18/12/2013
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Thames airport still on agenda

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Landscape in the Thames Estuary near the site on reclaimed marshland on the Isle of Grain, which is expected to be identified as a potential site for an airport in the government's upcoming aviation consultation. Photo: Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com).
Landscape in the Thames Estuary near the site on reclaimed marshland on the Isle of Grain, which is expected to be identified as a potential site for an airport in the government's upcoming aviation consultation. Photo: Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com).
Despite having been ruled out on previous occasions due to the likely environmental damage, airports on the Thames Estuary remain on the government's agenda.

In a report released this morning, Sir Howard Davies, Chair of the Airports Commission, favours new runways at existing airports, putting Heathrow ahead of Gatwick. But he has also included a second division level of a new airport on Kent’s Hoo Peninsula in the Thames Estuary, which he acknowledges would be both expensive (up to £112 billion) and environmentally damaging. Lydd Airport in Kent is already likely to be expanded.

The RSPB believes that further airport expansion will undermine efforts to reduce our climate impact in the UK, and that further scrutiny of an option in the Thames Estuary will lead to it being ruled out completely. The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has also stated that there is no business case for any new runway in Britain, contrary to the government's belief, and that figures show that business flights in the UK have decreased by 23 per cent at Heathrow since 2000, and over the whole of the UK by 13 per cent over the same period. 

Jean Leston, transport policy manager of WWF UK, said: “It's a shame that the commission thinks we need more runways – and probably at Heathrow – to provide more routes to emerging markets. We think you can do this without pouring more concrete and wrecking our climate targets. The fact is, business is flying less and expansion at Heathrow will be used mostly for leisure travel. Expanding Heathrow for more leisure flying is an environmental travesty. There's ample spare capacity at other airports for holidaymakers to use.”

The tidal mudflats, saltmarsh and reed beds that line the estuary are one of the most import wildlife habitats in Europe, home to a rich ecosystem which includes hundreds of thousands of threatened wintering birds. The region is designated with the highest environmental protection available.

Sue Armstrong-Brown, RSPB head of policy, said: “We have always said that the Thames Estuary is a disastrous place to put an airport. It supports many thousands of wintering birds, as well as other wildlife. Every time a spotlight is put on the Thames Estuary as a potential site for an airport it is revealed to be both an environmental disaster and economic lunacy. The more scrutiny put on this proposal, the more clear it will be for all concerned that it is a non-starter.

“However climate change remains the greatest long term threat to wildlife. We believe there should be no further airports in this country until the Government can demonstrate how they can be built and operated without busting our legally binding climate targets. Emissions from aircraft are one of the fastest increasing sources of greenhouse gases. The impacts of climate change on wildlife in the UK and abroad are already being felt with seabirds struggling to find food as sea temperatures increase. Evidence shows that climate change could lead to up to a third of land-based species committed to extinction by 2050.”
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