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UK drops plan for new London airport in Thames estuary

A commission has ditched an ambitious plan to build a new airport east of London. The plan to locate the airport in the Thames River estuary was backed by London's mayor, but experts found it too expensive to build.

A British government-appointed commission said Tuesday the plan to build a new airport in the Thames estuary had not made it onto a shortlist of choices for expanding airport capacity in London.

The plan was first floated by London's mayor Boris Johnson and has since been dubbed "Boris Island." While Britain's politicians and business leaders generally agree that London needs more runway capacity, any expansion is unpopular with voters who fear more noise and air pollution.

Airports Commission Chairman Sir Howard Davies said the huge cost, economic disruption and environmental concerns made the proposal unviable.

"The need for additional capacity is urgent. We need to focus on solutions which are deliverable, affordable, and set the right balance for the future," Sir Howard said in the commission's report.

The plan for a Thames estuary airport would have led to the development of a four-runway airport on the Isle of Grain. According to a commission estimate, the project would have cost up to 112 billion pounds (141 billion euros), which is about five times as much as the costs for the remaining short-listed options. Those include adding a third runway at Heathrow Airport, lengthening an existing runway at Heathrow, and a new runway at Gatwick.

London mayor Boris Johnson Tuesday described the commission's decision as short-sighted, and added that plans to expand either Gatwick or Heathrow airports would fail.

"Gatwick is not a long-term solution and Howard Davies must explain to the people of London how he can possibly envisage that an expansion of Heathrow, which would create unbelievable levels of noise, blight and pollution, is a better idea than a new airport to the east of London that he himself admits is visionary, and which would create the jobs and growth this country needs to remain competitive," he said.

The Airports Commission announced that it would issue a final recommendation on the three remaining options by summer 2015.

uhe/ng (Reuters, dpa)

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