The single most exciting thing you encounter in government is competence, because it's so rare.
Daniel P. Moynihan
Sadly, for rational decision making, Senator Moynihan was not entirely right – at least with regard the present (2003) British Government. They are extremely competent at burying the truth under a mountain of "reports" and "studies" – and their officers' command of well-chosen obfuscation is unmatched.
Yet the Devil is in the details…
LOX (London Oxford Aiport) is a proposal for a new 4 runway airport in the Vale of the White Horse, Oxfordshire. Advanced in the recent Transport White Paper consultation as the "Best Practicable Environmental Option" to the impending crisis in airport capacity in the South East Region of the United Kingdom, it conflicted with an entrenched 40 year-old Civil Service objective [note 1], the promotion of Stansted as the Third London airport.
Following the South East and East of England Regional Air Service Study (SERAS) and the publication of the White Paper (The Future of Air Transport, December 2003 [note 2]) – a masterpiece of Whitehall weasel-worded obfuscation – Stansted Airport is set to become the third London airport. In the process the "Best Practicable Environmental Option", the LOX Project, was quietly strangled in the dark corridors of Whitehall, under the slumbering gaze of a press seemingly obsessed with the antics of 'harlots and varlets'. [note 3]
The Secretary of State for Transport is well aware that the runway capacity provided by the two proposed runways, at Stansted and Heathrow, is far below the projected long-term capacity shortfall See: Figure 1. A tacit long-term aim of the Air Transport White Paper may have been to prepare the way for secure options for future runways, in the manner of the patient strategy for Stansted.
Thus the path has been cleared for 6 new runways in the South East:
Objections may be raised to the depiction of the actions of the Government as covert and cynical, however both the previous record and present facts support this view.
Present value (3.5% discount rate):
To serve as a hub airport for Great Britain, rather than merely the South East region, the new airport is sited outside of the transportation 'shadow' cast by Greater London, with good motorway and rail links to central London, the Midlands, Northern England and the South West. Its close proximity to the area of "Managed Growth", the so-called economic "Golden triangle", to the west of Heathrow airport seeks to 'reinforce success' by augmenting the economic potential of this sub-region and thereby assisting in the maintenance of the Capital's status as a global centre.
The location of LOX to the west of the NATS London Terminal Manoeuvring Area also ensures that trans-atlantic and trans-polar flights would avoid many of the constrictions imposed by capacity limitations in the LTMA.
The combined environmental impacts of the project are assessed as significantly lower than any of the proposed options presented in Department for Transport's "The Future Development of Air Transport in the United Kingdom: South East: A National Consultation". Department for Transport. London, July 2002.
A strategic objective of the proposal is to disperse development away from the London metropolitan conurbation and its immediate 'fringe', whilst reinforcing the M4/M40 area of emerging economic growth. The proposal is to locate this major strategic development so as to extend its effects into the United Kingdom. It is not focused primarily on the de facto extension of the capital conurbation, in contrast to the objectives of the Thames Gateway strategy.
The comparatively low costs of the initial phases and the ability to ensure that growth could be closely and economically matched to demand would significantly reduce the risk that the project would require Public Sector financial support.
Report of the Inter-departmental Committee on the The Third London Aiport, CAP 199, 1963: Stansted recommended as the third London Airport.
The origins of Stansted Airport have more than a little of "Yes, Minster"† about them.
Originally an American airbase during the World War II, the USAF relinquished Stansted to the Air Ministry in 1946. In 1949 the Ministry of Civil Aviation took control to "develop Stansted Airport in Essex… for diversions from London (Heathrow)". In spite of this, in 1956, the USAF re-acquired Stansted and immediately constructed a new high capacity runway. But the base never became operational and in 1957 USAF relinquished Stansted to the Ministry of Transport. Thus the British acquired a valuable and much sought-after asset at no cost, how convenient for the aspirations of a capital-starved 'austerity' Civil Service! How and why the Government released such a jealously protected asset to foreign control and the reasons for the subsequent profligacy of the USAF have never been revealed – perhaps a war-time buddy called in a favour? Now a secure project, Stansted was nutured by the Inter-departmental Committee on The Third London Aiport. This shadowy group of civil servants and government appointees published a 1963 Report recommending Stansted as the third London Airport.
The first intimation that a politician was aware of the Civil Service's entrenched policy on Stansted Airport was voiced in a Parliamentary debate on the 1967 White Paper: The Third London Airport, in which Stansted was advanced as the third London airport:
"It is quite clear, looking back, that at least from 1953 onwards the assumption was consistently made that Stansted would be the third London Airport. That assumption helped to determine the routing of air traffic, including military traffic… and also helped to determine the distribution of military airfields and other installations."
Anthony Greenwood, Minister of Housing and Local Government (1967).
Such perspicacity in politicians, always rare, is now seems to be extinct. Ministers may come and go – British Transport Ministers are particularly ephemeral – but the policies of the Civil Service endure forever! In fact, the 'assumption' was a decision and was made a little earlier, in 1949. It was made entirely without democratic scrutiny – indeed it has never been investigated!
† A BBC Television comedy series from the 1980's which satirized the Civil Service and ministerial government. Digby Jones, the Director of the Confederation of British Industries (CBI), recommends we view the series as a Civil service "training film".
Recommended reading: David McKie (1973). A sadly mismanaged affair, London, Croom Helm. ISBN 0 85664 096 4.
The Best Practicable Environmental Option, 12th report of The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1988). (Cm 310, ISBN 0 10 103102 5).
The implications and benefits of the LOX Project are discussed in a reference publication on integrated transport:—
Christopher J Blow (2005). Transport Terminals and Modal Interchanges, London, Architectural Press – Elsevier.
The LOX project is included in a free sample chapter from the book.
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But as to my self, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal... After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion as to reject any offer proposed by wise men...
A Modest Proposal. Jonathan Swift.
But I shall let the little I have learnt go forth into the day in order that someone better than I may guess the truth, and in his work may prove and rebuke my error. At this I shall rejoice that I was yet a means whereby this truth has come to light.