Flash mob! Ahh! Saviour of the universe!

Flash Gordon

There's something about big infrastructure projects that get people all excitied. Personally I look at a new bridge, road or building and think "that could have been a playing field". But the recent hubub over Terminal 5 must take the biscuit, with correspondents lined up around the block to compare tales of airports they've visited on their travels. Honestly, you'd think there was a prize for passing through the most departure lounges!

The airport opens to the public this Thursday, so if you've nothing to do (or feel like taking a sickie) come to the T5 Flash Mob. Get a 'stop airport expansion' t-shirt by emailing stopairportexpansion@gmail.com or calling 0845 458 2564; when the clock strikes 11am, whip your jacket off and let everyone know you what you think. Wearing a t-shirt in public isn't a crime - it's about the only thing you can do in the Terminal that's not illegal!

11am, Thursday 27th March. International Arrivals (Ground Level), Heathrow Terminal 5.

Whose consultation is it anyway?

Harriet Harman

Some very odd comments from a government Minister last week. Conservative MP Justine Greening spoke about the extraordinary collusion between the DfT and BAA, and demanded a debate in the House of Commons about the third runway. Harriet Harman replied that "The accusations of collusion are utter nonsense" and that "all decisions on adding capacity at Heathrow will be taken independently by BAA".

While it's normal for the inner circle to ignore all the evidence laid before them (seriously, did she even read the Sunday Times article?), her second comment was decidedly strange. Was she suggesting that BAA will take the decision as to whether to expand Heathrow or not? If so, what was the consultation all about? Or did she mean to say all decisions will be taken "independently of BAA", or "independently by the Government"? Or was this just a shocking display of just how right we were when we called Parliament 'BAA HQ'?

Turn up the spin: how politics works

Spin dial

Imagine you run BAA. You quite want a runway at your airport, but no one else does. Your runway will require a whole village to be flattened, including three schools, a graveyard and 750 houses. Building the runway will make it very difficult to meet our climate change targets. But you really, really want the runway, because then you'll make loads of cash. What do you do?

Simple - you hire lots of ex-Labour apparatchiks to work at your company, and use their contacts ruthlessly. Meanwhile your mates in government hire a whole bunch of your ex-employees, until you've created one big incestuous family and blurred the lines between your company and the people who run the country. Sorted!

Heathrow councils challenge night flights

Night flights

If the Government thought the end of the consultation marked the end of hostilities, then they're in for a shock. Bolstered by growing militancy across West London and the UK, local councils are upping the ante. With talk of a judicial review of the consultation being banded about like cheap tickets at a Ryanair sale, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor and Maidenhead are taking on night flights.

The councils, backed by the Greater London Authority and a host of other West London boroughs, are seeking to challenge the government in the courts over the legality of the current night flight regime, which they say is noisier than allowed, and therefore illegal. It doesn't stop there though; according to Richmond council's leader, Serge Lourie, "This challenge is another important step along the road to our ultimate goal - a total ban on night flights."

Night flights are strictly limited - in theory - but in practice this leads to more and more airlines rushing to get in before the deadline, causing more noise in the process. With BAA under fire from all sides, and the DfT desperate to pretend it didn't collude with the Airports Authority over the consultation, pressure is growing on Ruth Kely to reign in the industry. Will she rise to the challenge? Doubtful, but perhaps the courts will do what Ministers are too afraid to do - just say no.

DfT and BAA collude over consultation

Parliament 5

It was collusion on a massive scale; a stich-up so great that no one would believe it - until 5 of us took to the rooftops to shout about it. Documents obtained by Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act show beyond any doubt that BAA and the Department for Transport sat down to fiddle the figures and re-write the consultation on expanding Heathrow airport. But that was just the beginning...

After the rooftop action last week, someone slipped the Sunday Times even more documents (1 / 2 / 3 / 4), and their investigative reporters looked into it further. What they found showed that the collusion went further than even we'd imagined - that the government abandoned its own data on noise and pollution in favour of dodgy data collected by BAA. They set up 'Project Heathrow', headed up by senior civil servant David Gray, to fix the "strict local environmental limits" in favour of expansion. In the words of one official who worked on the project: "It’s a classic case of reverse engineering. They knew exactly what results they wanted and fixed the inputs to get there."

Lord Soley throws a strop

Lord Soley

The House of Lords is a rarefied place, where quiet debate is the order of the day, and ne'er a voice gets raised. Until, that is, Lord Soley of Hammersmith weighed into a gentlemanly debate about Heathrow's expansion.

Lord Berkeley began the debate, with the reasonable question, "Following the end of the consultation period, what are their latest plans for the third runway at Heathrow?" and the Minister, Lord Bassam, was giving the usual waffle about "strict local environmental limits" and what-not. Into the fray charged Soley, who, having declared an interest as the head of pro-expansion group Future Heathrow, said angrily:

"Organisations such as the Sunday Times and the Independent that are campaigning for the closure of Heathrow... might also stop doing irresponsible things such as giving details of how to get on to the roof of the Houses of Parliament and how to join organisations that want to do so."

Stating the obvious: pilots back expansion

Top gun

Are you sitting comfortably? If not, you might want to sit down for this one, because it's a shocker. Apparently pilots would like another runway at Heathrow!

Nope, I didn't expect that one either. I mean, who'd have thought it? It's almost as left-field as arms dealers voting for a war, or the government awarding itself another pay rise. You wouldn't see that coming either, would you?

Apparently pilots have been doing special flight path maneouvres to reduce emissions, and are "using their professional skills in a number of other ways to minimise fuel consumption, cut emissions and reduce noise." Sounds great guys, but it's just greenwash. How about leaving the planes at home, eh? That's the only sure-fire way to cut emissions...

Thank you for flying

Thank you for flying

Amongst last week's astonishingly supportive media carnival, there could be heard a lonely voice denouncing our actions on the roof of the Commons. That voice belonged to Michelle Di Leo, of comedy aviation industry lobby group Flying Matters.

Flying Matters are the leading purveyors here in the UK of the kind of 'discourse' analysed by the boffins in my last blog; in some respects they are a bit like Plane Stupid's Evil Twins, regularly popping up in the papers and on telly saying outlandish things in support of their industry's expansion plans. Like the luminaries celebrated in the 2005 feature film Thank You For Smoking, Flying Matters' main purpose is to mislead policy-makers and the public about the harm caused by their client industry.

House of Commons: Media round-up

Parliament roof 4

Wow. What a few days for Plane Stupid! Here’s a round-up of the some of my highlights of the coverage from the action at Parliament.

A personal favourite for me was the Sun expressing doubts about the third runway. The Sun said, "Beneath the antics on the Commons roof lies a serious issue that matters to millions. Airport noise and pollution blight many lives. Expanding Heathrow may benefit the economy — but at what price to the environment?"

Brown, protest and the case for action

Parliament roof 2

Gordon Brown's comment yesterday, upon hearing that five climate activists had taken to the roof of parliament to highlight collusion between BAA and the DfT over the Heathrow third runway 'consultation', could not have been more untrue.

In one sentence he highlighted just how disconnected with the concerns of the general public this government has become - not to mention how little the disenfranchisement of vast swathes of the population, especially the young, means to him. Hearing him say "decisions get made in the chamber of this house [not on the roof]" must have left those millions of Londoners with no means of objecting to a third runway, the great range of councillors and mayoral candidates whose views on the runway have been completely silenced, and the millions of British citizens deeply worried about climate change, screaming in true panto-style: "OHHH no they don't!".