Thames Estuary Airport Plans

New plans for a four-runway airport in the Thames Estuary are being officially outlined by a leading architect today.

Lord Norman Foster, the man behind London's Gherkin office building and Stansted Airport's terminal building, proposes the new international hub be built on the Isle of Grain, along with high-speed rail connections to London, the Midlands and northern England as well as continental Europe.

The so-called Thames Hub, which is a rival to London Mayor Boris Johnson's own plan for a Thames Estuary airport, would also have links to key ports such as Felixstowe in Suffolk and Tilbury in Essex. There were be a new river barrier and crossing too.

Lord Foster said: "We need to recapture the foresight and political courage of our 19th century forebears if we are to establish a modern transport and energy infrastructure in Britain for this century and beyond.''

If built, the Thames Hub would handle 150million passengers a year, more than double the capacity of Heathrow, with flights operating 24 hours a day.

Each of the four runways would be 2.5 miles (4km) long, with planes approaching from the north east, primarily over water.

The airport would offer more international routes than Paris and Frankfurt, and Chinese, Indian and Latin American carriers would be able to operate from the UK.

In addition, existing airlines would be able to expand their operations.

London could be reached by rail in 30 minutes from the airport - the same time as that taken by the Gatwick Express from Gatwick in West Sussex to central London.

A railway station to be built under the new airport would be the UK's busiest - handling 300,000 arrivals and departures a day.

The Foster plan not only envisages air and rail links but also a new flood-protection Thames barrier which would harness tidal power to generate carbon-free energy.

But the plans have been met with criticism from Medway Council which has described the Isle of Grain as one of the worst places for anyone to build a new airport.

Council leader Rodney Chambers said: "The Isle of Grain is home to one of the world's largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, with a fifth of the UK's gas supply offloaded by container ships and stored there. It is plainly obvious that aircraft and huge gas containers are a potentially lethal mix.

"In addition to this, the sunken American warship the SS Richard Montgomery is submerged just a few miles from the location and laden with high explosives, the London Array wind farm is being built nearby and the airport cuts through an area that is home to hundreds of thousands of migrating birds.

"We have looked at Lord Foster's plan and he appears to want to place his fantasy Isle of Grain airport on top of the LNG plant and a power station. It beggars belief."