Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The £1.5bn freeze: As travel chaos continues, the country counts economic cost




Cars on the A413 road near Amersham in Buckinghamshire first thing this morning

The economy has suffered a £1.5billion ‘big freeze’ shock from travel chaos, lost production and savaged High Street sales.

The cost is 50 per cent higher than a normal winter and has prompted a string of cut-price offers from shops desperate to lure back lost Christmas trade.

Yesterday the freezing weather meant tens of thousands of airline passengers remained stranded at major airports, with many huddled in tents outside Heathrow’s terminal buildings.

Snow gathers on canal boats moored along the frozen Kennet and Avon Canal in Bath

But Heathrow bosses snubbed an offer from transport secretary Philip Hammond to use troops to help clear snow and ice which has crippled a runway since the weekend.

He said the airport’s Spanish-owned operator BAA told him they already had the manpower they needed.

It also emerged that the airport has slashed its snow defence budget by two-thirds to £500,000, compared with Gatwick’s £8million investment.

Passengers queue for Eurostar as a train leaves at St Pancras station today. Anyone without a ticket was told 'not to bother' turning up

The £1.5billion lost to the economy would buy 9,247,842 grit bins or 75,000 snow ploughs.

Hundreds of supermarkets and shopping malls will open late today and tomorrow as shoppers try to catch up.

Not just Britain: Ireland is suffering from freezing conditions too as this picture taken in Dublin shows

Heathrow’s second runway was finally cleared last night, but the number flights leaving will remain far lower than scheduled until at least early tomorrow morning.

There were also flight disruptions at Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as Gatwick, London Luton and London City airports yesterday.

Meanwhile, about 200 passengers were evacuated from stricken trains following damage to overhead power lines at Huntingdon near Peterborough. Eurostar was operating a reduced service with the company asking customers not to travel unless essential.

Crash: A Waitrose lorry struck a farmhouse in Newton Poppleford, East Devon, after skidding on ice

Frozen poet: Frost clings to the cobweb-covered statue of Lord Alfred Tennyson at Lincoln Cathedral

A swan struggles to break free of the ice on a frozen lake at the Fairburn Ings Bird Sanctuary near Castleford

Snow angel: Photographer Alison Parsons-Smith captured this heavenly image on the Isle of Wight

Not all bad: A baby elephant enjoys a frolic in the snow at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire

Enough now: The youngster is led back to the warmth of an indoor enclosure by adult elephants at the zoo

National scandal: Despite Heathrow's importance to the UK economy, the government is powerless to intervene because of its foreign ownership

It will have hardly helped his cause that the Chancellor was held up in New York – unable to return to London – for nearly two days while pictures of the Third World conditions at London’s premier airport (which ironically boasts a ‘world class service’) filled American television screens.

This was as far as it is possible to get from the image of the efficient, modern, bustling commercial centre that the Chancellor was seeking to promote.

But who is to blame? Step forward the dopey, inefficient BAA (the former British Airports Authority) who own Heathrow.

The real scandal is that despite Heathrow’s economic and strategic importance to Britain, the Government is virtually powerless to do anything because the Authority is owned by a foreign company.

Powerless: While in other countries there has been investment ministers have been unable to get BAA to buy adequate snow-clearing and de-icing equipment

And it is a scandal that goes back to 2006, when the Labour government stood idly by while a little-known, family-controlled Spanish construction group called Ferrovial was allowed to buy all of Britain’s airports at the knockdown price of £10.3billion.

What’s more, the purchase was made despite the firm already having huge debts.

This was just the latest squalid example of a British government selling key parts of this country’s infrastructure to foreign buyers. For example, control of our ports passed from one of the nation’s great historic companies, P&O, into the hands of Dubai World; and most of our power utilities have been sold to continental giants EDF of France and E.ON of Germany.

Shocking: Neither the Coalition government nor its Labour predecessor has taken proper responsibility for Heathrow and Britain's other airports

The problem with our airports is that the Government is powerless to force the foreign owners to ensure there are the necessary systems to prevent flights being grounded in bad weather. While sensible investment is made in other countries’ airports, ministers have been unable to get BAA to buy adequate snow-clearing and de-icing equipment.

Equally culpable is the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, which has been supine in its refusal to raise any serious objections over Ferrovial’s behaviour.

source: dailymail