Thursday, 29 January 2009

Government wins third runway vote

Unsurprisingly, the government won it's third runway vote on Wednesday. However, their majority is now down to just 19 votes, which goes to show how controversial this decision has been.

In spite of the Government's desire to run roughshod over Londoners for the sake of short term profit and possible backhanders, it's encouraging that a number of Labour politicians displayed some scruples. Hats off to Virendra Sharma and Andrew Slaughter who even quit in protest.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

BAA stooge to control the fate of British high-speed rail

If there's some government corruption going on, it's reassuring to know that Private Eye will be on the case. The most recent issue contains an article about the high-speed rail link announced by Geoff Hoon as part of the third runway "decision". I scanned in the article below, but if you don't have time to read it, here's the takeaway:
  • No high speed link was officially announced, a company called High Speed Two has been established "to help consider the case".
  • Any studies into big rail projects will now have to assume there'll be ample airline capacity on corridors such as London-Manchester, so spending billions on intercity railways will be hard to justify
  • Oh, and David Rowlands, the guy who will chair High Speed Two and therefore control the fate of British high-speed rail, was offered a BAA directorship last year!
As Private Eye would say - "Just Fancy That!"

Heathrow hot air
(Private Eye - No. 1228, 23 Jan-5 Feb 2009, Page 10)

THE government's mention of high-speed rail in its decision to press ahead with Heathrow airport expansion was a clumsy fig leaf but it fooled some people, including BBC transport correspondent Tom Symonds, who reported: "The government also announced a new high-speed rail line will be built." The official Passenger Focus watchdog meekly "welcomed" the announcement.

What was actually announced was High Speed Two, a new company "to help consider the case" for a high-speed line (HSL). So we're no further ahead than when the Strategic Rail Authority commissioned a report in 2001 which concluded that "in economic, safety and accessibility terms. HSL performs better than the alternative interventions considered" and "has the potential to reduce some of the forecast growth in domestic air travel within the UK".

High Speed Two will be limited initially to developing a proposal for a new London-West Midlands line by the end of the year, after which the government will "assess the options". Labour's pals in the air lobby will be happy with that, as it's such a paltry distance for a highspeed railway that the economics may not look great; massive overheads, including design and purchase of 200mph trains, won't be balanced by the big revenue that would come from a longer new line.

More importantly for ministers, even if that line is built it won't harm aviation because London and Birmingham are too close together for flying between them to be worthwhile. Labour's objective is to ensure that lucrative London-Manchester and London-Scotland flights aren't undermined by fast trams (which have hammered continental air routes). Even Virgin's Pendolino service (top speed: 125mph) has done more than enough damage to Manchester flights.

The Department tor Transport (DafT) briefing acknowledged that most major countries had domestic high-speed lines, saying: "In [sic] would be perverse to ignore developments in Europe and the rest of the world." In the preceding paragraph, it noted that Japan started bullet trains in 1964. So that's 45 years of British perversion, and we're still at it

DafT ministers can't even decide to electrify more railways, a simple procedure carried out by most European countries long ago for its huge financial and environmental advantages. Transport secretary Geoff Hoon said: "We are well advanced in procuring replacement trains for the intercity routes, but before we finalise our plans we need to decide whether new parts of the network should be electrified." Only Britain could spend shedloads on procuring intercity trains (which would last 30 or 40 years) before deciding on the trains' power source.

The decision on Heathrow's third runway shows that DafT can be quick and decisive when it wants to be. It was crucial for Heathrow to jump the queue; any studies into big rail projects will now have to assume there'll be ample airline capacity on corridors such as London-Manchester, so spending billions on intercity railways will be even harder to justify.

PS: The government's choice of former civil servant David Rowlands as chairman for High Speed Two speaks volumes. While he was DafT permanent secretary, high-speed rail went nowhere as further Heathrow expansion was fast-tracked. Last year the Sunday Telegraph reported than Heathrow's owner, BAA, offered Rowlands directorship, which the government blocked. The air lobby must be delighted that Rowlands now controls the fate of British high-speed rail, one a its biggest potential rivals.
'Dr B Ching'

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Boris Johnson debates the third runway in Hayes

Last night London Mayor, Boris Johnson held a "People's Question Time" event at the Beck Theatre in Hayes, not too far away from the proposed site of the the third runway and where I grew up.

I didn't attend, however some of my family made it along.  There was a very good turnout and the event was passionately debated. Most attendees were clearly against the development, however Lord Soley from the Future Heathrow group was there to represent the 'for' brigade.  A number of interesting points were raised, particularly with respect to alternative locations for the runway.

The Guardian has a good write-up, along with some Youtube videos....

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Geoff Hoon banned from Latitude Festival

A bit trivial, I know, but this made me chuckle today....

"But as we get a reputation as one of the greenest festivals on the circuit, it would be a bit strange to sell a ticket to a chap who's just authorised a climate-wrecking new runway at Heathrow and who apparently thinks climate change is 'tree-hugging hoolah', whatever that is."

Friday, 16 January 2009

Is it really a sensible idea to increase flight numbers over London?

Well the timing couldn't have been much worse....

The same day that the government approved huge increases in flights over London, an Airbus crashed into the Hudson River near New York City. There was a lucky escape for 150 passengers and the pilot is being widely praised for his deft flying abilities.

This got me thinking.... What might have happened if this plane had taken off from Heathrow (or more specifically, the 3rd runway)? Where in the South East would the plane have come down?

Let's have a look shall we?

For starters I checked the flightpath of US Airways 1549. From this map, I measured 2 distances:

  • Distance 1 - This is the total distance flown from LaGuardia Airport to the plane's eventual crash site in the Hudson River. Using some simple maths and a ruler I estimate this to be approximately 16.4 miles
  • Distance 2 - This is the straight-line distance from takeoff to crash site. I estimate this to be approximately 6.5 miles
If we plot these distances on a map of the South East, originating from Heathrow, quite a wide area is covered (click image to expand)....

Using "Distance 1" from our example...
  • If the plane were taking off in a Westerly direction, then the crash site could be somewhere near Farnborough, Wokingham or even High Wycombe.
  • If the plane were taking off in an Easterly direction, then we'd be looking at a direct hit on an area such as Shoreditch, Whitechapel, Highbury or Bermondsey
Clearly this analysis is purely hypothetical and doesn't prove a great deal. However, when you consider this recent accident and last year's crash at Heathrow, the decision to increase flight numbers over a heavily populated area begins to look like a very reckless one.

And the consequences of a plane coming down in central London don't bear thinking about...

Third runway approved!

Yesterday, the UK government announced their intention to press ahead with the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. Anyone who's been following these plans for a while will know that the decision was a fait accompli, despite a lengthy 'consultation period' last year.

In 2007, when I first learnt about the plans for a third runway at Heathrow, I couldn't believe the absurdity of the proposal. Under the pretense of "increased competitiveness", the government (along with its 'independent advisors') was proposing to bulldoze a community in West London and cram in another runway and terminal, next to one of the busiest parts of roadway in Europe.

If the third runway opens in 2020, flight numbers are set to increase 27% from 480,000 to 605,000, yet somehow the government believes the current high pollution levels will stay below EU danger levels, despite the massive increase in transport around the airport. How did they come to these impressive conclusions? Simple, they based their forecasts on the emissions from a fictitious jet which neither Boeing or Airbus plan on building.

There's not much space to build a runway in crowded West London so, in order to create some, it's been decreed that nearby Sipson is razed to the ground. How can a government in the 21st Century just decide to wipe an entire village off the map? Indeed, nothing like this has been seen since the Highland Clearances of the 1800s. Could it be that Sipson is not a particularly pretty part of London and that its inhabitants don't have much money or influence? Believe me, this decision would not have been made if it were the politicians' haunts of Islington or Pimlico located next to Heathrow.

In January 2008, a Boeing 777 crash-landed on the outskirts of the airport. Were it not for the skill of the pilot and proximity to the perimeter, the plane could well have landed on the nearby residential areas of Hounslow or Hillingdon. Two months later, Terminal 5 opened to a chaotic fanfare of lost luggage and stranded, irate passengers which culminated in a subsequent apology from BA. So bad was the Terminal 5 debacle that the House of Commons Transport Committee branded it a 'national embarrassment' which had actually managed to damage our country's reputation abroad.

Somehow we are expected to believe that the companies which brought you Terminal 5 and a crash landing on our doorsteps in 2008 will manage to smoothly open a new runway in one of the the busiest airspaces in the world. Teething problems with the third runway won't just be people's suitcases going awry, it will be planes falling out of the sky!

So here we have it. Massive increases in carbon emissions, air and noise pollution, increased flights over central London (with higher probability of one of them landing on the city), demolition of houses, schools and communities, increased traffic congestion coupled with a sham consultation.

This begs the question, how can any sane person come to such an obviously bad conclusion; a decision which cannot be undone and will blight generations to come, if it goes ahead?

Unfortunately. the answer is simple and also very depressing.

A small number of people in the government, BA and BAA stand to make a great deal if this development goes ahead, at the expense of millions of Londoners' living standards. Although the government would like to make you think otherwise this is simply a case of cold cash vs quality of life, nothing more, nothing less.

It's a sad state of affairs which makes me wonder how Gordon Brown and Geoff Hoon sleep at night, knowing their decisions will directly worsen the lives of so many people living in the South East

So, what are we to do to prevent this ludicrous proposal gaining even more traction?