Heathrow Consultation panel dodge the issues
Heathrow's panel of experts at the meeting to explain the airport's forthcoming consultation showed they were expert in one area - dodging questions.
Chairing the meeting was Rob Gray, Community and Stakeholder Relations Director - who had taken the job last April after spending four years as the Director of Back Heathrow, when he actively promoted the destruction of the local villages of Longford, Harmondsworth and the splitting of communities.
Most of the people who turned up at the Thistle Hotel in Longford on Monday night (15th January) had no interest in the airspace element of the Heathrow consultation. What they wanted to know is what was proposed and where they stood. They were largely residents of the villages of Longford, Sipson and Harmondsworth because this was the area that had been leafletted with the meeting details. What they didn't get was answers.
Time after time the panelists (except for the lady who spoke on airspace and was not asked questions) skirted round the questions. Instead of giving an answer they waffled on about the process and possible timelines. Reasonable questions about what plans were being made for displaced residents were never properly answered because nothing is being done - but the panelist wouldn't say that.
There is little point Heathrow holding a meeting in a village it proposes to wipe off the map and then refusing to address serious issues.
The conference room was pretty full, with the majority of attendees determined to fight against expansion, even though Rob Gray did his best to persuade residents that this was a done deal. One woman "Sheila from Harmondsworth" was the only person to express her delight at the prospect of a runway destroying her village. Why wouldn't she when she made it clear that she had entered into a curious and apparently lucrative deal with Heathrow. Oh yes, this woman bragged to the other residents that she had sold her home to Heathrow and received "massive compensation" . She was a former airport worker who had done this, she said, only four years ago. She didn't leave her home though, she took the cash and began renting her old home back from the airport. Perhaps she had financial reasons for shedding her biggest asset and deciding to become a tenant.
It seemed odd that anyone would come to a meeting just to boast about her bank balance, when they had already made a decision to sell up. Her comments intrigued other residents who had asked about things like Hardship schemes, to enable people to move away if they desperately needed to go. HAL property expert John said you have to prove you need to leave and that they were unable sell on the open market. Sheila didn't appear to fit into this bracket. So what is Heathrow doing behind the scenes? Are they quietly trying to buy property while it is relatively cheap? After all, the airport is packing them full of people sat market rents - about £1,500 per month for a 3-bed semi. Have they bought any houses in the last six months? They wouldn't say.
(Note: "Sheila of Harmondsworth" at the meeting should not be confused with any other Sheila, including Sheila from Sipson who is a long-time campaigner against expansion.)
Another big issues pollution but that didn't get a mention in the presentation. Heathrow does have plans for more car parks but they weren't giving anything away tonight about their location. It looks like the claim that there will be no additional vehicles on the road with a third runway is yet another lie.
Many people thought that Heathrow had drawn them to public meetings under false pretences. They left dissatisfied and frustrated. The airport has documents showing the proposals but they didn't want to distribute them. The emphasis is on viewing the hundreds of pages of information online - and it would not be available on their website until the launch on 17th January.
There was a pile of leaflets showing a list of consultation venues but don't expect to get answers at consultation events either. Staff are being brought in who have little knowledge of the area and, like the DfT consultations, will simply tell you to put your comments on a response form.
As one resident at the meeting observed, the airport wants local people to comment on the options so that they can get permission to build a runway and destroy their homes. Like most of Heathrow's plans, it doesn't make sense.