Ministers ‘ignored’ Heathrow dissent – 86% were opposed

1.3.2009   (Sunday Times)


Public opposition to Heathrow airport’s proposed third runway was far higher
than the government ever admitted, according to a Tory analysis of its consultation.

The analysis suggests up to 86% of the people who responded to the government’s
call for comments were strongly opposed to the runway. The government, however,
said only 37% of those who contributed were clearly opposed.

If confirmed, the findings would cast doubts over the consultation, suggesting
it was designed to create the appearance of a democratic process when ministers
had made their decisions in advance.

The Conservative party has consistently opposed the third runway.  Justine Greening,
shadow minister for London, said:  "These figures show that there was overwhelming
opposition and the government systematically ignored it.

"They have prioritised the vested interests of the few rather than the many.
 It proves that however many members of the public had their say, they were never
going to be listened to by this government.  It had made its mind up already."

The plan to build a third runway was confirmed in January by Geoff Hoon, the
transport secretary. It would increase the number of flights using Heathrow from
about 480,000 a year to 702,000 by 2030.

Hoon backed his announcement with the publication of a report, “Adding Capacity
at Heathrow Airport: Report on Consultation Responses”, which suggested 37% of
respondents were opposed to expansion.

The analysis by the Conservatives, however, shows that the government figure
excluded 43,000 comments received in the form of campaign postcards and petitions
– even though they constituted 62% of the total comments received.

If they had been included, about 86% of the responses would have been directly
opposed to the expansion.

The Department for Transport said: "The decision to support a third runway had
already been taken in 2003, so the Heathrow consultation did not explicitly ask
people whether they were in favour of a third runway or not."

Greening has also questioned the objectivity of Detica, the company that analysed
the responses for the government. It was bought last year by BAE Systems, a defence
contractor, which supports the expansion plan.

Detica said its analysis was completed by July 2008 and BAE Systems bought the
company a month later.