Airport blunder mars consultation on new flight paths

Edinburgh airport has been accused of “convenient incompetence” after admitting that a blunder on its website resulted in public consultation responses being rejected and returned to sender.

This is the latest in a series of problems that have plagued the airport’s attempts to win public support for proposed changes to the flight paths of the 300 or more planes that take off and land every day. The gaffe is under investigation by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The airport is about to publish the results of its latest consultation exercise into plans for a network of new routes over West Lothian and Fife. The proposals have infuriated local residents worried about noise and disruption.

After questioning by The Ferret, the airport accepted that the Freepost address in its online question and answer section had been wrong. People who used the address ended up having their letters returned by Royal Mail marked “Freepost cancelled”.

The airport doesn’t know how many people this affected, but it has accepted responses from four who complained, and apologised. This, however, has not satisfied critics.

The consultation exercise was labelled “bungling on an epic scale” by the campaign group, Edinburgh Airport Watch. “The airport’s failure to communicate their own Freepost address for the return of consultation responses is simply the latest in a long series of errors,” said the group’s spokeswoman, Helena Paul.

“It’s further evidence of a deeply flawed and unfair consultation process that was carried out without any degree of competence.”

According to Paul, there were also two consultation forms with different questions, no return addresses on paper forms and a failure to ask for personal details. In September 2016 the airport admitted that it had lost 200 responses to a previous consultation during a website upgrade.

She pointed out that the outcome of the consultation would have serious and permanent consequences for hundreds of thousands of people. “Any results or findings derived from such a flawed and unfit process are unsafe and cannot be relied upon,” she argued.

One North Queensferry resident whose Freepost response was returned was Phil Odor. He complained to the CAA, which promised a response “once our investigations are complete.”

But he said he’d received no response to his complaint to Edinburgh airport, and no apology. “There’s no point in trying to engage with an organisation which practices what might be termed convenient incompetence,” he said.

“They don’t even answer the contact phone number. Who knows how many others have had their communications ignored?”

The Labour MSP for Lothian, Neil Findlay, said that the airport’s “botched” consultation had been exposed. “Time and again we see mistakes being made and the views of local people being lost or going unrecorded,” he told The Ferret.

“From start to finish this has been a mess. They should scrap the entire discredited process and go back to square one.”

Green MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife, Mark Ruskell, described notification for the consultation as “poor”. He added: “It’s impossible for residents to work out what the true impact of the airport expansion will be, underlining the farcical nature of the consultation.”

Edinburgh airport said it didn’t realise that the Freepost address was wrong until after the consultation closed on 7 May. “Following feedback from respondents after the end of the consultation we found that there was an error in the Freepost address detailed on the frequently asked questions page of our website,” said an airport spokesman.

He pointed out that the address had been right in the consultation book available to download from its website and in its “airspace change programme”. But the mistake resulted in some Freepost responses being returned to sender.

Royal Mail wasn’t able to say how often this had happened, but four people had got in touch with the airport about the issue, and all their submissions had been considered. “We’ve apologised directly to those who have been in contact with us and are sorry for any inconvenience caused,” said the spokesman.

“This has been a large and complex consultation – the largest ever undertaken by a Scottish airport. We don’t believe it has been botched, rather we are confident that it has been fair and robust,” he added.

“It is being independently assessed and ultimately will be judged by the CAA when we put our submission forward later in the summer.”

Photo thanks to James T M Towill, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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