Thursday, 12 February 2009

MANSTON - A LATE SUBMISSION

Having a late lunch, I have picked up this email sent to all Councillors at 1.46pm

"Members,

Please find attached a report from Paul Twyman, KIACC, which I have been asked to circulate.Hard copies will be distributed before the meeting starts.

Best regards,

A Council Officer"

Why could this have not been sent out yesterday with any amendments added to today if absolutely necessary?

Here it is

Extraordinary Meeting of the Thanet District Council: 12th February 2009

KENT INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, NIGHT-TIME NOISE POLICY

A Paper prepared by the Chairman of the Kent International Airport Consultative Committee, Mr Paul Twyman

Key Points:

1. KIACC (Kent International Airport Consultative Committee) has formally agreed that it is in favour of the development of KIA subject to satisfactory arrangements for dealing with the various environmental impacts.
2. In principle, therefore, the interest of British Airways World Cargo (BAWC) - if this is, indeed, the operator in question - is welcome. Indeed, as a reputable world wide operator and British "flag carrier" this company could well develop, in a socially responsible way, into a key "big business" element in the economy of East Kent.
3. However, it is unacceptable and bad government (probably amounting to maladministration) that the Council should have to take a decision on the basis of an unduly rushed timescale, without the benefit of adequate information, and with no proper public consultation. It is believed that if a final substantive decision is taken at the Council's meeting on 12th February it would be subject to legal challenge or a reference to the local government ombudsman, or conceivably both (despite the laudable, best endeavours of your officers and legal advisers to make the process and decision"lawyer proof").
4. "The devil is in the detail" - always - but certainly where planning matters are concerned. There is much more detailed information required before the Council - let alone the wider community - can begin to take a view on the balance between business development and environmental matters.
5 Rather than rushing to a decision with a gun held to the Council's head it is considered that modification of the S106 Agreement should be remitted to an "expert group" comprising Councillors and "outsiders" to report to Full Council within a short period of time - recognising that BAWC have commercial imperatives.
6. If BAWC walk away from KIA in these circumstances then the personal view of the Chairman of KIACC (there has been no time for proper consultation on this and other aspects) is that we would be well shot of them - they will have shown by their attitude to the Council and the local community that they are not as socially responsible as we would have hoped. We could well be avoiding a "cuckoo in the nest" in these circumstances.
7. But we do not believe that it will come to this. The Chairman of KIACC stands ready to work with the Council, KIA, BWAC, and other parties to facilitate the development of the airport in an environmentally acceptable manner.
8. Finally, on behalf of KIACC, we respectfully request that we should be given the opportunity to address Full Council at your Extraordinary meeting.

DETAIL

9. It has been extraordinarily difficult to consult the membership of KIACC in a meaningful way within the timescale required. A number of members have commented on the difficulty in consulting their own members (eg other parish councillors). Virtually every respondent has complained about the timescale.

10. We are grateful to your officers and to the KIA management for the briefing they have provided the Chairman of KIACC but, despite their best endeavours, none of us has anything like enough information to take a view on the overall balance between business and environmental factors. Still less has there been ample time to reflect on information, consult further, and reach a view.

11. Only on "Planet Thanet" could anyone think that it is reasonable to take a decision on such sensitive, highly charged matters within the week's timescale allowed. Only on Planet Thanet could anyone think of taking a decision without actually being told formally who the operator is! It is unacceptable, and a travesty of local democracy, for decisions to be taken in these circumstances.

12. We would respectfully remind the Council that your Corporate Plan - Theme 5, Healthy Communities - states: "The Council is committed to ensuring that residents continue to have every opportunity to be involved in the decision making processes". If these words mean anything at all they mean that the Council should not take a decision on probably the most important and wide-ranging planning matter of the decade (arguably even more important than "China Gateway" but certainly on a level with it, at least).

13. We are told that BAWC (if it is them!) have insisted that there must be confidentiality and that their deadline must be met. This is unreasonable. We know - thanks to the diligent research of one of the KIACC members - that BAWC have been looking at alternatives to their Stansted location for at least four years (we refer to BAWC's evidence to the Competition Commission given at a Hearing on 18th June 2008). So why the rush now? And why the secrecy over the identity? This way of behaving does not bode well for future relationships between the airline, the airport and the community.

14. This is particularly disappointing because in other contexts we would have considerable confidence in a British Airways subsidiary. They are a highly reputable, major international airline and the British "flag carrier" with all that this implies. They have shown themselves to be aware of their "corporate social responsibilities". The view has been expressed that they would be a great asset to Thanet. The area needs a major company to add to our economic base of predominantly small and medium enterprises. BAWC could turn out to be almost as important an element in the economic and social fabric of East Kent as Pfizers, who are well aware of their responsibilities to the local community.

15. We understand why BAWC "has a requirement for certainty that during the next ten years they will be able to operate their business in a stable regulatory environment". We would all like such certainty but it is unreasonable - given, for example, changing European legislation on the environmental which will have to be applied in the UK. We would all like to help BAWC in this regard but if we are to do so we need time to consider carefully what could turn out to be a "thin end of the wedge" or a "cuckoo in the nest" (to quote two comments made about the proposal).

16. We note that in the Director of Regeneration's paper one of the recommendations is for an "independent appraisal of the environmental issues associated with the new flights...received and accepted by the Chief Executive in consultation with the Leader, Deputy Leader and Leader of the Opposition". The Director of Regeneration has done a good job in difficult circumstances, drawing the threads together at very short notice, but, frankly, we do not feel that such an arrangement will provide much comfort to the local community or provide an adequate mechanism to consider the environmental issues. All these individuals are to some extent "parti pris".

17. Our suggestion is that an acceptable alternative would be to set up a working group (or use the existing working group) to look into all the detailed aspects of the application. However, we believe that it would be important to co-opt a couple of "outside" members on to such a group. And in the timescale there will need to be urgent consultation with the community in parallel with the work of such a group.

18. The timescale would need to be tight since we can understand why British Airways, with a number of financial and other challenges to address, would like an urgent response - and one that would "stick" and not be subject to significant revision.

19. KIACC is prepared to help with the process of further analysis of the proposals and with discussions with BAWC (and if necessary BA management centrally) to work out how to make the company a welcome partner and a "good neighbour".

20. Amongst the matters requiring further consideration in the view of KIACC members are:
the pros and cons of routing away from Ramsgate; the benefits of a new Instrument Landing System (which should help with noise amelioration and monitoring); the figures for employment (with most people casting doubt on the numbers suggested); the legality or otherwise of tying the agreement to a specific operator and if this is not possible, how one deals with this potential difficulty; the long term intentions of the operator (research having identified that BAWC have business links with Global Supply Systems and DHL - the worry with the later being that KIA might turn out to be a 24 hour hub for them).

21. There are also wider issues such as how any proposal would impact on other Corporate Plan themes like "Beautiful Thanet" - beaches are fine but can they be enjoyed with lots of noise? And what constitutes "lots" of noise? There is also the "Healthy Communities" theme and questions arise as to the effect of night noise on health. These may sound like unduly wide issues to take into account but it is clear that the current proposals will result in decisions which will have considerable "longevity", affecting the area for a long time.


21. There are a great many other matters which require detailed examination - which only illustrates the complexity of the decisions the Council has to take and the unsatisfactory nature of the process currently under way. KIACC stand ready to help the Council in your endeavour to balance business and the environment in this case.


FOOTNOTES
1. KIACC was set up under legislation which provides for the Government to designate airports which should have a consultative committee to deal with community concerns and other matters relating to the operation of the airport. KIA has been designated and KIACC is the statutory committee, independent but funded (very modestly) by Infratil.

2. Paul Twyman took over as Chairman from Sir Alistair Hunter in 2007. He is a resident of Minnis Bay (and is sometimes disturbed by aircraft noise there) and has a house in London, under one of the flight paths to Heathrow and close to one of the flight paths into London City Airport. The Heathrow flights often wake him up at 4.30 in the morning. The City Airport flights tend to be quieter and cause little if any disturbance to him. His career history has included being a senior administrator on the Secretariat of the Commission on the Third London Airport (the Roskill Commission); at the Department of Trade and then the Department of Transport he was the Assistant Secretary, Civil Aviation, responsible for oversight of all civil aviation matters, legislation thereon, sponsorship and supervision of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and National Air Traffic Control Services (NATS) and, inter alia, all private sector air operators (this was pre- and post-BA privatisation); he was Director of the Enterprise and Deregulation Unit at the Cabinet Office and then Department of Employment before resigning to set up his own management consultancy. He has acted in the (distant) past for Sir Michael Bishop and British Midland Airways. He has been a Thanet District Councillor (Conservative) though he has not been involved in party politics for more than a decade.


1 comment: