Turner-round, every now and then I get a little misquoted

Green plane

With just a few weeks to go before the Government gives the go ahead for BAA to apply for planning permission to expand Heathrow and rumours are flying faster than a British Airways 747. The latest nugget of info is the announcement by Lord Turner that Heathrow could expand without CO2 emissions spiralling out of control. But is that what he actually said?

The Grauniad was the first to comment, with the headline “Climate change watchdog backs expansion of Heathrow”. Lord Turner, it said, had signalled that “the UK could meet its ambitious pledge to slash greenhouse gas pollution even if ministers give the go-ahead to expanding Heathrow airport”. The Evading Standards jumped on this, stating firmly that “a THIRD [sic] runway at Heathrow need not breach Britain's new legal target to cut greenhouse gas emissions”. But what did Turner actually say?

BAA agrees to cap flights at Heathrow

Kid with banner

Just days before the expected announcement on Heathrow's third runway, and the BBC reports that BAA has agreed to an independent watchdog to monitor the airport and cap the number of flights. It claims it wants to use the new capacity to reduce congestion. What a load of nonsense: it's just a trick to get runway alternation lifted and the village of Sipson turned into runway three.

This is just like Stansted, which was subject to a cap on the number of flights, put in place when they airport was converted to passenger use. Last year BAA applied to have it lifted, and the Government just gave its permission. Similarly Heathrow's expansion was once limited to the fourth terminal, then the fifth. Even BAA used to claim that they didn't want a third runway - now they won't deny wanting a fourth.

The third runway and runway alternation must be a line in the sand. Any expansion at Heathrow - even if just to reduce congestion but not overall flights - cannot be allowed to go ahead. Sipson must not be sacrified to help BAA do its job properly - and if it is, then everything we've worked for will be lost, as the number of flights will just rise anyway once the tarmac is on the ground and the damage already done.

DfT officials ignoring Plain English Campaign courses

Crystal Mark 2008

Civil servants are reknowned for their gobbledygook, so it's refreshing to see that the DfT has started sending its officials on Plain English Campaign courses in how to speak like everyone one else. In 2007/2008 the Department spent £2,868 on such courses.

Unfortunately they don't seem to have learnt anything, because 2007/2008 was the year when the DfT was working on the Heathrow consultation. A consultation so inpenetrable that it was described as "effectively tak[ing] away human rights" and "not [a] real consultation" because civil servants designed it "in such a way that most people are unable to take part."

So who gave such a damning critique of the consultation? Step forward Chrissie Maher, founder of the Plain English Campaign! Tut tut: sounds like those officials weren't paying attention. Will Hoon be sending them back to school? Somehow I doubt it.

Boris to fund Heathrow legal challenge

BoJo waving

Proving that our finger is on the pulse of all things aviation related, Plane Stupid can exclusively reveal today that Boris Johnson has agreed to part-fund a legal challenge to Heathrow's expansion. (Exclusively, because everyone else ran this story last week.) London's mayor has stumped up £15,000 to help 2M prepare a challenge based on breaches of the EU-set NOx limits.

In 2010 a series of NOx limits will come into effect, and any country who breaches them will meet with heavy fines. It's expected that Governments would have taken steps to reduce emissions to avoid the fines, but there are already breaches at Heathrow airport and no sign of any action to reduce NOx levels. We're not very optimistic of any either, given that this would basically necessitate closing the M4 or the M25, or digging up runway 2. The current solution is to push for a 5 year exemption... basically to postpone the enevitable.

If Heathrow is already breaching NOx limits then building another runway is unlikely to reduce its emissions, so the councils, backed by Boris, are to take the UK to court to challenge the expansion plans. I think they've got a pretty strong case - after all, BAA had to do all sorts of fiddling to rig NOx levels in the consultation document. I suppose I should be grateful to BoJo for his cash - but given that he's supporting expansion at City Airport, I'm not. Green with one hand, blue with the other.

'Commons Five' slapped on the wrist

Parliament roof 3

The five Plane Stupid activists who marked the end of the Heathrow consultation by scaling Parliament and unfurling banners have been found guilty... and punished with a £365 fine. Not bad, all things considered. The day-and-a-half trial saw the five - Olivia, Leo, Tamsin, Graham and myself -  accused of section 128 of the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act: trespass within a restricted area.

Given that the world's media had covered the action and had photographed us up there we didn't deny it, but were arguing that we had broken the law to prevent a greater crime. It's the same defence Greenpeace used last month when they were acquitted of damaging Kingsnorth coal-fired power station. We spoke about the corruption that had gone on between the DfT and BAA - the moving of the NOx meters further from the source of the emissions to make the readings lower; the invention of new 'green' planes that no one planned to build and other desperate attempts to rig the outcome from the start.

The judge wasn't convinced our defence applied - it all comes down to whether we used force or not - but after being presented with written evidence from climatologists, MPs, campaigners and other experts he agreed that something untoward had gone on. He found us guilty (because he remained convinced we couldn't run our defence) but then handed out the most minor of punishments: £150 fine, £200 costs and a £15 'victim surcharge' (presumably to buy some locks for the unlocked doors we waltzed through). It's a great result, and I just hope that the activists who boarded a coal train earlier this year get off equally lightly...

Tories rule out third runway


We’re through the looking glass people. I woke up yesterday morning to discover that the Conservatives have opposed the third runway, and are actively warning contractors that if they sign a deal with Labour it won’t be honoured under the Tories. What the bloody hell is going on?

A little background: as a child of the early eighties I grew up under a blue Government, and came of age under a red one. I still associate Conservatism with milk theft (not so bad: I was allergic to it) and very spotty six formers. At age 11, that’s about as evil as life gets. Only axing Cities of Gold could have increased my hatred.

But Cameron and Villiers have been tiptoeing around the third runway for some time now: last year’s Quality of Life Commission report opposed expansion, and there have been constant noises from Tory HQ on ‘economic arguments’ not yet being proven. But the industry is hopping mad and pushing harder than it's ever pushed before, so until the plans are six feet under, forgive me for not raising a glass just yet.

Vote Plane Stupid for Transport Secretary

Vote for me

So it’s goodbye to Ruth Kelly, bane of environmentalists and apostle of airport expansion, who has resigned to spend more time with her family. Who will be next? No one seems to know (but everyone has an opinion), so rather than play musical cabinet chairs, I’m going to throw my hat in the ring. Gordon, if you’re listening, I’d be very happy to take over as Secretary of State for Transport.

I know that I’m not a Member of Parliament – although that didn’t stop you opting for Digby – but I have taken transport issues to the very top of the House of Commons. That’s got to count for something, right? After all, from what I’ve seen Transport Ministers are just meant to get in bed with aviation bosses, and how hard can that be?

Businesses in third runway economic growth shocker

Fat cat 2

There's something refreshing about the credit crunch: the high-pitched sound of the City of London starting to panic. After years of making oodles of money the fat cats are worrying about how they'll make the repayments on that Maserati they impulse bought last summer.

Luckily for the huddled masses of London's famous Docklands there is a panacea: expanding Heathrow airport. Despite London business group London First (like Earth First! but with hierarchy and massive environmental degredation) calling for a "better, not a bigger Heathrow", a coalition of 100 businesses has demanded the airport expand to serve their bloodthirsty cries for more economic growth.

Interestingly those calling for expansion include Severn Trent Water (former workplace of current BAA wanker Colin Matthews) and Hilton Hotels (who make a living by giving people a place to stay when they jet off on business). So they're hardly unbiased. Perhaps if these corporations focused less on supporting airport expansion, and more on running their own businesses we wouldn't be staring head first into a recession, hmm?

BoJo appoints BA Chairman as adviser

BoJo salute

Boris Johnson - Kyoto opponent and lover of gas guzzling automobiles - has pulled together a list of people to advise him on making London a 'world class global city'. Who's in? Step forward BA Chairman Willie Walsh, the rabid supporter of Heathrow expansion who won't be happy until the whole of West London is one giant airport.

Silly Willie isn't someone I'd trust for advice: last year he was infamously rebuked for telling the entire British Airways 'Executive Club' that the third runway would reduce emissions (something to do with stacking, apparently), and his airline is about to pay out lots and lots of wonga after agreeing to rip off passengers by price-fixing fuel surcharges with Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic.

But the six million dollar question is: what advice will Walsh be giving? We already know the answer to that. Walsh is addicted to expanding Heathrow, and is unlikely to agree with BoJo's support for a new airport in the Thames Estuary. His whole argument centres on making London a world class global city - just the remit of Boris's committee. During the election the mop-on-a-bike signed up to a cross-candidate statement against expansion - doubtless to appeal to the Tory-voting West London residents. Is a volte-face just around the corner?

Competition Commission condemns BAA for not expanding enough


Isn't free-market capitalism great? Just when BAA was enjoying a few months of rest, after an annus horribilus which saw protestors against Heathrow's expansion sitting on planes, squatting their car park and prancing about on Parliament, along comes the Competition Commission demanding the airport operator sell two London airports ASAP.

Normally I'd be rolling about laughing, except that I made sure to read the fine print. One of the reasons the Commission wants BAA to split up is... it didn't expand airports fast enough. Apparently BAA should have issued a legal challenge against the cap on Gatwick expanding, as well as been more aggressive at Stansted.