Wednesday, October 15, 2008

London City Airport and Newham Council: A Dysfunctional, But Loving Relationship

As documented in various other accounts around the web, the events of last Wednesday's planning meeting were truly spectacular and perfectly displayed the dubious and underhand nature of the London Borough of Newham. We'd recommend anyone who hasn't attended a Newham Planning meeting to attend the very next one and witness the ineptitude of the ruling party and their officers.

First of all three Cllrs had sent their apologies in (despite some being in the room nearby, probably having a glass of Cristal with LCA) as they had been so busy accepting gifts over the past year or so from LCA that it was rather inappropriate for them to attend.

Then the Chairman wanted to try and stop the Chair of FTF speaking (which one of the room stewards commented without prompt that he found very unusual and had never heard it said before: "if she arrives after the start, she cannot talk"), to then moving on to Newham's endless presentation on their love affair with the corporate 'experts'. It was nothing more than an airport advertisement with no mention of 8 years of uninforced planning conditions and very little attention paid to the negative effects:
  • no mention of the residents who have been waiting for noise insulation for 6 years too long,

  • the lack of reliable and consistent noise readings for 8 years

  • noise contours based on 8 year old estimated data

  • a PSZ that ignored DFT methodology

  • the failing of meeting anywhere near the previous claims of employment growth,

  • the lack of reliable and consistent air quality readings

  • a consultation which never went anywhere near consulting even all those whom live in the 'estimated' noise mapping area

...and a whole host of other appalling effects which Newham has purposely overlooked in their love affair with LCA, Bickerdike Allen Partners and RPS. The whole application is based on flawed data and LIES. Of course this was all helped along by the PR company, Hill and Knowlton, (who told people that smoking didn't cause cancer, even when they knew it did). The spin merry henchmen, and woman were watching the events of the evening from the video room. LCA keep such good company. The mutual admiration was almost tangible - in fact we could have sworn that the political had joined the corporate and had become one.

Surely not in a democracy? But then you remember it's Newham Council, which has a more than colourful history and damaging reputation. The ruling regime over there doesn't deal in facts, it rather likes to use weasel words to skirt around the truths...such as "it is not true that there were no readings taking in 8 years" - when in fact it is true, as the few readings that were taken, when the noise monitoring equipment just by chance was working (which wasn't often) were deemed to be unreliable and inadequate. So, no RELIABLE noise readings of London City Airport's activities in 8 years then.

Bickerdike Allen Partners rep look terrified when he stood up on behalf of the airport, but braced himself enough to praise Newham for their stringent noise management of the airport. What, after 8 years of LCA failing to present actual noise measurements? We think, what he was really saying was 'thank you so much, for overlooking the unprofessionalism and lack of commitment that LCA has shown towards the planning condition requiring them to provide actual noise readings annually'. 'Never mind that the locals have suffered because of this - we think your great'.

It just so happened that FTF had Bickerdike Allen's report in their hand - which states that 'no reliable noise data has been collected since 2000'. It is quite surprising that BAP would make such disingenous statements with the hard evidence of the facts in the public realm. So what price honesty BAP, or should we simply ask 'how much will it cost to...'?

Not surprisingly after the BAP's statement of lies - chaos broke out in the chamber. Residents were furious. BAP man gave up and sat down in the end, realising he couldn't spin in the light of the evidence: much to the disapointment of the smug LCA man sitting next to him from the airport - that will surely incur a refund on his hourly rate! BAP - change sides, come and work for groups like us - with all this abuse of noise monitoring going on we are sure groups such as ourselves could provide you with work for the rest of your working lives. But we would, of course, expect 100% honesty in the presentation of the facts.

The chaos breaking out in the chamber was a good sign, especially when it was in response to lies being told in public chambers by the disingenuous corporate 'consultants'. Anyone who has an ounce of honesty and morals will find it uneasy to swallow the bitter pill of such public dishonesty around LCA and LB Newham.

One of the councillors sitting on the planning committee, asked Sunil Sahadevan, the planning case officer for LB Newham if any letters of support of the proposed expansion had been received by residents from the Royal Docks. Sunil stuttered for what seemed like minutes, (obviously trying to think of something that would make LCA look as if it had at least some community support) and then stated that "over 300 letters were received in support of the airport". Hmm that didn't answer the question, and the Chair (good job chair!) asked him to clarify: he stuttered again before adding that "a few were received". Hmm is that 1, 2 or 3 we wondered? We know that one of them was from Cllr Kellerway.

The councillor looked disappointed when it was revealed that all but a 'few' of these letters of support came from: the aviation industry and business. That raised more than a giggle from the chambers. The support for expansion amounted to a figure less than the 400 or so staff that the airport claims to have 'created' jobs for.

The councillor however wasn't going to spend too much time worrying about what the residents of the Royal Docks, or anywhere else wanted...UNLESS of course they were in favour of the expansion. Objectors letters amounted to well over a 1000, and 2 of those objections were petitions that totalled just under 1000 signatures between them. Newham didn't want to count them though - so each petition was counted as 1 objection each.

Another objector revealed that Newham had not consulted the Civil Aviation Authority, though Newham had also forgotten to initially consult the London City Airport Consultation Committee aswell.

You get to be an expert of understanding the LB Newham and London City Airport's own personal set of definitions, 'speak' and interpretations of the English Dictionary, the cynical and purposely misleading statements they make, which omit crucial information. But don't worry, as they skirted around the real facts, and buried them - that doesn't make them bad - the blame is clearly on residents: it's your fault for not realising or asking the 'RIGHT' questions with the 'RIGHT' words or not complaining about the breaches of the planning conditions despite never being told what the conditions were. Ever see Jeremy Paxman interview? Well that is exactly the way in which these insincere, disingenuous individuals need to be dealt with. We tried that with John Fannon, Head of Newham Planning after the meeting.

John Fannon actually seems like a nice guy, but his choice to work for Newham is puzzling if our impression about him as an individual is correct. Surely he'd heard the rumours about LB Newham and the "Whip Master" before he took post, or perhaps he felt he could make a difference. With the whip master in place this appears unlikely. When we tried the Jeremy Paxman approach as John kept skirting the issue about the noise readings it was more interesting - he had to admit "there were noise readings taken, but they were not reliable" , not reliable to use in 8 years - so no actual noise readings then! We also asked John why Newham had made no effort to enforce the section 106 conditions on LCA. John said their had been 'problems', but the more we pushed him, he resorted to the get out of jail card "I've only worked here for a 18 months". So that's all right then. We asked him why, if that was the case, why didn't he take the opportunity to clean up the act of his department and start enforcing the planning conditions at LCA and make a real impact on his arrival in the post. His telling response was to the effect that Newham had not felt that it was right to enforce noise monitoring in the past year and a half because this application would, he quoted "raise the benchmark". Oh dear, doesn't this indicate that this application had been rubber stamped rather a long time ago, despite him denying this?

But his comment is even more interesting: London City Airport are always going on (they do a lot) about this fantastic noise management programme they have in place. You know, the one where they insulate only homes built after a certain year, and who they choose to be in the estimated noise map of 57db laeq and over. When other airports insulate at a higher noise level, LCA likes to boast that they insulate at a lower threshold. But the difference is that the others do actually insulate, not just say they will, and and then leave it for 6 years for vast swathes of the communities who are the worst affected. It must be quite difficult to work out whose homes are in the REAL 57dblaeq when you haven't provided actual noise data for 8 years.

But what is important about the 'raise the benchmark' comment on noise monitoring, other than none of us know what this will mean in reality, is that we were told by an official just a week ago that the noise insulation that LCA offers is of poor quality. Apparently it is not of the same standard as that offered at other airports. So yet another show of lack of committment and care towards the community by London City Airport - all supported by the LB Newham.