival concourse.

5.8 Car and taxi access will be dispersed to three new, land based, Departure/Arrival terminals located both north and south of the estuary while a new Central London terminal is proposed between Canary Wharf and the Olympic Park. All three land based terminals will have public transport access to London Underground and local Network Rail infrastructure. Additional remote Departure/Arrival terminals could be provided in the future.

5.9 The design has inherent flexibility whereby runways can be floated in and floated away as required. Spare runways can also be maintained in shipyards and floated into position as required. Additional runways to extend the airport to six runways can be provided when required.

5.10 The scheme can be built as a genuinely “national” infrastructure project with the opportunity to manufacture large portions of the project in the ship yards and steel works across the UK which can then be floated by sea and positioned in the estuary. The concept utilises standard engineering technology for the airport construction and the rail connections.

5.11 The relocation of UK’s hub airport to the Thames Estuary enables the provision of a state of the art facility that will transform the quality of life for millions of Londoners and will provide London with the space and infrastructure to grow and thrive over the next century.

5.12 The construction of the airport will provide a major stimulus to the local and UK regional economy and could lead directly to long term business opportunities in the design and manufacture of similar facilities for cities across the world.

6. Heathrow is part of the solution

6.1 As the political debate about airport hub capacity in the UK continues, it is worth taking a broader perspective on how the modern city accommodates its most essential, but perhaps least loved, piece of transport infrastructure. With the inexorable growth in the aviation industry fuelled by our continued globalisation, cities across the world are beginning to reflect on how to plan for future airport growth. But what is the optimal location for a major international airport?

6.2 What we are seeing has parallels with the dramatic changes to our port infrastructure, and to a lesser extent our rail stations, with the advent of container shipping in the late 1960’s. Many port facilities and railway yards became surplus to requirements with this significant change in freight technology. From the 1960’s onwards the new ports and rail freight depots were located far beyond the city boundaries to take advantage of deeper water, cheaper land and importantly less congested road and rail infrastructure. For the last twenty years city planners have been working hard to reuse the extensive land areas released. In London the Canary Wharf, Broadgate and King’s Cross developments are at the vanguard of major urban redevelopment that reused land released by redundant transport infrastructure.

6.3 The challenge for many cities now is that airports conceived in the 1940’s have grown far beyond the expectations of the city planners in the immediate post war period. Incremental intensification has led in many cities to an intolerable situation for many city residents. It has been a continual headache for politicians of all parties to argue for further expansion when we already suffer noise and pollution disruption as well as severe localised congestion, not to mention significant health hazards.

6.4 City airport relocations are a growing phenomenon and many cities such as Hong Kong have shown that with a well planned relocation and proper investment in the transport infrastructure to connect back to the city centre, great economic benefits can be achieved, minimising disruption to city residents and allowing greater capacity, more flights and serving more destinations.

6.5 London is yet again at this crossroads. How can it maintain its global trading position without a significant expansion and improvement in its airport hub capacity? The problem for London’s planners is not unique, there isn’t an obvious place to put such a land hungry and, for many people, disruptive piece of infrastructure. The long debate in London has repeatedly come back to focus on the one area close to London with very little development and this is the Thames Estuary.

6.6 Like Hong Kong, the relocation of London’s main airport would transform Heathrow into one of the most important urban expansion sites in Europe. The former airfield with its extensive existing infrastructure could provide a vital release valve for the population growth pressures now being experienced across the Capital.

6.7 The low density of development at Heathrow compared to other parts of London is a consequence of its aviation use. Intensification of development to more typical London standards will release very significant potential land values. Heathrow occupies an area equivalent to the entire borough of Kensington and Chelsea but only accommodates 76,000 jobs within the airport and obviously no housing. 3

6.8 The UK continues to experience considerable pressure for urban growth and is expected to add 10.9 million people over the next 23 years 4 with the London alone adding an additional 1 million people. Heathrow offers one of the largest development opportunities in the capital and it is already served by suitable infrastructure. The proposals envisage a new future for Heathrow as the largest urban expansion project in Europe. Gensler propose the development of an eco-city on the former airfield that can utilise the existing infrastructure to provide additional homes for 300,000 people and jobs for over 200,000. The future value of Heathrow could be part of the solution to our greatest national infrastructure challenge and could help underpin the creation of a new purpose built hub airport in the East Thames Gateway.

7. Deliverability

7.1 There is ongoing work to optimise the airport location and complete a detailed feasibility study. The concept depends on standard, tried and tested engineering solutions albeit on a larger scale than has been attempted before.

7.2 Critical to delivery is the issue of cost and time. The detailed costing of the proposals still requires more technical studies to be undertaken. The initial indications are that the overall cost of the airport and its fixed links will be comparable to a land reclamation solution or expansion on existing developed land adjacent to an operational airport.

7.3 The floating airport removes the need for extensive land assembly, it avoids the need to remove or relocate existing land uses and is likely to face less local opposition than alternative concepts.

7.4 The construction of the airport itself is not dependent on the creation of new land or land assembly and can be undertaken immediately in a systemised way in factories and shipyards around the UK.

7.5 The deliverability of the proposals is affected by continued uncertainty in Government policy and the subsequent parliamentary/planning approval. It is normally the case in the UK that the approval process takes far longer than the construction and commissioning.

7.6 In addition to the airport itself it shouldn’t be under estimated the most complexity of gaining approval for the other critical elements such as the rail and road connections. Also from a construction standpoint it is the infrastructure connections that will ultimately determine the overall delivery date of the new airport rather than the airport itself.

7.7 The initial concept appraisals would suggest that setting aside Government decision making and the parliamentary/planning approval process the airport could be open within 12–15 years. Although there are still many undefined variables and much work to be done an early analysis would suggest that it is feasible to deliver the project for less than the widely quoted figure of £50 billion referred to in the media.

8. Conclusion

8.1 This is a once in a century project and the UK needs a bold vision, which will reinforce London’s position as the Global Capital for trade and commerce. The location of this airport concept within the Thames Estuary creates a new standard for the world, minimising nuisance and maximising environmental benefit.

8.2 The concept reinforces the feasibility of the Estuary as the only significant large area of undeveloped land capable of accommodating a new hub airport of a suitable international size and with all the domestic and international transport connections required.

8.3 The location of Britannia Airport provides the least impact on UK residents and helps to mitigate the negative effects of air pollution, noise and traffic congestion. The construction of the floating airport could provide a much needed boost to cities across the UK and offers the potential to regenerate major areas of deprivation within East London and the Thames Gateway.

8.4 The reuse of Heathrow and the creation of a new purpose built aviation hub could together provide the capital with the strategic solution for the next fifty years of growth and development to enable the UK to maintain its position on the international stage.

29 October 2012

1 Department for Transport – UK Aviation Forecasts, August 2011: 211 million passengers per annum (mppa) in 2010 to 335mppa in 2030. By 2050 the central forecast is for 520mppa. “Unconstrained” ** passenger number growth would be +50m by 2050, i.e., 520mppa rather than 470mppa. ** with an airport capacity capable of handling this level of flow.

2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment. Air quality impacts of UK airport capacity expansion. Oct 2012.

3 Heathrow Related Employment, Optimal Economics, Draft Final September 2011

4 Office for National Statistics (ONS) Population Bulletin 2010: Population 62.3 million in 2010 will grow to 67.2 million over the ten year period to 2020, and to 73.2 million by 2035.

Prepared 31st May 2013