The AEF has responded to the Department for Transport’s recent consultation on a new set of guidelines for airport consultative committees. Overall, we were pleased to see that the draft guidelines improved upon those issued in 2003. However, we were concerned that the DfT was continuing to consider, as part of the Aviation Red Tape Challenge, whether a legislative basis was required for the designated airports (which range in size from General Aviation airfields to Heathrow and Gatwick) to consult.
Section 35 – the legislation (more information on the legislation is available here)
Our view: In our eyes, Section 35 is an essential piece of legislation facilitating communication between all parties, and providing a cornerstone upon which the relationship between an airport and those affected by it’s operations can be built. It’s removal would raise concerns regarding the ability for communities to seek redress if the consultation requirement is not satisfied.
Our recommendation: The DfT should retain section 35 and go further by considering an arbitration process to ensure Section 35 is being delivered. All stakeholders should have the right of appeal if they feel their right to fair and equal consultation at designated airports is being denied.
Principles for all consultative committees
Our view: The new principles are very much in line with developments in consultation best practice, and consultative committees of all sizes can be judged by how they deliver on them. All of the principles can be achieved in a cost effective manner while the larger airports should be willing to go further on each of the principles and demonstrate leadership in local democracy.
Our recommendation: It would be easier for members of the public to assess their committee if the DfT produced a list of indicators that demonstrate each principle. We suggest some in our consultation response for each principle.
A code of conduct for participants of committees
Our view: Personalities of individual committee members can occasionally get in the way of the committees working constructively. With the DfT’s code of conduct, the responsibilities of each member are set out clearly.
Our recommendation: The DfT should make every effort to publicise the guidelines and ensure that all participants are aware of the code of conduct. The DfT should also be more explicit about how the code of conduct applies to the Chair, Secretary and airport management.
Sharing best practice
Our view: The Liaison Group of Airport Consultative Committees exists for the Chair and Secretary of consultative committees to share best practice and is, in our view, a very useful forum that should be better utilised by committees and promoted by the DfT. However, consistent with the emphasis in the new guidelines on making all committee members responsible for the effectiveness of their committee, they should also be able to share in resources that promote best practice.
Our recommendation: The DfT should examine how best to include members of consultative committees in sharing best practice, particularly the willingness of the liaison group to broaden out who they work with.
Complaints: We believe it is important that the DfT reinstates the section in the 2003 guidelines on how to handle complaints: the Department encourages local resolution to noise issues and it’s important for committees to be able to have data and trends in order to discuss appropriate solutions.