Campaigners incredulous at Rob Gray’s appointment as the new head of community engagement at Heathrow
Heathrow airport has effectively stuck two fingers up at the local opposition to the 3rd runway, by appointing to the post of Director of Community and Stakeholder Relations at the airport. Mr Gray starts in May, working under executive director for expansion, Emma Gilthorpe. The job will be to “work with local communities to ensure our plans reflect their views.” Rob Gray has been deeply disliked by opponents of Heathrow expansion, due to his 4 years as director of the astro-turf organisation, “Back Heathrow” which was set up to look like a genuine community group. Mr Gray is unpopular not only because of his personal style and hostile attitude to those whose lives would be damaged by the runway, but also because of untruthful campaigns. One was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority in October 2016, for having incorrectly used statistics claiming the extent of support for a 3rd runway. Back Heathrow also produced promotional materials and letters implying *(falsely) that Heathrow would close without the runway, and jobs would be lost. Mr Gray’s attitudes towards runway opponents makes him a highly unsuitable person to have the role of liaison – if the airport was serious in undertaking genuine dialogue. His appointment is being seen as a signal that they are not. Back Heathrow has a new director, Parmjit Dhanda, and its recent letter to its supporters, asking them to send in NPS submissions in favour of the runway says: “It is now up to you to save Heathrow’s future.” and “PS. Don’t risk Heathrow’s future.”
Anger as Back Heathrow residents group boss bags top job at airport
Former Back Heathrow director, Rob Gray, will soon be in charge of community engagement for the airport
BY KATHERINE CLEMENTINE (Get West London)
26 APR 2017
The man behind a residents pro-third runway campaign group has bagged a top job at Heathrow Airport – in charge of engaging with the those who will lose their homes over the expansion.
Rob Gray’s transition from director at Back Heathrow, to director of community and stakeholder relations at Heathrow Airport, has angered some local residents and opposition groups.
According to the airport, this new position “recognises the importance to Heathrow of working with local communities in delivering an expanded airport.”
Campaign group Stop Heathrow Expansion, and residents of the nearby villages earmarked for demolition, were left “dumbfounded” after the announcement on Tuesday (April 25).
Back Heathrow has consistently disagreed with Stop Heathrow Expansion, arguing the airport should be removed from Hayes and Harlington constituency because MP John McDonnell opposes expansion, and disagreeing with each other’s protests repeatedly over the years.
Rob Gray was campaign director for Back Heathrow.
Christine Taylor, whose home in Harlington will be severely impacted by a third runway, said: “I can’t imagine a worse appointment than Rob Gray who has spent the past four years working hard to destroy our homes, our health and our livelihoods. I’m shocked.”
Under Mr Gray’s four-year leadership, Back Heathrow was the subject of controversy when an advert for theirs was banned for making false claims regarding the level of support for Heathrow expansion.
Back Heathrow said: “That ruling is confusing because even by the ASA’s own definition of residents living near to Heathrow, the evidence clearly shows a majority of support for the airport’s expansion. “Nevertheless, we are pleased that the ASA acknowledged that more local people support a new runway at Heathrow than oppose it.”
Opposition group Stop Heathrow Expansion, claim how Mr Gray, also oversaw a mismanagement whereby people replying to their campaign materials were automatically registered as supporters.
Back Heathrow disputes this, and accused anti-expansion campaigners of “mischief making by actively signing up opponents to a pro-Heathrow campaign and then highlighting it for PR purposes.”
Rob Barnstone, campaign coordinator for Stop Heathrow Expansion, said: “Heathrow are taking a backward step in community engagement with this appointment.
“Many people are sceptical enough about engaging with the community relations team already.
“The fact that somebody who headed up such a controversial and tainted company, masquerading as a grassroots residents group, is now to be dealing with the very people whose homes he has spent four years trying to destroy.
“Is it April Fool’s Day again?”
Back Heathrow advert banned for false claims that ‘community supports expansion’
Heathrow Airport claim it is committed to developing an airport that is quieter and cleaner and continues to provide opportunities for its neighbours and future generations.
In making the announcement, the airport boasts that “Rob brings first-hand experience of the area from his time running the community campaign group Back Heathrow.”
Mr Gray said: “I have always been an advocate of Heathrow because of the huge opportunities it offers local residents.
“I also recognise local concerns and the need for Heathrow to deliver on the commitments it has made to mitigate the impacts of expansion.
“Heathrow has demonstrated its willingness to listen and change its plans based on feedback.
“I’m looking forward to working with local communities to ensure our plans reflect their views.”
Mr Gray will take up the new role next month, working under executive director for expansion, Emma Gilthorpe.
Taking over from Mr Gray will be former minister Labour MP, Parmjit Dhanda, who held a parliamentary seat in Gloucester from 2001 to 2010.
Former Labour MP Parmjit Dhanda is now the executive director at Back Heathrow. Mr Dhanda, who was born in Southall, went to school in Hayes, and later served as a Hillingdon councillor, said: “As someone who knows the Heathrow patch very well, I am delighted to lead this vital campaign.
“Expanding Heathrow offers a golden opportunity for many local people and for the country, so we will make that case strongly.
“Yet expansion cannot come at any cost which means we need to be sensitive to the needs of residents for quality air, controlled noise and fair compensation to those directly affected.
“I know from experience that there is a generation of people who are proud of the prosperity that Heathrow has brought to tens of thousands of local residents.”
Tainted pro-runway “Back Heathrow” director gets top job in Heathrow community relations team
Residents are dumbfounded and angry after learning that Rob Gray has been appointed as the new Director of Community and Stakeholder Relations at Heathrow. Until recently, Gray had been the Director of Back Heathrow Ltd., a company set up by Heathrow Airport Ltd., to promote a third runway. Under his leadership, Back Heathrow was found by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) to have produced misleading adverts aimed at politicians, where they overstated support for their campaign. On a different occasion, Gray oversaw a mismanagement whereby people replying to their campaign materials were automatically registered as supporters. Gray also led the campaign using scare tactics, designed to make local residents fear that if they didn’t back a third runway, Heathrow would decline and close, causing mass unemployment across west London. Rob Gray’s new role requires him to foster good relationships with the local community and strive to make Heathrow the better neighbour it should be. Opponents of the runway believe this is an appointment that can only cause further deterioration in relations between the airport and local communities. It would especially be the case for those that would be destroyed to make way for the runway or because living in such close proximity to it would be impossible.
Advertising Standards Authority rules against misleading “Back Heathrow” ad claiming 60% support for runway
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned an advert from “Back Heathrow” claiming that most local people back Heathrow expansion. “Back Heathrow” is a lobby group, funded through Heathrow with the aim of pushing for the 3rd runway. Back Heathrow ran a regional press ad headlined “Rallying for the runway” with the line “Don’t believe the hype. Most people living in communities near Heathrow Airport support its expansion.” They claimed from polls there was 60% support. The ASA says the claim was misleading, and the 60% figure had only been massaged up from 50% to that level by omitting the 15% who did not express an opinion. The ASA considered most consumers were likely to understand it to mean that a clear majority of those surveyed in the poll (the original sample) were in support of expansion. They ruled that removing the 15% was “not a suitable methodology by which to draw such a conclusion, and was misleading. The ad must not appear again in its current form, and “Back Heathrow” must not repeat these claims ” unless it held robust substantiation for them.” This is a blow to “Back Heathrow,” the strategy of which has been to try to convince decision-makers that a majority of local people back a 3rd runway. That claim looks flimsy.