Dear Sir Howard,
As a seasoned campaigner, I find it all somewhat ironic. You will have noticed from the number of pro-forma letters your Commission has been receiving that Heathrow Airport and Back Heathrow have strained every sinew of their advertising budget to try to persuade as many people as possible to email or write to the Commission that they want a third runway at Heathrow.
As you know, that is not the issue the Commission has been seeking to address in its current consultation. It has been asking a series of fairly technical questions on whether it has accurately assessed the pros ands cons of the three options it has shortlisted for a new runway: Gatwick; Heathrow Hub; and Heathrow Airport’s own proposal.
What it is not assessing is the level of support for each option. Quite rightly, the Commission sees that as the role of the next Government when it considers the Commission’s recommendations after the forthcoming General Election.
The irony is that, as a rule, it is campaign groups which use – and indeed sometimes abuse – this sort of consultation as a hook to bombard the authorities with objections. Usually the airports are content to sit back and watch, with wry amusement, their opponents running around ragged, content in the knowledge that it is the technical arguments that count.
Not this time. The roles have been reversed. While most of the campaign groups have stuck to making the arguments, Heathrow, together with its sidekick Back Heathrow, have engaged in an orgy of activity. Passengers have been invited to pop letters of support into special post boxes which you may have seen dotted around the terminals. Airport staff, resplendent in their uniforms, have been queuing up to sign the pro-forma letters (having doubtless carefully considered every word of your weighty report in their tea-break). And Back Heathrow, slick campaigners that they are, have used their website to make it as easy as possible for their supporters to send the Commission emails and letters supporting expansion.
I think the Commission can expect tens of thousands of standard letters and emails supporting Heathrow expansion. I don’t know if Heathrow has set itself a target but I suspect it would be disappointed if you received less than 60,000 – the number of supporters I believe Back Heathrow now claims to have. They may even be aiming for 70,000, the number who objected to the third runway in 2009.
You will get some responses from HACAN members and supporters but we have deliberately not set out to generate a mass of pro-forma letters and emails. We simply think they are a side-show to the serious work your Commission is undertaking.
Thank-you for taking the time to read this letter,