Boris Johnson had a dream. His world was infested with evil red worms called Bendy-buses, which clogged up the roads and upset motorists. He yearned for the bygone days of the Routemaster, with its open platform which enabled people to hop on and fall off willy-nilly. So much was his longing that he arranged a competition, and a few years (and several million quid) later, we now have the New Bus for London.
Having rid the capital of his pet hate, he has a new dream: to build a new island in the Thames. It will provide a transport mega-hub, with four runways, rail-links from the centre of London and elsewhere, and enough capacity to permit transfers from short-haul flights from within the UK. A new Thames barrier would be provided, doubling up as a new road crossing. The cost? A mere £50bn. That’s right. Fifty Billion Pounds.
So why is this so wrong? For a start, the Thames estuary is known for being a haven for migrating birds. Although his plan apparently includes proposals to create a new nature reserve, it sounds like a recipe for disaster. Aircraft engines and birds don’t tend to play very well together. Then there’s the CO2 emissions and noise that would come from an airport with four runways.
Ah, but we need to the capacity to encourage foreign investment, don’t we? Perhaps, but there is a fairly easy way of doing that without building additional airports. We improve transport links between the major cities, including those with existing international airports. A decent high speed rail network would all but kill demand for domestic flights, with only those from the farthest-flung UK destinations being necessary. We could improve transport links between the existing London airports to make transfers from one to the other as easy as possible. Let’s face it, London has enough of them: Gatwick, Heathrow, London City, Luton and Stanstead.
£50bn could go a long way without having to spend it on another vanity project. Remember that this is Britain – by the time we get around to building the damn thing it’ll be well over-budget, and probably well out-of-date as well.
While I’m totally against this particular island, the concept of “A New Island for Boris” is one that I’m warming to. Somewhere far away, surrounded by shark-infested waters and with no hope of ever escaping. Stick Cameron, Osborne and the rest of the crew there for eternity and I’ll be happy. On reflection, £50bn might just seem like a bargain after all.