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MAJOR NEWPORT / SEVERN-SIDE PROJECTS - WILL THEY EVER HAPPEN?

Severnside Airport, the Severn Barrage, the Usk Barrage, lagoons, the M4 relief road......in truth we have been here before many times, without getting very far. Aside from the completion of Brunel's Severn Tunnel and two expansive road bridges, the Severn Estuary and the tidal stretches around Newport have been the subject of much speculation regarding regeneration projects and for harnessing the natural elements to create energy. It is not because it is environmentally significant, it isn't, it is because politicians have failed to demonstrate a clear vision and small time political interests have prevented further development. 

SEVERNSIDE AIRPORT

The latest study, by aviation consultants MSP Solutions, on behalf of the Institute for Welsh Affairs says that Wales and the West of England should cooperate to promote a state-of-the-art, 24-hour Severnside passenger and cargo airport that would serve the whole of south West Britain.

In 1968 Severnside was identified as an area of potential economic growth in the UK. Conservative MP for South Kensington Sir Brandon Rhys Williams is an early proponent of the idea of a major airport in the area and makes a number of contributions suggesting that it could be one of the keys to increasing employment opportunities.

There was an early reference to the idea in parliamentary questions in 1973. With predictable opposition from further north!

Hansard February 5 1973

Sir B. Rhys Williams asked the Secretary of State for Wales what study he has made of the cost and practicability of building a national airport on Severn-side; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Thomas stated the Civil Aviation Authority is responsible for advising on future airport development and has announced its intention to study the desirable future airport structure in the regions.

Sir B. Rhys Williams - Will any right hon. and learned Friend consider the importance of this project in the context of regional and employment policy for Britain as a whole? Will he also confirm that if the Maplin project goes ahead this important project for Wales will not be shelved through shortage of finance?

Mr. Thomas - Certainly, one considers suggestions like this in terms of employment opportunities. The economic problems of South Wales at the moment take priority. Any major airport development on Severnside would inevitably be a very long-term project.

Leo Abse - Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that it is important to hon. Members who represent constituencies on Severnside that, apart from any inquiry that might be taking place, we do not want the Secretary of State or any other body to be manipulated by people who should be more interested in looking after the housing affairs of South Kensington? Whereas engineers and other people may benefit from certain schemes, an environmental disaster could hit the whole of Severnside. In any review of such a suggestion will the Secretary of State bear in mind that we have no desire to have dumped upon Severnside schemes which have already been rejected vigorously in other parts of the country?

Mr. Thomas - I am fully aware that the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) is a contentious one which arouses considerable controversy.

Mr. Adley - Notwithstanding the outburst from the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), in terms of land use could not an airport on reclaimed land on the Welsh Grounds have valuable employment implications for South Wales on both sides of the Bristol Channel? Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at the possibility of this area in the light of Rhoose, Lulsgate and Staverton, three airports which might be able to close down if such an airport were provided on the Welsh Grounds?

Mr. Thomas - I have no doubt that any study on future use for a further major airport outside the London area would wish to take full account of all the claims and potential of the Severnside area.

In September 1981 Gwent county council made a submission to the Stansted inspector proposing the development of an airport on Severnside as an alternative to the expansion of Stansted airport but to no avail.

Remember this (exciting news from 1991) from 'construction news plus' including reference to a Gwent County Council plan from 1981

Work is scheduled to start within two years on a new 1,000 million international airport in Gwent, Wales.Holford Trust, a London company owned by an American investment bank, has joined forces with Gwent County Council to plan the airport, to be known as Severnside International, near Newport. The project would entail reclaiming between 10-12 sq km of land along the Severn estuary in what would be one of the biggest civil engineering undertakings carried out in the UK.A spokesman for Holford said that there were no construction companies involved in the project yet, but claimed that there will be soon.The involvement of American firms in the scheme cannot be ruled out, but Holford says it wants to involve as many UK contractors as possible in the civils work. He said reclamation work would be carried out by specialists using similar geotechnic techniques to those that reclaimed the Zuider Zee in Holland. Holford says it is trying to raise funding and backing for the project and is confident that investors will be found in time to present the necessary Parliamentary Private Bill in November. The key elements of the scheme are a runway and major terminal with the chance of a second runway in a second phase; a light railway linking a new station to the airport; a hoverport with a marina to link Cardiff and Bristol; a new 13 km motorway linking with proposed roads associated with the Cardiff barrage; a hotel with conference facilities; and a freight haulage park. However, the airport site, on mudflats between Newport and the Severn Bridge, is designated an area of special scientific interest and major development is sure to be resisted by environmentalists. The project, which could create 60,000 new jobs, is a reworking of proposals the county council put forward about 10 years ago for an airport in the area. At that time the plans foundered because a suitable developer could not be found.

Land was purchased and finance arranged but after this report in Local Government Chronicle (in March 1994) not much

Plans for a 800m airport for the Severn Estuary are to be presented to Parliament in the next few weeks, The Times. Opposed by conservationists but backed by Gwent CC, the Severnside International Airport, has been mooted for some time. The paper reports that the developers say they are 'weeks away' from raising the 5m needed to put the scheme to Parliament and to fund a public enquiry.

In 2001 a new consortium emerged and put forward their 2 billion proposal in January 2003 as the Labour Government began their review of aviation policy and rejected the idea, dismissed in typically small time fashion by Kim Howells MP, in a manner that would have delighted Rhodri Morgan, Cardiffian and Welsh Assembly First Minister at the time

13 January 2003 - Plan submitted...Michael Stephen chair of the consortium stated "As the area in the UK with the greatest number of people wishing to fly is spreading out westward from London, we believe it makes sense to locate a major airport at the western end of the M4 corridor. The roads, rail and airspace in the south east, especially in London and on the M25, are already seriously overcrowded." The developers argued there would be huge savings on aviation fuel because transatlantic jets will not need to fly the 260-mile round trip to Heathrow. And, as Severnside would have uncongested airspace, aircraft would not need to stack in the air on arrival or burn fuel on the ground awaiting departure. Road access to Severnside would be from the M4, M5 and M48 motorways via short dedicated spurs to the terminal. Rail access would be via the airport's own mainline station directly alongside the terminal.

16 December 2003 - Plan rejected....Plans for a new 2bn airport in the Severn Estuary have been rejected by the UK Government..... The proposal for the Severnside airport plan was submitted earlier this year, and could have been ready to serve Wales and the west of England by 2012. Transport Minister Kim Howells strongly denied claims that Cardiff had been downgraded. "This is a nonsense - Cardiff is set to grow from 1.5m passengers to 5m a year," said Mr Howells. (Its just over a million now in 2013). "We did not see a future or even a start-up for the proposals we were presented with on Severnside," he said.

The BBC report states "The Severnside airport would have been built near Newport, south Wales, with runways on a man-made island in the Severn Estuary. Supporters had said the airport could have handled 30m passengers a year by 2030 and helped create 13,000 jobs. Last year, Transport Minister Alistair Darling said the proposal would only have been likely to go ahead if airports at Cardiff or Bristol closed. Michael Stephen, head of the Severnside proposal, said the Department for Transport had held "a blinkered attitude to solving the problem of future air transport demand in the south east of England".

The 2003 White Paper published by the UK Government included the following

  1. No new airport in South East Wales, including the specific proposals for Severnside International and Llanwern;
  2. Cardiff to remain the main airport serving South Wales, with possible additional terminal capacity and surface access improvements;

It has been bubbling under ever since including the following small contributions

November 2006
The Town and Country Planning Association published its aviation policy backing the development of a Severnside intercontinental airport for the south west as an adjunct to a similar development in the Thames Estuary.

Apr 13 2009 (Western Mail)

"Plans for a new international airport in South Wales have been resurrected five years after being grounded by the UK government. Controversial plans for a runway and terminals in Llanwern, Newport, were halted when they failed to win government approval in 2003 but the ambitious proposals for an airport to rival Cardiff International Airport have been resubmitted. According to a Newport City Council report, there are newly submitted plans to site the airport on land reclaimed from the Severn Estuary, to the south-east of Redwick. Its terminals would be to the north of the operational part of Llanwern Steelworks and southeast of Underwood in the Bishton and Wilcrick area." Nothing happened.