Legal protest storm over airport meeting

A letter has been written to North Somerset Council's solicitor complaining that the way a meeting about airport expansion was conducted was 'inept' and that parish councillors were treated with 'arrogance verging on contempt'. The letter was sent followi

A letter has been written to North Somerset Council's solicitor complaining that the way a meeting about airport expansion was conducted was 'inept' and that parish councillors were treated with 'arrogance verging on contempt'.The letter was sent following anger that erupted at the Town Hall in Weston at a meeting about the expansion master plan of Bristol International Airport.Protest groups were initially denied the right to speak at a North Somerset Council Strategic Planning and Economic Development Policy scrutiny panel meeting on December 20 after previously being told they would each have an opportunity to make speeches in three-minute slots.Individuals that had pre-registered to speak in the three minute public participation slots prior to the meeting could give their point of view to the council, however members of opposition groups were at first refused the right to speak on behalf of the organisations they represented in the three minute slots by meeting chairman Elfan Ap Rees, but were told they could speak within the main meeting.Following protests about this arrangement Mr Ap Rees consulted the council and it was decided the protesters could speak.The letter sent by Wrington Parish Council vice-chairman Echo Irving said "I am writing to protest at the inept way Elfan Ap Rees chaired the meeting. We had been given to understand we would be able to speak for not more than three minutes to a prepared statement. We pressed to be allowed to speak but were abruptly told that we could not and 'being allowed to be involved in the questions was a good deal'. I consider that Elfan Ap Rees treated the elected parish councillors with arrogance verging on contempt."Councillor Elfan Ap Rees, has called the events a 'misunderstanding' by campaigners and the public of council meeting protocol. He said: "The meeting began at 3.30pm and ended at 7pm, during which time everyone had the opportunity to speak. I think there was a misunderstanding of the three-minute public participation rule and this was taken advantage of." Speaking of the confusion, Councillor Peter Kehoe said: "These things should have been sorted out prior to the meetings. People don't know and shouldn't be expected to know council meeting protocol, so we should inform them prior to the meetings. It is the council's job to manage people's expectations, rather than disappoint them."The airport's expansion master plan includes extending the existing terminal to double its current size, increasing parking facilities with two multi-storey car parks, building an on-site 180-bedroom hotel and increasing the amount of passengers from six to nine million. A report from Wrington Parish Council said: "The growth of the airport will have an unacceptable impact on local communities and unbridled expansion should not be permitted."This growth plan flies in the face of global warming and environmental concerns. The economic arguments for the expansion seem fundamentally flawed. Additional employment may be created but in an unsustainable location and at a cost which is unacceptable."The meeting concluded: "That we delay any expansion or development of the airport until there are full and independent assessments of surface access, biodiversity, employment, physical growth and government policies."The master plan will now be discussed before four area committees before a final decision is made on January 18 by the council.

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