Environment chiefs speak out on Heathrow

Brown dismayed

Another week, another couple of eminent critics of the Heathrow expansion plans take their turns to speak up. This time it was Stavros Dimas, EU environment chief, and Lord Smith, the new boss of the Environment Agency and a former Labour Minister speaking up for reason and scientific opinion.

Smith told The Independent that building a third runway would be "a mistake" because of pollution and noise and said he'd keep telling the government that's how it is. Meanwhile Dimas announced that a third runway would "significantly" breach European air pollution guidelines, which will soon become law.

Climate Camp returns to Heathrow: where next debate

Sipson Grave

Although the decision on Heathrow has been delayed until later this year (so that Ruth Kelly and her lackeys can pretend they're reading our submissions to the consultation) the mobilisation against the runway continues. Next weekend the Camp for Climate Action and local residents groups will meet to discuss where next - i.e. what they're prepared to do if (and when) the decision to expand goes against us.

The conference will build on the solidarity between greens and residents, which culminated in last year's occupation of BAA's car park and a week of action against aviation industry targets. There'll be speakers from a number of anti-expansion groups, and the aim of the day is to face up to the enevitable decision to expand.

So get yourself down to Harlington Baptist Church on Saturday the 26th of July, 12-5. Let's show the Government that whatever the decision, the struggle against airport expansion goes up regardless. For more info see the Camp for Climate Action website - and see you there!

BAA invented super-green-jumbo to make case for third runway

Invented plane

God bless the Sunday Times. After exposing a whole host of nonsense from BAA (including how they tried to influence the Competition Commission's report), they've now discovered that BAA faked one of the central claims of the Government's case for expansion.

BAA were given the now-famous "strict, local environmental limits" by the Government, and told that expansion could not take place if either noise or pollution would breach these limits. When it became obvious that the runway would be way too noisy and polluting, they invented a new type of super-jumbo which was uber-quiet and non-polluting.

The plane was going to be so popular that by 2030 it would account for more flights out of Heathrow than any other 4-engined aircraft (including the Airbus A380 and other jumbos). But neither Airbus nor Boeing have any plans for such a plane; nor do engineers think it's even possible to build one. Even the Government was sceptical, but BAA told them there wasn't time to revise the data... so in it went.

Planning Bill destroys democracy and fosters direct action

Claremont Road

On Wednesday the Planning Bill received its Third Reading, and scraped through with a majority of just 43 votes. It now goes to the House of Lords where the unelected chamber is expected to step up and tear strips off it. If anyone is wondering just what the implications of the Bill are, I suggest reading the following excerpt from John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, as he tried to persuade Labour politicians to oppose the Government and the Bill.

"The behaviour of the House in agreeing the programme motion and conducting today’s debate has been little short of a disgrace.

"The practical implication of the Bill is that it will most probably be used in my constituency first with regard to Heathrow. Before Members walk through the Lobby tonight, they should recognise what they are doing. If they vote for the Bill and it is used at Heathrow, thousands of people will lose their homes—they will be forcibly removed from their properties. Those parents who send their children to Heathrow primary, William Byrd school and Harmondsworth school will see those schools demolished. The proposal will also mean a roadway through Cherry Lane cemetery, so we will dig up our dead as a result of the proposals for Heathrow that will be forced through under this procedure. When Members vote tonight, they should recognise the human implications as well as the pollution of the air of communities across London.

London First: scrap 5,000 flights at Heathrow


What strange times we live in. First the Tory party decides it doesn't think Heathrow should expand (and then goes further, with vague comments about no expansion in the South-East), then business leaders demand BAA axes 5,000 flights to sort out Heathrow's chronic delays.

This is about the only sensible thing I've ever heard a business leader say. BAA likes to cry about how Heathrow is over-capacity, and therefore must expand right bloody now. But what sort of an argument is that? If Glastonbury announced that it was really overcrowded because they'd decided to let 30% more people in that it was designed for, would your first response be "expand the festival"? Doubt it - you'd demand they reduced the number of people there until it only had the number of entrants it was designed for.

Why do BAA think it's acceptable to over use the airport? If, as they are so proud of claiming, it was designed for 55million but currently handles 70 million, then why don't they just starting cancelling flights until we're back to 55million again? When people's homes are at stake (not to mention the climate) why should we let BAA artificially create delays to justify expansion. You may think Heathrow needs sorting out, but it doesn't need expansion. BAA must stop squeezing people into Heathrow as thought they were sardines.

Plane Stupid vs the Government - Parliament protestors in court

Parliament roof 4

On Monday the five Plane Stupid protestors from the Parliament rooftop action plead not guilty to charges of being in a restricted area - section 128 of the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act. We're back in court in late July, with a trial likely to take place in September.

There's no denying we were on the roof, but we think we had a lawful excuse - trying to stop the Government and BAA working together to sneak a third runway past the electorate. What's our evidence? Well, there's the Greenpeace 'BAA files' for starters, then a healthy chunk of paperwork exposed by the Sunday Times (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

When the nitrogen oxide data was getting too high, BAA and the DfT worked together to move the readers further away from the airport. When BAA didn't like some of the questions in the consultation, they got to re-write them. The DfT is a minute's walk from the court room - perhaps the officials would be gracious enough to appear and explain themselves?

BAA's T5 cock-up loses them £62 million

Lego airport

Call me a softy, but I'm starting to feel sorry for the aviation industry. Last weekend we learnt that one airline a week is going out of business in the US, while oil prices have forced Australian flagship Quantus to ground some of its fleet. Then came the cherry on the cake: BAA, the UK's least popular airport owner, made a loss of £62 million in the first three months of 2008.

Quick to rustle up an excuse, the Heathrow bosses blamed the fiasco at T5, although seeing as this was entirely their fault, is a bit like saying "we're broke because we're crap" - not an excuse, but a reason. Apparently they were so determined to get the opening right that they spent £24 million on security and the like - presumably to keep out the scruffy protesters who flash mobbed them.

Sadly this loss just makes their selling Gatwick or Stansted all the more likely, increasing competition between airports and, as the Competition Commission made clear, increasing the calls for unbridled airport expansion - although if BAA keep losing money like this, they'll have to scale back their plans to bury Sipson under the tarmac...

Transit passengers behind third runway demand

Transit passengers

Last week the Sunday Times carried an editorial by the former head of British Airways, Bob Ayling, in which he called the third runway a "costly mistake". He argued that the government's attempts to impose a 'hub-and-spoke' model onto the UK's airports was outmoded thinking, based on a disproven theory of air traffic control which almost bankrupted the American airlines which first tried it.

This week the Times has revealed just how damaging the hub-and-spoke model really is. Not only does it force people to fly further than they need to by routing them all through Heathrow instead of flying direct, but the number of international transfer passengers is rising so fast that they will take up most of the new capacity from the third runway by the time it opens in 2020 - and all of it by 2030!

Archbishop of Canterbury backs Make a NOise! demo

Rowan doll

At the end of this month thousands of people are gathering at Hatton Cross to oppose the third runway and airport expansion. We'll be there of course, but the marchers might have a very special guest: rumour has it that God will be joining them.

OK, so maybe that's an exaggeration: God may or may not be there (it is, admittedly, hard to tell), but the Archbishop of Canterbury has given his backing for the demonstration, sending a letter of support to be read out during the rally. The Archbishop's spokesman told the Evening Standard: "He acknowledges the strength of support (against a third runway). He is aware of the problems encountered by churches on the ground across London. He is trying not to fly if he can help it. He has not flown at all this year."

As Bob Dylan explained back in 1964, having God on your side does make things a bit easier. Flippancy aside, the coalition of the unlikely is growing stronger and broader every day. Even the Evening Standard, voice of conservative capitalism, has switched sides, with a recent editorial opposing expansion. Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Transport, is well known as to be deeply religious. Will the Archbishop's support for the campaign sway her?

Ex-BA boss slams third runway

Project Runway

Take one former chief executive of British Airways. Add a hefty dose of criticism, blend with the Sunday Times's campaigning and leave to simmer over a Bank Holiday weekend. What have you got? Another nail in the coffin for the surely doomed third runway.

Bob Ayling, head of BA from 1996 - 2000, has joined the baying mob opposed to Heathrow's expansion, calling the plans to turn Sipson into Airstrip One a "a classic exercise in misguided central planning." While environmentalists have focused on the growth in emissions and residents on intolerable noise and pollution, Ayling has gone straight for the economic jugular, savaging BA and BAA's business plan and the regulatory framework.