Jackie-in-her-box reflecting on Week 2
The forensic scrutiny of the evidence in chief began this week at the Public Inquiry and whilst a challenge to fully grasp every detail, the narratives lawyers are constructing from witness evidence certainly pulls you in.
The topics covered during Week 2 were forecasting and socio-economic impacts.
There was much scrutiny of BAL’s evidence which revealed serious omissions. Examples included:
- Reporting on the economic impact of inbound tourism without looking at the economic impact of outbound tourism. (we are talking about a significant deficit)
- Mentioning anticipated job figures without noticing that the same expansion in Cardiff would be likely to bring about more jobs because of the jobs-per-passenger ratio variation between Bristol and Cardiff.
- Claiming that other local airport’s aren’t viable for expansion but failing to mention that Bristol takes custom from them and in the case of Cardiff which has capacity, robs an area with greater levels of deprivation to ‘level up’ ( as per the government’s vision for the U.K.)
I began the week reminded of jury service – the formality, the intricate detailing and referencing of points, the putting of witnesses on the ropes with clear interrogation techniques.
By the end of the week it was feeling more reminiscent of an impressive magic show with lots of smoke and mirrors from the airport to try to distract us from the damaging impacts of airport expansion. In the final witness of the week it felt as if a curtain was pulled back and a rather insubstantial and biased evidence base was revealed.
The other discovery of the week? Economic forecasts are no match for the sudden shocks of experience that can throw plans off kilter. They can also be manipulated by looking at only part of the picture. The airport’s forecast (revised post Covid) may have factored in Brexit but they had not re-run the original modelling (which it was argued they should have done) to show the true impacts of slow growth or no growth, both of which were evidenced as now possible by and NSC and PCAA witness. The dramatic upskilling of the world in the use of video conferencing is gaining a longer-term appeal to businesses, stretched as they are by Covid’s economic impact. Neither has the devastating global and local impact of reaching climate tipping points been addressed. Two reports out this week brought this starkly into our here and now reality as did Storm Evert raging through the West country.
All of BAL’s (arguably unrealistic) forecasting rested on reaching 12 million but the challenge was put as to what next? When Heathrow expands? when a rail link from Bristol to Heathrow comes on stream? What stranded assets and cut jobs will North Somerset have sanctioned?
Star witness of the week was Alex Chapman from NEF. He was not drawn by BAL’s Barrister into downplaying or undercutting his evidence but instead made a compelling case that the expansion should be considered against government best practice guidance ‘the Green Book’. Think I need to add that to my reading list!