The Heathrow expansion saga continues

The next landmark in the Heathrow expansion saga – quite literally – landed on my doorstep.

Last week, a leaflet to attend a consultation event about the proposals for a third runway at Heathrow was posted through my letterbox. The event falls within the 16 week public consultation period on the draft National Policy Statement, following the government’s announcement of its support for a new northwest runway last October. Perusing the leaflet, the public consultation programme appeared comprehensive; indeed, there are 20 local and 13 regional consultation events planned until the period closes on 27th May this year.

Yet, as we well know, the third runway at Heathrow has been a controversial matter - to say the least. From climate change to noise pollution, it has stirred opinion from multiple directions.

Inevitably, upon further investigation, it became apparent that the announced public consultation period would be no different.

On 3rd February, Getwestlondon reported the fury of local residents in the ‘Heathrow’ villages around the airport, including Harmondsworth, Longford, Sipson and Harlington, who had not been granted a consultation event in their area. Their anger is understandable – these are the villages set for demolition in the new northwest runway plan.

Sitting at my desk, re-reviewing the leaflet, the Heathrow villages’ exclusion – at first unnoticed –suddenly jumped out. In the past, public consultation programmes for Heathrow expansions have always included exhibition events for those subject to compulsory purchase orders. Why then, in the new northwest runway plan, have they not been included? Evidently, emotions would run extremely high at these events, but this cannot be a justification to avoid them altogether.

To take a step back and reflect upon the basic concept of a public consultation, these events are intended to give local people a chance to express their view on a proposed plan. So it begs the question, why would such a comprehensive consultation programme not address those most affected by the planned proposal? One can only hope that these villages are still being given the chance to express their concerns and learn more about the proposal.

As shown by the HS2 and Crossrail 2 programmes, good public consultation is imperative for infrastructure proposals of this scale. Despite the national impact of this proposal, the local perspective cannot be ignored.

Consultation events cannot be treated as a façade, i.e. as a tick-box process. These events, to inform residents and listen to their feedback, must remain at the heart of the planning process. Furthermore, those at the helm of the third runway must not regard this 16 week consultation period as something that just needs to be done to fulfil a requirement. If carried out correctly, this consultation will prove genuinely beneficial to the project, and will provide them with the golden opportunity to receive useful and constructive feedback on their proposal, and get buy-in from the local community.

In short, whatever the outcome, this landmark in the Heathrow expansion saga provides yet further evidence of the importance of this fundamental piece in the planning puzzle.

This article was written by Molly Jarritt, Account Executive with MPC.

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