Remember last summer when, in an attempt to thwart the upcoming climate camp, BAA went to the High Court to try to get millions of opponents of airport expansion banned from using motorways, the London underground and parts of Paddington station? At the time the National Trust said the idea ‘smacked of absurdity’, Lib Dem Nick Clegg said it was ‘daft, illiberal and dangerous nonsense’ and the Mayor of London called it ‘an attack on the right to peaceful protest’.
You might have had an inkling that BAA didn’t have much time for democratic processes, but what they’ve been up to since really takes the biscuit. Secret documents reveal BAA and the Government set up a joint ‘Heathrow Delivery Group’ to steer through the third runway plans. BAA supplied the data on noise and pollution that formed the premise of the ‘consultation’ document. Opposition groups have been refused the chance to challenge this data.
The documents also reveal that elected councillors in West London, who represent two million people, have been put on a ‘risk list’ of those posing a threat to the runway.
BAA wrote part of the ‘consultation’, despite being one of the official ‘consultees’. That could explain why it is littered with phrases like ‘net present value terms’ and ‘mixed mode operations’ – not exactly accessible language. Of course that’s the whole point. Theoretically an opportunity for democratic participation, this ‘consultation’ was a fix-up from the start.
It asked nothing about whether or not the third runway should be built. It made no reference to global warming. Even worries within the barriers of the ‘consultation’ – noise and local air pollution – were dampened by only ‘consulting’ one small region of London. Places like Putney and Fulham, for example, were not considered, despite councillors there reporting more constituent concern about unbearable noise levels than any other issue. That will be why they were excluded from the survey.
Encouragingly, affected communities are literally in revolt. Thousands of people have turned out to over 50 public meetings in the past couple of months. John Stewart, chair of HACAN, which represents people under the flightpaths, was overwhelmed by the outpouring of those speaking up against the runway plans. Indeed, political pressure has grown so great that even Brown loyalists like health minister Ann Keen have broken ranks on the issue. Every Mayoral candidate opposes the expansion; so great is the strength of feeling in London it would be political suicide if they didn’t.
There is a pattern emerging with these ‘consultations’. First the High Court found the one on nuclear power to be ‘misleading’, ‘seriously flawed’ and ‘procedurally unfair’. Now I’ve seen Whitehall emails that show the coal plans for Kingsnorth are also subject to conniving between E.ON and the Department for Business. The German utility wrote to a BERR official, ‘We need to work out a strategy with BMA’ (Bob Marshall-Andrews, the local ‘rebel’ MP). It also ‘profiled’ the councillors opposing its plans and briefed Government officials – exactly as BAA did.
With ever-growing numbers of species ‘at risk’, we need more people willing to put themselves on the ‘risk lists’.
Joss Garman is an environmental campaigner and journalist.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist April 2008