Editor-At-Large: Marvel as it pollutes the earth! Gasp as it spews more tourists into Palma!

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The Independent Online

What a glorious future we're creating for the next generation. Within 10 years I predict every county in England will have its very own international airport. Any remaining countryside that Mr Prescott has not managed to cover with brick boxes will be criss-crossed by super-highways. And as the icing on the cake, you'll hear the whoosh of wind farms from every hillside. Whoever wins the election on Thursday, the big losers will be everyone who values solitude. Like a bunch of desperate addicts, we seem to have decided that an expansion of air and road transport is the ultimate drug we are willing to pay any price for. Hoorah! Last week Britain's first new airport for 50 years opened in Doncaster - aptly named after Robin Hood because it is robbing the rich heritage of our countryside to feed the pathetic need of the penny-pinching to travel to Majorca for rock-bottom prices.

What a glorious future we're creating for the next generation. Within 10 years I predict every county in England will have its very own international airport. Any remaining countryside that Mr Prescott has not managed to cover with brick boxes will be criss-crossed by super-highways. And as the icing on the cake, you'll hear the whoosh of wind farms from every hillside. Whoever wins the election on Thursday, the big losers will be everyone who values solitude. Like a bunch of desperate addicts, we seem to have decided that an expansion of air and road transport is the ultimate drug we are willing to pay any price for. Hoorah! Last week Britain's first new airport for 50 years opened in Doncaster - aptly named after Robin Hood because it is robbing the rich heritage of our countryside to feed the pathetic need of the penny-pinching to travel to Majorca for rock-bottom prices.

On the radio the other day a member of the Green Party was bemoaning the fact that most air travel to Europe is made up of journeys of less than 1,000 kilometres, and could easily be accomplished by train. I completely agree. Take the county of Kent, our nearest point to Europe, well-equipped with ports and access to the Channel Tunnel. What are they expanding? Air travel. More and more flights to Europe are taking off from newly reopened Manston airport outside Margate. Ludicrous, when Ashford station is less than 30 minutes' drive away, with Eurostar trains leaving every hour.

Now people who live in Ramsgate, Sandwich and Deal under the flight path of these horrible holiday jets are rightly complaining about noise. The operators of the now ludicrously named Kent International Airport will no doubt defend their corner by claiming that they are bringing employment and job opportunities to the area. Utter tosh. All they are bringing is air and noise pollution of the highest kind. Now Lydd airport, a few miles to the south, wants to be able to expand operations to include more flights to - you guessed it - Europe. With the proposed expansion of house building around Ashford, pretty soon Kent, once the Garden of England, will be one large transport hub. There's been talk of building a wind farm near Dungeness, while another is under construction off the Kent coast north of Whitstable.

Robin Hood airport is built on the site of a former RAF base at Finningley, outside Doncaster. This isn't the most beautiful countryside in the world. It is already home to a network of motorways, as well as numerous disused pits which have been reclaimed and turned into water features with plenty of fishing opportunities for the unemployed. Jobs are thin on the ground, and old mining villages such as Grimethorpe still have an air of desperation about them.

But does spending £85m on an airport to provide a base for cheap flights to Palma really define regeneration? There's already Leeds-Bradford airport, East Midlands airport, and Manchester airport, all less than an hour's drive away. Some of the old air base has been turned into housing and offices, but I cannot see the long-term benefit of air travel to locals. People around here need work, not cheap flights to the sun. And there's worse to come. Robin Hood airport will be able to accommodate the new huge Airbus 380 when it comes into service next year.

There was euphoria among onlookers as this new polluter touched down on its maiden flight outside Toulouse last week. As a programme of testing starts, many airports are building larger bays to accommodate the plane's 80-metre wingspan and more spacious terminals to prevent bottlenecks when 800 passengers disembark from one flight. The Airbus, a pan-European project, is around 30 per cent bigger than the 747 and has cost £6bn to develop. Far from saluting this plane as a milestone, I see it as a tombstone which signals a new and ominous phase in travel.

At this rate construction work on Britain's airports - new and existing - will continue for ever. Last week BAA announced that it was investing £6.8bn over the next 10 years on Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick airports, with the number of passengers predicted to rise by a third to 162 million a year. There will be another runway at Stansted by 2011 and a third at Heathrow by 2015 - acres of tarmac to feed an insatiable appetite for air travel. Terminal 5 at Heathrow will open in 2008.

In the future the wealthy will not travel by commercial plane, but will choose luxury trains within Europe or a new breed of chartered executive jets for intercontinental travel where they can work and sleep in privacy without 600 people eating, farting and scratching behind them.

As for holidays, we will have turned every bit of coastline in the world into a beach resort and there'll be few places left to explore. The wealthy will visit cities, and charter helicopters to go skiing and walking. They will camp in deserts and on mountain tops. They won't be in Majorca, Goa or Malaga. Independent eco-travel is the future, and more and more people will stay in Britain. Meanwhile the south-east of England will beneath the busiest air space in the world, and Robin Hood airport will be adding to the pollution wafting over the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The odd couple

I was astonished to read that a man narrowly avoided a jail sentence last week when he was convicted of secretly filming his wife in the bath. Under the 2003 Sexual Offence Act, a new crime now exists of voyeurism. The man in question had rigged up a hidden camera to film his wife naked in the bath, which he watched on television in the bedroom. Mr X's offence came to light only when Mrs X turned on the television one day and saw her hubby bathing naked. What kind of marriage was this? I'm sure Mr X must be a bit of a pervert, but taking him to court is incredible. Now she's filed for divorce, and he's been thrown out and has been handed a nine-month community rehabilitation order. Of course he should have asked for consent, but do we need to inflict this kind of ludicrous crime on our overloaded courts. Whatever happened to counselling?

Sean Penn is a brilliant actor and The Assassination of Richard Nixon, in which he plays a dysfunctional office furniture salesman abandoned by his wife, a compelling movie. I haven't seen such a painfully uncomfortable performance since Jerry Lewis starred as a popular television talk-show host in The King of Comedy and had to deal with the excruciating attentions of Robert De Niro playing Rupert Pupkin, an obsessive nerd who fancies himself as a stand-up comedian. But there's the rub. Sean Penn tries and tries, but at the end of the day, he's no De Niro. It must be galling to be so politically correct, so good-looking and so committed, forever compared to the greatest screen actor America has even produced. Somehow Penn lacks charisma, and seems to have no sex appeal, whereas De Niro can make the most second-rate gangster movie come alive.

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