The Budget and the Estuary

What does the budget mean for the prospects of an airport in the Thames Estuary.

In his Budget today Mr Osborne chancellor of the Exchequer announced today ”I believe that this country must confront the lack of airport capacity in the south-east of England. We cannot cut ourselves off from the fastest growing cities in the world, and my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will set out Government thinking later this summer.” With expansion ruled out at Heathrow Gatwick and Stansted and the political focus firmly and uniquely on the Thames Estuary the future does not look bright.

In the last consultation in 2002 when Government looked at proposals for an airport at Cliffe or in the run up to the current consultation to be announced shortly, this or previous Governments have never acknowledged the environmental value of the Thames Estuary despite its European and Ramsar recognition.

Mr Darling the then Secretary of State for Transport came close when giving his reasons for dismissing Cliffe as an option when he said that birdstrike would make the site dangerous.

Today Mr Osborne went on to say  ”Next week my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary and the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), the Minister with responsibility for planning, will publish the results of our overhaul of planning regulation. We are replacing 1,000 pages of guidance with just 50 pages. We are introducing a presumption in favour of sustainable development, while protecting our most precious environments. The new policy comes into effect when the national planning policy framework is published next Tuesday. This is the biggest reduction in business red tape ever undertaken.”

Saving our most precious places may just be a reference to our nine national parks that we all love and indeed consider precious or if we are optimistic it could be a reference to the recognition we all want to hear … that the Thames Estuary, recently put forward for consideration as one of the new Marine Conservation Zones is to be given its rightful place in the hearts and minds of the nation.

Tomorrow Government will release a review of its interpretation of the Habitats Directive the very legislation that forms the foundation of protection of all such sites.