Thames Estuary Airport

It is claimed plans for a new airport off the Kent coast in the Thames Estuary are being considered by the government and a public consultation will be announced in weeks.

The controversial multi-billion pound proposals would see an international hub airport built partly on reclaimed land and based on either an island or on the Hoo peninsula.

London's Mayor Boris Johnson has been championing the idea for sometime, while leading architect Lord Foster published his vision for the airport in November, with plans for four runways, each 2.5miles long, round the clock flights and facilities to cope with 150 million passengers a year.

A new Thames flood barrier would be built, as well as new roads and rail links to get passengers to and from the terminal.

The Prime Minister has ruled out further expansion at London's Heathrow airport, and is now said to be considering the Thames Estuary hub as a possible option to deal with the increasing demand for air travel and to help the UK compete with European rivals.

Speaking last week, the UK's Civil Aviation Authority's chief executive Andrew Haines said: "Additional capacity would offer significant benefits for consumers and for the UK as a whole, so long as it is delivered in an environmentally sustainable way.

"However, as we haven't built a single runway in the south east of England capable of handling Boeing 747s and Airbus A380s for over 70 years, the difficulty of increasing capacity is obvious.

"The challenge facing the Government is to create an aviation policy that stands the test of time - not a policy for five years, but one for 30 years.

Thames Hub AirportBut the proposals have been met with opposition from both Medway Council and Kent County Council who have described it as a "pie in the sky" idea, and believe Manston airport should be developed instead.

Friends of the Earth are also concerned about the idea. Executive director, Andy Atkins, said: "A new airport in the Thames estuary would have a devastating impact on local communities and the environment - and all for pie-in-the sky economics that simply don't add up.

"London doesn't need another hub airport - the capital already has more flights to the world's main business destinations than our European neighbours.

Protect Kent have welcomed the public consultation into the proposal for airports in the Thames Estuary. The group, which promotes the diversity of rural England, has argued that the airports would have a disastrous impact on land both north and south of the Thames.

Andrew Ogden, campaigns manager for Protect Kent, said: "While our views on this consultation may appear to contradict our normal stance, we anticipate that this opportunity to share all of the facts and figures behind these proposals will expose them as the futile schemes they are.

"Over the past 60 years there have been many ventures to build airports in and around the Thames Estuary but none have ever passed the planning stage.

"Together with other campaigning and environmental groups, we will be presenting our case against these airports in response to the consultation."

Leaders on Medway Council have called on Transport Secretary Justine Greening to attend an urgent meeting so she can hear their objections to the scheme.

In an open letter from the four group leaders on the authority, they said that 76% of the UK public are opposed to the airport proposal, along with many major airline industry leaders.

It said: ``If it were to go ahead, it would have a huge affect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of residents in Medway, as well as across Kent and the wider Thames estuary, and would devastate an area of global environmental significance providing a home for around 250,000 migrating wildfowl annually.

``An airport would cost up to £70 billion, would require huge highways and infrastructure and would cut great swathes off the green belt and countryside.

``We strongly urge you to keep to Government policy and continue looking at fully utilising the capacity of existing airports - such as the five London already has (which is two more than New York) and others such as Manston and Birmingham, which could both be joined to London by high speed rail.

``We look forward to meeting with you at the earliest available opportunity to discuss this urgent matter further.''