Heathrow – the scramble for investment hots up

As Nicole Foss of The Automatic Earth  frequently points out, finance will be the first of  three big crises to really start to bite around the world (the other two being peak oil and climate change of course).

Pools of investment capital are steadily getting shallower. As they do, the fights over who gets the lion’s share become fiercer.

Here in the UK, the post-crash game of ‘Capital Fight’ is crystallising around plans for a third runway for Heathrow airport.

BAA, the airport’s operator, and the consortia of infrastructure-building interests are desperate for government to give the go-ahead. And they bandy plenty of bollocks about to try to support their case.

BAA claim that transfer passengers contribute an average of £500 each to the UK economy as they pass briefly through Heathrow’s hallowed arrival and departure gates.

But since many of those passengers transfer to flights to non-UK destinations, those who do go on to domestic flights must be spending a helluva lot per head while they’re here.

Time is running out for the pro-expansion lobby. It won’t be long before it’s clear to everyone that the runway’s economic usefulness will probably be over before it’s even finished.

Mass aviation is dying in by inch as airlines fail and passenger numbers stall in the face of high fuel costs and stagnating incomes.

Not that that matters a jot to the expansionists. BAA needs to show investment to stay in the hub game against the likes of Schipol or Frankfurt over the next critical few years before the game is up. The banks and infrastructure consortia, as always, are only concerned with the money to be made from building the new facilities. Who cares what happens to them afterwards?

If you can’t believe that banks and builders would pour all that capital into a massive white elephant then you should read James Howard Kunstler’s chapters on mall-building in The Long Emergency and The Geography of Nowhere.  Once there was a way for backers to make oodles of dosh while ensuring they weren’t left holding the baby when the malls failed years later.

Now, not so much. The Heathrow expansion lobby is competing for scarce capital against genuinely important investments in UK energy infrastructure, food security and non-road transportation (not including the sexy but not-exactly-vital high speed rail line from London to Birmingham).

Moreover, UK taxpayers now know that they’ll be on the hook, via their ‘ownership’ of the TBTF banks’ liabilities (though mysteriously never the profits), for any Government-sanctioned projects that turn out to be dead ducks in the long term.

Will voters in the West, Midlands and North be happy if their lights start flickering on and off just as politicians, playboys, pop stars and fat cats – soon to constitute much of the constituency of the still-flying – get to enjoy sauntering through the wide open spaces of Heathrow+1 on their way to Jersey or Zurich?

Do politicians care? Tim ‘About Turn’ Yeo MP doesn’t seem to. On the grounds that jets are a bit quieter these days, and that emissions aren’t a problem because EU carbon caps will make fuel even more crushingly unaffordable for airlines,  he’s performed a timely abandonment of his opposition to expansion and challenged his boss to be a man not a mouse and back it too.

To QuadRanting, that looks like the ultimate in short-termism and running scared of the Tory DailyGuff – arch backer of a narrow spectrum of City and construction sector interests.

Why now? Only the expansionist lobby knows. The delicious thing is that the “man or mouse” call coincided with the Essex Lion Fiasco, ensuring that Yeo has had to endure a barrage of animal related gags and catcalls (naturally) from all sides.

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