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Lobby group tries to resurrect airport at Cliffe

An ‘independent’ lobby group is trying to resurrect the idea of a new London airport at Cliffe in Kent. This option was regected in 2003 in the government’s airports White Paper. Article from the Financial Times follow.

Bob Sherwood, London and South-East Correspondent, 27 Dec 2010.

Calls for Kent airport given fresh wings

The chaos at London airports in the run-up to Christmas has proved that the capital needs a modern hub, according to a group of former aviation industry executives who are attempting to resurrect a plan for an airport at Cliffe, in north Kent.

An independent aviation advisory group, led by John Olsen, former commercial director of Cathay Pacific and ex-head of the failed airline Dan-Air, is urging the government to look again at proposals for a £14bn three-runway, 24-hour-a-day hub airport on the Hoo peninsula.

They claim recent infrastructure developments – such as the high-speed Channel tunnel rail link from St Pancras through north Kent and the development of London Gateway, the deep-sea container port and Europe’s largest logistics park being built just across the Thames – now make a more compelling case for the airport. In addition, the scheme would provide a catalyst to unlock the stalled Thames Gateway regeneration project, bringing thousands of jobs to deprived areas in north Kent and south Essex.

The Cliffe airport plan is a scheme that refuses to die. Identified as the best potential site for a new airport by the Labour government in 2002, the proposal was abandoned in December 2003 on the grounds that the costs of the coastal site were too high and the airport would not be well used.

The decision was welcomed by local residents in the village of Cliffe and beyond in the Medway area as well as by environmental campaigners, who claimed the salt marshes of the Hoo peninsula were an important bird habitat.

But Mr Olsen’s group, which has spent three years researching the project, believes those arguments are no longer valid and that the project would be far more practical and cheaper than London mayor Boris Johnson’s idea of an island airport in the Thames estuary.

Mr Olsen told the Financial Times: “I think Boris is right that we need a new airport in the UK, but he’s got the wrong location.

An independent group believes there is a compelling case for an airport in Cliffe. Environmentalists disagree

“This is not just a way of drastically improving aviation in the UK. It’s part of a much bigger plan of regeneration in the Thames Gateway area. And with the high-speed rail link, it’s already better connected than Heathrow. This is all about using what we’ve got already.”

Daniel Moylan, deputy chairman of Transport for London who is working on a review of airport capacity for the mayor, recently called on the government to include a “new hub airport” serving London and the south-east in its new national aviation policy.

But gaining traction with a government that has opposed airport expansion for a scheme with the political baggage of the Cliffe proposal will be difficult.

Already local MPs, council leaders and environmental campaigners have lined up to attack the plan.

Nevertheless, Mr Olsen said the almost uninhabited salt marshes of the Hoo peninsula had so many advantages that the site could not be ignored.

“It’s the best piece of undeveloped land anywhere near any major city in Europe,” he said.

The group claims the bird populations on the peninsula’s west and north are “meagre” and that the risk of bird strike is lower than at other locations.

The group also believes the plan is economically viable because the government already owns much of the land; it would be far cheaper than an island scheme, which has attracted estimates of £40bn; and one of the sovereign wealth funds from the Gulf would be keen to fund the scheme on a lease of up to 100 years.

Mr Olsen denied any financial involvement in the plan.

 “We have not been paid a penny and we have not asked anyone to pay us,” he said.