Consultations, consultations

Personal view

I attended two so-called consultations in the last two days. On Wednesday it was the Airport “consultation information exhibition” at Isleworth public hall. It was organised by the Ministry of Transport. On Thursday it was a Council consultation over plans for the Great West Corridor (held at the University of West London). Business and government (central and local) now like to back whatever it is they plan to do with claims that their plans have public support. A whole culture of sham consultations has been developed to this end as everyone who takes an interest in these things in Hounslow should be well aware.

The marks of a sham consultation are (1) no alternatives are offered for consideration, (2) contrary arguments are not considered, (3) major problems are ignored and (4) leading questions are asked in discussion and on questionnaires.

Consultation 1. The Airport was a perfect example of such a sham consultation. The exhibition had a large number of information boards and an even larger number of civil servants ready to reinforce the message for anyone likely to be convinced. I read all the boards but focused on air pollution and noise levels. On air pollution I asked if it was not the case that the airport was currently failing to meet international targets. This was accepted. So I asked if it would not demonstrate the honest intent of those pushing for the 3rd runway if those targets were met before considering expansion which could only add more pollution. The two pleasant young exhibition handlers could not find an answer to that and clearly did not want to continue the discussion. Neither did I.

On noise levels I said “I live in the 65db corridor. I can’t listen to music in the summer without my windows and even them listening with headphones is often necessary. I regard that as unacceptable. Do you think that is an acceptable way to live? What noise level do you think is acceptable?” The exhibition helpers (there were two of them again) could find no answer to either question.

I filled in the response form which was mostly about how I heard about the exhibition. A little box for comments was included at the bottom. For me the whole thing was a rather poor joke.

Consultation 2. The Great West Corridor “consultation + workshops” was kicked off with an hour-long presentation about the Councils plans. I say “plans” but actually there were so many caveats about research still to be completed, transport problems to be resolved, business cooperation to be arranged and the like that the plan appeared to be more like an extended wish list the purpose of which was to have a large increase in business and housing along the Corridor and to solve any problems this creates as they arise. We were told how great it would be to turn the A4 into a “two-lane boulevard” with wide pavements, shops and cafes and a 30mph speed limit. The actual feasibility of doing this on such a heavily used main artery which is controlled by TfL and not the Council was not considered. It did, however, enable the presenters to produce some pretty pictures of the imagined boulevard. No questions were taken after this long presentation.

The workshop I attended started with the chair (from, I guess, the consultancy responsible of the “plan”) saying

I think the first question we need to go over is whether you support the objectives, the overarching objectives, for the Golden Mile which is to transform the Golden mile into a 21st century business hub and what you think of the objectives set under that. They were to provide a broad range of employment spaces, reduce reliance on the car, about a mix of uses and urban buzz around transport hubs, celebrating the London Gateway and create a strong positive identity, a high-quality public realm and image and better integrate the Golden Mile with surrounding assets and area.

I said “I am in favour of motherhood and apple pie and on the same basis I am in favour of all that”. The chairperson seemed to miss my point and asked in a surprised tone “Yes to all of that?”. The person next to me (Dominic West of the St John’s residents association) then made the same point by saying “No one is going to say “no” to a question like that are they?”. I believe that the point was still not taken and this, in my view, revealed from the start the sham nature of the consultation. The session continued with an increasing number of questions which the officer could not answer. A transport officer came to help out and when the problems were put to him he tended to say that this or that possibility was being looked into. So much for consultation.

I hope that the main talk and the slides that went with it will soon be put up for others to judge for themselves the nature of the exercise.

David Pavett,

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