Facebook Connect Follow us on Twitter and win an iPad 3
Thames estuary airport could be 'built in seven years

Huw Thomas, from Foster and Partners, said it was easier to build an airport on the Isle of Grain than expand Heathrow . A new airport on the Isle of Grain would take seven years to build, architects behind the scheme have said.

Norman Foster's hub airport plan is one of three schemes which have been put forward for the Thames estuary.

Critics of the Thames airport proposals have said that building an airport in the estuary, off north Kent, could take decades.

But Huw Thomas, from Foster and Partners, said the time from starting work to opening would be seven years.

Proposals for increased airport capacity in the South East have included the expansion of Gatwick and Heathrow and more use of regional airports.

There have also been three different plans to build airports in the Thames estuary - a floating airport designed by architects Gensier, another plan known as Boris Island after it was backed by London mayor Boris Johnson, and proposals for a hub airport on the Isle of Grain designed by architect Norman Foster.

In an exclusive interview , Mr. Thomas said: "From the first shovel in the ground to opening we believe is seven years."

He said the key advantage to the site was that it could be reached from three sides by sea.

"You've got really good connectivity from land. You've got access to ports for delivering material. In terms of doing the landfill, you've got easy access to the dredge sites that will provide the material - so you're creating a greenfield site," he said.

"You've got to move a motorway junction for the primary access. You've got to suppress the roads. You've got to demolish all of that infrastructure. You've got to reconfigure the whole of the airport in order to get to that third runway."

This year the South East Local Enterprise Partnership said a Thames estuary airport was not a feasible solution to increasing the UK's aviation capacity because of cost, air space management, the impact it would have on Heathrow, and the time it would take to build.

Virgin Atlantic owner Sir Richard Branson also called for Heathrow expansion rather than a Thames hub airport. He said that building an airport in the estuary could take 20 years.

Both Kent and Medway councils have opposed the estuary schemes and called for increased use of other regional airports and also Gatwick and Heathrow.

Medway Council has opposed the environmental impact of the scheme, but Kent County Council said in May that making better use of existing airports now was better than depending on an estuary airport that would take years to develop and may not succeed.