23rd September 2002
Government fails to comply with its own code in air transport consultation
Stop Stansted Expansion is challenging the Government’s consultation process for the development of UK airports over the next 30 years, on the basis that it fails to comply with the Government’s own code of practice issued in November 2000, and is examining the opportunities to mount a legal challenge.
Said Peter Carter-Ruck of the Stop Stansted Expansion legal committee: “This will lead to a flawed planning decision many thousands of times greater than the failings of the Millennium Dome. We will consider a legal challenge to any expansion proposals for Stansted that have not been the subject of proper consultation.”
Among its seven main requirements, the code says adequate time should be given for consultation responses. However, the Government has allowed the public just over four months to consider proposals which it has been actively considering since the time of its White Paper “A New Deal for Transport” in July 1998. “It gives little time to prepare a very detailed response to the country’s biggest infrastructure project in terms of the environment and the number of people affected,” said Carter-Ruck. “The lack of adequate time lends support to the view that the Government has already made up its mind and is merely going through the motions.”
This consultation could be the public’s only chance to influence the outcome since the next stage will be a White Paper in early 2003 which sets airport policy for the next 30 years. If that selects Stansted, any subsequent public inquiry will effectively be reduced to looking at only the details.
Carter-Ruck continued: “It is vital that the public have the opportunity to grasp the enormity of the proposals and the impact on their individual lives. They should know that it is simply not an expansion in the physical size of the airport but involves widespread urbanisation and disruption to the lives of many thousands.”
Many people potentially affected simply do not know, including the vast numbers living in north east London affected by road and rail projects linking an expanded Stansted. The consultation, therefore, does not involve all of the right people.
In addition the consultation papers fail to give sufficient weight to the arguments against airport development. The code of practice says that significant sources of information and opinion outside Government should be quoted if relevant, whether they support the Government’s views or not. The consultation papers are defective because the substantial body of evidence disputing the economic case for expansion is not referred to at all and instead the reader is left with the mistaken impression that there is no question that the aviation industry is a key driver of the UK economy. Furthermore, the well-respected environmental objections are inadequately referenced.
The code also requires a draft environmental impact appraisal but no serious attempt is made to understand the importance of predicted environmental effects of the expansion proposals, especially the required road and rail infrastructure, and the scope for reducing them as required by such an appraisal. European law requires that the appraisal is made prior to making the decision on the proposals and it is feared that the opportunity to comment on the appraisal will be lost if it is not made during the public consultation period.
The questionnaire that accompanies the main consultation papers is likewise highly flawed. The code says it is often helpful to set out key questions in a questionnaire but it also warns of the need for careful design so as not to encourage a biased response. Carter-Ruck commented: “The consultation is based on the footing that inland airport expansion is a foregone conclusion and does not give the respondent the opportunity to state the grounds for opposing. Accordingly our advice to people is that they should not complete the questionnaire but should write to their local MP instead, stating their reasons for objecting to the proposals.”