In defence of the elderly and infirm, widows and young mothers, out-of-town business professionals and employer-gagged residents of Windsor

February 17, 2008 at 7:20 am | Posted in Heathrow, Heathrow airport, Heathrow expansion, Maidenhead, RBWM, Royal Borough, Windsor | Leave a comment

adding capacity at LHR“We live in a ‘Why don’t they…?’ society. People expect councillors to do everything for them while they sit at home and watch the telly. Then they blame us when it all goes wrong.”

Councillor Malcolm Beer

Cllr Beer has a very valid point. Recently, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead called a number of Public Meetings to enable residents of the Royal Borough to learn more about proposals for Adding capacity at Heathrow airport, and to share their views. Not many residents took advantage of the excellent opportunity offered to them. Wonder why?

The week before the RBWM Public Meeting in Windsor on 13 February 2008, I knocked on more than one hundred and fifty neighbours’ doors, and chatted face-to-face (one-on-one) with several dozen residents, some of whom did attend the meeting, and for their efforts, I thank them. A few notes on my experience:

  • All doors I knocked on were easy walking distance from the school in which the meeting was held, so transport and parking would create no direct obstacles to attendance.
  • Three people told me they had seen the meeting advertised in a local newspaper, and were glad of a reminder as to its date and time.
  • Several neighbours had heard that I attended Public Exhibitions on Heathrow expansion and told me they had been looking forward to more information on this topic.
  • Three neighbours needed directions to the school (at the end of their street!) as they hail from other countries.
  • All but five people thanked me for letting them know there was a meeting nearby and supported my attempt to raise awareness of the most important issue for our town this quarter century.
  • Of the five:
    • One declared bluntly I was wasting my time.
    • One explained that speaking about Heathrow in public, or attending a public meeting, was out of the question because a family member works at Heathrow airport, “as do many others in this street.”
    • One aired concerns that I might offend people who worked at Heathrow or used it for leisure or business travel by posting “political propaganda” on a local noticeboard.

As for me, I am at the airport several times a month, either meeting and greeting or travelling myself, and have been a regular business traveller to Europe and the States in the past twenty years. Every time I need to fly out of the country I use Heathrow, and it is fine if you check in online, and turn up on time—so I am in no way anti-Heathrow, nor anti-aircraft, nor anti-flying. My view is that flying is like eating: just as cheap junk food leads to a growing waistline and other health problems for those who cannot resist it when it is abundant, easy-to-obtain cheap junk flights lead to growth in greenhouse gas emissions (invisible, unlike a waistline) and other environmental problems.

So, what did I find when I suprised my neighbours by knocking on their doors and asked if they were interested in information on the nearby Public Meeting to discuss Heathrow expansion? Nobody told me that Heathrow expansion is welcome. The vast majority of people told me they supported the aims of the Public Meeting called by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, yet many concerned citizens were unable to attend for all sorts of reasons:

  • spouses of wheelchair- and hospital-bound patients told me they would definitely be with us in spirit, though they could not be physically present at the meeting
  • elderly residents told me they were scared of going out and returning home after dark (the meeting was at 7:30 p.m.)
  • young mothers told me they would be getting the kids to bed
  • mothers of older children told me that they could not attend unless they found a sitter for the evening
  • young men who work from home wanted further information online (so I gave them a bunch of links and asked them to spread the word, online, even if they would not attend the meeting)
  • residents told me their professional neighbours would certainly be interested, but business commitments take them away—via Heathrow airport—most weeks, so they would be unable to attend a local meeting in Windsor on weekdays
  • employees working shifts or long hours told me they could not attend evening meetings because of work commitments
  • half term break at some local schools meant that families with children were away on holiday

Most people who knew a bit about Heathrow expansion were totally opposed to it. Nobody I met expressed any support for expansion. There were still many who knew nothing about Heathrow expansion, other than they think it has already happened, for example:

  • Yes, I have heard they have almost finished building T5. What? You are talking about T6? I never heard of that! I thought T5 was the end of it.

So, a tiny minority expressing vocal dissent took a cynical or apathetic angle, not objecting to Heathrow expansion per se, but reprimanding me for drawing attention to this topic and for appearing to be prepared to rock the boat:

  • Ha-ha! It is already a done deal—I saw Kelly on telly. What makes you think you can do anything to change that?
  • People have opposed expansion before, and never succeeded—why waste our time again?

Well, I shall continue to write about plans for Heathrow expansion as this issue is too important to simply lie down and roll over for!

Here’s the latest from our local newspaper on Sunday 17 February 2008 (Update, after I went back to check this source to confirm neighbours’ complaints that our newspapers have not taken a stand, let alone a strong stand, on this issue, I have to say, you are right! The Slough & Windsor Observer has said very little about Heathrow expansion, apart from telling us Royal Borough rejects airport expansion and today’s news):

Apathy in the air over Heathrow plans

WINDSOR residents have been accused of apathy after a Royal Borough public meeting on the controversial plans to expand Heathrow was shunned.

More than 500 seats had been laid out at the Windsor Boys’ School on Wednesday night for what was supposed to be the borough’s big response to Heathrow Airport’s expansion plans – a battle cry to residents to join their council in fighting the Government to the end.

But it all fell rather flat after less than 100 people showed up and those included borough transport chiefs, the MP for Windsor Adam Afriyie, and even villagers from Sipson and Hillingdon, a full 10 miles away.

A fortnight earlier, more than 450 people had packed the Maidenhead Road school hall to discuss the future of Windsor Arts Centre.

Despite addressing rows and rows of empty seats, Cllr Colin Rayner still issued a rallying call for public support.

The borough’s lead member for transport, highways and environment said: “The council needs to know what the residents of the Royal Borough think of the proposals. When we go to the Government, we need the whole of Windsor and Maidenhead behind us.”

As the meeting was opened up to the floor, unimpressed residents asked if the people of Windsor really cared. Richard Seaman, of York Avenue, Windsor, said: “I’m disappointed nobody turned up. We are either very apathetic about this or people just didn’t know about the meeting.”

Cllr Malcolm Beer of the Old Windsor ward, who also chairs the Windsor Area Aviation Action Group, said: “We live in a ‘Why don’t they … ?’ society. People expect councillors to do everything for them while they sit at home and watch the telly. Then they blame us when it all goes wrong.”

Mr Afriyie said: “There have been some raised temperatures here tonight but it’s been incredibly useful to me to hear views from the horse’s mouth. I’m your MP and you can email and write to me. For every letter I get, I’ll send one to the Secretary of State for Transport.

“Other MPs will do the same and if Ruth Kelly [secretary of state] receives two million letters she will think twice about this manouevre.”

The deadline for responses to the consultation over plans to build a third runway and increase flight-numbers at Heathrow is on Wednesday, 27 February 2008.

Visit www.dft.gov.uk/heathrowconsultation to record your views.

P.S. Yes, you missed a good meeting. As soon as I have time to write up my notes, I’ll let you know😉

Bottom line:

It is very important to respond to the Public Consultation before the 27 February 2008 deadline.

Fill your MP’s postbag!

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