Exposed: government flying

Necessary journey

During World War II, when fuel was scarce, the govenment made a point of asking people to think twice before travelling. Now that everyone has woken up to climate change, how is the government reacting? Why, by flying as much as possible, of course!

Last year government departments flew a total of 300 million miles. While some of these trips were no doubt essential - it's no surprise that the Foreign Office is number one on the list - does every department need to be abusing their air miles? Why, for instance, did the Department for Work and Pensions fly 9 million miles? Is there really that much benefit fraud in Australia?

Does supporting expansion make you sick?

Mother Tabbinskins

Yesterday's papers carried the unsurprising news that living under a flight path can lead to increased stress and noise-related illness. But can supporting the third runway make you ill? We sent our roving reporter Dee Locke undercover at two governmental departments, to find out.

"I checked out the Department for Transport", says Dee, "and found that their staff were un-naturally ill. Staff at the DfT took an average of 12.4 sick days last year, compared to 9.1 for the Civil Service average. That's pretty high, leading us to suspect that the extra days could come from the stress of dealing with constant phone calls from angry residents and super-glue blockades of their offices."

What price a butterfly?

Butterfly Dance

The existence of nature has always vexed developers and transport planners. Desmoulin's whorl snail famously held up the Newbury by-pass, and the massive extra costs of moving protected species has often thrown a monkey wrench into the digger (to mix metaphors). But now a solution for developers may be on the horizon.

Defra have created a process whereby they can assign a figure on nature's existence. From now on all you need do to build an airport is show that you'll get more 'value' from the airport than that provided by the creatures you destroy to build it.

Does Defra even talk to the DfT?

No 2 Heathrow

Defra has relased a 'framework for pro-environmental behaviours', and rather surprisingly "avoid[ing] unnecessary short haul flights" is third on the list. Surprisingly only because their colleagues in the Department for Transport are busy making it easier for people to fly short-haul, by trying to build a new short-haul runway at Heathrow.

The DfT would do well to read the 'framework' - it says that "Government needs to lead by example, and to be more visible" on climate change, and "be more prepared to intervene up-stream and 'choice edit' in order to remove the most unsustainable products and services from the market place". For those who don't speak civil service, the report translates: "the Government’s support for targeted airport expansion has been perceived by some people to contradict with evidence on the climate change impacts of increased flying."

Now why on earth would anybody think that?

Is Defra trying to screw the DfT?

Defra Heathrow night

This morning Defra published a compilation of airport noise charts, showing the area around airports, and the various decibel bands.

Nothing odd about that, until you look closer. While the DfT tries to avoid showing an area greater than its preferred 57db limit (and rejected the recent ANASE report which found that people are disturbed at 50db), the Defra day chart goes down to 55db, and the night one to 50db.

Could those crafty civil servants at Defra be trying to undermine their transport colleagues determination to ignore the ANASE report's findings? Why else would they show a 50db limit if, as the DfT believes, people are only affected from 57db and above? Or is it just early and I'm being conspiracy minded? Answers on a postcard to: I don't like aircraft noise, c/o the DfT, 76 Great Marsham St, SW1P 4DR...