21 December 2011

A mishmash Government airport policy going nowhere fast..

You have a Conservative government elected in Spring 2010. One presumes that they are inclined to lower taxation in order to stimulate growth while letting the economic market decide in which sectors to invest so as to provide the growth in economic activity to the, eventual, benefit of all - or so the theory goes.

Complicate the whole matter by not giving the Conservatives a clear majority. They have to form a government by forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. This means their policies are tailored to the desires of the Green/Environmental lobby. This means great restrictions on economic activity, limiting, at least, the most vote-catching areas of economic policy.    

The results are a hybrid which has neither logical progression nor satisfactory economic lines of action.

What interests us is the effect on transport companies and the infrastructure involved. As a result of the coalition the activities of, some, airports is limited in order to reduce the uneconomic usage of a means of transport, planes, used by many but despised by environmentalists.

The usage of an enironmentally acceptable means of transport, trains, is promoted but comes up against the interests of powerful parties who happen to vote for the principal governing party.

The really environmentally damaging means of transport, the car, is unmentioned and not attacked. Each vehicle is used by one individual to travel from A to B to C to D to E to F etc. throughout the whole day incessantly producing more damage to the environment than any other means of transport.

Public transport, in the form of buses and coaches, is reduced to providing for school children, unemployed and pensioners - certainly outside the cities - to the detriment of full daytime and evening services (up to 11pm.). The car remains KING but remains unfingered. 

All this smacks of hypocrisy, but let us stick to air travel which is the principal object of the political attack. The best way is to look at this problem from a point of view relevant to air transport.

London has five main airports in 2011 - Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and City - each with its (considerable) infrastructure of road and rail links, with car rental firms, hotels, wharehouses, freight depots and other ancilliary services etc. All of a sudden we have three more "London" airports - Oxford, Southend and Manston. These are underdeveloped so will need the aforesaid infrastructure to be brought up to an acceptable standard so that they can be called anything approaching a London airport.

How is it then that Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted are not permitted to expand while nothing is said about the other three "London" airports? In fact they are given free reign to expand.

Is this a lack of airport policy, just plain ignorance of what is going on, or hypocrisy again? Is it not just a double standard regime? Any development provides jobs (good) but piecemeal development (bad) just dissipates energy, financial effort and provokes mis-usage of limited land resources, as such a development at Biggin Hill or Northolt would.

One would suppose that the development of Stansted airport would mean the closure of Cambridge,  Norwich and Southend airports. This has not happened. The latter two are active and expanding, even with international routes.

Bournemouth (Hurn) has existed for many years but with Southampton to the East and Bristol to the West is it not superfluous to needs?

The quadrangle of Manchester, Leeds-Bradford, Humberside and East Midlands seems to cover the needs of a wide area. What need is there then for another new airport  at (Robin Hood) Doncaster? Is it not superfluous to needs?

One could also mention the cases of Coventry, Gloucester, and Swansea airports as being unnecessary, while also questioning the need for Dundee in Scotland.

South West England is another case. Up to recently the area has been served by Exeter, Plymouth and Newquay airports. While Exeter has a heathy business with FLYBE, Plymouth is due to close 23rd December, and Newquay has a tenuous existence. Penzance has long been the heliport for services to the Scilly Isles but even that is under threat of sale to a supermarket chain with the helicopter services being transfered to Lands End. This is not to the liking of many residents due to the increased noise of so many helicopter flights and the increased car traffic into the area. 

The airport policy in relation to the outer extremes of Great Britain are of tremendous importance. Air traffic into Heathrow is now non-existant from South West England, some Channel Isles, the Isle of Man and Inverness, while very limited into the other London airports.

If government policy is to reduce the number of domestic flights for environmental reasons are they not then prejudicing the interests of the islands and regions of this supposed United Kingdom? If the idea is to reduce the number of domestic commuter flights then why is it that it is not happening, except from the islands and the outer regions? This government policy is detrimental to the outer regions and islands so should be reconsidered and reversed.Even the magazine Business Traveller has reported the head of the Manchester Airport Group on the subject.

What is the way forward? Without doubt the market can and should determine needs. If private capital is invested into infrastructure then the government should interfere. Let the normal planning process determine the rights and wrongs of investment. Do not, however, let the nimbys determine the outcome of any enquiry - they(we) are only part of the equation.

For that reason Heathrow should be extended by a third runway while Gatwick, if it so desires, should be permitted to apply for a second runway, with Luton and Stansted under the same conditions. But what about a new airport in the Thames estuary, you might say? That will be looked at in a subsequent article.                                      

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