The economist who made the case for Crossrail told Construction News this week that a proposed £50 billion airport hub in the Thames estuary could create a four-fold return for the UK economy over 50 to 60 years.
Bridget Rosewell, who has served as consultant chief economist to the Greater London Authority, Transport for London and the London Development Agency, has backed the vision for a Thames transport hub, which includes plans for a 150 million passenger-a-year airport.
Architect Foster + Partners and consultant engineer Halcrow unveiled their vision for the Thames Hub, the result of a self-funded £100,000 study, last month and will release details of the proposals in the coming weeks.
Along with a new airport, their proposals comprise rail freight connections between the UK’s main sea ports, a tidal energy barrage and a new flood protection barrier across the Thames estuary.
Ms Rosewell, chairman of Volterra Consulting and founder-member of The Thames Estuary Research and Development Company, said of the vision: “I would expect the financial payback to be of the same order as you would get for Crossrail.”
Ms Rosewell estimates Crossrail could return economic benefits of about £70bn from its £16bn cost over 50 to 60 years.
She said the “distributed benefit” of major schemes made the initial funding of the Thames Hub a matter for the government.
“At the moment it is pretty broad-brush stuff, but the expected investment could be about £40-50bn,” she said.
This would put the potential payback at about £200bn over 50-60 years.
Consultancy firm Frontier Economics last week said the UK could miss out on £14bn of trade from growth markets due to inadequate aviation capacity.
Ms Rosewell said: “The economic case rests on communicating the importance of infrastructure for the growth of the economy.
“That’s the way we will become successful in the 21st century; at the moment [our transport infrastructure] is a mess.”
Ms Rosewell, whose economic analysis for Crossrail has been developed into guidance on the transport benefits in schemes such as the HS2 high-speed rail network, said the complexity of the Thames Hub project could be overcome by cutting up its different elements into discrete projects.
Drawing on the example of HS2, she said trains, stations, property or fares could “all be thought about as segments that have a payback for investors”.
One investment model would be for the taxpayer to finance the build and take on the project delivery risk, creating an asset which is “much more sellable”, or by selling the asset in advance of construction.
Ms Rosewell said planners tried too often to arrive at a perfect solution from the outset, rather than allowing a straightforward framework within which projects could evolve.
She said: “I think that we create complexity, whereas it is not actually a complex idea to say that we need an integrated transport hub.”