Local democracy in Hillingdon has hit a low point with a ban for a petition on the council’s website which calls for an end to the use tax payers’ money on its legal challenge to Heathrow expansion.
The petition says it should start co-operating with Heathrow instead, so residents can benefit from new jobs and prosperity when the new runway is completed.
Local resident, Mx Berry submitted the petition, only for Hillingdon to tell her it fell foul of petition rules because it “seeks to directly overturn a fundamental, democratically approved policy of the council where there has been substantial consultation on the matter.”
Mx Berry said: “I am shocked that the council can use this tactic to avoid listening to what is a serious issue for residents, who are angry that the council has spent over £1m of public money on legal fees and funding anti-expansion opposition groups.
“They refuse to listen or engage - even when they know opinion has shifted and people have changed their mind. They seem to want to shut down discussion on this issue. This isn’t democracy. It feels more like 1970s Soviet Russia.”
Mx Berry contacted Back Heathrow to raise her concerns. Executive Director, Parmjit Dhanda, said: “Doesn’t Hillingdon want to hear what its residents think about Heathrow expansion or debate it? Local politicians are in danger of bringing themselves into disrepute. They are elected to engage with, not ignore, their residents. Small wonder that Mx Berry wants to take it further by formally complaining to the council. Just imagine what people would think if the government banned petitions, just because they are at odds with government policy.”
In January, council leader, Ray Puddifoot, instructed council officers to post back 1,500 Back Heathrow campaign cards rather than let councillors receive them.
Hillingdon’s own budget consultation in 2019 showed how opinion has shifted towards support for Heathrow expansion. The survey showed a spike in residents opposing the council’s hard line against the plan for a new runway.
Full Hillingdon budget survey results are here: https://modgov.hillingdon.gov.uk/documents/s40226/Appendix%2014%20-%20Budget%20Consultation%20Feedback%20from%20Residents.pdf
Back Heathrow has welcomed the Judicial Review of the decision to proceed with a new runway at Heathrow, and which began in the High Court on March 11.
Back Heathrow Executive Director, Parmjit Dhanda said: “The review is part of the democratic process. It happens with most major schemes. However, the Independent Airports Commission that proposed Heathrow's new runway was also part of that democratic process. As was the detailed scrutiny in Parliament by a select committee, and the debate on the floor of the House that delivered a cross-party majority of nearly 300 in favour of this project. Hence we can be confident that this robust process will back expansion and deliver the investment local communities need.”
The third runway project was recommended by the Davies Commission in 2015 (a £17 million independent commission). It was subject to intense analysis and debate by the Transport Select Committee in 2018, and received the overwhelming support of MPs in a parliamentary vote in June 2018 (by 415 to 119, a majority 296). The majority of Labour and Conservative MPs backed the project.
The Heathrow North West runway plans also have the backing of the TUC and the CBI. The economic benefits include a £107 billion boost to the UK economy, 40,00 new local jobs in neighbouring boroughs (up to 180,000 nationally) and 10,000 apprenticeships.
Mr Dhanda added: "The Independent Commission stated that an expanded Heathrow can be delivered whilst reducing noise and meeting all air quality obligations. That really matters to local people, and the advances in aircraft technology, and investment in public transport will help deliver those commitments."
Back Heathrow has responded to the start of the legal proceedings by several local authorities against Heathrow expansion with a clear message.
Executive Director of Back Heathrow Parmjit Dhanda said: "This project has been on the starting blocks for decades, and it’s now time to get on and build it. There have been no new runways built in London or the South-East of England since the Second World War, and our airports are full to capacity.
"The new runway project has the capacity to create up to 180,000 new jobs and 10,000 apprenticeships, as well the chance to create new prosperity at a financially challenging time for our country.
“Most importantly, we know from independent polling that more local people support the project than oppose it, and MPs from both sides have backed it by a majority of 296. The time is right and the process has been robust. We hope the courts will back democracy and back the needs of our country and let Heathrow create the jobs and prosperity the country needs."
Back Heathrow is a grassroots organisation of over 100,000 local people who want to see a bigger, better and environmentally sustainable Heathrow airport, true to the recommendations of the 2015 Independent Airport's Commission report.
Back Heathrow campaigners have reacted with anger to Hillingdon Council’s astonishing decision to ban post from residents to councillors on Heathrow expansion. Over 1,200 residents signed campaign cards which they delivered to the reception desk of the Civic Centre on January 31. The cards were addressed to named councillors by individual residents who live in their wards.
The cards should have been passed on to Hillingdon’s councillors. Instead, council leader Ray Puddifoot intervened unilaterally to block circulation to the borough’s 65 councillors. He then instructed officials to despatch them, at taxpayers’ expense, to the Back Heathrow office. Councillor Puddifoot instructed his staff to enclose a letter stating that materials from Back Heathrow supporters must not be passed on to councillors.
Local resident Ali Berry said: “I am furious. I handed in response slips to represent my views and the views of other residents from Harefield. I want to tell Councillor Puddifoot in no uncertain terms that this is an affront to local democracy. He should apologise to us at once.”
Hayes resident Keith Hendry said: “What right does Councillor Puddifoot have to steal mail from me to my local councillor? He is desperate to quash all debate on Heathrow expansion. He is out on a limb and out of touch with Hillingdon’s residents. Councillors shouldn’t be banned from receiving correspondence just because it goes against the grain of the leader’s thinking.”
Back Heathrow’s executive director, Parmjit Dhanda said: “Councillor Puddifoot has every right to oppose Heathrow expansion, but this is rather eccentric behaviour. It effectively means that locally elected councillors are banned by the council leader from receiving correspondence from their residents – correspondence that residents have signed, addressed and dated. Mr Puddifoot has just unilaterally disenfranchised over 1,200 Hillingdon residents and blocked constituents’ correspondence to local councillors. It doesn’t show local democracy in a London borough in a good light.”
The campaign cards were all signed individually by residents and span all 22 wards, including 31 in the Leader’s own ward. They declare support for a new runway and urge councillors to end the spending of taxpayers’ money to oppose the project. The spending has now exceeded £1.2m over ten years.
Residents have expressed their concern that the council has wasted taxpayers’ money on a legal challenge whilst resourcing local anti-expansion campaign groups. The council is also looking to raise council tax by 2.4% per cent this year, the first rise for ten years.
Hillingdon council has funded anti-expansion campaign groups ‘Stop Heathrow Expansion’, (£100,800), and ‘No Third Runway Coalition’, (£174,000). Between January 2007 and August 2016, Hillingdon spent £827,000 on legal services, campaigning and community engagement. Since then the council has spent £620,000, with £275,000 going towards funding anti-Heathrow campaign groups. It has received £330,000 in contributions towards these funds from other boroughs.
On January 17 in Hillingdon’s council chamber, Councillor Puddifoot pledged a further £413,000 in 2019 for anti-expansion campaigning.
Independent polling by Populus shows that more people in the 12 constituencies adjacent to Heathrow, including Hillingdon support Heathrow expansion than oppose it.
A new survey of Hounslow residents should make councillors and local MPs sit up and listen. The survey figures show a further significant shift in local opinion in favour of Heathrow’s new runway.
The survey report will be ratified by Hounslow council next week. It shows that 59% of residents overall now support the third runway – up from 44% in 2016, with only 22% opposing it.
Local communities around Heathrow are clearer than ever before that the new runway has their overwhelming support.
Back Heathrow Executive Director Parmjit Dhanda said: “It is welcome news and shows the tide has turned in favour of airport expansion. This sends a very clear message to the council to get fully behind the wishes of residents and help make expansion happen so Hounslow can reap the benefits the new runway will bring, with thousands of new jobs, apprenticeships for its young people and much needed investment in the local economy.”
The report says: “Support of the proposal to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport has increased significantly since 2016 with close to three fifths of residents supporting it.”
Across the borough from Bedfont, Feltham and Hanworth, to Isleworth and Brentford support is over 50%. In Bedfont, Feltham and Hanworth, support is highest and opposition is lowest at 67% and 12% respectively. In Chiswick, support outstrips opposition by 47% to 28% respectively.
Mr Dhanda added: “The figures are very stark. This report shows roughly three fifths of Hounslow residents are now in favour, and only one fifth against expansion.”
Back Heathrow campaigners today delivered a defiant message to Hillingdon councillors – the local community supports the building of a new runway at Heathrow airport and the council should back the project rather than spend scarce taxpayers’ money opposing it.
They delivered over 1,500 signed campaign cards to the Civic Centre on Thursday morning spanning Hillingdon’s 22 wards. The campaign cards declare support for a new runway and urge councillors to end the spending of taxpayers’ money to oppose the project, which is set to create 180,000 unionised jobs.
The council has spent over £1m opposing expansion over the last decade and has recently committed another £413,000 of taxpayers’ money. The council is also consulting on the first council tax hike in a decade.
Back Heathrow local campaigner Rose-Marie Welsh from Ickenham said: “I really think it’s time our council started listening to us. I know many people who share my view and who would like to see Heathrow grow. We may be a silent majority, but its time our voice was heard and acknowledged by local councillors." (Rose-Marie is 6th from the right in the photograph, hand on banner).
Amit Gupta, an accountant from Botwell in Hayes said: "My local councillors need to understand that there is more than one view on this issue. We feel let down and ignored. Hayes needs jobs." (Amit is far left in the photograph).
Commenting on the pre-trial hearing on January 15, following legal challenges to Heathrow expansion by Friends of the Earth and other applicants (including the Mayor of London) at the High Court, Back Heathrow executive director, Parmjit Dhanda said:
“Climate change is one of the most pressing issues that faces us in the UK and wider world. However, it is a problem that should be shared by all and to argue that scrapping expansion would solve climate change is wrong.
“The enemy is not aircraft but carbon. The reality is that you can’t uninvent aircraft or the aviation industry, the trick is to target the real culprit – carbon emissions.
“Heathrow’s commitment to become carbon neutral, the wider progress made on UK carbon targets and the economic benefits of a new runway has the support of over 100,000 people in the local community.
“The best way forward is to help build a sustainable airport that plays its part in tackling climate change while delivering jobs, skills and investment.”
The Back Heathrow campaign which represents over 100,000 residents that back Heathrow expansion has welcomed the launch of an eight-week public consultation by Heathrow Airport on its plans for future airspace and operations.
Back Heathrow has called on local communities to get engaged to help shape the airport’s expansion plans. The public consultation begins on January 8 and ends on March 4.
Back Heathrow executive director, Parmjit Dhanda said: “This is a landmark day for the airport and its expansion plans. Independent polling shows that the scheme has very strong support amongst local residents, but it is crucial that they are involved in shaping these plans.”
“Whether people support or oppose the project we want to see everyone engaged in this consultation in order to ensure commitments made to minimise noise and provide longer respite from flights at night are adhered to. We sense a real desire to get on with this in the local community, but also a desire to ensure it is done well.”
Heathrow expansion is one of the UK’s biggest ever infrastructure projects and will deliver 10,000 apprenticeships, an economic boost of £187bn to the UK economy and 180,000 new jobs. Back Heathrow wants local communities to be at the front of the queue when the economic benefits are realised.
Dhanda added: “Heathrow airspace has not been modernised since 1950 and there has been no new runways built in London or the south east of England since World War 2. Heathrow is our only hub airport and it is time to make it fit for the 21st century.”