So far as I'm concerned, Norman – Lord – Foster should be encouraged to do whatever he wants to do. And if that happens to be designing and building a state-of-the-art airport in the Thames Estuary as his ultimate legacy project, that's a bonus for the nation. Clear the money, recruit the contractors, compensate the villagers whose property will be blighted, and get on with it.
As one of many Britons who drive to the south of France at least once a year, I approach the viaduct at Millau with appreciation and awe. Incorporated into the A75 motorway south of Clermont-Ferrand, this vast bridge, designed by Lord Foster and the French engineer Michel Virlogeux, is possibly the most glorious piece of architecture realised in my lifetime. It cuts almost an hour off the journey, but that's a secondary reason for taking this route. If the new London airport Foster envisages is anything like as impressive, Britain is back in business.
I have a couple of other reasons for wishing Godspeed to Lord Foster's brainchild. The first is indignation that we have given France a monopoly on big projects. As James Dyson lamented, supporting Foster's vision for a new London airport, "We've lost the ambition and vision of our Victorian ancestors".
The second reason is more selfish. This must be almost the only country in the world where commercial flights routinely cross the capital. Along with the population of all central and south-west London, I live nowhere near the airport, but am regularly awoken before 5am, as overnight flights swarm above the capital, jockeying for the first post-dawn landing slots at Heathrow.
The safety and noise issues apparently come second to saving time and giving arriving passengers a close-up view of Tower Bridge. An estuary airport would end this folly. "We're about to land at London Foster" has a certain ring to it, don't you think?
What happened when I dialled 999
On Saturday, as daylight turned prematurely to dusk, I rang 999. It was the first emergency call I'd made for years – since I saw two teenagers climbing up a drainpipe and into a second-floor flat in the block opposite ours. This time, I had just witnessed an altercation between a bus driver and a hooded youth who wanted to get on with no ticket. I got off at the next stop, where more youths were waiting, yelling into their mobiles and frantically tapping their BlackBerrys. A new argument ensued as the driver refused to let them on, and things seemed to be getting nasty.
As this was less than 50 yards from the Met's HQ at New Scotland Yard, it seemed reasonable to call 999. Maybe someone on the beat nearby, or in the building, could nip out and take a look. It soon became clear that this was very old-fashioned, wishful thinking. My call was answered at once, but it took a good few more rings to raise the police. My thought that a patrol might be diverted from somewhere in the vicinity was clearly absurd.
By the time I'd given the location (several times, they seemed completely unfamiliar with the area), my name, my number, then declined to give my address – which was hardly material – a whole slew of bus drivers could have been assaulted. I hung around for 20 minutes, but of the forces of law and order there was no trace.Reuse content