Richard's blog

CCC hides killing blow behind polite veneer

Don't believe what you're reading in most of today's papers. The Committee on Climate Change's report into aviation and CO2 targets is clear that we can't expand all the airports and meet the Government's greenhouse gas emission targets. But instead of spelling it out, they've chosen to present the Government with an impossible choice: cancel Heathrow or condemn millions to fuel poverty.

The CCC explained that if biofuels work, if efficiency suddenly starts increasing, if other sectors reduce their emissions by 90%, then we can have some airport expansion. Not only is that a lot of ifs, but it's also a lot less expansion than was envisaged. Gone is the 200% increase in passenger numbers, replaced by a somewhat more sedate (but still delusional) 60% hike. This means that it's regional airports versus Heathrow in the fight to expand, because once we hit 60%, forget it.

But even if the industry suddenly starts making greener planes, other sectors are being asked to make 90% reductions to cover aviation's shortfall. This is a recipe for big increases in fuel bills, which has the privatised energy monopolists rubbing their hands in glee. This is a recipe for inequity: poorer people spend more of their income on heating than transport, while richer people spend more on transport than energy.

The CCC's vision of less airport expansion in return for more fuel poverty is not likely to win many votes. No Government with half a mind would think making the poor pay through the nose for the excesses of the wealthy would make a solid manifesto commitment (what about the Tories? - Ed.). In the cold hard world of realpolitick, airport expansion will be reigned in, whether O'Leary likes it or not.

Of course to the army of uninformed hacks out there (step forward Roger Harrabin of the BBC) this report gave the green light (in every sense of the word) to Heathrow expansion. Sadly that says more about the quality of journalism than climate change policy.

Climate change Santas wish City Airport a very merry Christmas


Ho ho ho!

Let's hope the heads of City Airport get coal in their stockings, for being naughty girls and boys.

Transport Select Committee supports Heathrow expansion; film at eleven

We shouldn't really be surprised that the Transport Select Committee has decided that expansion at Heathrow must go ahead. It is, after all, made up of a rag-tag bunch of industry apologists who go out of their way to promote their pet projects.

It counts David Wiltshire, the only local MP to support Heathrow expansion, as one of its members, but he'll be standing down after because he's being investigated for fraud. It's most notable members are a mad Unionist from Northern Ireland who thinks climate change is a republican plot to re-introduce Popery and Graham Stringer, the MP for Manchester Airport.

But never mind their prejudices: let's look at what they say. Their main point seems to be that aviation is getting a hard time. "Aviation" the Committee says, "should be treated equitably in climate change policy - it should not be demonised or assigned symbolic value beyond its true impacts".

I'd agree with that. Aviation is 13% of our climate impact, and instead of making it reduce its emissions, the Government would rather other sectors make bigger cuts. Figures of 90% are being bandied about, and energy is the current favourite to make the reductions. This is a fuel poverty nightmare: poor people suffering rising heating bills to preserve the right of rich people to fly.

The Committee, like most of the Cabinet, already thinks aviation has some symbolic value which must be preserved at all costs. This ideological affection for flying needs to be borught down to earth with a bang. Treating aviation equitably means making it clean up after itself, not forcing the rest of us to subsidise flying and while other sectors pick up the pieces.

More Government cover-up over Heathrow impacts

Another Sunday Times splash: those naughty officials at DfT spent 16 months trying to stop Justine Greening, MP for Putney, seeing information about the third runway. This includes emails which pointed out that "some consultees may ... claim collusion" between the Department for Transport and BAA.

Not only did they do everything to delay releasing documents, but they doctored reports to remove references to technical documents so that campaigners wouldn't know they existed. According to the Sunday Times, a memo from the senior strategy manager on Heathrow at BAA explicitly asks for a reference to BAA technical notes to be removed. It then adds: "He has avoided all references to the TNs [technical notes] in the surface access report and suggests, which I would agree with, that if [name redacted] can change his reference it could minimise the opportunity for a request for access to any or all of the TNs."

The emails show that the Government beefed up a consultation of businesses in the South East to make its case. Just 2.6% of the 6,000 businesses consulted bothered to reply, but the DfT still claimed that 90% of businesses relied on expansion, even though it was obvious that only those with a vested interest in the third runway had bothered to respond.

Nothing the Government did when making the case for expansion was above board. Civil servants and BAA sat down and openly conspired together to try and get the runway built. They moved the NOx meters further from the source of emissions to play down the levels of pollution. They invented magic planes which made no noise and emitted next to nothing (and which no engineer in their right mind would trust to get off the ground in one piece).

These reports are a damning paper trail of the lengths the Government would go to sell for communities around Heathrow down the river. It's time for heads to fall, but the Government will doubtless stand by Sir Humphrey and chums. That's no surprise: there's been a revolving door between Labour and the aviation industry since they first sniffed victory back in 1997. Plus ca change, etc.

Al Gore v Lord Monkton in COP15 rap-off... oh yes

It's Friday, you're stuck at work, and probably wishing you weren't. So sit back, put your feet up and watch Al Gore battle it out against his arch-Nemesis Lord Monkton of Scepticshire, the only way they know how: a rap-off.


The Award Ceremony Crashers 2: this time it's architecture

Last time they crashed the PR Week awards, and were thrown out. This time, it's the Architects Awards... where they gave out a prize.

Heathrow campaigners storm Architect Awards to warn off third runway bids

Plane Stupid activists along with three residents from Heathrow have targeted one of the potential third runway designers at this year’s Architects of the Year Awards held at London's Intercontinental Hotel. Architect group Pascall and Watson, nominated for Transport Architect of the Year, have been at the forefront of airport expansion since the early 1960's.

The activists stormed the podium and gave a short speech before offering Pascall and Watson the ‘We don't give a Shit’ award in recognition of their 50 year aviation portfolio which includes expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham, Manchester, Dublin and Abu Dhabi airports.

Other activists handed out leaflets to the audience. Once the award had been presented the activists left of their own accord.

Tracy Howard, 35 year old mother of two and barmaid at the King William IV pub in Sipson - which will be destroyed if a third runway is allowed to go ahead - said:

"We're here today to let the architecture world know about the diverse and growing movement against the third runway and airport expansion across the country. Those involved with airport expansion will have to include this growing opposition in their designs and in their budget".

Joe Ryle, 18, Plane Stupid activist and Heathrow resident said:

"Architects bidding for the third runway contract, or any other new runway, can expect to see a lot more of us. We presented them with the 'We don't give a Shit' award both to recognise their contribution to destroying our homes and to say that trying to build a green airport is like trying to polish a turd."

Airport Operators Association plucks benefits out of the ether


The Airport Operators Association has just whacked out a report claiming that the UK would lose £30 billion a year if we don't sign a global aviation deal at Copenhagen, as well as putting 700,000 jobs at risk. It seems maths is not the airline industry's strongest point.

The report concludes that the UK aviation industry contributes £18.4 billion to the UK economy, and employs 234,000 people. Now I'm not the best at sums, but £30 billion doesn't equal £18.4 billion, and 700,000 is not the same as 234,000. So where's the extra jobs and cash coming from?

This is all a bit complicated, so bear with me while I try and explain my confusion.

  1. The industry is currently supposed to be worth £18.4 billion and employing 234,000 people. These figures are pretty huge, and have historically been arrived at using all sorts of fiscal gymnastics, such as including anyone employed near an airport doing things vaguely related to the industry as directly employed by them. But let's take the figures at face value for a second.
  2. No global deal means we lose £30 billion and 700,000 jobs - figures far greater than the industry is supposed to be worth to the economy. These figures are forecasts: i.e. they are numbers made by projecting current earnings and employment levels into the future.
  3. They have to do this calculation twice: once for 'what the industry would be worth with a deal' and once for 'what the industry would be worth without a deal'. In the former, the rate of annual growth must be higher: i.e. there must be more planes and more airlines making more profit with a global deal than without (otherwise the global deal would lose the industry money).
  4. Both scenarios assume a particular rate of growth. This rate of growth is basically the multiplier you apply to the present figure to work out what the given value for the industry's output in year 20XX will be. Both growth rates, and I cannot stress this enough, are chosen by the consultants (normally based on past trends) and cannot account for real life factors, like the massive recession we're currently in, or the impact of CO2 limits on airlines.
  5. The industry would need to be worth substantially more than £30 billion at this arbitrary point in the future from which they are measuring. It has to be worth more than £30 billion because otherwise there wouldn't be an industry left - which is too far-fetched for even a report of this poor quality.
  6. Both valuations are fictional because they are entirely based on forecasts. The industry might be worth X in the future, and it might also be worth Y, but neither scenario is guaranteed.
  7. In other words, the report's authors have picked two numbers from the ether, declared one to be the value of the industry without a global deal, and one to be the value of the industry without a deal. They've then announced the difference between the two as the impact of the deal on the UK economy. (Ditto for job creation.)

This is a very long-winded way of saying that this report is a pile of nonsense, littered with completely insane predictions and madcapped ideas of what the future will look like. Back of a fag packet doesn't really cut it: whichever analyst cobbled this together should be held up as a shining example of how economics doesn't work, and barred from ever writing a economic analysis ever again.

I should also point out that the industry enjoys a £10 billion subsidy because it pays no fuel duty or VAT, and that we have a £20 billion tourism deficit. So an industry worth £18.4 billion (if we take those vested intrests' word for it) is already costing us £30 billion each year - global deal, or no deal.