Competition Commission condemns BAA for not expanding enough


Isn't free-market capitalism great? Just when BAA was enjoying a few months of rest, after an annus horribilus which saw protestors against Heathrow's expansion sitting on planes, squatting their car park and prancing about on Parliament, along comes the Competition Commission demanding the airport operator sell two London airports ASAP.

Normally I'd be rolling about laughing, except that I made sure to read the fine print. One of the reasons the Commission wants BAA to split up is... it didn't expand airports fast enough. Apparently BAA should have issued a legal challenge against the cap on Gatwick expanding, as well as been more aggressive at Stansted.

Environment chiefs speak out on Heathrow

Brown dismayed

Another week, another couple of eminent critics of the Heathrow expansion plans take their turns to speak up. This time it was Stavros Dimas, EU environment chief, and Lord Smith, the new boss of the Environment Agency and a former Labour Minister speaking up for reason and scientific opinion.

Smith told The Independent that building a third runway would be "a mistake" because of pollution and noise and said he'd keep telling the government that's how it is. Meanwhile Dimas announced that a third runway would "significantly" breach European air pollution guidelines, which will soon become law.

BAA invented super-green-jumbo to make case for third runway

Invented plane

God bless the Sunday Times. After exposing a whole host of nonsense from BAA (including how they tried to influence the Competition Commission's report), they've now discovered that BAA faked one of the central claims of the Government's case for expansion.

BAA were given the now-famous "strict, local environmental limits" by the Government, and told that expansion could not take place if either noise or pollution would breach these limits. When it became obvious that the runway would be way too noisy and polluting, they invented a new type of super-jumbo which was uber-quiet and non-polluting.

The plane was going to be so popular that by 2030 it would account for more flights out of Heathrow than any other 4-engined aircraft (including the Airbus A380 and other jumbos). But neither Airbus nor Boeing have any plans for such a plane; nor do engineers think it's even possible to build one. Even the Government was sceptical, but BAA told them there wasn't time to revise the data... so in it went.

From our own correspondent: Nantes International Airport

Nantes non

Heard about Nantes International Airport? You will if the Mayor of Nantes get’s his way. Forget the fact that the existing airport only operates at 30% capacity. Forget that Charles de Gaulle can be reached in a couple of hours on the TGV train. Forget that oil prices are rising and passenger demand is falling. What you must remember is that the Mayor of Nantes has one, big, enormous ego. That ego demands an international airport.

And, of course, forget that the new 2 runway airport and the proposed 4 lane highway would destroy swathes of beautiful countryside where lots of smallholders in their farmsteads are living sustainable lifestyles. Nowhere is the clash between sustainable living and a grossly unsustainable way of travelling more stark than in this battle between these rural people and the forces behind the plans to build the airport.

Plane Stupid was invited to speak at a big rally the protestors held towards the end of June. We met people determined to win by whatever means possible. They told us what the struggle means to them, in no uncertain terms:

We know that this fight will be long and difficult. That’s why we are launching an appeal to all of France, to all of United Kingdom, and to the whole of Europe. We must support the movement against the airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, with all our force, and with means rarely used on the scale that we envisage; occupation of the site, civil disobedience, total and definitive refusal.

The campaigners have already made common cause with a number of the radical movements in France. And they know they are part of the bigger battle against climate change:

The world is sliding towards a frightening climate crisis, but our politicians continue to speak a dead language. People who defend the project of an airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes are imagining the future with words from a past which will never exist again. They are the heirs of those who stood behind the Maginot line waiting for the German army only to be submerged by General Guderian’s tanks in just one night in May 1940. In the same way, they are mistaken, because they take one epoch for another.

If it weren’t so serious, we might be tempted to laugh at the promoters’ arguments concerning the new airport. Like Toinette in Molière’s play, Le Malade Imaginaire, who replies ‘the lungs’ to every question about Argan’s health, they repeat ‘growth’, ‘growth’, ‘growth’, as if hypnotised. They don’t know, because they will never know, that our planet has already reached its physical limits in most of its vital domains, one of which is transport. In a finite world, only the dangerously blind are still advocating the destruction of spaces and species.

Nantes is a winnable battle. The Mayor with the ego can’t find the funds to build the airport. And private developers may be put off by the rising oil prices and the coming recession. But the local campaigners remain worried. They are not rich and, because the area is sparsely populated, they are not numerous. But their battle could become a cause celebre. If the philistine airport developers even threatened to smash their sustainable way of life, Plane Stupid, and many others across Europe, would be straight back on that fast train to France. Allez Nantes!

Government admits no solution to aviation emissions


Planes and turbine

Gordon Brown pledged a new "green revolution" last week as he launched the government’s consultation on its new renewable energy strategy. Credit where credit’s due - they do seem to be genuinely considering some bold and innovate ideas for getting renewables off the ground and even electrifying our transport system too. If successful, hitting the UK’s renewables targets alone could lead to massive emission reductions of up to 204 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

But (and there's always a but)…

Buried on page 175 of the government’s new green strategy documents is this significant admission: “It is estimated that UK energy consumption in aviation (including international) will account for around 11% of our final energy demand in 2020. This document does not however suggest any proposals for the sector, as there are not expected to be safe, commercially viable options for renewable energy in aviation by 2020.

Planning Bill destroys democracy and fosters direct action

Claremont Road

On Wednesday the Planning Bill received its Third Reading, and scraped through with a majority of just 43 votes. It now goes to the House of Lords where the unelected chamber is expected to step up and tear strips off it. If anyone is wondering just what the implications of the Bill are, I suggest reading the following excerpt from John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, as he tried to persuade Labour politicians to oppose the Government and the Bill.

"The behaviour of the House in agreeing the programme motion and conducting today’s debate has been little short of a disgrace.

"The practical implication of the Bill is that it will most probably be used in my constituency first with regard to Heathrow. Before Members walk through the Lobby tonight, they should recognise what they are doing. If they vote for the Bill and it is used at Heathrow, thousands of people will lose their homes—they will be forcibly removed from their properties. Those parents who send their children to Heathrow primary, William Byrd school and Harmondsworth school will see those schools demolished. The proposal will also mean a roadway through Cherry Lane cemetery, so we will dig up our dead as a result of the proposals for Heathrow that will be forced through under this procedure. When Members vote tonight, they should recognise the human implications as well as the pollution of the air of communities across London.

London First: scrap 5,000 flights at Heathrow


What strange times we live in. First the Tory party decides it doesn't think Heathrow should expand (and then goes further, with vague comments about no expansion in the South-East), then business leaders demand BAA axes 5,000 flights to sort out Heathrow's chronic delays.

This is about the only sensible thing I've ever heard a business leader say. BAA likes to cry about how Heathrow is over-capacity, and therefore must expand right bloody now. But what sort of an argument is that? If Glastonbury announced that it was really overcrowded because they'd decided to let 30% more people in that it was designed for, would your first response be "expand the festival"? Doubt it - you'd demand they reduced the number of people there until it only had the number of entrants it was designed for.

Why do BAA think it's acceptable to over use the airport? If, as they are so proud of claiming, it was designed for 55million but currently handles 70 million, then why don't they just starting cancelling flights until we're back to 55million again? When people's homes are at stake (not to mention the climate) why should we let BAA artificially create delays to justify expansion. You may think Heathrow needs sorting out, but it doesn't need expansion. BAA must stop squeezing people into Heathrow as thought they were sardines.

Plane Stupid vs the Government - Parliament protestors in court

Parliament roof 4

On Monday the five Plane Stupid protestors from the Parliament rooftop action plead not guilty to charges of being in a restricted area - section 128 of the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act. We're back in court in late July, with a trial likely to take place in September.

There's no denying we were on the roof, but we think we had a lawful excuse - trying to stop the Government and BAA working together to sneak a third runway past the electorate. What's our evidence? Well, there's the Greenpeace 'BAA files' for starters, then a healthy chunk of paperwork exposed by the Sunday Times (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

When the nitrogen oxide data was getting too high, BAA and the DfT worked together to move the readers further away from the airport. When BAA didn't like some of the questions in the consultation, they got to re-write them. The DfT is a minute's walk from the court room - perhaps the officials would be gracious enough to appear and explain themselves?

Birmingham airport buys second opinion

Second opinion

In the fast-moving world of aviation expansion, it's perfectly common for big business to spend loads-a-money producing crazy reports that claim extravagant benefits and underplay the costs. But Birmingham airport may have sunk to a new low: after its first report came to the wrong conclusions, it procured a second opinion.

According to the first report by experts at Liverpool University, expansion would bring health implications for children at 31 local schools, elderly people and anyone with circulatory or respiratory conditions. But the second report conveniently decided that there wouldn't be “any meaningful health outcome” from changes in air quality, while dismissing any chance of significant impact on children’s learning.

The airport claims it paid for the second report - an additional £10,000 on top of the original £50,000 - because the Liverpool authors refused to condense their report into snappy soundbite. Maybe that's true - or maybe the airport owner didn't like paying for a report that said the opposite of what they wanted to hear...

Planning. But not for climate change

Planning Bill

The Planning Bill currently making its way through Parliament is yet another kick in the teeth for British democracy. The Bill has been cooked up to allow central command to force roads, runways and nuclear power stations onto unwilling communities without having to listen to any of their bleating about it in the process.

Brown's lot like to point to wind farms when asked about the reasoning behind this obviously anti-democratic piece of legislation. But this week they demonstrated quite clearly the true motivation behind it – by voting against an amendment that would have meant Ministers had to demonstrate every major infrastructure project's role in the mitigation of climate change before granting it permission.

Since that would have been, hmm - a bit hard for the new generation of coal fired power stations and airport expansions they've got their little hearts set on, they quite sensibly threw out the amendment. In doing so, they have nailed their true colours to the mast – and none of those colours is green. It's time to dust off the D-locks and start gearing up to fight a carbon hungry development near you. Once this Bill has been passed there'll be no other way to stop it.