By Michael Northcott Monday, 11 February 2013

BoJo flies east for Boris Island bunce

The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is planning to try and raise £80bn from Arab investors to get started on his Thames Estuary airport idea without waiting for the government to free up the cash.

Ever the spanner in the works for the Conservative Party and the government in general, the mayor is determined to get significantly more air travel capacity linked into the London transport infrastructure. 

In April this year, he will take a week-long sojourn to the Gulf states – namely, Dubai, Qatar and Kuwait – trying to convince wealthy investors there to pledge money for a new London airport capable of carrying 180 million passengers a year.

City Hall (where the mayoralty’s HQ is based) still views the new hub airport in the estuary as the best option, but it is thought that senior government aides still favour the expansion of Stansted as the more likely option. That is, if anything is to happen at all.

But BoJo reckons the new airport, wherever it ends up being based, can be created entirely through private funding and hopefully operated as a legitimate profitable business thereafter. His £80bn estimate includes the cost of constructing the runways, the terminal buildings, ancillary facilities and transport links (both rail and road) to the airport.

The mayor has also announced a crack team of design experts to come up with some proposals for how the airport might look: British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, who designer the aquatics centre for the London 2012 Olympic park; and also architects Pascall+Watson, the firm which design Terminal 5 for Heathrow Airport and carried out the extensive redevelopment of St Pancras International train station. 

Furthermore, Johnson has been outspoken about the government’s inaction on the subject of a new airport. He said: ‘It is imperative that work top progress a new hub airport is completed as soon as possible. The Government has set a timetable that dawdles when dash should be the order of the day. I have assembled experts tasked with delivering an examination of the most realistic solutions.’

Of course, cash is not the only obstacle to getting this thing built. There is also the small matter of planning permission - you can't just raise the money and then start pouring millions of tons of landfill into the Thames Estuary. And is Boris not at all put off by Barclays' recent experience of trying to raise money in the region? As the bank has found out to its cost, raising money from the wealthy Arab states is not always as straightforward as it might appear...

Whether or not Boris can raise the massive £80bn from foreign investors at a time when market uncertainty plagues the entire European continent remains to be seen. But goodness knows we need a decision on aviation policy, one way or t’other.

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