Like pushing your own face into a bacon slicer. Slowly. It was shambolic to a degree I would once have found shocking.
Charles Buchanan had been invited to speak by Cllr Gideon (chair), at Madeline Homer’s suggestion, to “clarify” a number of points relating to the AWP’s draft response. This led to some confusion as to whether the current draft report would need to be returned to Parsons Brinckerhoff for rewriting in the light of whatever Mr Buchanan might be about to say. Eventually they decided to play it by ear, and if only minor adjustments were required, they could go straight to the next stage of the process (Overview & Scrutiny) without the AWP needing to meet again.
[An aside: WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? TDC have had their consultation, and received a report from the independent consultants. Why is Buchanan even allowed to speak at the AWP, let alone be allowed to modify the Council’s document? We’ve all seen TDC’s draft report, and there’s plenty that NoNightFlights would like to comment on, as (I guess) would the CPRE Protect Kent, and many others. If TDC want to avoid legal crucifixion for bias and failure of process, they are going to have to cut Mr Buchanan out of the loop, or include everyone.]
At the beginning of the meeting, Mr Buchanan’s scope for comment was whittled down from the whole report to sections 4.7 to 4.7.3 – largely as a result of Cllr Campbell’s insistence. Mr Buchanan was accompanied a consultant from Bickerdike Allen Partners (who said nothing), and another from York Aviation who ended up doing most of the talking.
Some while into the discussions, Cllr Campbell realised that the AWP all had a new and previously unseen document, and complained that they hadn’t been given time to assimilate it. It eventually transpired that this was not a TDC document, but had come from Buchanan. He had said that he had been hoping to speak more widely than 4.7-4.7.3, and presumably had wanted to work his way through the document, point by point.
Looking at the signing-in book on the front desk, Mr Buchanan was the first in, and had presumably just left a copy of the document at each seat. Sneaky bastard. Homer simply told everyone to “pretend they hadn’t seen it” and not to include any reference to it in their discussions, although she did tell Cllr Marson that she could take her copy home (!).
People wiser than I in the ways of protocol and the conduct of meetings would know better, but I would have thought a more proper course of action would have been for Cllr Gideon to collect and destroy the documents, rebuke Mr Buchanan, and minute accordingly. Or just punch someone.
In between trying to undermine the credibility of Parsons Brinckerhoff and their report, the guy from York Aviation did reveal the identity of the six airports that appeared in Section 3.10 of the York Aviation report as the basis for employment forecasts. They are Bournemouth, Bristol, Blackpool, Leeds/Bradford, Edinburgh and East Midlands – the last of these being the “outlier” on the graph due to the high volumes of freight it handles. He also let slip that Manston expected a 50:50 mix of freight and passenger traffic – the previous story has been 90% passenger.
Charles Buchanan stated that the proposal does not claim that 1,4552 jobs and £30.4m GVA (Gross Value Added) would be created by night flights, rather that the absence of night flights would jeopardise the potential benefits of the airport by these amounts.
In my eyes, Charles Buchanan exemplified the use of data to obscure and distort issues. In striking contrast was Council officer Hannah Thorpe – easily the star of the evening – who stuck resolutely to the principle of using data to clarify, and sticking strictly within the limits of validity rather than trying to extrapolate in the hope of supporting anyone’s preconceptions.
So when Cllr Gideon asked whether free-form (as opposed to questionnaire-style) responses were harder to analyse meaningfully – Ms Thorpe: No, we do it all the time – we’re doing it for the Asset Management consultation.
Cllr Gideon: was the format of the survey a good way of getting a response? – Ms Thorpe: it was widely promoted through mail shots, press articles and adverts, and is “equally as valid” as any other form of consultation conducted by TDC.
Cllr Gideon: what percentage of Thanet’s population responded? – Ms Thorpe: that’s not a valid or correct way to assess the response.
Cllr Gideon: doesn’t the low percentage response rate invalidate the result? – Ms Thorpe: don’t go there, this is the highest response rate we’ve had for any consultation – if you disregard this result, you’ll have to disregard every consultation result we’ve ever had.
Cllr Green successfully argued for the inclusion in the report of three significant additional considerations: a summary of the health impacts of broken and disrupted sleep from the World Health Organisation; a critical assessment of the short-comings of the QC noise rating system, from the House of Commons library; and an overview of the scale and economic importance of Thanet’s tourism industry.
Cllr Campbell successfully argued that the effects of noise disruption on residents’ rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights needed to be included in the report.
Cllr Hart, when explaining his decision to go for an in-house consultation rather than spending £50k on MORI made an interesting point. Many people had been puzzling over how TDC proposed to implement the proposed weighting of responses from those under the flight path as against those living out of earshot – what multiplier, or what algorithm would be used?
Cllr Hart’s solution was disarmingly simple: it would be down to councillors to use their own judgement. Just as councillors make a judgement call when assessing the planning applications – closer proximity means a greater impact – they should use their own judgement to assess how much more weight should be attached to responses that come from those under the flight path.