Is BAA about to give up on Stansted expansion?


Strange things are afoot in Essex. Last week BAA announced that the proposed second runway at Stansted wouldn't be operational until 2017 because of falling demand; this week it's thrown up its hands and agreed not to challenge Stansted's forced sale.

This is a big news. At pre-inquiry meetings BAA's lawyers refused to put the public inquiry on hold until the sale had taken place. They were adamant that the new owners would want a second runway. But there's no evidence that this is the case: passenger numbers are in freefall, and BAA would charge a premium for obtaining planning permission. This is fine in an economic boom, but we're in recession; buyers are after a fire sale, not bells and whistles.

It's not just buyers hit by the credit crunch: Ferrovial is struggling to pay its debts and Basque sepratists ETA have launched a bombing campaign to stop it building a new high-speed rail line. Ferrovial and BAA need to raise money quickly, and if no one will pay extra for permission to expand, why push ahead with a costly and protracted public inquiry? It's too early to predict, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that BAA had issued a sheepish retraction and quietly sidelined its grandiose expansion plans.