Fat cats revolt over Heathrow

Why is the Government so keen to expand Heathrow airport? According to Jo Valentine, head of London First, a self-appointed bunch of fat cats who claim to speak for the forces of capital, it's to "stay ahead of our rivals... box clever and play to our strengths". We ran this through an Apprentice to English translator, and apparently it means "to enable more fiscal gamblers in the City to nip over to Monaco on expenses".

Valentine has always declared that businesses want to fly more, and what business wants, Labour provides. Except that businesses don't want to fly more: they just want Heathrow to work. Many of the smarter ones have been sending their staff by train wherever possible, because there's more opportunities for them to be working, and less time spent reading Jeffrey Archer novels in the departure lounge. In Apprentice speak, this is a "win-win" and a "no-brainer".

So it's no surprise that various business people have started speaking out against the third runway. According to the Sunday Times, a coalition of chief executives of leading companies including Justin King of J Sainsbury, Charles Dunstone of Carphone Warehouse, Ian Cheshire of Kingfisher, and Sir Roy Gardner, chairman of Compass have been calling Number 10 and asking them to stop trying to flatten Sipson.

Ian Cheshire told the paper, which has been critical of expansion for some time now, "We feel strongly that the real business case for this expansion has not been made. A business perspective on the situation would focus much more on how we restructure existing resources at Heathrow, with high-speed rail and options at other airports, before pushing ahead with more capacity that seems to be driven by transit-passenger growth rather than improving Heathrow as a hub for UK plc."

I'm not so sure that Downing Street is listening: they're too busy trying to get jobs at British Airways. Oh well, never mind. Instead, why not ponder this lovely photo of planes on a fat cat. And some jelly snakes. No, I don't get it either...

Stern: Heathrow expansion makes no sense

Could this be the week when sensible comments from people with some tangental relation to power started taking over the political landscape? Nicholas Stern, writer of that infamous page-turner, the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change, has launched a savage attack on Heathrow's expansion, which, he claimed does not "make sense in the context of a coherent carbon and transport policy for the UK, and... for Europe as a whole". Take that, expansionists!

It's as though the entire world is reacting to the launch of Pet Air, coming together in a mass outpouring of sensible to counter that enterprise's stunning levels of pointlessness. Heathrow's decision, Stern said, should only have been taken once the Committee on Climate Change had had a chance to look into the detail. He also dismissed the fiscal-stimulus (a.k.a. pouring money into high-carbon industries just so the UK can be proud of it's Chinese-owned car industry) as "undermin[ing] confidence in the UK's ability to meet its climate change target." Well, duh!

This sort of sensible outpouring is not what we've come to expect from the Government and their advisors. The Department for Transport is so in bed with big carbon that we just shrug when officials turn Kew Gardens into Terminal Seven or convert the West Midlands into a motorway. Suddenly I start hearing rumours that a senior Government Minister thinks domestic aviation in this day and age is the epitome of madness! Any more sensible comments and I might have to revise my opinions and stuff.

Sipson photographer harrased under Terrorism Act

Have you ever been so angry that you can't speak properly? That happened to me last week when I discovered that, once again, the Police were harassing people coming to support us in our fight against BAA’s efforts to bulldoze Sipson and parts of Harmondsworth to build a third runway.

Brett, an American student studying for his Masters has been in Sipson for the past month or so, photographing residents whose homes are under threat. We like having him around, but the police don’t, and have regularly stopped and searched him. We don’t understand why, but they’ve been have using section 44 of the Terrorism Act because he is photographing “near Heathrow airport”.

Look on the map. Most of the village is a good mile from the airport, and hundreds of us take photos here every week. Last week he was stopped for taking pictures outside the King William IV pub. Local people like myself were outraged.

People came out of the pub and started photographing the police (four of them in a van) on their mobiles, at which point the police said they would arrest them too. I’d like to see them try! In Sipson activists and residents are determined to stand shoulder to shoulder against this invasion of our community.

Heathrow legal challenge launched

The first legal challenge to Heathrow's third runway has been launched: a coalition of thirteen groups, including local councils and NGOs, has brought a judicial review of the consultation process. If successful the Government would have to scrap its blatantly fraudulent consultation and start the whole process again.

Calling in the lawyers is so commonplace now that I can't help but wonder why the Government keeps getting caught by them. It was only a couple of years ago that they got stung by Greenpeace over the consultation on nuclear power, in which they were held to have prejudiced the outcome by announcing in advance that they wanted new nukes all over the country.

So how did they launch this consultation? By colluding with BAA to rig all the data, to make it look as though Heathrow could expand within strict "local environmental limits", and by announcing at every opportunity that they were "minded" to expand, but needed to ask us exactly how they should do it. I'm looking forward to hearing from DfT's legal beagles as to how being "minded" does not mean "building it whether you like it or not".

It's clear from the outcome that the Government wanted to build the third runway. The only consultation we had was on the immensely technical (and rigged) analysis of the environmental and traffic modelling - there was no question that the runway was getting the go-ahead. It was, as Swift put it more elegantly than I, not a question of whether we should be eating the baby, but rather, whether it would taste better boiled or fried.

Plane Stupid launches Adopt a Resident campaign

Environmental activists from across the UK have 'adopted' Heathrow residents to support them in their fight against a third runway and prepare them to defend their homes in the event of BAA being given permission to build the runway. The activists were brought together by Plane Stupid. Over tea and cakes in St Mary’s Church Hall in Harmondsworth on Monday 30th March 40 residents were adopted.

Local resident Lynne Davies said, “We are very excited about this scheme. Many local people are feeling very vulnerable with the threat of a third runway hanging over them. They will appreciate this support. And it shows our determination to stay put. We don’t believe the new runway will ever be built but this link up with the young activists sends a clear signal to the Government and BAA that we are not alone.

Heathrow planning permission delayed until 2012

BAA have announced that plans to build a third runway at Heathrow cannot be submitted for planning permission until 2012, after the next election. If we trust the Conservatives (and that's a big if), then the runway won't get built. Cameron and his transport supremo Theresa Villiers have been very, very clear that they would change the Government's planning framework to reject expansion at Heathrow. They're currently leagues ahead of Labour in the polls.

This is the second airport expansion BAA delayed this year: back in February they announced that Stansted would be delayed until 2017 - effectively taking their plans off the table. It must be embarassing for Labour, who spent most of last year rushing through the consultation so that the runway could be brought in during their time in office. Or did Labour's fiddling of figures in the consultation cause the delay?

After weeks of media exposure, no one could possibly think that the consultation was solid enough to last through a public inquiry. Had BAA pushed ahead as planned then every consultant from here to Oxbridge would have been queueing up to have a go at their magic planes and disapearing NOx levels. It would have been open season, and topped off by a new Government waltzing in and scrapping both expansions. Faced with the prostpect of egg all over their faces, is it any wonder they backed off a bit?

Peter Mandelson: Yachtgate 2.0


I've been following the convoluted story of Heathrow's third runway for several years now, and thought I'd got my head around the layers of corruption. But this weekend's Daily Mail has blown all my expectations out of the water, blending several layers of intrigue and dodgy dealings into an already overblown saga.

Turns out twice-disgraced meddler Peter Mandelson was arranging meetings between BAA's spin doctor Roland Rudd and Government Ministers - including Transport Minister Lord Adonis - at least five times in ten days in the run up to the Heathrow decision.

Those meetings:

  • October 17 last year: Lord Mandelson holds meeting with Roland Rudd, whose PR firm Finsbury represents airport operator BAA.
  • December 4: Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon postpones decision on building third runway at Heathrow until January.
  • December 8: Rudd, representing Business for New Europe, and Business Minister Shriti Vadera attend the Global Europe Business Summit.
  • December 10: Rudd attends breakfast meeting with Lord Mandelson.
  • December 12: Representative of Finsbury meets Transport Minister Lord Adonis.
  • December 16: Representative of Finsbury meets Lord Adonis again.
  • December 17: Rudd attends a second breakfast meeting with Lord Mandelson.

Now I'm sure that at no point did Mandelson, Rudd or Adonis discuss anything to do with Heathrow's third runway. After all, it's not like BAA offered out of the blue to pay £230 million towards Crossrail - effectively rescuing the project from disaster - just two weeks after Mandleson and Rudd first met...

Third runway to cure cancer and end world poverty

Heathrow snow

Is there anything a third runway at Heathrow wouldn't do? Not according to its promoters in the aviation industry. The recent snowfall that crippled most of our airports shut Heathrow after a plane skidded onto the icy grass. Some 18-30s club rep from the Association of British Travel Agents thought they'd whack out a press release claiming that it could all have been avoided with a third runway.

This is what scientists refer to as "complete bullshit", but it's not the first time the industry has tried to sell us the runway as the curer of the world's ills. In January last year, when a plane nearly landed on West London, industry pundits queued up to lay the blame squarely on the airport only having two runways. Rather bad taste, you might say.

Sadly this straw clutching is just a taste of things to come as the battle for Sipson gathers pace. Expect more nonsensical press releases from self-publicising organisations like ABTA whenever anything goes wrong at Heathrow between now and whenever the runway gets cancelled. Years of campaigning against airport expansion have taught me one thing: the industry will say anything to get what it wants. Expect a Daily Mail front page linking the third runway to rising house prices any day now.

Suffrajets lock on as Labour scrapes to victory

Suffrajets at Parliament

After a bruising 6 and a half hour debate, in which we learnt that Hoon has the manners of a drunken wife beater and Villiers would quite like some airport expansion in the South-East, MPs finally got off the benches and stumbled in to vote. Despite 57 Labour rebels signing an Early Day Motion opposing the third runway just 28 of them voted against it; Labour scraped through by just 19 votes.

Outside the Commons a band of suffragettes chained themselves to the railings; inside many Labour rebels found new ways to justify supporting the runway. It was a pathetic display of abstention and issue-ducking. I have little faith in politicians at the best of times, but watching people who'd promised their constituents that they'd fight expansion either avoid voting or siding with the bullying Hoon is surely a new low.

89% of consultation responses opposed expansion


Do you remember the Heathrow ‘consultation’? No? Well you probably live in Hammersmith, Shepherd's Bush, Chiswick, East Putney, Kensington, Holland Park or Southall and the Government didn't bother to consult you. Anyway the results are in and the winner is… the Government *.

A staggering 11% of respondents’ submissions supported building a third runway, only 1,494 of which came from British Airways. Even when you discount the retired BA workers who supported the third runway because BA said they’d cut off their pensions if they didn’t, you’re still left with over 9% in favour. Looking on the bright side, democracy has triumphed over the shrill protesting cries of an unrepresentative and extremist fringe.

* Whilst in most opinion surveys 11% would be seen as quite a poor result, and the 89% opposing would be interpreted as a majority, this is a government ‘consultation’, and so the standard statistical measures don’t apply. Due to BAA writing half of the thing, and the government collating the responses, the margin of error has been estimated at +100%. Therefore, the results clearly show that up to 111% of respondents supported the runway, which even the deepest green would have to admit is a pretty impressive majority. You can’t argue with that. Really, you can’t. I know you think you can, but you can’t. We tried already. You just can’t.