The Case for a Thames Hub Transport Interchange

We are pretty lucky here in Hong Kong. We have a strong transport infrastructure which is modern, clean and efficient. If you want to fly somewhere you know it is a simply 25 minute train journey to the airport followed by a 5 minute immigration security check before you are sitting at the gate waiting for your flight. You can even check-in in town, saying goodbye to your bags until you reach your destination – many of us in Hong Kong check-in then go grab a bite to eat in town and then make a leisurely trip to our flights. The whole set up is easy and stress free.

We recently came across an article written by Lord Norman Foster which argues for the creation of a “Thames Hub” in the Thames Estuary. This would be a modern airport in a similar style to Hong Kong’s which would be built on reclaimed land away from London but connected to a new High Speed rail network linking the hub to the rest of the UK. Unsurprisingly this has generated an uproar/backlash that accompanies most new ideas in the UK and will ultimately probably de-rail (no pun intended) the plan – or at least tie it up in government red tape for decades.

We therefore thought it would be interesting to post up the article by Lord Foster – we would particularly like to highlight his point regarding the 4 years it took to get Beijing’s new airport built, 6 years to demolish a mountain and create Hong Kong…and 24 years to build Stansted Airport! In light of Hong Kong’s current plans to build a 3rd runway, we would be willing to wager that this will be approved and completed, along with a 4th, long before anything comes out of the Thames Estuary. But when we look at the facts and arguments in the article, as expats from the UK, who are used to a modern transport infrastructure in Hong Kong (and Asia for that matter), we can’t help but wish that the UK would just give it a go so people can see what it can be really like to use a modern airport and train system!

‘Why I back the Thames hub’: The architect behind some of the world’s greatest airports outlines his ambitious vision for Britain

by Lord Foster – originally published by Daily Mail – original link here

I welcomed reports last week that the Government is considering the case for a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary. Retaining the UK’s aviation hub status is vital if we are to reassert Britain’s role as an international gateway.

But to benefit the whole country, a new airport must be part of an integrated plan to transform the country’s infrastructure. Our Thames Hub vision is a UK-wide initiative bringing together high-speed rail, freight logistics, aviation, energy, a new Thames Barrier for flood protection, green tidal energy production and regional development. The proposal was met with a mixture of enthusiastic support and criticism from opponents who claim it would be too expensive and damaging to the environment. One local councillor even denounced it as ‘pie in the sky’. I disagree totally. Not only could it be accomplished far more efficiently and economically than critics fear, I do not believe we have a choice.

If we are to establish a modern transport and energy infrastructure in this century and beyond, and remain competitive as a nation, we need to recapture the foresight and political courage of our 19th Century forebears.

What do we mean by ‘infrastructure’? It has many components, from transport to energy supply and waste disposal. In cities, the infrastructure of metro systems, bridges, public squares, parks and streets provides the ‘urban glue’ that binds the buildings together. The quality of infrastructure determines the quality of our daily lives, although we probably take it for granted. In Britain, we have a long tradition of transforming the utilitarian, of giving a civic or beautifying dimension to heroic works of infrastructure – think of the Thames Embankment and historic railway viaducts. The planning of infrastructure is an act of confidence – in ourselves and generations to come. Nineteenth Century innovators anticipated growth and future needs which they could not even define at the time. Their foresight was exceptional and we have traded on this for far too long. So much of our inheritance desperately needs renewal, investment and upgrading. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to plan and build boldly for the 21st Century and beyond. It is a miracle that George Stephenson’s rail track and William Barlow’s St Pancras station have adapted to the high-speed Eurostar and that Joseph Bazalgette’s Thames Embankment sewage system still functions, even though it now occasionally overflows raw waste into the river (ironically the very circumstance that led to its creation 150 years ago).

What are the challenges? We have excellent ports, but congested roads thwart the movement of containers. The railways are creaking. Our power stations are approaching obsolescence; and thousands of new pylons and hundreds of miles of new overhead cables threaten the countryside. Broadband access is still not available across the nation. Going north out of London, unemployment is high and growth slow. The South East needs more housing and a new Thames Barrier for flood protection.

To stay competitive the UK needs a hub airport – Heathrow is at the point of saturation. Its location blights the lives and security of the five million people who live under its final approach path. Even a third runway does not change the picture – sticking-plaster solutions can no longer be sustained. There is an opportunity to bundle all of these separate issues together and address them holistically, to make a considered leap forward that would be a model of excellence – an inspiration to the world.

We propose a North-South spine, via a new orbital rail line around North London, linking HS1 (the Channel Tunnel rail link), HS2 (the planned high-speed link to the Midlands) and the Great Western, West Coast, Midland, East Coast and Anglia railways. This would establish a fast and direct link from the Channel Tunnel to the northern cities of the UK. On separate tracks, the spine would combine high-speed rail with freight and commuter routes and could also be integrated with new networks for utilities. In areas of great sensitivity or dense urban settlement, it would be invisibly tunnelled. Elsewhere, with the tracks cut into the landscape and the excavated soil heaped either side, it would appear as a low banked mound, inspired by our tradition of 18th Century landscaping. This green buffer would absorb power transmission, broadband and other utilities – eliminating pylons and gantries and saving transmission loss. Waste-to-energy plants along its length could add more green power to the system. As well as being visually unobtrusive, the spine would also absorb noise and incorporate gentle cycle paths and hiking trails. Bypassing London as a northern orbital, it would continue to the Thames Estuary and connect to a new hub combining airport, a rail interchange, tidal power station, Thames Barrier and river crossing. This spine would unclog our road systems by siphoning off 30 per cent of containers on to a better integrated rail system. It would protect our countryside by reducing urban sprawl and by encouraging the rejuvenation of our cities with better civic amenities, manufacturing and job opportunities and less dependence on the car.

It would help us confront the housing needs of a 20 per cent population increase in the next 20 years. The tidal power stations and barrier could power 250,000 homes in the newly protected estuary, or drive the entire airport with clean, renewable energy. For the first time, our prime UK airport would be a true hub for connecting trade and welcoming visitors to and from the emerging markets, as well as the established ones. In a competitive world we would reverse the downward trends decisively back in our favour. The problems become opportunities. A loss of eight square miles of wetlands would be translated into the gain of 24 square miles of nature reserve. Bird strikes, an issue raised by critics, are no more an issue than at many other international airports and new technologies are reducing that. The shipwrecked SS Richard Montgomery, a US wartime ship packed with unexploded bombs and shells lying off the Nore sandbank at the mouth of the Thames, is stable and no more a risk than it is to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes close by. Heathrow could be closed and become the site of a model community of 250,000.

The market is about confidence and there would be no shortage of investors for such an optimistic venture, as in our Victorian past. However, like then, it would need political backing and encouragement. Although the proposed airport site on the Isle of Grain is one of the least populated and more deprived areas, it is home to communities whose needs would have to be addressed with compassion, sensitivity and generosity. Of the 12 listed buildings affected, half can be absorbed into the new urban fabric and the others relocated.

Our experience in Beijing and Hong Kong, where we have built airport and transport projects on an epic scale, reinforces the point that clear lines of decision-making are essential. In Beijing it took just four years from winning an international competition to opening the new terminal in time for the Olympic Games. This is bigger than all of the Heathrow terminals combined plus a sixth. In Hong Kong it took just six years to demolish a mountain, build a new island complete with runways, new bridges and a railway link to the centre of the city and create an airport consistently voted the best in the world. In Britain it took us 24 years to decide to build and then construct the new Stansted Terminal, due to endless political rows. Of those many years only four were for construction, and once the political decision had been made less than an hour was needed to debate and grant planning permission. Even planning inquiries do not begin to account for the vast time differences.

The £20billion cost of a Thames Hub airport can be met by private funding and, with an appropriate approvals process, can be built before HS2, which is due for completion in 2026. Our team combines engineers and architects who thrive on deploying their knowledge in the service of emerging economies. It would be a tribute to the collective experience, gained through so many international projects, if those design and construction skills could be deployed in the interests of the UK itself.


Opinion Poll: February 2012


We have a lot of candidates currently out on interview and thought it would be a good opportunity for us to find out what our readers expect to get from attending an interview. Are you just information gathering? Are you aiming to get an offer from every interview you attend? From the following, please select up to 3 which you feel are the most important things you are looking to get when you attend an interview – we’ll discuss the results, as usual, at the end of the month in our Monthly Update. No need to tell us where you are this month either as it’s a relatively generic poll which is perhaps less location specific than most.

Monthly Update: January 2012

Market News

Happy New Year!

Lots of results from 2011 coming in during January. First off were the Grade A Office rental levels in major cities. In Beijing, Grade A office rent rose by 41% over the course of last year. In Shanghai this number was 17%. Analysts predict this growth to slow a little this year but to remain strong. Vacancy remains are likely to remain low at around 9% due to the completion of less projects in 2012 in the major cities.

Some are predicting a tough time for the Hong Kong property market in 2012. Most studies predict a fall in mass market property prices of anywhere up to 15%. Even the usually robust luxury residential sector is not immune with many forecasting falls in prices of between 5-10%.

A new study in January showed that Real Estate Funds in China are expected to surge in 2012 as developers launch their own schemes to bridge the funding gap brought on by the government restrictions on property financing. Many feel these vehicles will come too late however and will not offer a quick enough funding solution. A number of developers are expected to shut up shop or at the least quick sell their assets in the coming year.

GDP figures for China in 2011 were announced. GDP grew at the slowest rate for 2 years…but was still a healthy 8.9%! Many experts predict that China is going to have a managed “soft landing” rather than a drastic problem. The reality is that the government is likely to continue to control growth carefully through their measures to combat high prices in both the property and retail markets with one analyst suggesting a figure of 8% GDP growth is the target deemed healthy which could then conceivably be maintained for the next 20 years!

Poll Result

This month we were keen to gauge sentiment regarding the prospects for our industry in 2012. The results can be seen below:

76% of you were “somewhat positive” or “extremely positive” which is great to hear! A lot of market news and focus has been on China and many of our conversations in the last month have been with clients regarding their expectations for 2012 – in our conversations we have found most clients predict a slower start to the year with a pick up in the second half. That said, many still predict they will continue to hire throughout and are not overly concerned by reports, which are normally from overseas news sources. It seems that there is no substitute for being on the ground in China and knowing how things here really work. It is interesting to see this sentiment backed up by those of you who voted. In particular we noted that nobody feels “extremely negative” about 2012 with only 4% feeling “not positive”. We expected more of you to feel unsure about what is going to happen but it seems this isn’t the case. If the positive sentiment is maintained then hopefully 2012 can be a great year for the industry in China!

What’s Hot

The expected slowdown between Christmas and Chinese New Year was not apparent this year – although the expected uplift after has hit with full force in the last week!

We have many requirements from our top clients.

In architecture, we are looking for key senior individuals for roles as Project Directors or Design Directors, the latter being with strong retail experience. We also have been working on a exclusive project for a client looking to find an expat for their business in China! As always, strong Mandarin speaking architects at all levels are still in demand and we even have some more junior roles (albeit at latter interview stages now) here in Hong Kong. We have this week also received a mandate for a number of landscape designers in Shanghai to work on hotel/resort projects – great firm, great opportunity – they will also consider less experienced people so it could be good for those of you looking for a strong mentoring programme and learning experience.

Interior design needs have exploded in the last few weeks. We are in need of good hotel interior design candidates at all levels in Hong Kong – ranging from Project Director all the way down to junior designers or decorators. These are with some really fantastic practices so if you are interested, please get in touch. Similarly, we need a senior candidate to lead a Corporate Design practice here in Hong Kong plus less experienced corporate designers. We are also on the look out for retail and hotel centric project managers with an interiors background in Hong Kong to manage project delivery.

Our developer clients keep coming back to us with more work! We are working with a top tier developer exclusively on positions for Project Managers in Hong Kong (Deputy General Manager to Deputy Project Manager level) – this is really one of the most desired developers to work for! We also have positions within a couple of highly regarded smaller boutique developers in Hong Kong who again attract people to work for them due to the reputation for offering a great working environment. Our excellent relationships have resulted in further work coming through for slightly different positions including Residential Sales Associate Director for one of the top firms. We also urgently need experienced people for a Top 4 developer to work on two extremely prestigious hotel schemes in China…the list goes on! In essence, if you are a project manager with an architectural or engineering background with Mandarin and experience in China, we can probably help!

We will keep updating you all via Twitter as new roles come in but check our website for more details.

Most Urgent Requirements

We have outlined below the urgent vacancies we have had through from clients over the last month.

  • Interior Design Leader – Corporate Interiors – Hong Kong – A leading international design firm
  • Architectural Project Manager – Singapore – a globally renowned architectural design powerhouse!
  • Retail Design Director – Hong Kong – award winning and growing design studio
  • Landscape Designers – Shanghai – one of our best clients offering some great opportunities for those with hotel/resort experience
  • Residential Sales Associate Director – Hong Kong – a boutique luxury developer with a top class reputation
  • Senior Project Managers – Hotels – China – Top tier developer with senior opportunities
  • Deputy General Manager to Deputy Project Manager – exclusive – Hong Kong – one of the regions most desirable developers looking for lots of people
  • Ex-Pat Architect – Shanghai – an international firm with a slightly different need!
  • Project Director – Architecture – Hong Kong – A strong team leader and business savvy individual needed for this top design firm
  • Project Managers – Hong Kong and China – for another developer client here in Hong Kong

We also have many, many more roles posted on our website and these are only an overview of our top positions at this time. Please check back regularly. The easiest way to stay up to date with our latest positions is to follow us on Twitter.

Please visit our website for more information on the above roles and our other vacancies:

If you wish to enquire about a position please send an email and your CV to

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