Days 2 to 4
One of the privileges of my chronic illness (yes I know that does sound mad) is that I have to spend a good deal of my life sitting with my feet up, which means deciding to watch the entirety of week 1 of the Inquiry was an easy segway from normal life. And what a joy that was, with public comments weighted so clearly AGAINST expansion.
So what is the taste in my mouth at the end of week one?
What is most stark, and perhaps unsurprising given the adversarial nature of a Public Inquiry, is that two clear views exist in the room, based on well argued belief systems:
The Airport begins from the premise that the North Somerset position was an error of judgement by the NS Council, overly influenced by public opinion and not taking enough account of their officer’s report. (as an aside, officer’s reports are advisory so nothing wrong there). They point to the fact that airport emissions are such a tiny amount of National emissions that they don’t make a big difference (locally or nationally), that they can mitigate difficulties (with changes to road junctions, sound proofing for locals etc) that they are staying in the letter of the law and are backed by policy (a point quickly debunked in BAAN’s opening statement) and that flying should be prioritised, especially post Brexit, to connect us to the country/world build economic growth after the devastation of COVID. They argue that the West of England needs the jobs and there will be lots of them (actually this is wildly exaggerated as shown in the New Economics Foundation (NEF) report that will be brought into the evidence.) Finally, they point to the ‘Net Zero Airport’ and to all the shiny new technology that can make the carbon in aviation just go away, and the offsetting that will mop up those that technology can’t avoid. (this being the biggest piece of greenwash, revealed by many speakers.)
So, the public who spoke in support bought into this view: Two current employees of BIA, one representing Unite Union, representatives from Business West and the Chambers of Commerce in Bristol and Somerset, Visit West (a tourist organisation) and a consultant to aviation. If you knew nothing about the Greenwash of the airport (which many of these speakers quoted from the website as if it were ‘the truth’) then you might have been taken in.
In various ways this world view was seriously undermined by the legal teams from BAAN, North Somerset Council and the Parish Council Airport Association (PCAA), both in their openings which called out that given by the airport, in skillful cross examination and in the straightforward honest testimony of the public.
The second world view is that North Somerset Councillors had the foresight to see the need to curb expansion both because of local impact (the creeping growth over many years has made life pretty grim for those living under flight paths impacted by increasing noise and pollution and those in villages that have become rat runs,) and the Climate & Nature Emergency.
The range of speakers who objected was one of the strengths of this side; the airport cannot dismiss the arguments as ‘nimbyism’ or the exaggerations of climate ‘crusties’, when they hear from a senior lecturer in transport policy who says the figures don’t add up; a retired consultant radiologist and head of public health in the area on the impact on sleep disturbance on physiology even when you don’t wake up; a retired teacher who can cite a study where children impacted by air noise attain less well at school; a manufacturing engineer who points out the ridiculous claim of the airport to be carbon neutral when the scope 1 & 2 emissions (by their own admission) only make up 1% of the total emissions, and an air quality researcher from Imperial College London who is able to shoot the airport’s downplaying of air quality issues out of the sky. And these were members of the public not the ‘expert witnesses’ of the formal proceedings.
Also impossible not to be moved and persuaded by are the heart-felt pleas of local villagers, the testimony of people who devote their lives to supporting their communities and reducing carbon, and those (many) who talked about their fear, sadness and anger about the world they would be leaving to their children.
The creativity and rationality of the testimony and the strong evidence-based underpinning of their arguments was extraordinary. If you want to get the feel, try listening to Phil Heath Wednesday 21/7/21 pm 27:23 -31:26, Sarah Poppy Jackson Thursday 22/7/21 pm 2.29:33-2.38:38 or Bill Roberts Thursday 22/7/21 a.m. 2.24:25-2.37:57 (links for the week given below)
|Tuesday 20 July||Morning||https://youtu.be/uF5Uio4WZWU|
|Wednesday 21 July||Morning||https://youtu.be/PcA3CG30Ndo|
|Thursday 22 July||Morning||https://youtu.be/V6nSwaSIVt4|
|Friday 23 July||Morning||https://youtu.be/KaSA1UFRcN4|
Impactful too, are the testimonies of people with first hand knowledge of climate change impact. Steve Moppett, Ex-cabin crew, working in airlines whilst studying Environmental Science degree, (Friday 23/7/22 am 2.11:55- 2.20:48) spoke about the careless mass use of single use plastic in the aviation industry and told us how his mother-in-law’s village in Kenya, for years based on subsistence farming, was now deserted because of extreme weather. Teri Burgess, Teacher calling from Canada, who is a member (and thus part-owner) of Ontario Teachers Pension Fund and the airport, delivered her testimony about forest fires burning, close enough to her house that her next task was to pack a bag in preparation for evacuation (Thursday 22/7/2021 pm.2.56:07-3.03:04 )
Some splendid cross examination from NS & PCAA counsel and from Steve Clarke, a retired solicitor who has put his life on hold to be our legal lead for most of the Inquiry (our barrister only being in person for her openings this week and the week of our C&NE evidence in September) completely debunked the ‘we need growth’ arguments at every turn. The airport, by contrast, intervened little but was at times savage (Note the firm and solid testimony given by Sarah Warren from B&NES; a witness to the PCAA Wednesday 21/7/21 am 3.56:29 -3.29:25, against a barrage of attacks.)
So I feel hopeful, but also challenged. How do we change the beliefs of people who doggedly hang on to world view one? Can we win them over, or do we have to slay them through this process to win the day? In the world outside the enquiry let’s change their minds one by one. Inside the Inquiry?…It feels more like war.