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PR 11 - Heathrow protests may be just the beginning - RTPI

29 February 2008

The growing militancy of protests against Heathrow expansion is a direct result of consultation processes which undervalue community input, according to the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) which warns that failure to reform the system could create a new generation of Swampy-style protestors.

The RTPI believes the Heathrow protests, which resulted in security breaches at both Heathrow Airport and the Houses of Parliament, occurred because the protestors believe they are powerless to effect change though official channels. It warns that unless the community consultation process is significantly improved, high profile protest activity against major infrastructure developments will become common once again. And actions similar to those taken by Swampy, who in 1996 went to earth in a complex series of tunnels to protest against a road scheme, will hit the headlines once more.

This warning from Britain's planners coincides with the release of a report which concludes that there has been \"no explicit consideration of the community impact\" of the Heathrow Expansions Proposals, with the sole exception of the loss of Sipson Village (1).

The RTPI believes that 'direct action' protests on the scale seen recently would not have occurred if communities felt empowered by the consultation process and believed that genuine attempts were being made to reduce the adverse effects of new infrastructure development.

RTPI Policy Director, Rynd Smith, said: \"The English are not given to militancy, so you know there are some genuine problems with the way projects are being handled when people start hanging banners from the buttresses of Westminster. Clearly the public is feeling ignored.

\"Heathrow is fast becoming a graphic demonstration of what happens when consultation fails. The Government needs to take note and revise the process accordingly, or risk the return of Swampy.\"

The RTPI is calling on the Government to use the opportunity presented by the Planning Bill to introduce early consultation on all major infrastructure decisions in order to give the public greater voice on whether the project should actually go ahead.

Under the RTPI's proposed changes, the consultation process would seek community views while government infrastructure policy is developed. Once an individual project is under consideration communities would be consulted again, starting during the early stages of project design, to ensure that options are properly considered and adverse effects identified and controlled. This approach aims to reduce conflicts between communities and developers and reduce the costs of late project re-designs.

Rynd Smith said: \"Only when we have an early consultation process on policy to establish the need for infrastructure, followed by a project consultation which establishes what form a major piece of infrastructure should take and how to reduce its negative impacts will people feel genuinely empowered by the planning process.\"

The RTPI has already introduced amendments to the Planning Bill to achieve these outcomes in the House of Commons and will continue to seek improvements when the Bill enters the House of Lords. (2)

For further information please contact:

Dale Atkinson, RTPI Communications Manager: 0207 929 9479, mob. 07870 672 020

Notes to Editors:

1. 'The Heathrow Consultation; Testing the Evidence' has been compiled by Roger Tym & Partners on behalf of the South East England Regional Assembly (SEERA). A complete copy of the report is available here.

2. Details of the RTPI's submissions on the Planning Bill and proposed amendments can be found here.

3. The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) is a dynamic organisation leading the way in the creation of places that work now and in the future. Through our 20,000 members, we constantly seek to create areas and places in which people want to live and work. As well as promoting spatial planning, RTPI develops and shapes policy affecting the built environment, works to raise professional standards and supports members through continuous education, training and development. For further general information, visit the RTPI website at: www.rtpi.org.uk
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