DfT criticised for ‘inadequate’ Heathrow expansion pamphlet
Independent adviser also calls for consultation to be reopened because of impact of snap general election.
An independent adviser tasked with overseeing the impartiality of this year’s consultation on the expansion of Heathrow Airport has criticised a Department for Transport leaflet created to publicise the process.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling appointed former Lord Justice of Appeal Sir Jeremy Sullivan to oversee the consultation on plans for a third runway at the airport in October last year. The consultation began in February in tandem with the publication of the government’s Draft Airports National Policy Statement.
Sullivan’s report on the consultation, which ran until May 25, generally praises the impartiality of the exercise, but highlighted particular failings with a pamphlet distributed to 1.5m homes that listed 20 one-off events for local residents most affected by the proposals to attend, but failed to list venues or times.
Sullivan said the pamphlet – titled “Heathrow Expansion – Have Your Say” – had been “the one instance” when the government’s tight timescale for putting together the consultation had produced “unfortunate consequences”.
“The department was the victim of its own ambition: to print and distribute 1.5m leaflets for a consultation commencing on 2 February 2017, with the first of twenty local events taking place on 13 February,” he said.
“I was told by the department that the explanation for criticism …. was that the addresses of all the venues were not known by the date when the printing of the leaflets had to begin in order to ensure that a sufficient quantity of leaflets was available to be delivered well in advance of the first week’s local events.
“That excuse is not adequate because the department should have anticipated (and no doubt will in future consultations) that difficulty when deciding upon the start date for the consultation.”
The pamphlet listed a borough or town and a date for each event, but not the precise location and time.
Sullivan said that while criticisms that the pamphlet had been “propaganda” and “uninformative” had been made, residents who wished to attend the events it flagged up would have been able to fine out venue information and times online or elsewhere.
His report, which is dated July 2017 but which was only published today, also urged the government to reopen the consultation because prime minister Theresa May’s calling of June’s snap general election had meant the exercise’s final days had been covered by the pre-election purdah period.
“If best practice is to be adhered to, it will be necessary to re-open the consultation in order to deal fairly with the unfinished business,” he said.
“And it will be necessary to re-open the consultation for a period which is sufficiently long both to make up for some loss of time (particularly for local authorities) during the purdah period, and to enable consultees to have a fair opportunity to consider the implications of the final modified Air Quality plan and the final passenger demand forecasts.
“My provisional view is that this period would need to be not less than eight weeks, excluding main school holiday periods.”
In a written ministerial statement to parliament today, Chris Grayling confirmed that the consultation would be reopened for “a short period” to allow updated evidence to be taken into account.
“This further consultation will focus mainly on the specific elements of the NPS affected, and is expected to begin later this year,” he said.
The DfT told Civil Service World it accepted there were shortcomings in relation to the level of detail on consultation events contained in the pamphlet but said it had learned from the experience.
Article originally appeared on Civil Service World