Teddington Action Group prepare to sue Airports Commission over lack of fair consultation on air quality
Date added: June 15, 2015
The Airports Commission and the Department of Transport have been notified by Neil Spurrier and Teddington Action Group (TAG) of their intent to apply for a Judicial Review of the Commission’s work. TAG is a group of residents affected by environmental nuisance in terms of emissions and noise from Heathrow flights. They have taken advice from leading counsel, and allege that the Airports Commission’s 3 week consultation on air quality, in May, was rushed and insufficiently publicised. This meant they (and many others) did not had a fair chance to respond. The consultation document was a highly technical 200 page report, containing a large amount of technical data. TAG say the lack of proper engagement by the Commission in relation to the latest air quality consultation is unacceptable and local people should be consulted in a meaningful way on an issue that directly impacts their health and well-being. TAG say the 3 week consultation is far shorter than the Cabinet Office guidelines which recommend three months for controversial or technical consultations. The length and nature of the air quality consultation was widely criticised, as being inadequate and unfair. TAG also questions the continuation of Sir Howard Davies in the role of chair of the Commission in the light of potential conflicts of interest, as he has been appointed to RBS.
Residents prepare to sue Airports Commission over lack of fair consultation on air quality
15.6.2015 (Teddington Action Group)
The Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, and the Department of Transport, have been notified by Neil Spurrier and Teddington Action Group, a group of residents affected by environmental nuisance in terms of emissions and noise from Heathrow flights, of their intent to apply for a Judicial Review of the Commission’s work.
The residents have taken advice from leading counsel, and allege that the May consultation on air quality was rushed and insufficiently publicised, so they have not had a fair chance to respond.
Paul McGuinness, spokesperson for Teddington Action Group said:
“Teddington residents suffer up to 17 hours a day of aircraft noise and pollution, made worse by recent air space changes. The lack of proper engagement by the Commission in relation to the latest air quality consultation is unacceptable and local people should be consulted in a meaningful way on an issue that directly impacts their health and wellbeing.”
The residents’ pre-claim letter alleges that the Commission has failed to carry out an adequate consultation exercise into a highly technical 200 page report on air quality and emissions (the Jacobs report). The report was put out for consultation, without fanfare, the day after the General Election. Although it contained almost 200 pages of technical data, residents were given only three weeks to respond. This is far shorter than the Cabinet Office guidelines which recommend three months for controversial or technical consultations.
London air quality will not meet EU Directive standards by 2030 even without a third runway, and the residents say that they need more time and information to get a fair chance to have their say.
The letter also questions the continuation of Sir Howard Davies in the role of chair of the Commission in the light of potential conflicts of interest. Sir Howard has recently accepted the Chairmanship of the Royal Bank of Scotland and will join the bank at the end of this month. RBS is the banker for companies which own Gatwick and Heathrow airports.
The Airports Commission is due to announce its recommendation for a third runway in the South East by the end of this month. There are three remaining contenders in the running: a new runway at Gatwick; a new runway at Heathrow; and the Heathrow Hub proposal to extend the existing North Runway at Heathrow.
For comment or more information, please contact Paul McGuinness.
Below is a copy of one section of the pre-action letter (too large a document to upload).
Campaigners argue there was a “lack of proper engagement” over a consultation on air quality
Campaigners fighting the expansion of Heathrow Airport have threatened legal action over an “unfair” air quality consultation by the government.
The Teddington Action Group claims the Airport Commission failed to conduct a fair consultation on air quality.
It said there had been a “lack of proper engagement” over the consultation and was considering launching a judicial review.
The BBC has contacted the Airports Commission and is awaiting a response.
The commission gave people three weeks to submit further evidence about air pollution on 8 May, but campaigners argue this was shorter than the consultation time usually recommended by the government.
The Teddington Action Group also claims the period was insufficient for people to read the report’s 200 pages of technical data.
Spokesman Paul McGuinness said: “The lack of proper engagement by the Commission in relation to the latest air quality consultation is unacceptable and local people should be consulted in a meaningful way on an issue that directly impacts their health and wellbeing.”
The group also alleges there could be a potential conflict of interest with commission chairman Sir Howard Davies also acting as a chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland which works with companies that own Gatwick and Heathrow airports.
The campaigners said they intended to take legal action unless another consultation on air quality is conducted and Sir Howard stands down from his role with the Airport Commission.
At a conference in November, Willie Walsh, the chief executive of International Airlines Group which owns British Airways, said that he did not hold out much hope that a new runway would ever be built in south-east England.
“Maybe I am cynical, but I remain totally convinced that nothing will actually happen,” he said.
A year earlier he had been equally gloomy.
“There will not be another runway at Heathrow in my lifetime. It’s too difficult politically,” he said.
In the next few weeks, the Airports Commission is due to hand its final report to the government – recommending runway expansion at either Heathrow or Gatwick.
But even that significant moment in the fraught debate on airport capacity is unlikely to leave Mr Walsh feeling any more confident.
Today, a group of residents in south-west London launched an application for a judicial review of the Airports Commission’s work.
Long grass beckons?
It is first legal challenge to the commission’s work. And speaking to members of the Teddington Action Group, they certainly believe it will be the first of many.
Each will delay the commission’s findings being implemented – if the government even agrees to them in the first place.
My colleague Richard Westcott wrote about another legal challenge expected by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.
And Gatwick has also said it is already considering its legal options should the commission back Heathrow.
Many believe the long grass beckons for the commission’s work – and that’s before it has even published its final report.
The residents’ claims rest on two points and were formulated following advice from senior counsel.
First, is the recent commission consultation on air quality which ran from 8 May to 29 May.
“Not long enough” the residents of Teddington claim.
The second is the suggestion that Sir Howard Davies, the head of the commission, is now facing a conflict of interest.
The residents’ action group says that following the announcement that Sir Howard is to take up the reins as chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, his position at the commission could be questioned.
RBS banks for both Heathrow and Gatwick and therefore, the residents group says, has a commercial interest in the outcome of the commission’s review.
“Teddington residents suffer up to 17 hours a day of aircraft noise and pollution, made worse by recent air space changes,” Paul McGuinness, spokesperson for Teddington Action Group, said of the first part of the claim.
“The lack of proper engagement by the commission in relation to the latest air quality consultation is unacceptable and local people should be consulted in a meaningful way on an issue that directly impacts their health and wellbeing.”
The action group claims the consultation should have lasted far longer as it was based on a technical document which ran to 200 pages.
Cabinet Office guidelines suggest three months for controversial consultations, the campaigners say.
They also argue that London air quality will not meet European Union standards by 2030 “even without a third runway” and that they were not given a “fair chance” to have their say.
My sources close to the commission say that any legal challenge can expect a robust response and that they are “happy” with the legal advice they have received from their internal lawyers on both the commission’s processes and Sir Howard’s position.
They also point out that in 2013 the commission successfully fought off a judicial review by pressure group Stop Stansted Expansion.
The commission is likely to have to fight a few more similar battles before this fraught process is completed.
Call for airports chief to quit over his links to RBS
By NICHOLAS CECIL (Evening Standard)
15 June 2015
Campaigners today launched moves to force Sir Howard Davies to quit as chairman of Britain’s Airports Commission just weeks before it backs a new runway at Heathrow or Gatwick.
They claimed a consultation on an air quality assessment last month of the impact of expanding one of the airports was “manifestly unfair and unlawful”.
Solicitor Neil Spurrier and the Teddington Action Group took the first step towards a Judicial Review demanding Sir Howard step down, arguing that him remaining as the Commission’s head was allegedly “tainted by presumed bias” after he was appointed as Royal Bank of Scotland chairman.
In a legal letter to the Commission and Transport Secretary, they claimed both Heathrow Airport Limited and Gatwick Airport Limited, which run the west London and Sussex airports respectively, are major clients of RBS.
The two companies’ share prices could increase significantly if the Commission backs their option for a new runway, and they stand to make millions if it is goes ahead, they added.
In contrast, the proposers of a third option, to extend Heathrow’s northern runway so it could be used simultaneously for take-offs and landings, were not believed to be RBS clients.
“Sir Howard will now have a direct financial interest in the outcome of his decision as chairman of RBS,” the letter alleges. “If Sir Howard plays any part in determining the outcome of the May 2015 consultation or indeed in any Airport Commission recommendation after his appointment, the decision will be tainted by presumed bias.”
Sir Howard was appointed RBS chairman on February 26 and is due to take up the post in September. [He joins the Board at the end of June].
The Commission put out a new air quality assessment on May 8, which Mr Spurrier and the TAG argued allowed “insufficient time and information” to respond to, with the consultation closing on May 29.
TAG spokesman Paul McGuinness said: “The lack of proper engagement by the Commission in relation to the latest air quality consultation is unacceptable and local people should be consulted in a meaningful way on an issue that impacts their health and wellbeing.” RBS is understood to be one of 22 banks with which Heathrow deals.