All posts tagged 'Thames-estuary-airport'

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.


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

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

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


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

Exploring all the options: Has Osborne cleared Thames airport plan for take off?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, November 30 2011

He couldn't quite bring himself to utter the words 'Thames estuary' or 'Boris Island'.


But George Osborne has done enough in his budget statement to ensure that the idea of a new hub airport in the south east has not been completely grounded. Indeed, there are some who believe he has engineered a situation that will encourage proponents of such schemes rather than deter them.


The telling phrase he used was that the government intended to 'explore all the options.' Had he wanted to sound the death knell for either Boris Island or Lord Foster's £50bn vision, he could have said so - just like he did by ruling out any further consideration of Heathrow.


A flat denial could have ended the persistent speculation and would have given some solace to the county's MPs who are deeply hostile to the idea and fear that the government is not helping their re-election prospects.

Several have suggested that George Osborne is merely trying to help his friend Boris as he seeks to secure another term as Mayor of London.


Others have gone further with theories that should Boris return to the House of Commons as an MP, he will be joining forces with Osborne when he takes a tilt at the leadership.


That might be a motive but I am not wholly convinced. If you polled Londoners on the issues they have most concerns about, I'm not sure you'd find aviation high on that list (except in west London). Tube fares perhaps.


I suspect the government doesn't really know whether it wants to see a new airport off the north Kent coast.

But it's worth reading the National Infrastructure Plan published by the Treasury.


It notes how, since 2005, the performance trends on airports in relation to capacity, access and availibility - as well as service quality and reliability - have all gone down. For other transport modes, they have either stayed the same or improved.


That is not an argument for Boris Island or Lord Foster's scheme but as Mr Osborne said, the UK risks falling behind countries like China and Brazil who are building infrastructure schemes at a lick.

Precisely the kind of point that Boris has been making.



There was a meeting of KCC's personnel committee on Monday at the highly unusual hour of 5.30pm. I cannot tell you what was discussed as there was no advance agendas or papers - as there normally would under Access to Information rules - as it was an "emergency" meeting, meaning such rules can be bypassed.


Still, let's speculate about what might have been discussed behind closed doors. If recent events are a guide, some might think the councillors summonsed to attend were discussing the way the authority might be run in future and the option of doing without a managing director.


We may have to wait a little while for this to be confirmed but it may not be long. Meanwhile, KCC's managing director Katherine Kerswell "is and remains" in her post even though not many people have seen her around County Hall in recent weeks.

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Categories: Precept

Pie in the sky and plane crazy - but the airport plan won't go away

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, November 2 2011

Council chiefs and other politicians in Kent and Medway have been swift to condemn the latest proposal for an airport in the Thames Estuary.

Hardly a surprise. Lord Foster's grand scheme is nothing if not ambitious - it brings together not just an airport but a new river barrier and crossing, and a shipping and orbital rail complex. It makes Boris Island look rather modest.

Given the scale and huge impact it would have, the reaction on both sides has been passionate.

Lord Foster's Thames Hub vision>>

It is a classic situation in which local and national interests collide - a bit like the arguments that raged in Kent over the Channel Tunnel, when there were similar clashes over the blight afflicting the green fields of the Garden of England against those arguing the case for the economic dividend for UK Plc, particularly on the jobs front.

(Remember the scorn heaped on the country when it dragged its feet over the construction of the second stage of the High Speed Link? We were derided by our European counterparts for taking so long and for building a link which, at the time, only went some of the way to London.)

So why won't this idea - dubbed pie-in-the-sky, plane-crazy - go away?

If those advocating different proposals took on board the views of many in Kent, they would run away and hide in a dark room, not spend £100,000 on a report, that for all the criticism that might be heaped on it, at least strives to come up with a credible case that integrates different energy and transport strands and doesn't completely overlook the environmental issues.

One reason is that there is something of a policy vacuum in government - which, according to new transport secretary Justine Greening hasn't completely closed the door on the notion of a Thames Estuary airport - and has only recently finished a consultation on its scoping document setting out its plans for a sustainable framework for UK aviation.

Meanwhile, it has cancelled a third runway at Heathrow and ruled out expansion at Gatwick and Stansted. Triggering the inevitable questions about how it intends to increase capacity and compete in the global economy with those countries who appear to be stealing a march on the UK.

As ever, the government is struggling with the competing interests of those who wish to safeguard the environment and those that argue aviation is a vital to our national economic interests. 

And as always, thrown into the mix is the pressure ministers will come under from MPs with marginal seats who will want to side with their constituents. (A taste of this has come the way of ministers trying to sell the idea of High Speed Two, which would also carve through some of the country's rural hinterland. There is open revolt in some Cnservative constituencies).

So, will the government opt for what Foster calls "the short term patching up our ageing infrastructure" or be more bold when it does eventually flesh out its policies?

Somehow, I suspect that even when it does, the arguments will continue to rage.

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Categories: Hoo peninsula | National Politics

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