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Monday, August 18, 2014

Gloucestershire Airport again - it gives no pleasure to be proven correct

Email sent to all councilors in Gloucester and Cheltenham after the announcement of the Airports losses:

Dear Councillors, 

I read the recent article in the Gloucester Echo "Leaked report shows Gloucestershire Airport is in need of substantial reform" with a certain sadness. 

It caused me to reflect on the actions that were taken by myself and hundreds of local residents to stop this appalling waste of public money and the arguments that we presented in vain to penetrate the fabrications that were being used by the supporters of this initiative:

 The primary objective of the development was to increase the length of the runway and install instrument landing. The estimated cost of this was £2million. The business plan that backed this up was based on expanding private jet use, as well as some scheduled service. This was its first lie, it was presented to the public as a runway safety project. It was no such thing. The result of the project was that fully laden private jets would be taking off over residential areas, which is the most dangerous aviation operations possible. We asked for a quantified safety case but rather unsurprisingly they did not have one, did not intend to do one, and probably had no idea how to do one anyway.

As well as safety, I protested against it on the basis of the increased CO2 emissions especially when it was going to be so much from so few and at a time when everyone else was about to be burdened with increased energy costs to keep CO2 down.  It quickly became apparent that the budget was massively under estimated nor could the airport make enough money to cover the cost of the loan.  

The money was to come from the public works board. This was quite possibly illegal. The public works funds are specifically for public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and roads. The council argued that the because the airport was owned by them they could use this without violating either the regulations around these or EU regulations on state support. They were on extremely tenuous grounds. 

The result was that the airport got the loan at a very preferential rate and the risk of default would be borne by the tax payer. If they were to go to a commercial bank, interest rates at the time were initially too high, and then in light of the banking crisis of 2008 when interest rates fell, the business case was so weak that no bank would ever have lent on its basis. From the accounts I had calculated that the payback period on a best case scenario would be 25 years, with the most likely taking 45 years. 

We also held a protest camp at the end of the airport one weekend. Over one hundred local residents came through the course of the weekend to register their concerns and learn about climate change, aviation expansion amongst other issues at workshops. David Drew MP of Stroud came to support it. Only one councilor from Gloucester and Cheltenham came. 

We had also made the point at many council meetings about the weakness of the accounts and the already near bankruptcy of the airport. So the airport and council got in York Aviation to review the business case, who said that the business case was good and everything was in order. Strange now that York criticizes the strategic management, but it just goes to show that give a management consultant some money and they will say what ever you need. 

To counter the thrust of my climate change arguments that I was pushing, the airport's management demonstrated their total lack of strategic planning that they are now being criticised for by  producing a report saying that climate change was a fabrication that scientists were making to gain research funds. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!!

Fortunately for the airport, virtually everybody on both councils were either inept or mired in vested interests. At a Cheltenham council meeting one of the Conservative Councillors who had not even bothered to read the airports accounts displayed her ignorance of almost everything when she said that the profits from the airport would allow council taxes to go down. She was totally unable to understand that if the airport could not pay the loan then the council taxes would have to go up at the worst possible time. 

Eventually after much protesting the airport conceded that climate change was a reality and they produced a green management plan which set a "ceiling on carbon emissions" and this was to be part of the planning consent to Tewksbury. At the same time they produced their business plan, which outlined all the new services that they were expecting. Simple arithmetic showed that the flights planned in the business plan would exceed by far the carbon ceiling in the green management plan and to comply all existing operations would need to cease. So either the green plan or the business case was deliberately flawed.

I prepared a report regarding this and sent it to the Gloucestershire Echo, the editor said that he would not publish it because he did not want to rock the boat. My report concluded that either the airport would exceed by far the number of flights needed or the tax payer would have to bail the project out.  Instead a the Echo reported Mark Ryan, the Managing Director of the Airport, saying that not one penny of tax payer's money would go to the airport. The reporter that did the article resigned and I complained to the press complaints commission, who did nothing.

When it finally came to the council for approval, I asked what happens if the carbon ceiling is exceeded and if the airport could confirm it would ground planes in accordance with the ceiling.  I was told that "it was not that kind of ceiling and good management would ensure that the ceiling was not breached." What kind of idiot do they take us for? I was then shouted down by the rest of the councilors and the police who were on standby to evict me from the council chambers started doing all their police things. It had become heated by this stage!

To sooth the passage of the business case, the airport management told that the council they had taken climate change seriously and had installed solar panels to keep their carbon footprint down. These were the garden lighting systems that you can buy from hardware stores to light your paths and the airport was using these to illuminate the welcome sign! We took them, held them to ransom, making it clear they could have them back when they confirmed that planes would be grounded if the ceiling was breached. (see here). For this,  my house was raided by the police at 4:oo am and I was arrested on theft and conspiracy to steal. It was probably something to do with the chair of the Gloucester Police Authority being a rabid supporter of the airport, (see here)

So I responded, and pressed charges against the airport and council for fraud, which the police refused to uphold.

I could go on, and on, and on about this saga. But you probably get the idea. In summary, the  business case was a joke, the press did not hold the councilors to account, the airport should never be in council ownership where the council tax payer is bled to keep afloat a business that only serves the richest people in this area and while the council tax payers are being bled they have low flying jets going over them degrading their environment and placing them at increased risk of accident. 

So the upshot now is that the council must decide whenever to continue bailing out the airport knowing that this is probably going to be even less likely to yield a return on investment than the first one given that climate change is now moving faster than almost everyone's worst nightmares, or they must accept the loss of the first investment. The only other alternative to these losses is to open up a criminal prosecution against those that deliberately mislead the council with the fraudulent business case to see if anything can be recovered that way.

It gives no pleasure to be proven correct and to have it once again demonstrated that the lunatics are running the asylum.