Joss's blog

BAA: The dossier


Aviation is the fastest growing cause of climate change. By 2050 it will account for more than 15% of world wide CO2 levels. To make things much worse, every tonne of emissions from aircraft has the effect of 2.7 tonnes due to its 'radiative force'. As a result, aviation is one of the single largest threats to climate stability, and consequently to life on earth.

Despite this, in 2003, under fierce lobbying from BAA, the government granted approval for the biggest airport expansion programme this country has ever seen, planning “the equivalent of a new Heathrow every five years.”

Despite their sophisticated 'Corporate Social Responsibility' greenwash campaign, I believe it would be fair to place BAA in the premier league of climate change criminals. They are behind the decision by the government for expansion and now plan to expand all of their seven major airports in the UK and to increase capacity at existing airports. The government expect the numbers of air travel passengers will triple nationally by 2030 and that it must provide for them. This is based on the same flawed ‘predict and provide’ model that the government hid behind in their plans for road building in the 1990s. In reality they are creating the conditions for demand by means of subsidies and new runways under pressure from intense lobbying by BAA.

Former aviation minister, Chris Mullins, said, "I learnt two things. First, that the demands of the aviation industry are insatiable. Second, that successive governments have usually given way to them. Although nowadays the industry pays lip-service to the notion of sustainability, its demands are essentially unchanged. It wants more of everything - airports, runways, terminals."

BAA has led a sustained campaign on behalf of practices that cause climate change. In advance of the government’s 2003 aviation white paper which paved the way for the expansion programme, BAA was the main supporter of lobby group, 'Freedom to fly.' This group is thought to be the brain child of Steve Hardwick, Director of Public Affairs at BAA who took time out to work on the Labour election campaigns of 1997 and 2001. 'Freedom to fly' was directed by John Prescott’s former personal political advisor from 1999-2001, Joe Irwin. The group was chaired by Labour peer, Brenda Dean. When, after a year, Joe Irwin resigned, he was replaced by Dan Hodges. Hodges is the son of Glenda Jackson MP, who happens to have been Labour’s first aviation minister.

The revolving door doesn’t seem to have stopped spinning between Labour and BAA. The government appointed AviaSolutions to assess the responses to its consultation on expansion. AviaSolutions is run by former high-flyers from BAA, Seamus Healey, Paul Eden and his wife, Liz. Also on the company’s board was Lyne Meredith, who previously worked as BAA’s director of planning and environment. Even now, BAA hosts from its West London offices, 'Future Heathrow', an industry lobby group chaired by Labour peer, Lord Soley. Launched personally by then-transport secretary, Alistair Darling, it was established to ensure that the third runway and sixth terminal is built.

Just as BAA and the government have not been clear about their murky, close-knit relationship, nor have they been transparent with the public about any of their plans. This is illustrated through the history of Heathrow airport.

In 1979, the planning inspector for the Terminal 4 enquiry approved the plans on the basis it would be the last major expansion at Heathrow and that flight numbers would be capped to 260,000 a year. The government agreed and ruled out further construction, but never enforced a cap, and there were over 300,000 flights a year by the time T4 opened. In 2000, the planning inspector for Terminal 5 ruled that it should be approved on the basis it would be the last major expansion and that flight numbers should be capped at 480,000. T5 is due to open in 2008, and within 9 months of T5’s approval, the government were consulting with plans for a third runway which will bring flight numbers to over 650,000 flights per year.

It wasn’t just the government who have deceived the public. BAA was right there at their side. Des Wilson, Head of Corporate and Public Affairs, during the T5 enquiry assured local residents whose homes are at risk, "BAA called on the inspector at the public enquiry, and through the inspector, the government, to rule out a third runway."

BAA is still lobbying to make certain nothing stops its new plans for expansion, not even the mounting evidence of flying-induced climate change or the fact that they will lead to the biggest forced dispersal of communities in the UK since the highland clearances.

When the bailiffs turn up to evict the residents of Sipson (an entire village near Heathrow that will be wiped of the map) it will be BAA who has paid their wages. If concrete is poured over the stunning countryside near Stansted it will be BAA who foots the bill. Responsibility for airport expansion lies firmly at the door of BAA.