Coalition sets out plans on runways and nuclear

12.5.2010 (BBC)

By Roger Harrabin Environment analyst, BBC News

The UK’s new coalition government has cancelled controversial plans to build
a third runway at London Heathrow airport.

Runway PA The government has cancelled plans for a third runway

It will also refuse extra runways at London’s other two main airports, Gatwick
and Stansted.

The leaders of the new government pledged that they would work together to build
a new low-carbon economy.

And they have agreed a deal to allow a new generation of nuclear power stations
to be built.

But this will be subject to certain conditions being met.

Campaigners responded with joy to the airport news. Ben Stewart of Greenpeace
said: “This is fantastic news that will be met with great relief.

“A third runway at Heathrow was always a bizarre proposal that made no sense
to anybody who understood the impact aviation has on our climate.

“The politicians who promised they would do this have been good to their word.”

Pressure points

The policy may send birds in the Thames Estuary flapping for cover, though.  
If demand for flying in the South-East continues to increase, operators may look
eastwards for a new airport.

Today’s announcement reveals that air passenger duty will be scrapped and replaced
by a tax on the plane, not passenger.

This is likely to mean that full flights (often budget airlines) will get cheaper
and poorly-used flights more expensive. There are several ramifications to this
policy, which will play out in time.

The pressure on South-East airports will be eased if the new government keeps
its word to build a high speed rail network.   But some Tories have been worrying
about the cost of this at the current time, and that will surely be a factor in
the timing of any plans.

On nuclear, the parties have agreed a deal which is supposed to allow the Conservative
majority to push through new nuclear stations through the energy department which
will be run by Chris Huhne from the Liberal Democrats who have an historic opposition
to nuclear.

It is likely the Tories will frame policy and the Liberal Democrats will be allowed
to abstain on the nuclear vote, although they may speak against. Labour will support
nuclear, though, so the stations will get built – if conditions are met.

This is a key proviso. The Conservative leadership is not so quite so firmly
wedded to nuclear as Labour (The nuclear industry had direct access to Gordon
Brown through his brother, head of media for the French firm EDF.)

Today’s agreement says there will be no public subsidy, and Liberal Democrats
will be inside government offices to ensure that no hidden inducements are sneaked

It is by no means certain that firms will want to go ahead with nuclear stations
unless they are offered better incentives.

Treading carefully?

The Liberal Democrats will have to tread carefully with their own supporters
on this issue. The Green Party has already been angling for disaffected Liberal
Democrat environmentalists for the next election.

For Mr Cameron, the coalition is something of an environmental God-send. The
Liberal Democrats were judged by far the greenest of the main parties by Friends
of the Earth, and their presence in government gives weight to Mr Cameron’s Vote
Blue, Go Green slogan.

The Liberal Democrat cohort also buffers the Prime Minister from his own back-benchers,
many of whom are sceptical about man-made climate change.

In their first press conference Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg both pledged a low-carbon
economy, but there will be doubts about whether low-carbon energy targets will
be met and whether Conservatives will be prepared at this time to continue to
underpin low-carbon jobs.

Before the election, they indicated a determination to cut funds to the North-East,
for instance, a major low-carbon hub. This may be a source of future tension.

On broad energy policy there is, though, wide agreement on policy. Ministers
will commit to a “huge” increase in energy from waste thro digestion by bacteria
and the roll-out of “smart” interactive local electricity grids.

They will mandate a national recharging network for electric and plug-in hybrid
vehicles, though it is not clear what “mandating” means and who is to be mandated.

No new coal power stations will be built unless they pass a carbon emissions
standard, though the standard is still to be decided.

This will mean any power stations will have to have at least partial carbon capture
and storage. The government will continue Labour plans for four carbon capture
and storage demonstrations in which power station emissions will be pumped into
underground rocks.

Finally, a measure that might affect many people’s lives – if it is implemented.
The government will adopt measures to promote green corridors and wildlife, although
there are no more details and it is hard to imagine this policy will be a priority
in the short term.

And what of the Liberal Democrat manifesto promise of a broader right for people
to roam in the countryside in the Scandinavian fashion?

There is no mention of that in the joint statement and it may be that Conservative
landowners have barred the gate.


see also


Full Text: Conservative-Lib Dem deal (environmental section)

Date Added: 12th May 2010

The specific environmental/transport measures mentioned are these: The establishment
of a high-speed rail network. The cancellation of the 3rd runway at Heathrow.
The refusal of additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted. The replacement of
the Air Passenger Duty with a per flight duty. The provision of a floor price
for carbon, as well as efforts to persuade the EU to move towards full auctioning
of ETS permits.

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Comment from an AirportWatch member:

I am really concerned about the regionals. For example, one of the Boris bloggers
has already suggested that this now leaves Boris open to use London City Airport
to make up what they feel is a shortfall in flights.

The Lib dems said they opposed expansion at SE airports – but how will the regionals
be treated by the coalition? The regional expansions were seen by the Tories as
the way out of expanding Heathrow/Gatwick/Stansted and there was certainly no
commitment from the Tories on London City Airport,  let alone all regionals one
way or another. London City Airport appears to be the politicians favourite to
use and I think they’ll be a lot of press interest looking to the expansion of
LCY  and beyond.  The stampede to lobby them has already begun.


see also


BIA is jumping for joy at the prospect of being  able to take over from Heathrow
– worrying times for those in the West Midlands – the new frontier:

Birmingham Offers Solution to the ‘Heathrow Problem’