Friday, January 16, 2009

heathrow is go, kingsnorth no?

as aviation minister, I learned two lessons about the aviation industry. First, its demands are insatiable; secondly, successive Governments have always given way to them.

- Chris Mullin MP, House of Commons, 28 November 2002

So, after numerous delays in the face of opposition from all parties including Cabinet ministers, the go-ahead for Heathrow's third runway has actually gone ahead.

The UK's largest source of carbon emissions is to grow massively. This, then, is the best use for nine billion pounds that the Cabinet can think of. Kudos to John McDonnell MP for greeting the decision with a response so strong that he got slung out of parliament and suspended.

Aside of the way it utterly shreds any hopes of hitting the government's targets for carbon cuts, the decision is another contribution to Labour getting a pasting at the polls next time.

A survey conducted by Greenpeace last May showed that 18 of the 44 Labour MPs in London were opposed to a third runway. A separate ICM poll, published by Greenpeace earlier this week, suggests Labour would lose the London constituencies of Battersea, Ealing Central and Acton, Brentford and Isleworth, and Hammersmith if the plan went ahead.

Almost a quarter of voters polled said they would be less likely to vote Labour if the third runway plans were given the green light, according to the ICM poll

So why would they do it? Jackie Ashley says

The most cynical explanation, which I have heard buzzing around in the past few days, is simply that ministers who know they have lost the next election are cosying up to the business interests that may help them out in the private sector afterwards.

New Labour has close links with BAA, and the big-business lobby for Heathrow may still be in a position to offer cushy jobs, recession or not. Loth as I am to admit there might be a shred of truth in that, it wouldn't be the first time favours done in government have been repaid afterwards.

That's not just about New Labour sleaze. Let's remember that the Conservatives are just the same.

Just ask Norman Tebbit, one of the privatisers of British Telecom who - shazam - magically and coincidentally ended up on the private company's board.

Or Stephen Dorrell, architect of the railway privatisation, who ended up with a £100,000 a year 'part-time directorship' of Stagecoach, the company that ran Southwest Trains. Ran it so badly that they cut staff to maximise profits, then found they hadn't got enough drivers for their trains so cancelled loads of services.

The Conservatives have changed since then though, right? They've got a tree logo so they must be all environmentally conscious these days. They are clear about their opposition to the third runway.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers told BBC Radio 4's Today any government environmental promises would be shown "to not be worth the paper they are written on" and said her party would cancel the project if they win the next general election.

The leader was even more stark

"What business needs to recognise is that the third runway is just not going to happen," said Mr Cameron. "There is such a coalition of forces against it. There's such an environmental case against."

London's Conservative mayor Boris Johnson appealed to his Labour counterparts in the London Assembly

I hope you will all join me in deprecating this government's plans to build a third runway, which would drive a coach and horses through our attempts to reduce C02 emissions

The bit they're not trumpeting so loudly is Johnson's support for building a whole new airport on the other side of London. This would satisfy many of the concerns about noise, demolished villages and other local impacts on the more well-to-do, but the carbon emissions will be as bad or worse than a third runway at Heathrow.

No matter, they'll primarily impact on people who are poor, not very white and a long way away.

If there's anything positive to be taken from this announcement - beyond the fact that it may still be defeated by legal challenges and Tories and whatnot - it's that it may make it harder for the government to push ahead with that other great climate assault, Kingsnorth power station.

Frankly, if it's an either/or choice then that's the way I prefer it; far better to go with aviation and lose coal burning than the other way around.

Kingsnorth would be the flagship for a new wave of coal stations, burning for up to fifty years. If the plans for Kingsnorth are spiked, it'll be all the harder for the ones queuing up behind it to get through.

The government's projected figures for a doubling of airport use by 2030 would obliterate any chance of serious carbon cuts. Even if we did everything else in the most carbon-responsible way, the government's projected aviation expansion would exceed our carbon 2050 carbon targets.

But whilst we may build the capacity for such growth, it is highly unlikely to happen. Unlike other forms of transport, there is no alternative fuel for aircraft. Airport use will be decimated when cheap oil disappears. Believe what you like about exactly when that'll be, but there's no credible voice that says it'll be past the mid-century and it may well be starting now.

The age of cheap oil will be over long before Kingsnorth 2 and the other 21st century coal power stations got decomissioned, whereas the age of cheap coal will romp onwards thought the next century and beyond.

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