What price a butterfly?

Butterfly Dance

The existence of nature has always vexed developers and transport planners. Desmoulin's whorl snail famously held up the Newbury by-pass, and the massive extra costs of moving protected species has often thrown a monkey wrench into the digger (to mix metaphors). But now a solution for developers may be on the horizon.

Defra have created a process whereby they can assign a figure on nature's existence. From now on all you need do to build an airport is show that you'll get more 'value' from the airport than that provided by the creatures you destroy to build it.

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.