A blog written for Comment is Free about the UK government’s decision to give the go-ahead to Stansted airport’s expansion plans…

Invest in spade manufacturers. That’s my hot tip for those of you looking for a punt during these uncertain times. For this is surely a wonderful time to be burying bad news.

There was certainly something of the Jo Moore’s about today’s announcement by Geoff Hoon, the fresh-off-the-carousel transport secretary, that Stansted airport is to be given the go-ahead to expand its passenger capacity. Would he have dared do so at any other time given that it was just 72 hours ago that the government’s committee on climate change, chaired by Lord Turner (some week he’s having what with his other job at the FSA), said that the UK’s carbon reduction target for 2050 should be raised from 60% to 80% and include shipping and aviation?

Airport expansion seems to make about as much sense this week as looking for good savings deals in Iceland. Even if you put climate change concerns aside – a near-impossible ask when it comes to airports, I admit – then airport expansion still seems to be a dud. With airlines going out of business by the week due to high fuel costs, and consumers pulling up the drawbridge on their spending (which, presumably, will curtail the urge to pop to Europe by plane for the weekend), the growth predictions made by the aviation industry – and lapped up by the present government – now seem to be more than a little wide of the mark. The current economic situation is actually presenting the government with the perfect opportunity to gracefully retreat from its unpopular and unwise airport expansion plans – and yet it pushes on like Douglas Haig at the Somme. The plans for Stansted and Heathrow’s third runway should really be dead in the water by now – for example, how and with whom is BAA now going to raise the funds for these projects? – but still they refuse to whither. I wonder if Ed Miliband, as the new secretary of state for climate change and energy, was even involved in the decision. To be honest, it tells us much about the government’s true convictions on climate change whether he was or he wasn’t involved.

My bet is that the third runway at Heathrow really must now be a lost cause for its ever-dwindling number of supporters. The tide has now almost fully turned against it – the politics, the economics, the environment. Stansted’s expansion is very different because it doesn’t require new asphalt to be laid, just an increase in the number of flights using its current runway. But never content, its owner BAA still pushes on with its predict-and-provide pleas for a second runway. If any good is to come out of the turbulence of recent weeks it will be that such plans will now have to make an urgent forced landing.

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