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Airports and Innovation

October 19, 2020

Peter Guest

So, it’s autumn. Covid 19 seems to be on the wane and once again Brexit is rearing its ugly head. We left the EU on January 1, but for trade have stayed with the same rules until January 2021, to sort out a new trade deal. Only we haven’t. Eight months on and nothing is agreed, and there is little sign that anything will be. The only measurable action is that the government has decided to build a load of lorry parks round the ports in anticipation of the coming chaos as lorries get stuck trying to navigate an as yet undefined customs regime and the resulting millions of pages of forms. The freight industry is panicking at the thought. The government is assuring us all that everything will be alright when Johnny foreigner realizes that all they have to do is what we say, and even if they don’t, we have laid in extra supplies of quill pens.


So, airports and innovation: a million years ago, I told you that Gatwick airport was about to go live on a wonderful robotic parking system called STAN. This was announced in early 2019, to be going live in summer of that year. Now, according to the airport web site, it was opened in March this year. Unfortunately, the web page doesn’t seem to recognize my attempts to book it, and surprisingly the French manufacturers are remarkably reticent about the status of the project, with no updates after the contract signing in 2019. Surely there couldn’t be a problem? 


Also, at Gatwick, the airport boasts 8 electric car charging points at the terminal short stay car parks. I am not sure if this is 8 spaces per car park, or eight spaces in total, it matters little. There is something approaching 5,000 short stay parking spaces at Gatwick, so, not quite on track for the planned elimination of new ICE vehicles by 2035. me thinks.


Apparently, although e-vehicles now account for something above 5 percent of new sales, the biggest growth remains in SUV type vehicles. I have yet to see any government ministers rushing to replace their “official” Jaguars with a Nissan Leaf.


One of the persistent problems that we have here surrounding airport parking is the never-ending gullibility of the Great British Public. Airports operate on-site parking which they regulate; and as most airports have a shortfall of on-site parking there are also off-site, reputable third-party parking facilities with approved operator status from the airport operator. Unfortunately, there is then another layer of operators, of often questionable reputation, who offer cheap, and very often, nasty, think muddy field, off-off airport parking, often via a valet-type pick up from the terminal forecourt. A new wrinkle on this was when companies started to offer off airport parking spaces for sale as an investment. People were persuaded to pay about $30,000 dollars for a space with a “guaranteed” return of 8 percent - 11 percent. 


Two linked companies have just been closed down by the courts having sold something over a thousand spaces for over $32m on sites at Manchester and Glasgow airports. Here’s the thing, they didn’t own the land that they were selling. Further, the land wasn’t approved for car parking and no development took place. The money raised was then used to buy the land for fees, and to give “profits” to investors - profits that didn’t exist because the business was a fantasy. 


A few years ago, I had a relative who, based on a cold call, was planning to put money into one of these schemes, supposedly located at Gatwick. They contacted me at the last moment because, apparently, I know something about parking. Even after I had spoken to the parking manager at Gatwick, they were still not convinced that it was a scam, and they were only deterred when I was able to show them that the company was the subject of an active fraud investigation. At the time, the stock market was returning around 2-3 percent, so why wouldn’t they jump on board a scheme offering 8 percent? Because if it looks too good to be true then it probably is.


Why, oh, why do we make stuff so very difficult here in the imperial remnant? Footways, sidewalks if you like, are for people. It’s against the law to drive on them, maximum fine about $700 plus unlimited damages, and has been since 1835. In London, the explicit and more narrowly defined offense of parking has been in place since 1969. Scotland enacted a nationwide ban in November but hasn’t brought it into force. Now after 30 plus years of consideration, the government is proposing, well considering, or thinking about, perhaps, maybe making parking on the footway an explicit offense, possibly. Here’s a thought, just do it you morons.



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