Plain English Campaign condemns Heathrow consultation

Confusion of Tongues

What is a "periodic emissions cost assessment"? Can you eat "net present value terms"? Is "mixed mode operations" something to do with surgery? And just how much are the "external climate change costs"? Welcome to the Heathrow consultation - a toxic blend of civil servant speak and political mumbo-jumbo so bad that the Plain English Campaign ("fighting for crystal-clear communication since 1979") has called for it to be withdrawn and made clearer.

"This document effectively takes away human rights," said founder Chrissie Maher. "No ordinary person with an interest in the plans to expand Heathrow could be expected to read and understand this."

"How can this be a true consultation if most readers cannot understand the document? We've seen this time and time again - local councils and Government departments are always launching consultations'. But they are not real consultations because they design them in such a way that most people are unable to take part."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves...

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?

Third London airport - in Hyde Park?

Hyde Park airport

In the 1960s the Roskill commission was tasked with producing a report into the best location for the third London airport. Its findings were reached though cost-benefit analysis, assigning an arbitary economic value to the unquantifiable. The report famously valued a Norman church at just £50,000 (the cost of its fire insurance).

As contermporary detractors noted, reports based on cost-benefit analysis carry the predjudices of their authors - and Roskill was no exception. The greatest weight was given to convenience of passengers, calculated by applying a per-minute value for any reduction in journey times to the combined number of minutes saved by the total number of passengers who might use the airport over a ten or twenty year period! Saving just one second per passenger would add up when aggregated over a decade or two - even if that second was saved by drastically increasing noise and pollution.

ASA puts Willie in hot water

Willie Walsh

Outspoken British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh has had his knuckles rapped for claiming that the third runway would reduce CO2 emissions.

The day after the consultation, Willie wrote to tens of thousands of members of BA's executive club, claiming that the third runway would save 330,000 tonnes of CO2 as less planes would need to stack in the skies above London, and urging them to write in support of expansion.

The Advertising Standards Agency wrote to Walsh, pointing out that the third runway would actually see 2.6 million tonnes more CO2, from the 220,000 extra flights each year, and ordered him to write a correction. Walsh has so far refused to say whether he will comply.

Ruth Kelly plays 20 questions

Ruth Kelly gets interviewed

The 2M Group - local authorities under the Heathrow flight path - have compiled a list of 20 questions for Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, about the third runway.

Have you assessed the climate change impact of the extra 3 million tonnes per annum of CO2 admissions produced by the third runway alone?

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...

Heathow: not 700 but 4,000 homes destroyed

Map of Sipson

Just when you thought the expansion couldn't get any worse; yesterday's Westminster Hall debate revealed that the third runway could see up to 4,000 houses destroyed, with 10,000 people forced out of their homes.

John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, made clear that this was not going to be the last we hear of Heathrow in Parliament: "We shall apply regularly for debates on different aspects of the matter, so I warn the Minister not to plan any lengthy holidays next year, and certainly not to plan any via Heathrow".

Blears gets roasting in Planning Bill debate

Blears protest

Oh to have been in Parliament on Monday - although I'm not sure I'm allowed in anymore, given what happened last time...

The Government's Planning Bill - basically an attempt to prevent another Terminal 5 inquiry (the longest in British legal history) - was up for discussion, and MPs from all sides of the House chimed in to criticise Hazel Blears and her madcapped schemes to steamroller through public opinion.

Predict and it will be provided, part two

Keep us flying!

In an earlier article, I talked about 'predict and provide', a pro-growth transport policy model which has lead to self-fulfilling and exponential growth in surface transport. In this article I'll be looking at the Government's argument that Heathrow must be expanded to meet the growing demand for air travel, and consider if this is a predict and provide approach.

Let's quickly recap on predict and provide. Officials make a prediction based on current growth rates, and extrapolate future data. It is presumed that this demand cannot be checked (because demand is caused by forces over which the Government has no control) and therefore the space for the demand to grow into is provided.

Flying Matters: bashing Brian


Poor Brian Wilson, former Labour energy minister and chair of Flying Matters. In what should have been a classic opportunity to get their feet further in Brown's door, the comedy lobby group funded a meeting at the Labour conference by Brownite think tank the Smith Institute.

That's where it all started to go wrong. According to Private Eye, Wilson launched into a tyrade in favour off airport expansion - particularly Heathrow - and denounced opponents of unrestrained growth as "imposibilist". Sadly for Mr. Wilson, the topic of the debate was "'Going Green', and everyone - including his co-speakers, inclluding Lord Whitty and Babara Young of the Environment Agency - turned on him.

The chairman of the meeting tried to bail him out, crying "This is rapidly turning into a bashing Brian exercise, which is very entertaining, but we need other questions", but by then it was all too late. Brian just had to sit back and smile his way through the rest of the talk.