20th January 2006

Exposed – cynical charade by BAA and its consultants

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has called for the dismissal of environmental consultants, RPS, appointed by BAA to carry out a vital environmental study of its airport expansion proposals because of evidence that has come to light showing that RPS has promised to give BAA the result that it wants.

BAA’s consultants have promised to do “all in their power” to ensure that the airport operator can meet its objective of building a second Stansted runway and have described their role, in acting for BAA, as being focused on “when and how to deliver the planning consent rather than if”.

The row is about the “Sustainability Appraisal” which BAA must produce in order to obtain planning consent for its expansion plans. A condition for planning consent is that BAA must demonstrate that expanding Stansted beyond the current annual limit of 25 million passengers would be environmentally sustainable as well as meeting social and economic sustainability criteria. RPS have in effect promised to provide BAA with a Sustainability Appraisal endorsing the airport expansion plans and this is even before starting the job.

The astonishing pre-judgement is contained in a statement by the Divisional Chairman of RPS, an Abingdon-based environmental consultancy, issued when RPS was appointed by BAA to carry out the Stansted study 18 months ago. The matter has just come to a head as a result of RPS inviting local “stakeholders” to participate in a workshop which is supposedly aimed at helping to decide the criteria to be used in the Sustainability Appraisal.

Norman Mead, Deputy Chairman of SSE commented: “What is the point of BAA’s consultants asking stakeholders for their views on how to carry out the Sustainability Appraisal, when they have already guaranteed BAA that they will deliver a favourable report?  This makes a mockery of the statutory requirement for a Sustainability Appraisal. It is nothing more than a cynical charade.”

Mr Mead continued: “The Sustainability Appraisal” is an important document in relation to any BAA planning application and it should consist of a thorough assessment of the environmental and other impacts of the proposed development. What confidence can anyone have that RPS will carry out the task objectively? The local planning authority, Uttlesford District Council, must now notify BAA that it regards RPS as tainted for having prejudged the outcome of the Sustainability Appraisal.”

Mr Mead concluded: “The statement by the RPS is nothing short of astonishing and makes it patently obvious that RPS has no intention of conducting an impartial or objective appraisal. I, for one, will not be attending any RPS workshop in view of the fact that RPS has already decided the outcome.”

The Inspector at the last Stansted Airport public inquiry concluded that 25 million passengers a year was the maximum capacity that could be contemplated on environmental grounds. BAA now wants to prove otherwise and is prepared to compromise on standards of integrity and professionalism by appointing consultants who promise to deliver the result that BAA wants.

This latest example of consultants promising to dance to BAA’s tune follows the ‘whistleblower revelation’ in July 2005 showing that BAA’s consultants were intent upon playing down the environmental impacts of the airport expansion proposals.

As well as writing directly to BAA and RPS to condemn this attempt to rig the Sustainability Appraisal in BAA’s favour, SSE has written to Uttlesford District Council and to Environment Minister, Elliot Morley to press for independent appraisal of the environmental impacts of BAA’s expansion proposals.

The full text of the RPS statement (by John Rhodes, Chairman of the RPS Planning and Transport Division) is available from SSE on request.

Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits