Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Airports: A Change in Tory Policy Is Needed

My previous post on Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers, and her seemingly blind acceptance of the Friends of the Earth agenda on a third runway at Heathrow, certainly raised a few eyebrows. But stand back, as her latest press release about airports policy is about to cause me to launch into another (but slightly milder) rant.

Today the Competition Commission published the penultimate report into the break up of the airport operator BAA. Although the final report doesn't arrive until Feb/March, the CC has made it clear that it's likely to force them to sell Gatwick, Stansted and Edinburgh.

'Hurrah!' I hear you say. And so do I. And so does Theresa. So far so good.

But the airport that really counts is Heathrow, and making it into a world-class 'hub' is what BAA should be focused on. All the major countries of Europe have competing hubs, and the UK must have one if it wants to stay competitive and an attractive place to do business.

But Theresa Villiers has today made an extraordinary claim, namely that the decision by the CC has come about because of the pressure she has exerted...

For over a year, we have been calling for BAA's monopoly over airport capacity to be broken up and I'm delighted the Competition Commission has backed our stance.
When I first read her press release, I presumed that there had been a very welcome change in party policy on ruling out any airport expansion. Because the CC has been very specific about its reasons for favouring break-up, namely that BAA's monopoly position had slowed down the building of new runways.

The CC, therefore, thinks the best deal for passengers would be new runways at Heathrow, Stansted AND Gatwick. Yes, three new runways, built as soon as possible.

But Theresa has already stated on the record that she opposes any new runways anywhere in the UK. So it begs the question as to how she can both agree and disagree with the CC's conclusions at the same time?

Furthermore, the enquiry into BAA's monopoly started long before Theresa took up the transport brief (well over a year, in fact), and even before they were taken over by the Spanish. It seems a stretch for her to claim responsibility for the decision.

I cannot understand how the Conservative Party got itself into this position, and it's difficult to see how it can extricate itself. It's one thing trying to prove your green credentials. But it's another to be quite relaxed about seeing one of our most important transport related industries wither on the vine. This is more about the future of BAA, or even the development of a single new runway. It's about the future of the whole aviation sector in Britain - and this goes far more widely than airports. If this vital industry is given the signal that it is not wanted here, expect to see it gradually move its operations overseas, and taking with it hundreds of thousands of jobs.

I for one am not going to sit idly by and watch the Conservative Party plunge ahead with this potentially disastrous policy.


Hacked Off said...

Boris Island is the sensible long term solution, Heathrow is in the wrong place, with all the incoming flying right across London. Needn't be a terrorist outrage, just an accident, and the on-ground carnage would be immense.

Boris Island avoids this problem, plus all the noise pollution, would create a ton of jobs, and free up a huge brownfield site with good transport infrastructure already in place for redevelopment.

The Penguin

Mog said...

Agree with Penguin. The Princess Diana International Friendly Peoples Airport (Boris Island) - seems the sensible way to go. Heathrow is a joke and Gatwick and Stansted are over 50 miles from London.

If jobs are the worry then the PDIFPA (Pee Difpa) will create many many thousands.

Jimmy said...

I must admit I rather like the Boris Island idea too. If there's a nastier airport on earth than Heathrow then I've been fortunate enough to avoid it so far.

Lambeg Drum said...

Fantastic Post Iain. Back you 100%.

It really is appalling that the Conservative Party could have got itself into such a mess over the Heathrow issue.

I'm afraid the only way out is to move Theresa and allow someone else to perform a quiet policy turnaround.

Was it good or bad for the British economy to build more canals in the 1760s? Was it good or bad for the British economy to build more railways in the 1840s? Was it good or bad for the British economy to build motorways in the 1950s?

Good of course. Tremendously good.

And so it will be to build more airport capacity in the 21st century.

The madness has to stop.

Enlightened Despot said...

The CC has not said it wants three new runways - it has proposed that the prescriptive Aviation White Paper should now give way to the National Planning Strategy, so if the new Gatwick owner wants to build a new runway after 2019 its application should be subject to the planning guidelines that are being drawn up. Those guidelines might be so environmentally tough that a new runway would be unlikely to meet its conditions.

As to Boris Island, there is not the slightest chance that it would be funded. The proposed Heathrow and Stansted runways can only be afforded because Ferrovial can borrow against existing airport assets. A brand new airport would have no asset backing and nothing remotely close to that size (estimated during the White Paper process at c.£19bn assuming typical overruns) has been funded by the private sector. Remember the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, the UK's largest infrastructure project at c£5.5bn, which had to be restructured by Government because the money ran out.

John Woodman said...

I too think the policy is spot on.

Heathrow isn't sustainable; the UK will eventually have to have a decent hub on Boris Island and in the meantime investing in high speed rail networks across the UK will be a better investment for more UK residents than expanding Heathrow.

The only people who really care about maintaining Heathrow are BAA and BA, and they aren't going anywhere.

So hopefully the Tories won't change their minds.

Unknown said...

Just an idea, putting a very fast rail link between Heathrow and Gatwick would allow the two to be operated as a single hub. The link could even have trains running "air-side". This would put a lot of additional flexibility into the system without building a new runway.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

Despite the financial objections, I think Boris Island is the way to go. Heathrow sucks donkey cock.

Raedwald said...

Boris Island is the only sensible way to go. Even the Dutch are more visionary than us when it comes to this sort of thing.

We need hub capacity; the transfer PAX at LHR spend damn all in the UK, so there's no need to discommode half of London to accommodate them. They won't know any difference between changing planes at Boris Island (LBI?) and LHR.

Let's start dumping all the South East's inert waste in the estuary now and even if it takes a year or two to get planning consent for BI, It'll be somewhere to tie my boat up on in the meanwhile.

Old Holborn said...

I am the very model of a modern Labour minister

apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan

Hacked Off said...

I think that Boris Island could be more affordable than you suppose, Childprotector. How many prime acres does Heathrow occupy? What is the value of building plots in the area?

What hike in local property prices might peace and quiet bring?

I lived under Heathrow's flightpaths for many years. In one place, I could stand in my back garden and look up at 5 planes, one on top of the roof, and 4 more stacked up into the sky smaller and smaller until just lights coming down.

The you have the blight of the take-off flight paths, and here with a full fuel load you'd really have a mess if one fell out of the sky. Windsor, anyone?

Boris Island could be larger, have manu more landing slots and generate loads more income for it's operator than Heathrow. It could also be made a whole heap more secure, being on an island.

If they can do it in Hong Kong, they can do it here, surely?

The Penguin

Chris Paul said...

Villiers, or TGV is a prize muppet. Claiming responsibility for this is bananas and so easily found out as a big fib. Iain Dale I agree with you 100% on this post. Shiver.

Except I don't care if the Tories continue to get this wrong or not.

Boris Island has an air of Foulness about it. Just consider what the green raefs and venetias will make of an airport in a wildfowl sanctuary.

Chris Paul said...

Not that we care about the green raefs and venetias mind.

force12 said...

I agree with previous comments that Boris Island is the way to go (please God a Diana-free zone though).

Heathrow is in the wrong place, is a cesspit and will always have that patched up look without closing the place and starting all over again - by which time you could build Boris.

SE London / N Kent is much more convenient for the Channel link. The new location would provide a huge infrastructure and skills kick-start to any plans to develop the East London corridor and starting from scratch would deliver world-class facilities.

It's construction however would need to be managed by the same people who seem able to build cities and skyscrapers in Dubai and other places rather well. Another Wembley would be too much to stomach.

Wildfowl concerns will have to be addressed pragmatically, will be unpopular to many and expensive.

If they start quickly Heathrow could be a new caravan and trailer park for use when the economy seriously hits the brown stuff next year.

neil craig said...

You are right that it goes a long way beyond airports. The Tories are riding 2 horses in different directions. Wanting to be economically competent small government liberals & wanting to be nanny state, high tax Greens committed to ending the "continuous economic expansion"* we are allegedly currently suffering from.

Since I believe we are not currently suffering from catastrophic warming & are suffering from a lack of economic expansion it will be obvious which horse I wish them to dismount from, but either way staying on both ensures a crash.

* Here is the leader of the Scottish Greens saying that the only reason they support the EU is because its regulatory system prevents the economy growing.

Anonymous said...

I think Boris is right about looking into a new site for a new airport. Heathrow is in a terrible position and it is a disaster waiting to happen.

I applaud Hilary Benn for making a stand - He's right to object.

Anonymous said...

Hey Iain - by the way - aren't you part of that 'pay to play' with BAA? I think you accept free lunches from them? hahaha.

Heathrow sucks. It really does.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Admirable posting. You have my total agreement, though the threat that Dale is not going to sit idly by and watch the Conservative Party plunge ahead with this potentially disastrous policy has that Skibbereen Eagle touch to it.

That said, I cannot understand the massed enthusiasm for blasted Boris's Foulness MkII. It's off his patch, for heaven's sake. The Leader of Kent CC won't wear it:

"An airport on the Thames Estuary is never going to be viable or popular. But we don't need it when we have a perfectly positioned, ready-for-action, airport in Manston."

"All new administrations have new ideas, but Boris Johnson's plan for a floating airport on the Thames estuary is a bad one ...
"In Kent plans for an airport on Cliffe Marshes were fought and won by local residents, Kent County Council and Medway Council six years ago."

I just lurve these fall-outs between Tories, dontcha know?

There's one question that nobody seems able to answer. What about the SS Richard Montgomery, sitting at the mouth of the Medway with going on two kilotons of rotting high explosive? It only took 15 kilotons to do for Hiroshima, so two could put the wind up the Medway towns and Southend.

It's bang [sic] alongside an oil refinery, and major population areas. Yet blasted Boris thinks an adjacent airport is a neat idea.

The previous contributions somehow remind me of the late, great Alan Corin: "I don't know anything about landmines or Princess Di, but I do know you'd be mad to poke either of them".

Meanwhile, there's that other long-standing mystery to the SS Richard Montgomery. The MCGA report for the vessel's condition (as of 2003) is on-line: it is excellent as an account of the wreck's metallurgy. It is very vague, to the point of total insouciance, about the contents of the forward hold. When Ron Angel (of tried a FoI approach to the DoT, he got the inevitable runaround. What was implicit is that nobody seems to know what and how much of it is down there; but the same nobody wants to say so.

By the way, the GLC (remember that?) did pilots for what became the Thames Gateway projects. They revealed a lot of low-grade radio-active waste and other whoops-oh-nasty stuff had been dumped across the estuary marshes.

Shane Williams For PM said...

Perhaps as well as provoking debate amongst your readers about the economic and environmental illiteracy of a third Heathrow runway, you could also inform them of your coming second to Ms Villiers in the Chipping Barnet selection some years ago and whether that to any extent informs the peculiarly personal nature of your attacks on her in relation to a policy which has after all been publicly espoused by the party leader.

Jimmy said...

Saucer of milk anyone?

Anonymous said...

Bollocks - we do not need a third runway at Heathrow.

We need a new airport somewhere else before it is too late. We do not need to further develop an airport put there in the 20's when we flew in biplanes.

Put something useful in place of Heathrow.
Wake up Mr Dale - you have had too many dinners with fat lobbyists talking in clich├ęs.

The comparisons Mr Drum makes are a load of horlicks.
We missed the boat on railways, iron rails on iron tracks is hopelessly arcane.
But we failed to see that - we stuck with rail.
Likewise we need a modern airport complex somewhere else than Heathrow (and with modern links) - are we going to take the plunge?

Labour are split on the matter quite severely.

Richard Havers said...

Iain, I'm afraid you, like the numpties on the CC, are totally misinformed about the effect of airports on competition within the aviation business.

Blackacre said...

Heathrow was a planning disaster from the outset. It was a bad decision in the 1940s (as the ministers at the time knew, but it was cheap and easy - nothing changes) and nobody has had the courage/vision (take your pick of which) to correct that ever since.

Heathrow cannot ever compete with the 5 or 6 runway hubs of the continent as there is no where to go beyond squeezing in a small third runway. The Heatrow supporters must recognise this at some point and I hope the transport industry will start using their skills to work out a solution. I am not quite convinced by Boris Island for a few reasons, but certainly agree that expansions in Gatwick and Stansted are needed.

Perhaps we should abandon that hub thing anyway. What is the benefit save in landing fees and retail opportunities? Far better surely to have a few airports with great connections to London and the rest of the country to get people here to do business and not just to pass them on to Franffurt, Paris, Milan or wherever. Leave the hubsters to wonder around in CDG.

Unknown said...

"Heathrow cannot ever compete with the 5 or 6 runway hubs of the continent"

I never understand this argument - as if more people will come to the UK if the airport is larger, takes longer to go in/out of, and is noisier ?

neil craig said...

Equally I don't understand how anybody can fail to understand that expanding the airport will make it possible for it to handle more passengers.

The point is that we are getting into a situation where every economic decision is made by government, which in turn means the pushiest lobbys. If you believe in free enterprise you believe it should be made by investors. I don't know if Heathrow or an artificial island in the Thames or nothing or indeed Prestwick with a vacuum tube monorail connection to London makes most sense (though I could guess). I do know that politicians will not make the most economically sensible decision & will probably as usual, by default, merely stop anything happening.

Which explains why we are in recession & the BRIC countries aren't. Economic freedom is a necessary & sufficient condition for a fast growing economy & we should have some.

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