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UK planning for the future (not).

by Jerome a Paris Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 08:52:57 AM EST

Hoon approves third Heathrow runway

Geoff Hoon gave an official stamp of approval on Thursday to 9bn plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport, despite a hard-fought campaign against the project by environmentalists and opposition MPs.

This is wrong in so many ways that it's hard to know where to start. Infrastructure spending drives economic and social behavior for decades, and this is a clear choice in the direction of fossil-fuel burning, carbon-emission spewing, noise-generating, and more generally negative-externality-ignoring policy. Government's main job is to deal with negative externalities in a way that makes sense collectively, and that takes into account the long term in a way that individuals or companies are not equipped to do.

It is amazing how airport building or road building is not seen as a subsidy to (richer) users, but railway infrastructure, for instance needs to be profitable to be built. The double standards are breathtaking and all-too depressing. But hey, it's easier to blame Russia or Saudi Arabia for the price of energy than to ensure that we use energy in smarter ways.

Horrible (the decision, not your analysis ;-))  Didn't somebody comment recently about the amount of debt being incurred by the privatized rail system in the UK, that they'll spend all their inflow on debt service and none on infrastructure improvement?

And this is the country with the most active, organized windpower opposition in the world, tacitly approved by government and lobbies.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anas Nin

by Crazy Horse on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 08:58:28 AM EST
Institutional inertia allows things to go on after the the long-term viability of such actions ceases to make sense. Building SUV's while fuel prices skyrocketed is a perfect example.

I won't be surprised if the new capacity for air traffic turns out not to be needed. In the US regional airports are now standing nearly empty as carriers are dropping them from their destinations because of the cost of maintaining less used routes. The volume of air traffic may decline permanently once fuel costs return to expected levels.

This won't be the first (or last) useless civil engineering project built. NYC just replaced two sports stadiums with new ones just when high-priced sports is losing its luster.

The "Freedom Tower" is going up just when the need for new office space is non-existent. In fact the original World Trade Center was also a vanity project. It had so much empty space when built that Gov. Rockefeller (whose family was involved in financing construction) put state offices in it to provide an income stream.

Consider this building project a form of "stimulus" plan for giving construction workers something to do for a few years. Too bad it will rip up the countryside.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 09:11:57 AM EST
I really wouldn't consider this decision done and dusted just yet. We are a long long way from it being over.

the opposition to it is really just beginning, there will be court battles, Greenpeace have bought up a lot of land earmarked for the runway and will not let it go without a very long and costly battle which the govt simply will not be able to over-rule. This is probably the beginning of a decade long legal fight before a single patch of turf is dug.

And remember, in 18 months time we will have a new government whose attitude to it is as yet unknown. They may want the runway themsleves 9wathever noises they make now), but the point is that they will be the ones having to fight this battle and it's a question of whether they want to own it. Especially as the labour backbenchers will be making a lot of noise about it.

also, passenger numbers through Heathrow are beginning to fall, the number one destination from Heathrow is Paris so once the Tunnel really begins to get going after repair there's gonna be a huge hole in the justifications for it.

there was an argument on the R4Today show this morning between between Greenpeace and a British airports authority stooge and, although I'm biased, I felt the Greenpeace guy made a monkey of the BAA case. shot it full of holes i think is the term.

Just cos the Government thinks it has made a decision doesn't mean it's over. Over ? It's barely started.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 09:15:51 AM EST
That still does not make the government's decision look any less bad (maybe even worse, as the government can't even implement its half-baked decisions).

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 09:27:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To be honest, there is a certain tradition in the UK of spectacularly stupid decisions being taken by a select few in Govt which turn out to costly and wasteful. Bad, stupid, craven, self-interested  decisions are what we do "best".

Usually the govt either lies about it or there is a certain subsection of "movers and shakers" who are convinced who proceed to create the illusion of a govt making a difficult and nuanced decision in the best interests of the country. This time however, they have lost the argument so comprehensively that I'm gneuinely surprised they haven't compromised to some extent. They had a judicial review to justify the decision that everyone knows was fixed to the extent that they don't even refer to it as a justification now.

Just as the Govt is probably still working to the IEA estimate of oil prices being $40/brl for the foreseeable future with no peak oil in sight, they have simply extrapolated the rise in passenger figures over the last few years to end up making frankly ridiculous predictions of traffic numbers by 2030. But the govt won't admit these figures are silly, because silliness of this nature underlies so much of what is mistaken for planning by the UK Govt (eg not realising N Sea gas was running out, market economics applied to infrastructure etc).

In some ways this is a bit of a joke. I don't think anybody expected them to say they weren't going to build it, Brown hasn't got the courage to admit to mistakes or even errors of judgement. but it will be expensively beaten down by reality in such a way that Brown will never own the silliness of this announcement. Legal process will delay this until such time as reality and oil prices and recession bites.

In the meantime, what it will do is delay the badly neededalternatives, such as the hi-speed rail links to the north.

Also, you have to remember that others were putting the idea of a new airport in the Thames estuary up as an alternative. Which was far worse.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 09:56:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect that long distance air travel will be with us for quite a while. For those who can afford it, airplanes are a good solution from the speed viewpoint, and they are not completely out of bounds from the carbon emissions view, either.

The real problem is that the general populace is being asked to pay for something that only the rich will use...

by asdf on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 09:39:38 AM EST
No, you have to remember that low cost airlines are big in the UK, to the extent that even working class people think they're entitled to them. One of the big points in opposition to aircraft fuel tax is that they're taking away flights from the working classes.

Given that the largest group of users of low cost airlines are the middle classes, this is a pretty deceitful argument, but it works very well.

So, although the rich will be the major beneficiaries, it's sold as improving access for the working class.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 10:02:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you look at airport traffic, you have around 130M trips per year in the 5 London airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, City). even taking out 30-40% of connecting flights, that's more than 1 trip per year per person in the UK, or 10 trips per year per person (infants included) in London ...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 11:00:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
May be, but last I read, on ET from afew, even low-cost airlines carry primarily middle-class people.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 12:32:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I misread what you meant; you don't disagree with afew & Helen...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 12:43:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
asdf did say "long-distance". Most low-cost flights are short to middle hops.

You're right they're sold as access for the less well-off, but, as DoDo says, I took a look at a study of UK air passengers in this story:

Air Fare Blair

where it appears plainly that low-cost terminal Stansted caters for middle-class South-East Englanders (see final part of diary).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 01:10:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Household (average?) income of Stansted passengers £51,000 !!!

What seeing the lower amount at Manchester reminds me of is that those lower down the income spectrum don't fly "low-cost airlines" but instead fly charter flights, because up to now, if you're really counting the pennies and there's more than one of you, package tours are still more cost effective.

(Manchester Airport is owned by a charter flight company and so has a much higher proportion of charter flights than Stansted, which presumably balances out the fact that as a serious regional airport it also has a lot more scheduled full price flights.)

This is still flying, but it reminds us how much cant is dispensed around Ryanair et al...

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 05:18:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(Manchester Airport is owned by a charter flight company and so has a much higher proportion of charter flights than Stansted, which presumably balances out the fact that as a serious regional airport it also has a lot more scheduled full price flights.)

In fact Manchester, East Midlands, Bournemouth and Humberside airports are all owned by the sclerotic Public sector...

Manchester Airport : About Our Airport and Our Group

MAG is publicly owned by the ten local authorities of Greater Manchester and is privately managed on their behalf, gives us a unique insight into the value our business brings to the regions of the UK.

Our shareholders are:

The Council of the City of Manchester - 55%
The Borough Council of Bolton - 5%
The Borough Council of Bury - 5%
The Oldham Borough Council - 5%
The Rochdale Borough Council - 5%
The Council of the City of Salford - 5%
The Metropolitan Borough Council of Stockport - 5%
The Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council - 5%
The Trafford Borough Council - 5%
The Wigan Borough Council - 5%

These airports should be sold without delay to further bring to bear the efficiency and discipline of the private sector (plus large fees, share options and bonuses all round).

In this way they will cease to be a burden on the long-suffering tax-payer.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 07:19:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I reported a connected development on 5 January:

Heathrow rail link a 'cynical ploy' - UK Politics, UK - The Independent

The Transport minister Lord Adonis said at the weekend that an international rail interchange could be built at Heathrow, in compensation for the environmental damage a new runway would cause. He was taking over an idea produced by the Conservatives, who said that they would build a new high-speed rail line to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds instead of the third runway - thus obviating the need for more short-haul flights to provincial cities. The "Heathrow Hub", costing £4.5bn, would extend the high-speed rail network from the Channel Tunnel line at St Pancras station into the rest of Britain.

John Stewart, of the campaign group Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise, said the Government was "in disarray" about the project. "They never talked about a rail link until the Tories brought it up," he added. "To add it on at the last minute is just a cynical ploy."

A reflection in today's article Heathrow third runway gets go-ahead - UK Politics, UK - The Independent:

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are also against expansion, preferring improved rail links to Heathrow instead.

In an attempt to mollify opponents of expansion, Mr Hoon announced plans today for improved rail links from Heathrow. He also said that planes using the new runway would have to meet strict noise and air pollution targets.

...In a 15-minute statement, Mr Hoon announced a package of transport and environment improvements, including the possibility of a north-south high-speed rail line, to accompany his decision to back Heathrow expansion.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 12:36:46 PM EST
From the same Independent article, listing Hoon's mollifying proposals in bullet points:

* The creation of a new company - High Speed 2 - to help consider the case for new high-speed rail services between London and Scotland. It will be given the task initially of developing a proposal for an entirely new line between London and the West Midlands which could link to Heathrow and Crossrail through a new international interchange station;

* Further work to consider the case for electrifying two of Britain busiest railway lines - Great Western and Midland Mainline - with decisions to be announced later in the year.

"Consider", "case for", "initially", "developing", "proposal", "could": so many relativisations as to make it a crystal-clear alibi measure. The rest of the (non-rail-related) promises are similar BS.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jan 15th, 2009 at 12:40:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It can't be worse than digging holes in the ground and filling them up again, can it?

As a recession-fighting stimulus plans go, it beats buying toxic waste from systemically important financial institutions too-big-to-fail Ponzi schemes.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jan 17th, 2009 at 09:39:40 AM EST

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