Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Blogsclusive: Carbon Gargling Billionaire "Sell Me the Airport" (and Cook the Planet, and the Goose)

Billionaire John Whittaker - owner of Peel Holdings which in turn owns lots of gas gazzling orientated businesses - has suggested today that Manchester drop plans for a targeted congestion charge but improve public transport instead by selling off the mightiest resource the region has.

And you'll never guess what? He's prepared to take it off the people's hands. For £3 Billion he says, which matches the possible package from the government. But, he says his "Billionaire Pounds" are better at leveraging in other investment than "Government Pounds". We're not sure where that idea comes from. But we do think Mr Whittaker has a vested interest in keeping our city and in particularly our ring road choked with cars.

What can this Billionaire be thinking of?

Let's see. Peel Holdings own the very out of town Trafford Centre just INSIDE the M60. This already contributes to car use with free car parking for thousands of cars. In fact it tends to clog up not one but TWO junctions at busy times. Congestion charges could reduce custom, hit rents, and hit the bottom line.

Let's see two. Peel Holdings know what an asset the Manchester Airport Group is. This is not a favour. This is a sharp and predatory business deal trying to use fears about congestion charging (coming in say 2012) to snatch a prize group of businesses with some prize land holdings. Naturally the airport is also a real road journeys generator at the moment.

Let's see three. I believe Peel Holdings own Liverpool Airport (among others), and indeed many assets at that end of the Ship Canal and along the MOTORWAY corridor between, and if the business mood took them or the low cost flight market was on the rack say, they could close one of the two, wreaking economic havoc. Or they could use Monopoly power in the region to hike costs.

Let's see four. Peel Holdings land along the Manchester Ship Canal includes The Barton Aerodrome and enough land around this landing strip for a perfectly formed City Airport.

Peel Holdings were behind a recent poll of 1000 businesses. With a majority of them not backing the congestion charge proposals. Though it did not feature the other side of the coin - the investment in transport.

I'd go further. That poll should be seen as a busted flush. There was no weighting between different types and sizes of businesses. So an owner manager with no staff had the same impact on the result as a massive business.

In contrast a large group of the more important Manchester investors, businesses and landholders signed a letter which thoroughly supported congestion charges as a way forward that was good for business.

Manchester benefits from a vibrant partnership with business. But is there anyone - apart from a Billionaire wheeler dealer - seriously suggesting that Peel Holdings should decide what's best for Manchester and the region?

Clearly as a company specializing in transport infrastructure, out of town shopping and industrial estates, as well as a certain amount of residential and office development for car lovers Peel Holdings may be seen as having a vested interest in keeping the carbon belching.

Manchester Airport Group is owned by the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester. Manchester has the lions share and the other nine authorities own 5% each. Each Council has been sent a letter outlining Whittaker's plans. It begins: "Come into my parlour says the spider to the fly".

Even the most cash strapped and venal Tory and Lib Dem controlled authorities will surely realise that the appreciation in the value of the airport and its contribution to their stability mean that this is a no brainer: "Airports Not For Sale".

We do recall with some trepidation the Bristol Lib Dems' plan to sell off the people's airport there. It was eventually sold. But for around ten times the price the hapless chumps in the Lib Dems had agreed.

Anyway, LOL wonder how Mr Cameron's Husky Hugging Cuddly Nu Tories will feel about someone who clearly identifies with an old school slash and burn, cars are good, bugger the planet kind of Conservatism being on their side?

Let's see now. Should Manchester kill this Golden Goose? More anon.


Stephen Newton said...

Pricing poorer people off the road should be avoided if it can be. A far more sensible solution (and one David Miliband was looking into before becoming Foreign Secretary) is personal tradeable carbon allowances. This would make money for light car users.

To be fair to Peel, Whitacker doesn't say he'd like to buy the airport himself.

I'm not convinced selling the airport to improve public transport (so long as that's what actually happened and it was capital investment) is a bad idea in principle.

Tom said...

Poorer people take advantage of and back investment in public transport.

I know.

I'm about as poor as it gets.

That's not to say that we shouldn't pull off Milibands idea as well.

Chris Paul said...

I'm told that Whittaker's letter to Councils DOES say he wants to buy these airports.

The congestion charges could be avoided in various ways and because of that they would change behaviour and make things better in terms of air quality and journey time.

I can walk, cycle or run with less traffic to kill me or slow me down.

I can buy a very green vehicle - likely to enjoy some favours from the system.

I can car share and charge share - or perhaps again get encouraging exemptions.

I can work from 10 am to 6pm, enjoy an hour in our sweet green regional centre and then motor home FoC.

I can enjoy various means of public transport - and look forward to innovations like car clubs, jeepneys (cf Belfast taxis), tricycles to extend the PT network to door to door and create employment.

Whittaker obviously has huge business interests in stopping the congestion charging. He is a money motivated Tory rather than some kind of altruistic advisor thinking of our interests.

I don't know why the MEN have donated him 2 or 3 pages of today's paper to make his pitch.

Sell the airport - welcome an eternity of regret as its value soars along with its revenue stream.

Stephen Newton said...

I don’t want to be mean to Tom, but law student poverty is rather different to that experienced by the working class. I lived in a cold graffiti strewn tower block on Salford precinct with peeling wall paper, shit in the lifts and great views of scallies bricking fire fighters in the summer. And I loved it because it was cheap and I had a large room.

If I’d thought that was going to be my life, my mental state would have been rather different.

Tom’s probably right that ‘Poorer people take advantage of and back investment in public transport’, but then they don’t have much choice. The congestion charge will limit their choice further. The well-off are also likely to appreciate initiatives that take poorer people off the road.

Chris Paul said...

I still don't agree Stephen. There are many ways to avoid the targeted charges. Those that cannot avoid and are appallingly low paid will have to be boosted to a living wage or paid specific allowances for crossing toll lines.

The answer to poverty is not to not tackle congestion, carbon waste and car-ism it is to tackle the poverty. Living wage and transport subsidies for a start.

Why is it for example that "poor" people like students, scholars and pensioners get concessions and in the latter case freebies whereas those on benefits or very low wages do not?

There are ways round the poverty other than sacking the congestion charges.