It's all beginning to feel a bit familiar. Yesterday I woke up with another cold to hear reports that the Government is set to include the option of a new airport in the Thames Estuary as part of a consultation on the future of aviation in the UK.

Although deeply depressing, this isn't really a surprise. The Chancellor's Autumn economic statement said that the Government intended to look into all the options for airport expansion, ruling out nothing other than a third runway at Heathrow.

This, remember, was the Autumn statement in which the Chancellor pledged to, "make sure that gold plating of EU rules on things like Habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses".   I didn't like this comment at the time. It was an ill-conceived and wholly inaccurate piece of empty rhetoric.

In view of the airport plans, I like this comment even less.

But haven't we been here somewhere before? At around this time last year, the Government launched its consultation into the proposed sell-off of England's public forests. The resulting public outcry resulted in an embarrassing u-turn. The public forests remain in state ownership. Then there was the fuss over the planning reforms. Another consultation, another public fuss - this time accompanied by the unedifying spectacle of Government ministers resorting to childish name-calling. Their ire was directed at the likes of the National Trust, who had dared to oppose them. The result? The Prime Minister was wheeled out to soothe the furrowed brows of, amongst others, his own rural backbenchers.

This is the big one. An airport in the Thames Estuary would involve the large-scale destruction of a vast area of our natural environment and would be entirely inconsistent with any plans that this Government has for meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

I don't hear the public clamouring for more airports - the "need" is being driven entirely by business interests. This loose alliance of developers and big business may provide the Government with money, but I am really not convinced that they provide it with votes. The Prime Minister would do well to remember this when he listens to Boris Johnson or George Osborne's latest cunning plan to generate short-term, unsustainable growth at any cost.

"Any cost" may mean an environmental cost, a quality of life cost, and a long-term growth cost, but I would argue that it could also mean a political cost to the governing parties in the coalition. It's not as if this option has not been discussed before. The last Government (which did have some daft ideas about a third runway at Heathrow) produced a White Paper which looked at the airport idea and concluded that it would be bad for business, bad for wildlife and bad for air safety. This Government now risks wasting public money in order to reach the same conclusion.

Be in no doubt: if the option of an airport in the Thames Estuary is included in the draft aviation white paper in March, we will fight this one. Not just because we value the landscape and wildife of the Thames Estuary. Not just because we are opposed to increases in airport capacity which would exacerbate climate change . It's because the economic model on which this is based is fundamentally flawed. We are in favour of smart growth, not dumb, destructive growth.

Over the next few days, I will try to share some of the detailed arguments that will need to inform the debate about the Government's stated ambition to retain its status an international aviation hub.  If you care about this agenda and wondering what to do, the first thing you could do is register your view on this online poll. I have a feeling that things may heat up a bit in the run up to the expected March publication of the draft aviation White Paper.

And one final thought - which of you conspiracy theorists out there would make the link between this harebrained airport plan and the Government's anti-enironment rhetoric? Think about it: apart from economics and air strikes, what stands in the way of the airport plan? The habitats regulations, for one thing - it is difficult to see that an airport in the Thames (with so much protected under European law) would pass the test of whether there are no alternative more environmentally benign ways of meeting what I assume will be their stated objective of increasing aviation capacity. Some may say that it was strange that the Government should start vilifying these environmental safeguards in the exact same speech that put airports back on the agenda. Whatever theory you hold, I firmly believe that the coalition Government, if it goes ahead with this plan, will be guilty, once again, of underestimating the public.

Do you agree? 

It would be great to hear your views.

  • Thank you Gill - we are together on this which is just great.  I remain sceptical that they really want to push this through.  Seems like crude electioneering for Boris, but we cannot relax for a moment.

  • Hi Martin

    "I don't hear the public clamouring for more airports - the "need" is being driven entirely by business interests. This loose alliance of developers and big business may provide the Government with money, but I am really not convinced that they provide it with votes. The Prime Minister would do well to remember this when he listens to Boris Johnson or George Osborne's latest cunning plan to generate short-term, unsustainable growth at any cost."

    Totally agree. Do you remember during the No Airport at Cliffe campaign when Alistair Darling stood up in the House of Commons and said that he was well aware of the power of the RSPB and their million members, more members than all the political parties put together. When you take into account the added support against these crazy proposals from the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition that means that 11 million people from all over the country care about the environment and protecting it for future generations - that's a huge amount of the voting public. The Prime Minister should not be under the illusion that this is just a local issue affecting a few constituencies in Kent - it is in fact a national issue and affects the whole of the UK.  If the government goes ahead with one of these crazy estuary airport ideas they would still be fighting to get it through the courts at the time of the next general election and those 11 million people would still be fighting against them too.

    Friends of the North Kent Marshes

  • You are all speaking sense today.  

    Hello and thanks for the note of the petition, Birdie Wild, will have a look.  

    Peter - it is not easy for us to assess our members' footprint and am not sure it is even appropriate for us to ask.  But we have, on a number of occasions, encouraged our members to reduce their carbon footrpint eg through green energy schemes, solar schemes, changing their behaviour and campaigning with us.  I am proud that over 100,000 of our brilliant members have taken a campaign action to tackle climate change over the past few years.

    Sooty - you are right.  Managing demand must be key.  We must move away from predicting growth and then catering for it, irrespective of the consequences.

  • Cannot say I am in favour,surely there are airfields being closed that could be used but also think I doubt your comment about the public are not clamouring for it as if everyone flew half as much surely it would not even have been considered.Personally think the public want things all ways which is unobtainable.

  • I agree with much of this; it was the public and not the career driven conservation NGO's that defeated the Forest and NNR Sell Off. RSPB Mark Avery was talking of "state forest farms", National, Woodland and Wildlife Trusts were negotiating the financial terms of forest and NNR handovers before the scale of outcry forced these "charities" to act.

    Jonathan Porrit Labour's Baroness Royall and HOOF of the Forest of Dean deserve great credit here NB Speech House meeting 4 Jan 2011.

    I know the Medway area quite well having sailed on Thames Sailing Barge Ironsides which regularly refitted at Hoo marina, Medway. I sailed past the SSSI in question and its sunken wartime ammo ship on many occasion. Its a beautiful derelict sort of a place; resonant of the salt marshes of Great Expectations etc; full of waders and once with a particularly strong hangover; I saw here two flamingoes of different species ! Surreal hallucination !

    An airport is a nonsense.

    The question I have is with regard to sea level rise and how given the tidal surges that affect the North Sea from time to time will London be defended from the sea ? Now my view remains that a new and bigger barrage is the only option and this must be commenced soon; it should be generating electricity which as I have previously stated (I'm not sure where this fact came from) that CO2 "write off" on the Severn Barrage is 9 months; equivalent to a wind turbine.

    I have checked the times of high tides at Weston (0300 and 1500 hrs) and the Medway/ Sheerness is 0900/2100 . This means that the central question with regard to continuity of supply re tidal would be overcome by two barrages Thames and Severn and would move us to over 10% of current demand; providing a steady baseline of supply.

    As I have said before I consider that until the RSPB can come up with serious figures re the carbon consumption of its membership, which I believe to be at the high middle class end, its posturing on these matters lacks weight. I regret that. We are now well past the 360ppm CO2 tipping point; sea level rise will be inexorable and once our oil reserves are wasted we will be energy poor with colossal debts from the post 1980 property boom and linked industrial decline. Energy independance is core and these flats will be largely lost to sea level rise anyway. The future is bleak ecologically.