Fingers in ears

(When consultation doesn’t tell you what you wanted to hear.)

The news this week that a developer has been accused of hiding ‘embarrassing opposition’ to their plans was met with a yawn at Woodland Trust HQ (before we got really annoyed, but more on that in a moment). This is just another good example of an issue we face a lot: when consultation is not really consultation, but tokenism.

Wikipedia defines public consultation as;

a regulatory process by which the public’s input on matters affecting them is sought. Its main goals are in improving the efficiency, transparency and public involvement in large-scale projects or laws and policies.”

What’s supposed to happen next is the results of your consultation inform your final plans. Sometimes though, the responses you receive don’t always match what you wanted to hear. And there can be many. When this happens, it seems a default reaction is to attempt to underplay the value of these responses by lumping them into one.

This is often seen when a number of responses that are received say the same thing (for example a petition), or express similar concerns (for example emails generated by a campaign), or when a lot of responses come via a single route (for example when facilitated through an organisation). In a similar vein some MPs, government departments and various local planning authorities have also been known to question the validity of what they call ‘mass emails’ and petitions.

The consulting body in this case, Gatwick’s fund manager owner Global Infrastructure Partners, has produced a report on its consultation results. It describes the 4,092 responses which the Trust facilitated to its consultation on the three options put forward for a new runway as ‘an organised campaign’, in an apparent attempt to understate both the volume of responses (53% of all the responses GIP received) and the result – a resounding ‘no’ to a new runway, on the basis of ancient woodland loss.

Unfortunately this report also includes several fundamental misunderstandings about ancient woodland ecology and management. We’ll expand on this in another post. GIP also ignores the fact that many of these (1,058 to be exact) took the time to add further, personal comments on the plans. This is possibly what’s annoyed us the most. Ancient woodland, like the rest of the natural world, can’t speak up for itself. Not all of these people are Woodland Trust members, as GIP have assumed, but they do all have one thing in common with the Trust; a belief that ancient woodland is an irreplaceable natural resource that needs to be given proper consideration in planning proposals.

All this is important, because the report will be given to the Airports Commision which will use it as part of its recommendations for aviation expansion next year. It should be accurate.

If the public response you receive doesn’t reflect what you really wanted it to say, then man up – don’t hide it. And if you didn’t really want to know, why ask?

For the record, we will be making doubly sure that GIP takes heed of what those 4,000+ people said about the plans for a second runway, if we have to hand them in to their offices ourselves!

Why do you take part in consultations through campaigns like ours? We’d love to know your views:

About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, Protection and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Fingers in ears

  1. Pingback: When we met Gatwick’s second runway team | Woodland Matters

  2. sherwoodforestcommunityvision says:
  3. I believe in protecting what remains of what we still have of this planet of ours. I would like to believe there will be something to treasure and enjoy for those who will come after me. Organisations like Woodland Trust help to synchronise many voices into a single worthwhile cause.

  4. I recall wild daffodils, wild service trees, secret ghylls, old coppice with standards, a sense of timelessness, silver washed fritillaries, ancient woodbanks, renewable woodalnd resources, local craftsmen (and women) places for the imagination to run wild and deep beauty despite its proximity to Gatwick all in Edolph’s and Hammonds.

  5. Rwthless says:

    I have also been a committed environmental campaigner all my life. While the research and information found by the Woodland Trust is useful, I have to say that my main reason for campaigning through it, is that it provides a route for complaint and feedback on these matters. I also use other routes for campaigns, and am not just a name on their list.

    If someone doesn’t want another air route in London, it may be because of ancient woodland, which I am keen to protect, but I also feel we depend too much on aviation, and it has a limited life. I have an overal view, which also includes the nuisance aspect of noise. (I live near the Bristol channel so it doesn’t affect me personally).

    Trees live on a much extended life cycle in comparison with ours. It takes about a couple of hundred, maybe more years before an ancient woodland can come into its own and consolidate the water retention, soil conservation and habitat functions, so why do developers insist on removing it when there are so many brown field sites begging for improvement? Architects, like a level site to begin with and many owners of new building land clear woodland before even applying for planning permission. Why do this for HST2? There have been at least 2 main lines between Birmingham and London, so why don’t they use the one that has fallen into disrepair for the new route? Because people have invested in the new route already.

    If a NIMBY doesn’t care about their own back yard, who else will? People who love the countryside and ecological balance of the unbuilt environment, that’s who. 4200 respondents via the Woodland Trust is 4200 respondents. Not knee -jerk opposers, but people who care about their world and have considered views so use this route to target their response.

  6. Ash says:

    The Earth, our spaceship, is a finite environment. It is where we humans (& millions of other organisms) live & survive in the universe. There is nowhere else for us to go! I love this planet & the nourishment it has given me & my ancestors & I naturally gravitate towards those who think like me. The Woodland Trust cares about our woodland environment & I support that aim with all my heart.

  7. Val says:

    My reason for taking part is much as the above Gill Kaye states. I am extremely concerned about the health and welfare of the natural world ~ I also rely a great deal on people who are in the field so to speak ,who have first hand knowledge of both what might be happening to threaten the ecosystem or any part of it and what data and facts they have about it so that I might both be “armed ” with the facts, as well as have an avenue to voice my opinion that will reach appropriate parties. I believe in many instances and on a variety of issues, if more people were simply made AWARE of what is going on around them then they would want to become involved , if only by signing a petition or emailing the appropriate agency~ Often things are left to languish because not enough people are even aware that something is happening they would otherwise strongly be against or support . The earth and it’s living organisms cannot speak for themselves, so we must be their voice ~ there are constant threats to every aspect of it and we must speak out in it’s defense so that there will be a healthy, diverse , beautiful earth left for all living things to inherit.

  8. Gill Kaye says:

    Kaye asks “why do you take part in consultations through campaigns like ours”, my reasons are as follows: I’m intensely interested in our natural world and conserving valuable resources not only for their own sake but for the sake of continued diversity in the environment for generations to come. I can’t, on my own, do all the research and fact finding that, for example, Woodland Trust does. They are the experts – in the same way that RSPB is expert in the lives of birds and their environment – so rather than inventing the wheel all over again I prefer to read the information and follow with interest the bulletins provided by the Woodland Trust.
    A campaign put forward by the Woodland Trust, once I’ve read about it and feel it’s in line with my interests, will get my support.
    There is strength in numbers. One voice is not as effective as hundreds or thousands of voices, so I am very happy to lend my voice to the throng that stands up for the things I also believe in, in the hope that we may bring about change where change is needed, and conservation where that is needed.
    Thank you for all that you are doing on behalf of our silent but majestic woodland.

    • Peter Wilding says:

      Gill Kaye’s response is a very good succinct description of the reasons why I – and I would expect many others – associate our names with Woodland Trust campaigns on loss of ancient woodland.

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