The sudden availability of the late Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the Brexit’s principal spokesman and, for a short time, candidate Leader of the Conservative Party, together with the Prime Minister’s decision to postpone yet again the decision on London’s airport expansion, is directly relevant to the post that appeared on the Blog yesterday.
Brexit has given the UK the freedom and incentive to assume again its historic leadership of Western Europe, using the traditional quality of the Armed Forces and their fighting spirit to establish once again the nation’s reputation for innovation and success in the fields of technology and commerce as much as in naval, military and aeronautical conflict. This opportunity can be harnessed to attract the international finance that seeks to invest in leadership, and will additionally help to unify the constituent parts of the UK. Success is a magnet.
The postponed decision on London’s airport is supposedly restricted to that of a choice between an additional runway at Heathrow and one at Gatwick, a counsel of despair dictated by intellectual fears of the perceived impossibility of designing alternative solutions whose responsibilities politicians will consent to accept. It is, of course, a ridiculous situation, described in one response to an enquiry as choosing the better of two bad alternatives when both are eliminated by the original criteria of noise and traffic pollution, and, of course, by future inaccessibility. “Boris Island” showed the way — why was it discarded? Should it not now be reexamined in the light of its proponent’s new availability as the internationally renowned and energetic enthusiast needed to drive its candidature forward? Why is its potential not being assessed in combination with the comparatively low-cost utility of Manston Airport?
Expansion at Heathrow is for the brain-dead. Gatwick may be a potential solution for some of today’s problems, but for none of tomorrow’s, and thus it must be ignored on financial grounds. The Government’s decision must cater for very long-term requirements, and these include both the ability to expand, and then to keep expanding without (as has been traditional in airport construction) tearing down expensive facilities at their half-life. Moreover, the construction’s investment operation must be integrated within the national investment plan and exploited as an irresistible magnet for foreign funds, a task for which the late Mayor of London would be unrivalled.
The Plan in Brief
- Secure the future of Manston Airport by compulsory purchase. (Note: its future ownership is currently in contention).
- Designate Manston as a Freeport, upgrade its facilities, expand its area, and invite appropriate industries to reserve plots. (Brussels might have objected to the Freeport status, but Brexit will applaud it.)
- Complete the “Boris Island” construction plan and begin work there as soon as is appropriate.
- Negotiate the route for a double (or probably triple, eventually quadruple) MagLev track from Manston to Boris.
- Plan improvements to current rail links and upgrade to motorway status the dual-carriageway A299 link from Manston to the M2.
- Plan a New Town south of Manston and east of Canterbury. (Early housing will be required for the construction force and the personnel transferred from Heathrow.) Finance can be leveraged off the eventual resale of Heathrow for housing.
- Begin the diversion of air traffic growth from Heathrow and Gatwick into Manston as the first stage of the joint Boris–Manston operation, concentrating initially on dedicated air freighters and business traffic.
- Exploit the Freeport status as the principal attraction for investment — an attraction which, owing to geography, and freedom from the EU’s limitations, will be huge.
- Build the Boris Island 4-runway intercontinental airport, London’s only 21st-century airport (with potential for a later additional seventh runway), fully integrated with the fifth runway operation at Manston (where space should be reserved for a future sixth runway).
Operationally the two airports will have Boris Island (London East) as the principal activity and Manston (London South) as the satellite, with most air freighters using Manston, but financially, and especially for investment, the two airports must be treated as a single entity. With some very substantial investment funds looking for returns larger than those offered by the banks, a Government-sponsored opportunity such as this must be very attractive.
The MagLev link (much shorter, less expensive, and far less disruptive than that proposed for Gatwick-Heathrow) is obviously crucially important, but in view of the absence of the constraints that hit the Gatwick-Heathrow traffic, adequate helicopter links will be available too. Phase Three could see the MagLev track extending above the river, close to its bank, into the City and perhaps beyond.
The New Town will be needed for the substantial numbers of workers employed in the years of construction, plus some of the airport workers transferred from Heathrow, plus some of the immigrants continuing to arrive at Dover, plus those arriving to work in the new and high-tech industries established in the Freeport.
The “London Airport problem” requires a big solution, sufficiently big to attract the attention of the type of international finance sought. This solution is sufficiently big also to offer partial solutions to the local employment problems, and to the need to identify suitable space for the Government’s national housing development plans. No physical constraints to the airport’s construction have, it is claimed, been identified in the latest feasibility study of what is now called Britannia Airport (previously “Shivering Sands”), and the value of the project as a national inspiration should be sensational, typical of the morale boosting activities the UK’s role as leader of a Greater Europe demands.
So who will forward a link from here to Boris?