All posts tagged 'Boris-Island'

The government's indecision over a new airport is all politics. Plus: new democracy in action at County Hall

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, July 13 2012

For all its efforts to spin the announcement over its latest consultation on aviation policy, nothing can hide the fact that the government has opted to kick the most controversial decision about how to address the capacity question into the long grass.

Justine Greening may have presented the two-stage process as one which will allow a more considered deliberation but no amount of window dressing about the importance of deciding what "future sustainable aviation growth" should be can disguise that this is a short-term political fix.

We all know the reasons why: each and every option that has been floated, from Boris Island to a third runway at Heathrow, has potentially damaging ramifications for the Conservatives with MPs in sensitive seats - not least in Kent - making no secret that they won't be rolled over if the option of a new hub airport gets government backing.

So, the separate 'call for evidence' due to happen later this Autumn - no doubt after the party conference season - is a fudge of the worst kind. It is illogical, too when you read the full document the DfT has released about the key questions it wants to address.

We are told the exercise is designed to assess the best way of balancing the need for more frequent flights to emerging markets with the need to reduce the impact of airports on local communities.

Precisely the key question that will need to be considered if the Thames Estuary hub airport was part of the equation.

Turn to the section "Air quality and other local environmental impacts" and the lack of logic is even more explicit, with the government telling us: "Loss of habitats, species, landscape and built heritage, and significant impacts on water resources and ecosystems would only be advocated where there are no feasible alternatives and the benefits of proposals clearly outweigh those impacts."

How anyone can respond to Part One of this consultation exercise without any reference to the Thames Estuary scheme of Boris Island - and to be fair, a third runway at Heathrow - is beyond me - if consultees make arguments around this issue, will the DfT disqualify their contributions?

Inevitably, there has been plenty of political mudslinging about delay and dither.

The government may have bought a bit of time but at what cost? Most people seem to think that rather than looking at the national interests, rather narrower parochial interests have prevailed.

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What do county councillors think of plans for what will be the single most significant development in Kent for decades? Ashford council has given the go ahead for a development of 5,750 houses at Chilmington Green which will create effectively a new town.

KCC understandably is a key player and consultee in the debate because it will fall to the authority to provide new schools, roads and other community services as and when it is built. And there has - hardly surprisingly - been quite a debate stirred up about the scheme.

But the views of county councillors - particularly the ones that represent the area - have been silenced.

KCC has decided what its response to the development and a report setting out its views, signed off by the cabinet member responsible - Cllr Bryan Sweetland - was recently presented to one of KCC's new "pre-cabinet" committees - set up specifically with the intention of allowing backbenchers input into the decision-making process before decisions are taken.

So, was there a discussion about whether KCC had got it right? Were backbenchers asked to give their views on the process? Er, no.

The report was an 'urgent' report that effectively relayed that the decision had already been made because KCC had to respond to the Ashford council's consultation timetable.

The committee was told in no uncertain terms by the Conservative chairman David Brazier that he would not countenance any debate because the constitutional process had been followed.

A decision had been made and that was that. When the mild-mannered councillor Elizabeth Tweed did venture an opinion, she got a mild ticking off from Mr Brazier.

A fine example of democracy in action.

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Categories: Precept

Why the budget could make Kent Conservatives uneasy

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, March 21 2012

Two things stand out from the budget for Kent and both are issues that could, in time, store up difficulties for the government from Conservatives in the county.

George Osborne confirmed directly and in the strongest terms yet that the idea of a new airport was now firmly on the table and would be a key part of the government's consultation on aviation capacity.

MPs were told: "I also believe this country must confront the lack of airport capacity in the South East of England – we cannot cut ourselves off from the fastest growing cities in the world."

It would have been interesting to see the reaction of Kent backbenchers in the Commons but we didn't - it is hard to imagine they were doing anything but grimace.

It is clear the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have, if not completely won round, are becoming much more enthused and interested in the idea, particularly in view of the possibilities the scheme holds for regeneration.

Kent's Conservative MPs are united in their opposition and only this week several signed an open cross-party letter to the Daily Telegraph underlining their concerns about the consequences.

The politics of this are intriguing. What Kent backbenchers are undoubtedly anxious about is the potentially awkward timing. Government consultation gets underway shortly and will last, according to the Chancellor, until the summer.

Thereafter, it is unclear. The proposal could, of course, be killed off completely.

But if isn't - and knowing how long it can take for major infrastructure projects to move forward - the issue could be left hanging in the air. What will worry Kent Conservative MPs is, if the uncertainty is prolonged and the government prevaricates, they could be going into the next election not knowing where they stand.

If the government ultimately decide to press ahead with the idea, they could have to be campaigning against a key commitment.

It is, of course, some way off but if Boris Johnson wins the mayoral election in May, it is unlikely that he will let go of the idea and it is widely thought that he has the ear of the Treasury and the Chancellor.

The related issue is the government's determination to push ahead with planning reforms that many fear will result in a developers' charter, making it much harder for councils and others to resist development because of a new 'powerful' presumption in favour of sustainable development.

Out in the shires, the unease has been marked among Conservatives - and others - who fear the reforms represent a real threat to the Garden of England and will lead to vast swathes of green fields being concreted over.

One of Kent's most effective PR campaigns, masterminded by the late KCC leader Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, was to resist the Labour government's plans to increase house-building in Kent under John Prescott's grand schemes for a huge expansion in house-building numbers.

Kent countryside was described as being "non negotiable" and it was very effective, too. One of the first things the coalition did was scrap these house-building targets and promise that local councils would determine what they wanted to see built.

Now it seems another front has opened in a battle over the Garden of England many thought they had won.  

 

 

 

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Categories: Precept

The sounds of silence: the Treasury keeps mum over airport meetings

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, February 10 2012

UP-DATED MONDAY FEB 13.

There has long been a suspicion the government's U-turn that led to its decision to consult on the idea of a Thames Estuary airport was, in part, driven by the Treasury and the Chancellor. It was said they had been won round by the argument that such a project would deliver investment and jobs - along with regeneration - at a critical time.

But how was the Treasury won round? A clue perhaps lies in the meetings George Osborne and his officials had with the backers of the idea that were disclosed to us under the Freedom of Information Act.

Although we aren't being told what was on the table at these meetings as it is not deemed to be in the public interest.

Treasury meetings with Thames Estuary airport backers>>>

What we do glean from the details provided is that there seemed to be a sympathetic ear at the Treasury, where officials met representatives of Foster and Partners and the consultants Halcrow no less than four times to chew over the idea.

The rather gushing email sent by an unnamed representative of Foster following one meeting talks revealingly of how stimulating and reassuring the meeting was given that both sides believed passionately in the same points.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any proponent of any scheme seeking contacts with politicians and their officials. You wouldn't expect anything less where a project as huge as this was concerned. Access is critical to getting the message across.

But if the government wants to be seen to be playing a straight bat over what is undeniably a massively contentious issue, it will have to better than come up  with the fig leaf of an excuse that it has to withhold information about what exactly was discussed at these meetings.

It is, frankly, an insult to say on that policy discussion needs to take place behind closed doors so  opinions can be expressed candidly. In its response, the Treasury says it acknowledges that there is a public interest in what is a 'live' issue - which in its way makes the case for full transparency and openness - not the case for running away and hiding.

It is interesting to speculate on whether,  had the Treasury been approached by, say, the leader of Medway council, for such a meeting, Mr Osborne or his officials would have proved quite as accommodating.

Either way, it is vital that the government's consultation starts from a position of neutrality.

There are arguments on both sides to be had but public confidence in the integrity of that consultation won't be enhanced if there is any suspicion that one side is getting greater opportunities to promote their views above the other.

Read the Treasury's full response to our FOI request here:

Treasury Meetings FOI.pdf (2.34 mb)

The transcript of the email sent by Foster and Partners to Treasury officials:

“It was a pleasure to meet with you this morning. We appreciate you making the trip over to our office and hopefully the experience of actually seeing us all busily working was useful. We found the conversation we had both stimulating and highly reassuring as you both made so many points that we both passionately believe in.”
“The brief presentation we did of some of our thinking and the initiatives we have been taking around infrastructure seemed to resonate with your interests and I am sure we could have spent a lot more time talking. We look forward to developing these conversations.”

 

 

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Categories: Medway Magna | Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council

Perfect solution for the royal boat – the Medway Queen

by The Codgers' Club Friday, January 27 2012

by Peter Cook

Personally, I don’t have a problem with buying the Queen a boat for her Jubilee. And here’s the perfect solution.

Chugging up river soon, resplendent in her new steel overcoat, paddle wheels thrashing and puffing up smoke like an ancient mariner with an ounce of Navy Shag , will be the good ol’ Medway Queen. Hooray!

What better vessel could our monarch hope for? A Queen fit for a Queen.

They have so much in common. They come from the same generation, both saw service during the war, and both have brought delight to thousands.

Of course Her Maj will have to restrict her cruising to the Thames and Medway Estuary. But you don’t want to go charging off to faraway foreign climes when you’re well into your eighties.

And what price Boris Island when the Queen of England rules the very waves on which they hope it will become established.

Given a stair-lift, the Duke of Edinburgh would be able to relive his naval days by whizzing up to the bridge now and again and taking the helm.

“Glance across to port, Sir, and you will see the four LPG gas holders of the Apocalypse, each one as big as the Albert Hall, named after your wife’s great great grandfather, I believe Sir.

“Left hand down a bit. We don’t want to hit the poor old Richard Montgomery and unleash a tsunami that will have us surfing back to London quicker than a Red Arrow pilot on a jet-ski.”

What larks, as a famous estuary character used to say. They could call in to the Old House at Home at Queenborough for a pub lunch, swan round to Margate for a go on the scenic railway – which should be restored by then – and then nip across to Southend for a pint of whelks and to catch the end of the pier show. A perfect day.

Of course, there is a Royal precedent too.

Good Queen Vic used to chug down to the Isle of Grain on the Hoo Peninsula Railway, to meet her Germanic relatives, who presumably arrived by paddle-steamer.

So, Michael Gove, there you have it. You need search no more.

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Categories:

Cleared for take off? Not quite but maybe Thames Estuary airport is not so much pie in the sky

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, January 18 2012

THERE will be considerable dismay in some quarters that the Prime Minister appears to have agreed that the idea of an airport in the Thames Estuary should be fully investigated.

Government to consult on Boris Island airport scheme>>>

But there ought not to be surprise - even if opponents will throw back at him his declaration more than a year ago that the government had 'no plans' to build such an airport. A similar commitment was given to the Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless by new transport secretary Justine Greening in precisely the same terms.

But it was George Osborne who paved the way for the idea of examining the scheme in November when he announced the government would 'explore all the options' for tackling the problems around aviation capacity.

Even so, today's news will be seen as a U-turn and a politically awkward one given the deep hostility among his own MPs in Kent.

It is worth pointing out that there has never been any likelihood the government itself would 'build' an airport - that would be for private investment consortiums.

Some will see it as a shot in the arm for Boris Johnson's campaign to be re-elected as London Mayor although I've never been persuaded that aviation capacity is something that preoccupies London voters as much as issues like tube fares or crime.

Politically, Mr Cameron will have to confront the fact that among the county's Conservative MPs, there is universal opposition. The Conservative controlled Medway Council remains wholly unconvinced - although there have been recent hints that Kent County Council may not be quite as implacably opposed as it once might have been. 

He may also be seen as having performed an about-turn and of betraying those who took him at his word that the government was not interested in the idea. Never an ideal position for a PM or for backbenchers who, in some cases, have marginal seats to defend in 2015.

What has changed? Underlying the news appears to be the feeling that aside from addressing the problem of capacity, a new airport would deliver a huge jobs boost and regenerate a part of the south east in a way no other project could conceivably get close to.

Perhaps it is no coincidence the news has come out on the day that unemployment figures have shown another rise in both Kent and Medway.

Those arguments will inevitably have to be balanced against the fact that an airport would have huge environmental consequences.

One thing is clear from today's news. Whatever one thinks of the idea, it can no longer be dismissed as 'pie in the sky.'

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Precept

Boris Island Part 2: Why the Thames Estuary option will be pursued

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, January 18 2011

The most telling phrase in the report published today about the Mayor of London's case for increasing aviation capacity was the one that talked about the need for "a brand new airport."

Not extending an existing airport but a brand new one. Which suggests to me that when Boris comes to issuing a report later on this year identifying particular locations as part two of his assessment, the Thames Estuary will be the number one favourite.

We were told several times - rather unconvincingly - that the Mayor and Transport for London were open to all suggestions although when pressed about whether that included extending Heathrow - which Boris and the coalition have ruled out - there was a bit of subtle manouevering to indicate that this, ahem, wouldn't be among the options.

Indeed, the only specific place mentioned in the Mayor's 70-page report is the Thames Estuary - and in a classic piece of under-statement, the report notes that it "will require sustained political determination to deliver such an airport."

You can say that again. But no-one should under-estimate the seriousness with which Boris is taking this. He made a compelling case on economic grounds, pointing out that together London airports can muster just five daily flights to China - half the number from Paris and Frankfurt.

He also pointed out that David Cameron's plans for greater use of existing regional airports would only absorb about 10 per cent of the extra capacity expected to be generated at Heathrow as the number of passengers increases from 240m to 460m over the next 20 years.

Boris reignites row over airport plan for Kent>>>

So, he ploughs on in the face of implacable opposition from council chiefs and most MPs. But one thing that did strike me at today's seminar was that many businesses actually seem quite keen on the idea and believe that there has been a pretty one-sided debate so far.

As to ManstonDaniel Moylan, vice chairman of Transport for London, was fairly dismissive - revealing that it would only work if it became a four runway hub of the sort Boris wants. Intriguingly, this proposal was put to KCC leader Paul Carter but he demurred at the suggestion.

So, Boris may not be terribly popular down here but seems remarkably unperturbed. You could even say he's rather relishing the challenge.

Mind you, it was a shame he didn't stick around to answer any journalists' questions.

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Categories: Politics | Thames Gateway | Transport

Boris island: why the Mayor won't say no

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, January 17 2011

It has been roundly denounced and at a cost of £40bn is regarded as pie in the sky.

But London Mayor Boris Johnson just won't let go of his idea to build an off-shore airport off the north Kent coast (where, it is worth mentioning, he has no planning jurisdiction).

The latest wheeze for Boris Island - by the independent panel he commissioned to examine options for the Thames Estuary - is that flood defence islands needed to withstand flood surges could double up as runways.

Flood islands could double as runways, says Mayor's expert panel>>

It sounds creative but I think there is a wider point here: the panel known as the Thames Estuary Steering Group is signalling subtly that it would like to keep the idea of Boris Island alive despite the hostility to it here.

This will no doubt please Boris, who is expected to underline his own personal support for further exploration of the scheme at a seminar tomorrow. A report is due to be published making the case for increased airport capacity in London and the south east that should be "configured in a hub airport".

The Mayor is using the government's own review of aviation capacity to keep up momentum in the debate and according to City Hall will be outlining the strong economic case for alternatives to expanding Heathrow.

It won't go down well in Kent and both KCC and Medway councils are poised to reaffirm their opposition, as no doubt, will many of the county's MPs.

 

 

 

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Categories: Politics | Thames Gateway | Transport

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