14th April 2010
That’s what The Welsh Assembly Government spent on its consultation with the public and “stakeholder groups” over the creation of a UAV testing zone over West Wales, technically known as “West Wales Unmanned Systems Environment – New Airspace Proposal”.
Over the summer of 2009, 7 “drop in consultations” each lasting 5 hours were held in West Wales towns. Out of a resident population of 50,000, a mere 305 members of the public attended the 35 hours of meetings. That’s £800 spent on each attendee.
WAG carried out the exercise in order to satisfy the airspace change requirements of the Directorate of Airspace Policy (DAP) (see notes below). Huge expense aside, did it conform to the requirements as laid down by the CAA and the Government?
There should be serious doubts about the validity of a consultation which:
- was inadequately advertised and promoted, resulting in a lamentably low turnout for the “drop-in” sessions
- failed to tell people about the breadth and scope of what was being proposed by WAG and the CAA and the fact that military testing of the Watchkeeper programme would go ahead regardless of the outcome of the WAG consultation.
- asked the public only to choose between 3 very similar airspace proposal maps when the public have no technical expertise to make a judgement.
- failed to adequately consult on more relevant issues such as noise, safety and privacy. The 50,000 members of the public who live under the zone are likely to have a greater interest in these matters.
- made no attempt to organise public meetings and only allowed a group meeting if the media were excluded and attendees supplied their names and the questions in advance.
WAG has not yet submitted its formal proposal for an airspace change to the CAA – it does not expect to until the end of April 2010. Yet the CAA on March 29th 2010 imposed a 7 month military drone testing exclusion zone over part of the area proposed by WAG. Further space will be imposed later in 2010.
How is the CAA supposed to make an impartial judgement on the WAG application when it clearly considers the issue settled to such an extent that it is happy to impose a military UAV testing zone with no consultation whatsoever?
Notes on consultation requirements
The DAP guidelines state:
“13. Formal consultation with airspace users, service providers and other relevant bodies shall be conducted with the aim of obtaining consensus, wherever possible, before making changes in the planning or design of UK airspace arrangements.”
“The consultation exercise must be conducted in accordance with the six criteria set out in the Cabinet Office’s Code of Practice on Consultation (view the criteria). The Change Sponsor’s decisions to either accommodate or disregard Consultees’ responses will be scrutinised and form part of the Directorate’s assessment criteria.”