Is the airplane going the way of the 4x4?

Is it just me, or does it look like people are flying less and less?

I have just got back from a few days in Cornwall (via train of course) and I think I have spotted something strange happening.

No, not that half of England is disappearing under water. In fact I missed the bad weather completely, being in St Ives, which was practically the only place with sun this weekend. Instead what I have noticed is that everyone around me seems to have decided not to fly this year.

It started when I persuaded one of my sisters, with her family and our dad, to come for a week in the Lake District earlier this year. My sister immediately re-booked the same farmhouse for next year, and is now taking her summer holiday not in Spain as usual, but in Essex – on the island where we used to spend all our holidays as children.

Also, my friends from college are staying on the ground this summer, having been proper long-haul Larries in recent years (mainly on visits rather casual tourism, but still a lot of globe-trotting). They are currently in the south of France, and have gone by high-speed train.

Even my dad, who seemed to be turning into Alan Whicker as he worked less and became more retired, isn’t crossing the Atlantic this year and is also in Essex. And my mum, who is also retiring this year, has just bought a camper van; I can’t think of a clearer signal of intent not to get on a plane in the near future.

This is not anything like a scientific sample, but I would guess that my immediate circle is this year taking approximately a dozen fewer return flights than they would have done a few years ago. Could it be that flying is suddenly not cool?

There’s more evidence than mine to suggest that our collective love affair with queues, delays, uncomfortable seats and several hours spent in the air in a state of severe anxiety (actually that last one might just be me) is coming to an end.

The Independent last week printed a guide to the UK’s best beaches, which was peppered with words like ‘sensational’, ‘spectacular’ and ‘magnificent’. I loved this; our incredible geology here at home, exemplified by our coastline, is something I have been going on about for ages.

And despite all the obvious benefits of having a huge international airport on your doorstep, local opposition to more aviation is hotting up, too. Warwick Council has just rejected the expansion of Coventry airport, and Manchester airport’s plans to expand onto the green belt were this month squashed by planning inspectors after the airport appealed a decision of Macclesfield Borough Council.

Is this theory of mine just wishful thinking? I need more evidence to back up my observations and hypothesis, but, if I am right, we may be about to send the city break and cheap-flight-stag-night the way of the 4x4. If you have any other evidence of this trend (or counter-evidence) please let me know.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.