Heathrow Airport, London’s international transportation hub, is currently operating at 98 percent capacity, prompting U.K. officials to step up exploration for expansion plans in recent years. One major proposal that is generating heavy praise and condemnation is a Thames Estuary hub, backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson. The project has been forced back into the spotlight with the recent unveiling of a new $80 billion plan designed by Sir Norman Foster.
The new plan includes a high-speed transit system, a large electrical and data system spine, tidal generators, four 4-km runways and a 40,000 hectare property. The site would require 280 million cubic meters of material dredged from the estuary, and would have an operating capacity of more than 150 million passengers per year – more than double Heathrow’s.
Project backers say the airport can be operational by the early 2020’s, but environmental groups and other critics have voiced strong opposition to any project involving the estuary. The waters are home to several migrating bird species, and construction would severely impede the natural ecosystem – not to mention endangering aircraft, as thousands of large birds move about the region.
According to a piece at Engineering News –Record, a proposal for a third runway at Heathrow was recently rejected, but under Foster’s plan the current hub would eventually become obsolete. Foster’s plan is the latest in a string of proposals over the last few decades, so strong skepticism about its success still reigns. Transport for London is due to publish a report detailing potential construction sites within weeks.