Catherine Bearder MEP writes…The simple Lib Dem approach to aviation

Why was I not surprised?

The knee-jerk, short-sighted reaction of Tory backbenchers to dwindling airport capacity was simple: Bung another runway onto the sprawling tarmac at Heathrow.

The airport already pumps out pollution and noise affecting hundreds of thousands of people and a moment’s respite lasts 90 seconds until the next jet swoops from the skies.

It would be hilarious, if the Conservative rabble-rousing on the matter were not so serious.

I then have to sit down for a moment on realising the man leading the charge is the head of the parliamentary climate change committee.

Tory Tim Yeo, a former environment minister, believes the new runway is only way the UK can stay in the economic premier league.

He made his point in the Telegraph last week.

Staggeringly, they attempt to pacify green concerns with a blasé flick of the hand.

Yeo boldly claims:

Indeed, we could cover the whole of Surrey with runways and not increase emissions by a single kilogram…

No problem – clearly, planes are getting cleaner. So, let’s destroy all that good work by counteracting it with even more flights.

Make no mistake: this is a genuine threat to our environment.

On one hand the Tories preach about raising the quality of life for future generations.

And, at the very same time, they toy with ideas which leave those future generations with a catastrophic environmental disaster to clear up.

Nice work.

Thank goodness for the Liberal Democrats in the coalition.

We are the only party seriously contemplating sustainable aviation growth with its impact on our communities.

I believe strongly that we need a rethink about UK aviation.

Replace short-haul flights with train journeys on an improved rail network wherever possible.

And rethink the over-reliance on London as the country’s flight hub.

I welcome an independent commission on aviation. I just hope common sense will prevail.

We have to make sure we’re getting the most out of existing infrastructure in the South East, while ensuring the growth arguments for aviation are balanced against the environmental impacts of flying.

Aviation is the fastest growing source of carbon emissions in the UK and, unlike road transport, there is no alternative fuel.

Nick Clegg could not have been clearer in the past few weeks that the Coalition agreement and Lib Dem commitments on aviation will not be breached.

We reject Boris’ ludicrous Isle of Grain airport plan.

We want a sensible assessment of existing capacity in the South East and at regional airports to meet short to medium-term demand.

And it’s a flat ‘no’ to new runways at Stansted, Gatwick, Luton AND Heathrow. Simple.

* Catherine Bearder is a Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East and Leader of the European Parliament Liberal Democrat Group.

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  • Keith Browning 10th Sep '12 - 12:18pm

    Surely the medium term business plan should be for stability not ‘growth’. Europe will be flat lining growth for at least ten years and so we need to look at sustainability and better use of what we have.

    Better use of the Channel Tunnel will reduce the flights to France and Benelux, even Germany and more effective integration of transport in UK will do the work of ten extra runways.

    I also don’t understand the ‘Heathrow thing’ for convenience. The underground takes easily an hour into central London and the M25/M4/M3 connections are a complete lottery, where minutes become hours very quickly.

    I guess the MPs and government officials who can make use of the ‘Toff only’ lanes and the extortionately priced Heathrow Express don’t see the reality of it all. Heathrow must be the last place in Britain anyone would chose to build an extra runway. The only possible reason to build Heathrow number 3 or pollute the Thames estuary must be connected with vested interests – well am I surprised..!!!!

  • “We want a sensible assessment of existing capacity in the South East ” Sounds good. So why prejudge the result by ruling out expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and Boris Island. That only leaves London City!!

  • Paul McKeown 10th Sep '12 - 12:38pm

    “So why prejudge the result by ruling out expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and Boris Island.”

    Perhaps because anyone proposing expanding runway capacity is simply denying climate change (“well yes, of course, climate change is important, but we need to grow the economy…. bla bla bla bla”) and the impact it is going to have over the coming decades.

  • jenny barnes 10th Sep '12 - 12:42pm

    I certainly wouldn’t accept a brief to do a survey into UK aviation requirements ruling out additional runways or development at all London airports. If you know the answer, you don’t ask for a study. If you don’t know the answer, you set the objectives, and see what the answer actually is.
    I don’t think it’s likely that Heathrow 3 or Boris Island will be the right answer, but I’d certainly consider them.
    One likely constraint would be on the total aviation CO2 emissions .
    Anyway, Mr. Yeo has a constituency near Stansted.

  • Paul McKeown 10th Sep '12 - 1:10pm

    @judy beatrix

    “Don’t beat about the bush”

    I rarely do.

    ” regardless of the economic disadvantage”

    Just the kind of bull that I was just calling out. Climate change will severely damage the global economy over the coming decades. Any short term disadvantage will pall into insignificance. If you can call the decades it will take to build any new run way capacity short term.

    Commercialise a propulsion system that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, then I will be happy to see the government take on all the assorted local interests. Until then.

  • If any of these politicians actually cared about the people living under Heathrow’s flightpath, they would propose building a new hub away from Heathrow and closing Heathrow.

  • And – where is this magic highspeed railway that allows me to get around the UK? The last time I tried to take my pre-school kids to Scotland by rail, the ticket was 600 quid and it was cheaper to fly. This is the attraction of airplanes, they fly over the multiple fiefdoms of dithering politicians*. We have practically the most expensive railway network in Europe, and the coalition is allowing another big hike.
    *assuming they can get a take off and landing slot.

  • If climate change is the issue we need to oppose the increase in flights from Liverpool over the last decade just as much as the increases from airports in the South East.

    I am just finalising my own report on aviation in the south east…

  • >What is “sustainable aviation growth ” ?

    Good question, with the experts forecasting the global economic exhaustion of oil circa 2029 and them questioning whether the UK will experience it’s own economic exhaustion of oil circa 2015, then fossil fuel based aviation would seem to not have much of a future. Hence the only sustainable aviation growth would seem to be negative …

    However, we are talking about the real world here and not the world of politics. In politic’s sustainable is effectively whatever won’t fall apart before the next election…

  • Paul McKeown 10th Sep '12 - 1:51pm

    @Tim Leunig

    “climate change is the issue” should be a notice bolted onto every Minister’s desk and tattooed on each of their advisor’s foreheads

    “the increase in flights from Liverpool”

    Perhaps the increase in flights from Liverpool helps reduce an increase from Heathrow. At least those flying from Liverpool are likely to be local. But yes.

  • Paul McKeown 10th Sep '12 - 1:53pm


    I prefer to listen to expert opinion, rather than the bleatings of a clueless MP without the slightest interest in learning what is really going on.

  • Jenny, if you are confident you DO know the answer, but can’t persuade people it’s right, it is just the time to commission a study, in order better to convince them. Various problems here – 1 You pay for a study which has a tendency to be biased towards your way of thinking 2 You find you were wrong all along, and don’t want to admit it 3 You authorise the spending of a fair amount of money o prove the bleedin’ obvious. But these things happen all the time!

  • Paul McKeown 10th Sep '12 - 2:19pm


    You obviously didn’t read what I wrote. You missed (deliberately or otherwise) the point that any short term economic disadvantage (a questionable assumption given the lead times in constructing runway capacity) would pall into insignificance when measured against the economic damage (and human misery) that climate change will cause.

    If you personally choose not to “believe” in climate change, despite having no doctorate or research credentials in it or in a related discipline, then you will no doubt love making homilies about “eco-beardies forcing people to live in caves” and “letting old age pensioners freeze to death”. You will also blind yourself to the pictures of the disappearing ice cover, in the Arctic and elsewhere, or find a way to dismiss it as a matter of piffling insignificance. That is your choice.

    I don’t oppose economic growth, I welcome it. I don’t accept, though, that growth should be at limitless cost to the environment, and I do listen to the tens of thousands of experts, all with relevant doctorates, warning as to what is happening to the climate.

    If the Lib Dems were to choose to say: no further expansion in aviation capacity and were to explain why, then I would support them.

  • I am beginning to realise that you are a fully fledged climate change denier, jbt. Sorry it took so long for me to come to that view!!

    Why would you put in something about “regardless of the economic disadvantage”. If people are struggling against a super hurricane or intense flooding you wouldn’t ask how much it cost to rescue you. If you are confronted by hunger brought on by shortage of food caused by disruptive weather you wouldn’t count the cost. You don’t seem to realise just how urgent and extreme the situation confronting the human race really is. And as for quoting Peter Lilley as a source…. words just fail me.

  • And rethink the over-reliance on London as the country’s flight hub.

    Absolutely. We have an opportunity to address one of the key items that causes the massive geographical imbalance in our economy.

  • Paul McKeown 10th Sep '12 - 2:48pm


    “I am beginning to realise that you are a fully fledged climate change denier, jbt. ”

    I think what you miss is that jbt is a conservative with the quaint idea of moulding the Lib Dems into a more pliant opposition to his party than Labour.

  • Paul McKeown 10th Sep '12 - 2:49pm

    @judy beatrix

    Having now read your linked blog posts, I think it fair to say that you are indeed a fully fledged climate change denier!

  • Paul McKeown 10th Sep '12 - 3:12pm

    @judy beatrix

    “If you insist, in must in fact be so!”

    Read your own blog.

    a) the IPCC has thus far failed to conclusively demonstrate that anthropogenic CO2 is principally responsible for what will be catastrophic climate change in the near future, or that the many claimed impacts which justify the title “catastrophe” are based on solid and sound science.

    b) the IPCC climate change models that underpin this conclusion have insufficient data for long term projections, do not properly account for feedback mechanisms and thus fail to produce accurate projections, and contain too many errors to produce truthful projections.

    Does it for me, without wishing to wade through any more.

  • Paul McKeown 10th Sep '12 - 3:40pm

    No. Using weasel words to deniably deny, with the same practical effect as outright denialism.

    The Stern Report took evidence from active and highly qualified researchers in the fields of climate as its basis. You deny the Stern Report. I assume you will publish the academic credentials that give your opinions plausibility and the specific research which you have undertaken which undermines the authority of the Stern Report?

  • Paul McKeown 10th Sep '12 - 4:01pm

    Oh, a generic appeal to scepticism.

  • jenny barnes 10th Sep '12 - 4:16pm

    tim 13 Jenny, if you are confident you DO know the answer, but can’t persuade people it’s right, it is just the time to commission a study, in order better to convince them.

    Jenny says Yes, that’s fair comment. There are plenty of people that think the right answer is one or more of LHR3, stansted /Gatwick / Luton 2 or Boris Island. If the proposed study excludes those, it will completely fail to convince any ot those people that something else is the right answer. It would certainly fail to convince me. The study needs to consider all the possibilities, not rule things out beforehand.
    If you don’t care about convincing people, then don’t analyse those 4 options, just tell people what you think the right answer is.

  • Keith Browning 10th Sep '12 - 4:17pm

    Thank God that Croydon was discarded as London’s main airport when it became surrounded by houses….!!

    Hint, hint, perhaps time to abandon Heathrow and look elsewhere.

    My suggestion is to FLATTEN Milton Keynes and build a hub airport and communications centre there.

    No-one would miss it in fact it would be a service to mankind. Perhaps leave a few concrete cows as decoration for the First Class passenger lounge.

  • Keith, can’t make up my mind between your ex-City of Milton Keynes, and Richard Dean’ s ferry ride from Brighton Pier solutions.

    Seriously, what we should be aiming at is reducing air travel, and increasing train as better links from UK come on stream into the European High Speed rail network. And using our scarce airport resources for intercontinental flights. This may mean abandonment of Heathrow, and use of Fairford or wherever, so we have space to develop for new generation lower emission aircraft. So-called “Predict and Provide” solutions in transport tend to lead to unlimited expansion, which we cannot sustain environmentally. So the first move for better transport is to take a diametrically opposed approach on rail fares, ie we renationalise (other Europeans have generally not privatised, so have maintained lower costs), and we continue to use subsidy to drive fares down, while investing in domestic rail improvements.

    But, Jenny, we will need to persuade people of the case for doing this, rather than let trains (or transport policy) run into the buffers, whether of the environmental, economic, or political variety.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Sep '12 - 7:40pm


    increasing train as better links from UK come on stream into the European High Speed rail network

    What European High Speed rail network? Currently timetabling and fare integration between different international high-speed rail operators is patchy, at best, as these operators (Eurostar, Thalys, etc) mostly do their own thing. This needs to be improved. Also the safety regulations for running through the Channel Tunnel need to be relaxed, and international trains need to be allowed to carry domestic passengers in the UK. If these changes were to happen, there would soon be much greater use of the CT by passenger trains, even if not a single extra mile of high-speed track were built in this country.

  • Alex
    DB ICE operation (for example) commences 2013 between London and St Pancras. What I am suggesting is that developments of that should be possible I am, of course, aware of gauge restrictions etc which constrains operations. Frankly we should have been working on this years ago!

  • >aware of gauge restrictions etc which constrains operations

    There are no gauge restrictions that prevent the operation of UK trains on the continent. The happy problem is the other way around. Given the political fun and games they have on the continent of allowing country x’s trains to run on country y’s track etc etc, this is not a bad restriction to have; particularly given the UK propensity to be a ‘good’ european and hence permit continental trains to operate in Britain without first securing equal access rights to and over their tracks.

    Interestingly, due to the converlutions necessary to connect HS2 to HS1, it is unlikely that DB ICE will operate beyond the St Pancres terminus of HS1.

    vive la différence! :))

  • If only there was some mechanism whereby persons whose commercial interests benefited from air traffic at Heathrow and other airports were obliged to live under the flight path! Then the ir “I’m alright Jack” attitude to the quality of life of the less fortunate might be different and a viable alternative would be adopted.

  • @Roland: There are no “continental trains” operating in the UK, only to and from the UK (continental train operators run some National Rail franchises, but that is not really the same thing). International passenger trains running through the Channel Tunnel are required to run ‘sealed’ along UK track, prevented from carrying UK domestic passengers. This is quite unlike the the practice in in most of mainland Europe, where it is quite normal for international trains to carry domestic passengers in all countries where they run, allowing them to maximise revenue along their entire journeys. In that respect the UK is actually an example of *worst* practice as far as running international trains is concerned. The prohibition on carrying domestic UK passengers is the real reason why there aren’t cross-Channel train services other than to and from London (plus a token few serving Kent). It is the reason why the original so-called “regional Eurostar” trains were abandoned. Unless the rule prohibiting mixed domestic/international operation is relaxed, I very much doubt there will ever be any international trains serving the UK provinces, even if the infrastructure were built to accommodate high-speed running the whole way. Mainland European national train operators may have a reputation for not playing nicely with each other, much less with ‘open access’ operators, but at least they are able to run on each other’s tracks and across borders, unlike here.

  • The DB train service to/from the UK is now not due to start running until 2015. It’s also the only proposed new cross-Channel rail operation that has any running date.

  • Don’t misunderstand me; I would like more trains to run through the Channel Tunnel to and from mainland Europe. The principle obstacles to this happening are political, not technical.

  • So how did the “rule” on no domestic passengers on these trains arise from – please don’t tell me, Alex, it came from some Thatcher obsession perpetuated by nuLabour?? Or something written into franchise agreements under the pivatisation framework? Your description makes it sound rather like the East German running arrangements over the “sealed line” into West Berlin pre-1989.

  • Your comment on the East German line into West Berlin comes closest to it, because it is indeed due to supposed security concerns. Mixed running makes it harder for UK border police to keep track of people entering and leaving the country. This also explains the airport-style check-in for international trains at St Pancras.

  • Sure Alex, and the fact of not belonging to the Schengen Agreement is all linked into that. I still remember the fear (I think that is the right word) expressed often by the then older generation, about creating any sort of surface linkage with mainland Europe. But then, I suppose to be a Lib Dem on these topics has always meant to be rather different! When, if ever, will this insular country move on?

  • re: capacity

    If Heathrow and Gatwick are running at 100% capacity, then Stansted and Manchester are at 50%, while Luton, Birmingham and Edinburgh are operating at 25% capacity. There is plenty of unused space already available.

    The biggest problem is access – getting passengers to and from airports (ie road, rail and service infrastructure).

    Additionally, considering Heathrow’s current plans to redevelop Terminal 1 will add plane stands, check-in desks and immigration facilities to give as much as a 25% boost to numbers, the argument about new runways looks like simplistic wasteful expense.

    Finally, consider that the potential for expanding passenger capacity at the most popular airports is actively being blocked by increases in freight movements, which could easily be transferred elsewhere – for comparison Heathrow carries 1.5m tonnes, while 132 tonnes go through Southampton, and BAA is actively encouraging a greater shift to centralise it’s freight business.

    Clearly the air transport market is not working effectively, and therefore any large investments should only be considered within the context of releasing the distorting stranglehold of the former national monopolies.

  • Alex – given our inability to “count them all in and count them all out” why does this persist?

  • I do, jbt.

  • It is perfectly possible to rule out new runways in London’s airports as we do and still have an effective hub capacity, by making more efficient use of what already exists – at Stansted, Luton etc.

    The real problem is to persuade people NOT to fly. Incidentally, the real problem with rail fares is their massive complexity. If you book in advance and try different routes and train combinations it is usually possible to get train fares down to well below airfares, especially when you include the costs of getting to and from airports. For example, it has proved MUCH cheaper to go by train to the party conference by booking separate tickets from Leeds to London and then London to Brighton than booking a through ticket – even taking into account using an Oyster card to get from Kings Cross to Victoria. The trouble is most people simply don’t have the time and patience to work it out. My wife and I went to Greece recently by train and boat, using a rail europe ticket. Sure, it took 3 days each way, but we stopped off in Paris, Venice, Athens, Belgrade, Vienna and slept on trains and boats, but it wasn’t hugely expensive and every day was a holiday.

    I have also noticed that people who favour airport expansion usually oppose HS2 and claim that the train won’t get them there or that going by car is the only convenient option.

    Time for our party to take a strong stand in favour of alternative travel than air and aim to get the costs of rail and ship down.

  • I actually think many people admire those who demonstrate principle in politics. I agree – you will not get people voting for you who profoundly disagree with your principles. I also think that as politics is the art of the possible, of course you have to compromise with others sometimes, but to avoid losing trust, there needs occasionally to be an explanation of why you have chosen a line not apparently in accordance with your stated view. In the case of immigration, we have not argued our case strongly enough – our media don’t help!

  • MickFT: while I agree that the price of some train tickets can be confusing, the same is true of aviation prices. The cost of going from London to New York, or Greece, or wherever can vary dramatically from one day to another, one airline to another, or even within a day. So I am not sure that confusing prices can explain differential usage between flying and train travel.

  • Alex Macfie 11th Sep '12 - 1:53pm

    Like @Tim13, I disagree with stated Lib Dem party policy on UK joining the Schengen zone, which I think is something that should happen as soon as possible. There is little point in Lib Dems trying to appeal to (what Simon Titley calls) “drawbridge up” people, as these already have most of the Tories and much of Labour (as well as UKIP) to speak for them, and they are also the people least likely to vote for us.
    However, back to transport, the pre-Schengen continental practice for running cross-border trains was to do border checks on the train while it was moving (and the trains carried domestic passengers as well). This approach could be feasible for cross-Channel trains, but the UKBA doesn’t want to do it.
    The way things should work is that trains running from London St Pancras have commuters returning home to Kent sharing carriage with French people returning home from a visit to London. Cue hysterical headlines from the Daily Mail — and partly for that reason it’s sadly not likely to happen any time soon.

  • this discussion, like many others in UK politics is driven, behind the scenes, by those who will benefit from the construction, ie the concrete and construction industries, aided and abetted by the press who love a good story regardless of the facts. And then of course, the more you repeat a mantra the more the populace believe it and demand that their politicians do it… don’t we have a daft procedure!! When you look to see that we have more empty houses in the uk than people on waiting lists, solution build more; when the countryside is strewn with runways, solution build another one… barmy. Cows get sick with TB, kill the cherished badger.. and so we go on in this stupid merry-go-round..

  • @Jedi
    On Schengen, a passive approach to the agreement means we will be constantly dictated to and lose sovereignty, but by taking a more active approach we gain would sovereignty by telling our partners what we want to achieve.

    It’s only by assuming the natural conservatism of traditional UK governments (when lead by either Labour or Conservative parties) that sovereignty will be lost, because their dominant anti-European, anti-internationalist stance results in the passive approach.

    trying to ignore or pretend vested interests don’t exist is wishful utopian thinking, it is their job to look out for themselves. It is the job of responsible politicians to work one step removed from the context of their detailed expertise and guide them, not be guided by them.

    Sadly the two large parties are misconstituted to that purpose – it is what we fight against. They support opposing vested interests, we understand there is a trade-off.

    It strikes, therefore, an odd note that airport operators and their advocates can complain about restrictions on passenger capacity whilst they actively encourage freight transport to eat into it – that is, unless we understand that these sorts of managerial decisions are the tools at their disposal for influencing the debate in their favour.

    We need to explain how competing forces are at play – in this case that BAA divestment and the opening up of the market for air transport is creating both real and artifical new demand for additional capacity.

    @Tim Leunig
    I’m looking forward to your report on avitation – I anticipate it will analyse the situation by balancing the impact of all forms of flight movement.

    Expansion may or may not involve new runways, if we’re not going to rule them out neither should we automatically rule them in.

  • @Tim Leunig: However, it is much easier to book a flight, including connections, to practically any European destination than it is for rail. European rail travel for many routes has a serious problem of poor ticket integration, with no ‘one stop shop’ that would sell rail tickets for all train operators and would always find the cheapest fare for the journey you wish to make. For instance, Deutsche Bahn does some good value fares for London to stations in Germany, by Eurostar and DB only. However, its allocation is small, so these fares are hard to find, and they can only be booked through DB, not through, for example, Rail Europe. Yes, Rail Europe can sell you London-Germany tickets, but they won’t necessarily be the cheapest you can find. But Rail Europe is probably the best place to book if you want to travel from UK to France, as it is owned by SNCF. There is no equivalent in trans-EU train booking of the UK National Rail booking system, where you can always get the same fare no matter which UK train operator you book with. [Mark Smith, aka the Man in seat 61, gave an excellent description of how awful European train booking can be in a statement to a House of Lords Select Committee last year: [PDF, from about page 219)
    It seems to me that the state of fare integration for European rail travel is rather like what it would have been like for domestic UK train travel if British Rail had been privatised the way the Tories had originally planned in the 1990s. Mickft complains that it was cheaper to book separate tickets from Leeds to Brighton than to book a through ticket. But at least we still have through tickets within the UK. From the UK to mainland Europe, through train tickets in the traditional sense no longer exist for most routes. So booking a train journey is much more complex than booking a flight.

  • Paul McKeown 12th Sep '12 - 11:35am

    @Alex Macfie

    “Like @Tim13, I disagree with stated Lib Dem party policy on UK joining the Schengen zone, which I think is something that should happen as soon as possible. There is little point in Lib Dems trying to appeal to (what Simon Titley calls) “drawbridge up” people, as these already have most of the Tories and much of Labour (as well as UKIP) to speak for them, and they are also the people least likely to vote for us.”

    Big thumbs up from me, couldn’t agree more. Join Schengen tomorrow if possible, else the day thereafter.

  • Interesting that Catherine Bearder complains bitterly about airport expansion but offers no alternatives with the exception of banning short hall flights. How does she suggest the UK build links with developing countries that will become superpowers (or close to) like China, India and Brazil if not by air? The Lib Dems need to grow up and learn that politics is about providing solutions to problems not simply stamping your feet like an adolescent child and criticising what everyone else does. I would suggest you join a Union rather than a political party if that is your view of politics.

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