Rachel blogs about her first month
When I took up my post 4 weeks ago, I said my highest priority was getting out and about, meeting people in the local communities and hearing their views, especially Heathrow's closest neighbours. I have spent much of my time doing just that, with several visits to the closest villages and more planned in the near future. In addition, I have had several meetings with local residents, councillors, and an MP and chaired my first Board meeting, the notes of this are on our website .
At this meeting I told everyone that although I am funded by Heathrow, I have been appointed to be independent and I am absolutely committed not only to vigorously guarding my independence but to demonstrating this by my own conduct and activities as well as openness and transparency about the HCEB as a whole. To me being independent means being impartial, fair and basing my views on balanced and well-tested evidence. A powerful message from my early meetings is that having the airport as a neighbour has an enormous impact, both positive and negative, on peoples’ lives. Recognising this, along with my independence, I will do all I can to bring humanity and morality to this role.
It will be no surprise to anyone when I say that passions are running high in the ‘perimeter’ villages and these are undoubtedly challenging and uncertain times for the residents. Some of their concerns are widely shared; others are more individual and vary considerably depending on personal circumstances and wishes. Everyone I have spoken to wants clear, reliable and understandable information about what is happening and what it means for them. I have made a commitment to work with the villages to identify their key questions and provide the best available answers in a newsletter to be delivered to each household. This work has already begun.
I also said that I wanted to ensure that the membership and activities of the HCEB are shaped by the key stakeholders and I am currently reviewing the membership of the Board and developing plans for new sub groups. I am delighted that Christine Taylor, who has lived in the Heathrow villages all her life has agreed to join the HCEB and the Delivery Group both to represent the local villages but also to work with me to improve representation in the near future. I am focusing on increasing diversity and participation of those groups and interests least represented, including young people and small and medium size companies. In addition, I will be discussing with the local council leaders the most appropriate and useful way for them to work with the HCEB.
Much of my attention to date has been given to local people and their representatives, but I am very conscious there are other key stakeholders, including passengers, airlines and airport workers. I have attended one meeting with the Passenger Services Group and hope to hold further meetings with others in the coming weeks. I will have regular meetings with Heathrow staff and the Department for Transport as I need to understand their plans, activities and timetables in order to determine my priorities
Whilst Heathrow’s expansion proposals were the driver for the establishment of the HCEB and my appointment, and there is no doubt that whether or not these progress is the key issue for much of the local community and key stakeholders, my remit is promoting effective engagement regardless of decisions about expansion and I will put structures in place to ensure proper attention is given to all potential scenarios, both now and in the future.
I have no doubt there is much to be done, but I have been very encouraged by the constructive and productive nature of all the meetings I have had so far and the willingness and desire to engage with me. For the HCEB to be effective as a focal point for engagement between Heathrow airport, local residents, local authorities, community groups, passengers and other airport users, it needs to promote meaningful and inclusive engagement that can demonstrate an impact. I promise to do all I can to achieve this.