DfT and BAA collude over consultation

Parliament 5

It was collusion on a massive scale; a stich-up so great that no one would believe it - until 5 of us took to the rooftops to shout about it. Documents obtained by Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act show beyond any doubt that BAA and the Department for Transport sat down to fiddle the figures and re-write the consultation on expanding Heathrow airport. But that was just the beginning...

After the rooftop action last week, someone slipped the Sunday Times even more documents (1 / 2 / 3 / 4), and their investigative reporters looked into it further. What they found showed that the collusion went further than even we'd imagined - that the government abandoned its own data on noise and pollution in favour of dodgy data collected by BAA. They set up 'Project Heathrow', headed up by senior civil servant David Gray, to fix the "strict local environmental limits" in favour of expansion. In the words of one official who worked on the project: "It’s a classic case of reverse engineering. They knew exactly what results they wanted and fixed the inputs to get there."

The government did not leave a single stone unturned in their efforts to push through expansion. Faced with trying to fit a quart into a pint pot, Gray contacted BAA to ask them what could be "stripped out to achieve compliance". Pretty much everything, as it happened. When they couldn't keep the noise levels down, BAA and the DfT "reforecast" the predictions about how noisy planes would be in the future. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, "The BAA forecast was scaled back to such a point where the [noise] contour would meet the white paper test."

Couldn't keep the NOx levels below European levels? BAA invented 'NOx scrubbers' - magic devices which extract Nitrogen Oxide from the air, and sunk the M4 underground. NOx scrubbers, of course, do not exist yet - but BAA also envisaged a hi-tech re-routing system which would direct cars away from NOx hotspots. They finally gave up and decided that by 2030 cars would be so green that emissions simply wouldn't go up any more.

Of course, none of this should surprise us. BAA will stop at nothing to get its third runway. If government doesn't start standing up to these cowboys, then there will be a lot more protest from pissed off residents and environmentalists. Planes and Parliament was just the start - I predict some turbulence ahead.