Business leaders have urged the Government to reject plans for a new “Boris Island” airport in the middle of the sea and turn Birmingham Airport into the UK’s new national airport instead.
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce said the city’s airport would be ready to cope with up to 30 million extra passengers once a new runway extension is built.
Speculation that the Government is giving serious consideration to a new airport in the South-east was sparked by George Osborne’s pledge that “we will explore all the options for maintaining the UK’s aviation hub status with the exception of a third runway at Heathrow”.
Some reports interpreted this as a hint that the Government will back proposals for a new airport on an artificial island in the sea North-east of Whitstable, in Kent, which are supported by London mayor Boris Johnson.
This is known as the Thames Estuary scheme, although the proposed location would arguably be in the North Sea rather than the mouth of the Thames. The project is also sometimes known as Boris Island.
But the Department for Transport insists that it has made no decision about how air capacity should be improved.
A seven-month consultation on the future of the UK’s airports ended in October and Ministers are considering the responses.
The questions asked included whether regional airports in other parts of the UK could absorb some of the demand for air travel in the South-east, where the three largest airports, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead, are expected to run out of capacity by 2030.
Ministers will announce the results of the consultation in March.
The Chamber is pushing for the Government to make more use of Birmingham Airport – and argues that the planned high speed rail line from London to Birmingham, with a station planned at Birmingham Airport, will make it an attractive solution for passengers from the south.
Michael Ward, president of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, said Birmingham Airport had the spare capacity to cope with an extra nine million passengers, as well as another 21 million from 2014 when the approved runway extension is built.
He said: “We have excellent transport links to London and once HS2 is built it will take the same amount of time to travel from Euston to Birmingham Airport as it would be to travel from Euston to Edgware Road on the Underground.
John Morris, head of government and industry affairs at Birmingham Airport, said: “Boris’ £50 billion vanity scheme in the Thames Estuary makes no sense. It would probably be closer to a large chunk of the Dutch population than the UK.
“We need more capacity for the South-east but it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the South-east.
“It is about time we got real and the Midlands stood up for bringing jobs and investment here. I welcome the comments from the Chamber and I hope other business organisations will also offer support.
"We have to end the London-centric approach which says the answer is always in the capital.”