The Birmingham Post ran an editorial yesterday attacking our position on the runway extension at BIA and stating, amongst other things, “how out of touch they are with the real world” and asking us to come clean about our agenda.
Now when I was on the radio recently, airport chief Paul Kehoe uttered the legendary phrase “I don’t know what planet Friends of the Earth are on” and this seems a remarkably similar line of attack.
The accepted “wisdom” around making economic policy in the West Midlands all seems to be based on there being limitless resources that we can carry on exploiting regardless. What kind of real world is that, exactly?
The real world is the one in which recently the High Court ruled that the Aviation White Paper of 2003, on which all current expansion is based, was obsolete because it does not comply with the Climate Change Act of 2008. It is also based on oil costing $10 a barrel, which is never going to be the case again and the Stern report 2006 also indicates that the economic case for dealing with climate change should be re-examined so as to mitigate now and not allow business as usual.
The concerted efforts by those driven by ideological opposition to government intervention in markets to tackle climate change or short-term business interests to find some real evidence of collusion or fiddling the figures in “climategate” have all failed, so we now have to get on with dealing with this problem. With consensus shown by the leaders of the three main parties on this (if not all the solutions), we are not saying it is time to ground all flights, but that expansion is not the answer when resources are limited and the business case does not stack up.
Localise West Midlands have also blogged on this in support today and their points about “a fuel-scarce future” are as key as any on the impacts of climate change. Prices will only go one way, whether through taxes or demand outstripping supply in the near future, so to rely on affordable oil for air travel is unwise to say the least, as is thinking that biofuels can replace oil without having a devastating effect on the world’s eco-systems and capabilities to grow sufficient food.
Unless aviation plays its part in cutting CO2 emissions, other sectors will have to make much deeper cuts, so where would you choose to make those cuts? Also, aviation is currently massively subsidised and ticket prices have fallen compared to the cost of living over the past decade, whereas trains and bus ticket prices have gone up considerably and are among the highest in Europe.
The economic benefits of aviation are wildly exaggerated, as we have pointed out on many occasions. Even Heathrow’s claims to make the economy money have been debunked and London is the one place that doesn’t have a tourism deficit from aviation. To say only areas that have a large international airport from where people can fly non-stop to destinations all over the world can be successful econmically is also to ignore data from all over the country.
Therefore, our agenda is simple – don’t subsidise high carbon polluting forms of transport, such as aviation and give local people a fair deal by spending money from the public purse on projects that have a real benefit.
This doesn’t mean we are being extreme, but we want the real story behind the claims on economic benefits to be examined more carefully. If we are to build a long-term sustainable economy that is not dependent on a fast-disappearing resource, we should not be looking to increase airport capacities now, but be planning to use the skills of people in the region to build local markets that are not dependent on aviation.
Once new government guidance is drawn up that relies on the latest scientific and economic data around climate change, oil supplies and low-carbon alternatives we can decide how to best manage demand for aviation. Rushing into decisions to fund extra capacity now would be foolish and waste valuable financial resources at a time when the public purse is being squeezed hard.