The advent of a new Secretary of State for Transport in the form of Putney’s tube-using Justine Greening seems to have triggered off another estuarine tsunami of nonsense, mostly in the usual paywalled Sunday Times, saying MUST HAVE AIRPORT NOW OR ELSE DEATH MURDER RECESSION FAMINE DEATH DID WE MENTION DEATH WAAAAAHH. Or words to that effect. Regular readers will know this flailing act is nothing new, in fact there’s a part of the GLA website proudly headlined ‘Thames Estuary Airport’ stating:
At this stage, the Mayor is not committed to a particular solution
Well that’s true, whatever ‘stage’ means. He’s been committed to at least five or six, noisily, for PR reasons, before it all goes quiet.
His primary concern is that positive action is taken to address the aviation needs of London and the UK…
WANNA BUILD AN AIRPORT! WANNA BUILD AN AIRPORT!
…he believes that a new Thames Estuary airport offers a strong solution for both London and the UK.
He believes it, but has an open mind. Clear as Thames mud.
The result of all this, coupled with the fact that everyone knows that Boris’s wild enthusiasms are usually backed with wads of public money, is a never ending stream of wacky ideas pushed by wacky people, the latest [PDF] of which is from Lord Foster, who knows at thing or two about architectural megalomania and on this evidence should perhaps, for the good of the nation, be bought a copy of SimCity and locked in a quiet room somewhere. More on this in a moment.
Of course, the eagle-eyed (Helen, for one) will have spotted that the document isn’t just the work of Foster + Partners and therefore taking the piss out of My Lord Foster isn’t the full story – the other names on the front of the PDF include Halcrow, the engineering consultants recently bought out by CH2M Hill and apparently struggling for work:
Pre-tax profits at Halcrow almost halved to £8.8m last year on sales of £468m, down from £508m the year before. Projects were cancelled or put on hold and margins came under pressure in the UK and the Middle East, the company’s biggest markets.
So clearly no interest in promoting hugely expensive long term transport projects there.
The third contributor, Volterra, is of course Bridget Rosewell, aka the GLA’s highly thought of economics guru Boris inherited and who pulls in a nice wedge for advising him. It’s something of an inside job, therefore, since Rosewell is also on the Boris-appointed Thames Estuary Steering Group, whose meeting minutes you’ll find on the GLA website mentioned above as well as being involved in making the PR case for High Speed 2 and prior to that, Crossrail’s byzantine funding package.
Let’s examine the Steering Group’s work a bit. They’ve held four meetings:
since when, like an A320 flying into a flock of estuarine geese, silence has descended. Does the last set of minutes offer any clue to why this high powered group of people have apparently packed it in?
Well, first off those present included both Boris and TfL Deputy Chairman Daniel ‘Frequent Flyer’ Moylan, so you can’t say he’s not taking a personal interest here. Secondly, the presence of the construction industry’s pet MP Nick Raynsford (Lab, Greenwich) isn’t a surprise, since I suspect he eats bricks and drinks concrete. Thirdly, Terry Farrell, who has long had his own megalomaniacal schemes for the area, must now be seen as a competitor to Lord Foster, so it’s interesting to note that Volterra has now been involved with both.
What else? Well, considering the assembled talent, there doesn’t seem to have been an awful lot of action taken. The presence of Baroness Valentine of the business pressure group London First may explain this note of sanity:
‘..from a business perspective it was more about journey time to an airport rather than actual location’
which could be translated as ‘don’t put the damn thing halfway to Holland, for God’s sake’ and may explain the subsequent western migration of the site. Valentine is also on record as welcoming the subsequent washing of hands by the Coalition of the whole Thames Gateway thing and, in point of fact, handing much of it to Boris.
Characteristically, Boris didn’t hang about for the tricky detail:
The group agreed that an understanding of the long term economic impacts of aviation in the south east was important when investigating different options and that this could be examined as a side study. [The Mayor left the meeting at this stage]
Bless. Probably had to choose the moquette for the bus or the shade of paint for the cable car or something equally vital.
A final indication that the desperate tactic of trying to get the Thames Gateway moving by handing it to Boris might not be crowned with success comes from this:
It was reiterated that thinking outside the box was very important.
That someone thought this important enough to minute for posterity does suggest that this whole thing was something of a talking shop. After 1hr 45 minutes of this they broke up at 3:45pm with no date for the next meeting. There is still no date for the next meeting.
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