The sticky problem will not go away


Gordon Brown has come to a sticky end. He cuts a forlorn figure: out-of-office, soon to be out-of-Parliament. His aviation policy is in tatters, the jewel in its crown – a third runway at Heathrow – is no more. The new Government has pledged to scrap it.

That decision comes at the end of a momentous campaign lasting nearly a decade, involving local communities, activists, national campaign organisations, sympathetic politicians, some trade unions and even some leading business figures. A progressive rainbow coalition if ever there was one.

You'll probably remember our mate Dan supergluing himself to Gordon Brown. The pictures should act as a warning to the new Government. Yes, Heathrow has been dropped and they're saying that there won't be any new runways at Stansted or Gatwick either. But what about the proposed expansion at Southend, London City, Manchester, East Midlands, Glasgow... need I go on?

Cancelling Heathrow is one thing. The real test comes with these regional airports. Activists stand ready. Unless Cameron and Clegg scupper these plans, they can count on a very sticky future.

High Court: Heathrow expansion "untenable in law or common sense"

It is a great day to be alive - unless you're BAA or the Government. In one of the most devastating condemnations of Government transport policy ever seen, the High Court has ruled that the case for Heathrow expansion has no economic or environmental basis. The ruling is so damning that the 2003 Air Transport White Paper - the cornerstone of the Government's aviation policy - is now only suitable for lining cat litter trays.

Firstly, Lord Justice Carnwath found that the economic case underestimated the economic impact of climate change - the external cost to society of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. The actual cost is three times larger than the figure used to calculate the economic benefit.

Two years ago WWF and transport academic Keith Buchan found that using proper Treasury calculations and doubling the value of climate change used in the Government's calculations turned the £5 billion claimed benefit into a £5 billion deficit (i.e. it cost society £5 billion). Imagine what tripling the value would do!

Having dispatched the economic case, Carnwath turned to climate change. It was ridiculous, he argued, for the Government to ignore its own legislation, i.e. the Climate Change Act 2008. When the Government rewrites aviation policy later this year, it will have to take account of climate change in a real and considered manner. This means that all airport expansion can be challenged on climate change grounds, until the Government or industry can show how having ever more planes in the sky is compatible with reducing CO2 emissions.

Finally he looked at surface access. The Government claimed that you could increase by around 40% the number of people travelling to Heathrow without turning West London into a giant car park and pushing the Picaddilly line beyond capacity. Nonsense, cried the judge, citing evidence from Transport for London which showed very, very clearly that there wasn't going to be anything like enough road or tube space for all these extra people to fit into.

As if that wasn't enough, Carnwath turned his mind to the wider idea of challenging Government policy at public inquiries. It was not enough for the Government to say "this is our policy, so shut up and take it". While some aspects of policy were cut and dry there were some grey areas which the public had the right to challenge. The need for a particular motorway or airport should be open to challenge and debate, and public inquiries were the forum for doing this.

I've read the occasional verdict in my time, and this one is sensational. It's well worth reading through the judge's reasoning, if only to see just how spurious and ill-thought out the Government's case is. For once, I have nothing but praise for the legal system... normal service to resume shortly!

Hoon: "£50k and I'll tarmac Sipson for ya!"

Three cheers to Dispatches for catching buff-Hoon shouting his mouth off about how much (or how little) it costs to buy his support. You know you've crossed the line when the Prince of Custard, Peter Mandleson, goes on Newsnight to call you corrupt (I mean talk about pot... kettle).

So how much do we think Hoon charged BAA for pushing through arguably the most controversial bit of infrastructure since, well, the last Heathrow expansion? BAA and Labour operate a revolving door policy, but still, persuading the Cabinet to ignore over 80% of the responses to a consultation you've already tried to rig tends to be costly.

Now that everyone knows that Hoon is as crooked as a thrupenny bit, it's time to go back to the third runway decision and consider it afresh. Sure, we don't know that Hoon took cash from BAA to influence Government policy, but the man's got form. The man's got form.

Geoff Hoon: an apology

Firstly, a confession. My last post to this site - one of my shortest and least considered - was entirely taken up with gloating about Geoff Hoon's resignation. In my haste I overlooked something rather important. Geoff Hoon was one of the best Secretary of States we've had.

I know it's a radical position, but consider the facts. Hoon entered the Cabinet less than a year ago and made a massive impact. He seized upon Heathrow's expansion and made it his own; fighting Tories, backbenchers, environmentalists and pretty much everyone else to keep the expansion on track. And by doing so, he caused it to derail, spectacularly.

Hoon, you see, was such an unlikeable little shit that he made opposing Heathrow the obvious option. Watching him stagger about the Commons was enough to turn even the staunchest expansionist a deep shade of green. Nothing showed the strength of opposition to the third runway than Hoon having to round up his backbenchers at gunpoint to vote against an opposition resolution.

Look back over the last ten months: a motorway expansion programme left in ruins; airport expansion all but wiped out; every major Government transport initiative collapsing and Hoon's oily fingermarks everywhere. While lesser politicians might have given an inch, Hoon wedged himself into a corner and sat there chewing his own arm off like a rabid dog.

Now the great man is heading to Copenhagen. Environmentalists are scared: this is the climate change denier, they say, who wants to expand airports and tarmac the countryside. But they are wrong: for all his talks of "tree-hugging hoolah" he's obviously a deep ecologist hellbent on exposing the talks as a market-driven folly. After all, this is the man who destroyed any support for neo-Liberal interventionism by dragging us into Iraq. I wouldn't rule anything out now the wild card is in play.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye

Geoff Hoon has 'resigned' as Secretary of State for Transport.

Don't let the door hit you in the arse on the way out, Geoff.

David Miliband brings shame on the family

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has asked to get his own private jet. Even when Blair and the royals were refused them last year on environmental grounds, Miliband has the gall to put his perceived needs before all else. Apparently the former Secretary of State for the Environment needs a special plane because... other people have one.

Flying, even in a commercial jet, is one of the worst things you can do in terms of carbon emissions. So for Ministers to demand their own private jet epitomises the lack of understanding, leadership and commitment to environmental issues that we have seen from this government. We can only hope that Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Climate Change and David’s brother, will give David a good talking to around the family kitchen table.

Not wanting to unfairly berate a public figure, I did some calculations to see what kind of environmental impact this would have. If Miliband took a return flight to Washington he would use approximately 73 tons of CO2. That is over 7 times the average annual emissions for one person living in the UK. Say it again to yourself, slowly. Seven times you or my annual CO2 emissions. On one return flight. Unless Miliband is literally defecating rainforests he won't be able to offsetting these flights.

This comes at a bad time for Government, who just announced that it was unlikely to hit its own emissions reduction target of 12.5 % by 2011-12. No wonder, with officals and Ministers trying to fly everwhere. The Sustainable Development Commission argued that civil servants shouldn't be able to fly domestically or to EU destinations easily reachable by train. I don’t think it even crossed their minds that anyone would be so audacious as to demand a bloody private jet!

Downing Street twitters on about flying

In the dying days of Labour, everyone is out for what they can get. After all, once May 2010 comes around, there will be loads of MPs, researchers and other political low-lifes on the hunt for new jobs, as a new breed of political low-life replaces them. So let the firesale of the last vestiges of Government credibility begin. Witness: Number 10 using Twitter to advertise British Airways.

Those of you who haven't been scouring the web 2.0 multiverse may have missed this little advert-dressed-up-as-a-social-enterprise. BA is giving away 4,000 flights to encourage businesses to fly unnecessarily and sell more crap to each other while charging liquid lunches to their expense accounts. Flights that would otherwise have been replaced by, oh I don't know, a phone call maybe? BA claim this is all about kickstarting the economy, but the facts don't bare that out.

BA has low passenger occupancy rates - 73% last month, against Ryanair's 12 month average of 81% - so over a quarter of seats are empty. That means less people buying duty-free and also gives them a fair few seats they can give away, hence this opportunity for naked self-promotion. BA give away seats that would otherwise have been empty - and thus increase their potential revenue from ancillary duty-free sales - and generate loads of nice media in the process. Hell, I bet they even get to write the seats off against their taxes.

Now corporations will always try this sort of bullshit, but for Government officials to be in on the scam is... well, to be expected frankly. The door between government and hte industry has always been a revolving one, and these spineless cretins are always trying to feather their nests. Doubtless whoever dreamt up this tweet has his (or her, let's pretend that the inner workings of Government isn't entirely a sweaty cockpit) eyes on a job in the industry somewhere?

Custard, not guacamole

I bet Mandy was wishing it was guacamole, but let’s be clear: it was green custard. Now bookies are taking bets as to what the next dessert will be (3:1 on spotted dick). Brown managed to keep the tone nice and light:

"If anybody doubted the greening of Peter Mandelson and his willingness to take the green agenda on his shoulders we've seen it in practice on our television screens already this morning."

Ho ho ho.

Don’t get us wrong, we can see the funny side. Well, actually we were rolling around in hilarity at the pictures. But there’s a serious point here: Mandy met his best mate Roland Rudd several times in the run up to the Heathrow decision. Rudd happens to be BAA’s top lobbyist. So what deals were struck? What happened on that yacht? And why is an unelected stooge of Big Carbon deciding our future?

Hoon 'hooned' in silly stunt

Geoff Hoon woke up yesterday and went out to give a speech to the Royal Society about the many solutions to aviation and climate change. The solution, of course, is to let everyone fly as much as they like, because technology would save us. Technology and the Emissions Trading Scheme, which, as he reminded his audience, is a real and effective cap on aviation emissions in Europe...


The Secretary of State was cut off in mid-flow, as a loud honking noise blared out across the room. Up popped a young woman who apologised for making a racket. She'd rather foolishly forgotten to turn off her lie detector horn, which had picked up on Hoon's rather blatant fibbing. It wouldn't happen again, she promised.

Of course it did; other people in the audience had brought their lie detectors and these kept sounding as Hoon tried to give his speech. If only, he thought to himself, I'd remembered to tell the truth, instead of a bunch of nonsense that sounded good when Flying Matters told it to me. Maybe these silly stunts have a purpose after all...

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...