17th April, 2014
The Department for Transport has published a new set of guidelines for airport consultative committees which replace the previous guidelines introduced in 2003.
We provided a detailed response to the DfT’s draft guidelines and we appreciate that some of our suggestions were taken on board. Particularly, we are pleased that a section on consultative committees dealing with complaints was re-introduced to the new guidelines. DfT commented that there was no appetite for removing statutory requirements for airports to consult but neither did they suggest that the designated list be extended to all airports and airfields.
The guidelines did not take up our recommendation to introduce a form of dispute resolution forum to give community groups and individuals some right of appeal should they find they are unfairly excluded from a consultative committee. The new guidance says that disputes should be handled by the committee in the first instance, and that “in the majority of instances a solution should be found at the local level“. However, it does also say that for designated airports, it is ultimately in their best interests that committees are functioning effectively, suggesting that they should be proactive in trying to resolve disputes. This is an improvement that puts the onus on airport operators to be constructive.
Our comments on the draft guidelines are relevant to the new guidance. Below are several key changes:
We supported the inclusion of principles for airport consultative committees that can be applied to all committees regardless of the size of the airfield or airport. Their continued inclusion means that there is no truth to claims of some airports that they are too small for the guidelines to apply.
The new guidelines did make an addition from the draft version based on one of our recommendations and added ‘effective’ to the constructive principle meaning that airport operators should approach consultative committees with a genuine willingness “to be influenced by the discussions and opinions of the committee in order to make the process of consultation meaningful.” The guidance also says that airports are expected to take the committee’s views into account in decisions. We welcome this addition as it reminds airports of the purpose of consultative committees.
The new guidance also asks airports to be clear about when a decision has already taken place that the committee cannot influence, and for committee secretariat to be clear when presenting views of the committee if a significant minority opinion exists. We recommended both.
2) Code of conduct
We supported this proposal based on the experiences that had been passed on to us where personalities had prevented effective and constructive discussion. Our response to the draft guidance recommended that the code of conduct should explicitly also apply to airport operators, committee chair and secretary. The new guidance has included this suggestion.
In our response to the draft guidelines, we highlighted that consultative committees should include monitoring complaints in their remit to ensure some accountability of airports to local stakeholders. The new guidance has included this recommendation.