What’s behind it?

It’ll be a while, no doubt, before the Treasury Minister, Chloe Smith replies to my MP, Louise Mensch, to tell me the basis of the Chancellor‘s decision to review the Habitat Regulations that he announced, with (it seemed to me) a certain degree of vindictive delight, in his Autumn Statement.

At the moment I can only guess.  Might it be linked to his announcement in the same Autumn Statement that the government would look at all options for another London airport – saving only a third runway at Heathrow?  Is the Chancellor’s heart set on an airport in the Thames Estuary and has he  noticed that this might rub up against the Outer Thames Estuary SPA,  the Thames Estuary and Marshes SPA, The Essex Estuaries SAC or the Margate and Long Sands SAC?

And I see that it hasn’t taken long for another consortium to be expressing interest in the Severn Barrage where it is claimed that government Ministers are in talks with a consortium interested in this project.  The cost of the barrage seems to have doubled in the last few years to £34bn.  The Severn Estuary is an SPA and SAC and the Rivers Wye and Usk are SACs too.

Is it just a coincidence that government is interested in large expensive infrastructure projects in places where nature is currently protected and is at the same time talking of reviewing the ways by which that protection is implemented?  Surely it must be a coincidence – what other explanation is there?

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15 Replies to “What’s behind it?”

  1. Given that a goose going through a jet engine generally has catastrophic results, one has to suppose that any airport in the Thames would entail not just the loss of the habitat occupied by the airport itself but also necessitate the creation of huge bird-free zones all around it. We need those SPAs and SACs to be defended tooth and nail and any back door attempt to water down the legislation they are based should be equally strongly resisted.
    Aside from any wildlife impacts, my understanding is that proposals to erect wind tubines anyhere near an airport are usually rejected because of the interference impact they would have on the radar. The outer Thames estuary already has large numbers of large wind turbines so would these not make it an unsuitable site for an airport anyway?

  2. Some of you will not be aware of the presence of the Eddie Stobbart Group in the area namely Southend Airport. The idea is to develop this airport as an alternative to the London ones. Bought cheaply not only will haulage use it but passenger also. The link to London will be improved and hay presto no Thames airport.

  3. Mark & Jonathan (and others)

    The proposed Thames Estuary Airport or 'Boris Island Airport' as the media have labelled it, would, in my opinion, be a non-starter, or to be more accurate, a non-finisher.

    Mark, you are correct in stating the list of English SPAs and SACs; but given the strategic importance (in the biodiversity sense) of the Thames Estuary, consideration of any development of the scale that is being discussed would in all likelihood, have to take in to account the French, Belgian and Dutch equivalents and possibly others (see http://www.natura.org/national_links.html to locate each EU Member State's home page). But also, where would the 1000s of people who would live during the construction and operational phase be housed? Kent and Essex presumably? Which then begs the question, where would the housing be built and what effect would this have on terrestrial protected sites (SSSIs as well as SPAs and SACs)? The considerations would have a wider footprint than the marine and tidal environment.

    The relevant EU Directives require that there is no net loss for a given habitat. I would assume that the same principle would apply for the network's ecological integrity (as well as a physical integrity). In other words, a development in one country cannot result in a loss in another. So the development would, if all other protection fails, have to compensate for the loss. How would you compensate for the loss of parts of the Thames Estuary (in the wider sense - i.e. not just mudflats)? I don't know off-hand whether there has been any EU case-law dealing with this specific issue but there could well be. There is certainly EU case-law dealing with SPA and SAC protection. I wrote a specific blog on this subject (http://wp.me/1sWWx), which you and your readers may find of interest.

    As to the coincidences alluded to. Boris is keen to 'deal' with the long-standing issue of noise pollution and other associated environmental disbenefits on the residents near Heathrow. And are Conservative voters are more likely to be present to the west of London than the east? Solving this problem and shifting our busiest airport well away from a core vote would be immensely beneficial to his political objectives...which reportedly extends beyond the M25. I also suspect that George Osborne is looking to move house, but remain in the same street. Delivering a massive construction project would have positive political benefits for him too.

    This, along with the NPPF will continue to be debated for sure during the first quarter of 2012. Budget 2012 when all this is scheduled to be formally reported will be an interesting date - March 21st: mark it in your diary!


  4. Aside from the significant conservation arguments, is the Thames Estuary the most sensible place to develop a major transport infrastruture project? Is this area not one of the most vulnerable parts of the UK in terms of future climate/extreme weather impacts? Even if its construction is feasible, and the design is as resilient as it can be, should we still continue relentlessly to focus all economic development on London and the south east?

  5. Any attempt to water down our wildlife protection can only be viewed with deep suspicion. The treasury appears to be blaming the natural world for our economic woes. To even contemplate changing our laws to allow inappropriate development in places so important for wildlife is beyond belief. The EU Bird and Habitat Directives are in place to protect our world class natural heritage and we must not sit idly by and allow this protection to be eroded it would be an ecological catastrophe!
    Our estuaries are important on a global scale, our government has a duty to protect them and must continue to do so.
    We await the reply to your letter with bated breath.
    No estuary airport!!!
    Friends of the North Kent Marshes
    Conservation and Communities United

  6. It seems to me that historically the decision not to build at Cliffe or anywhere in the estuary never not been taken on the grounds of environmental damage to globally important habitats but under the smoke screen of cost. The proposals to water down the habitats directive could indicate the possibility of an attempt to take on the environmental movement. The directives must be defended at all cost!

  7. The economy is stagnating, the price of fuel is only going to increase and their are no credible alternatives to kerosene. In the medium- long term is there going to be the demand?

    1. Cowboy - you get my vote for Chancellor, but who said that politicians take the medium- to long-term view?


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