The Null Device

The Thames Hub

British architect Lord Norman Foster has just posited plans for a huge new airport and transport development on an artificial island in the Thames Estuary. The development, to be named the Thames Hub, will include the aforementioned airport, high-speed and standard-speed rail links to London, the Channel Tunnel and the North, a container port, an industrial zone and a new Thames flood barrier and tidal energy generator.

Foster (who, among other commissions, worked on Hong Kong's decade-old airport, which is also built on an artificial island), chided Britain for having lost its taste for ambitious projects:

"We need to recapture the foresight and political courage of our 19th-century forebears, " said Foster on Wednesday, "if we are to establish a modern transport and energy infrastructure in Britain for this century and beyond."
The plan has won a number of high-profile backers: industrial designer Sir James Dyson, of vacuum-cleaner fame, has backed it, and Boris Johnson (who proposed an island airport in the Thames to replace Heathrow) is in favour. However, not everyone is convinced; there are concerns that the Isle of Grain, which is to be subsumed beneath the artificial island, is both a fragile bird habitat (which would be annihilated by the airport), and a huge natural gas depot (which would pose a hazard), with additional threats posed by a sunken US warship, laden with high explosives. Also, while plans for a new airport are partly motivated by London's airports being close to capacity, some are saying that this can be better mitigated by replacing short-haul flights with high-speed rail; if there aren't all those flights departing from Heathrow for Manchester or Amsterdam, there'll be plenty of capacity for places like New York and Hong Kong. (Of course, high-speed rail suffers from all the Anglo-Saxon aversion to big projects even more than an airport would, given that one would have to placate or defeat the NIMBYs at every step of the way.)

There are 3 comments on "The Thames Hub":

Posted by: Greg Mon Nov 7 12:27:44 2011

You'd hope a high-speed rail network is at least costed for comparison.

I've traveled a fair bit on UK rail and I don't mind the slow version too much. I'd never fly within the UK. Then again frequent business travelers might have a different view.

As for Britain having lost its taste for large ventures, what about the Chunnel? It's a marvelous engineering achievement and must itself have lightened the airports' load.

Posted by: acb Mon Nov 7 15:49:05 2011

The Chunnel was largely pushed by Mitterrand (and, according to his memoirs, his push to end Britain's isolation from Europe was revenge for Thatcher having blackmailed him into handing over the codes to disable Argentina's Exocet missiles, by threatening a nuclear strike on Buenos Aires if he didn't). According to Mitterrand's memoirs, France paid most of the upfront costs, making it irresistible to the parsimonious Britons. (Which is also why it's a rail tunnel and not a road tunnel; Thatcher detested railways, seeing them as (a) obsolete and (b) incompatible with free-market doctrine.)

Posted by: Greg Tue Nov 8 12:04:04 2011

Oh. That's depressing. And bizarre. Depressing and bizarre.

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