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Hawk? Handsaw? Who knows?

Saturday 1 December 2012

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Hawk? Handsaw? Who knows?

I do like living in France. Adopting the mental pose of a curious anthropologist studying in wonderment the hidden codes of the natives is a remarkable aid to sanity. When things don’t seem to be going my way, I relax and content myself with noting the difference in our assumptions. Culture is, after all, just a convention of shared madnesses. Vive la difference! But this relaxed attitude slips a little when I contemplate the issue of the proposed airport at Notre-Dame des Landes near Nantes. To recap: there is already a prize-winning airport 8k south-west of the city (and 500m from a tram terminus). Currently serving 3 million passengers/year, it is nowhere near its maximum capacity, which is estimated to be 7 million passengers/year. Airbus has a plant next to the existing airport that employs 2000 people, relies on its runway for deliveries, and has stated it does NOT want the move. The alleged "public utility" study for the compulsory purchase of the land was flawed. The rail link to the proposed airport from Nantes was counted as a benefit of the scheme, but its cost was not counted, as revealed by the independent CE Delft 2011 study. The IMF calculates that the price of oil will double in the next 10 years. 34% of the cost of an air ticket is the fuel costs. Low cost air travel is about to become a thing of the past. Wild air industry claims for traffic growth are simple lies. Air travel, and especially short-haul air travel generates twenty-nine times more carbon emissions/kilometre than rail. Nantes-London is already possible in less than five hours by TGV. You can get a TGV direct to Charles De Gaulle airport from Nantes if you simply must fly long-haul. The deal with the multinational corporation Vinci hands them a €250m. public subsidy—then gives them exclusive operating rights for 55 years: a public-private partnership of the most craven kind. So while the mainstream media here would like portray the opposition to the airport as violent anarchists and tree-huggers, in fact there is every reason to oppose the airport across the entire political spectrum, for the most conservative of reasons. In short: we don’t want to buy a white elephant, while destroying a rather green and pleasant part of France in the process. The environmental arguments against the airport are well-rehearsed. In particular it should be noted that the wetlands at the site serve to replenish the aquifers on which all Nantes residents depend for drinking and bathing. That the study of this vital issue should be fixed to give the right answer by the powers-that-be is beyond contemptible. Whenever you see local government proposals that fly in the face of reason, as this monstrous proposal so evidently does, it is necessary to look behind the stated positions of all the players and analyse the actual reasons for their actions. Local government is all about maximising land values. The prevailing wind in Nantes is from the west, which means that flights landing at the existing airport at Bougenais usually pass over south-central Nantes. Noise levels in such parts of town are such that residential development in this zone is inhibited. As anyone brought up watching Scooby-Doo knows, evil property developers are always behind any supernatural phenomena. It is probably the case here as well. Doubtless, large sums of money have been staked on the change of land use, both to the south of Nantes and around Notre-Dame Des Landes. If I were a French airport protester, I’d be doing a little Qui bono? detective work with the land registries and the family holdings of the players involved. I have also heard various theories that the new proposed airport is so vast because it is being secretly conceived as a massive airplane park in the event of some global crisis. This seems somewhat far-fetched: there are lots of places drier and warmer than Nantes in winter to store rustable technology. Nor do I agree that there is any sort of military imperative to building Bagram 2 north of the Loire to dominate the north west of France. Aircraft couldn’t care less if the Loire is in the way of anything! As for the safety argument—that it is not safe to have planes overflying the city—which, inbelievably, is used by the proponents of the airport here as a serious element in their propaganda, well, it’s ludicrous. The aviation industry is rightly proud of its safety record: it has to be, because if crashes were not vanishingly rare, no-one would buy a ticket, so no-one would be paying to fly. And as a former resident of London, over which planes destined for Heathrow pass every sixty seconds from 0600h to 2300h every day of the week; well, frankly, it is pitiful. Whether there is any truth in the story that air traffic controllers are being told to route traffic over the city centre to bolster the case for the new airport, I do not know. It would be beyond all reason if true. Certainly the pilots do not agree that the current airport is particularly dangerous. The arguments about job creation are also false: any airport jobs in the region already exist. Moving them across town doesn’t increase their number: that would require increased traffic, and as we have already seen, the growth of the past cannot continue. Some jobs may even be lost if Airbus decide to cut their losses and consolidate their operations elsewhere, as they could easily do in Toulouse and St. Nazaire. If you want to spread a half a billion euro public subsidy around the construction industry, spend it on improving the energy efficiency of homes and businesses, which would create a lot more jobs, and make everyone better off in the long run. It is true that where you see dairy farming you see agriculture in the doldrums, at the nadir of imagination of food production, but it is the time-honoured tradition in these parts, and I’m the last man to ask for a reduction in his cheese ration. But if there is a glut of dairy produce, this is an argument for supporting imaginative small producers, not 2000 hectares of new concrete. The occupiers at Notre-Dame des Landes have already shown the way on this with minimal investment. Imagine the beautiful and diverse rural landscape that could be created with only the tiniest sliver of the money the taxpayer is currently committed to giving Vinci. I have some sympathy for the poor policemen who are being asked to do the dirty job of kicking out the occupiers, the foot soldiers for the corrupt corporate interests outlined above. They must examine their consciences. Honorable servants of law and order in the republic must surely satisfy themselves that justice has been done in the most rational and impartial manner, and in the interests of the people—so how they can execute this duty with satisfaction, having made even the most cursory scrutiny of the issues I do not know. Surely instead they should be calling their anti-corruption colleagues to investigate?