Criticism that Government's Heathrow leaflet was "mere propaganda" justified, says judge

The comms team at the Department for Transport has been rapped over a promotional leaflet extolling the virtues of a third runway at Heathrow Airport, which has been branded as a "hard sell".

Criticisms of propaganda in the Government's Heathrow consultation leaflet were justified, said Sir Jeremy, but the consultation was otherwise well run
Criticisms of propaganda in the Government's Heathrow consultation leaflet were justified, said Sir Jeremy, but the consultation was otherwise well run
The damning criticism was made by retired appeal court judge Sir Jeremy Sullivan, who transport secretary Chris Grayling appointed to provide independent oversight of the Government’s consultation earlier this year on its controversial plans to expand Heathrow.

In his report on the way in which the consultation was handled, Sir Jeremy took the DfT to task over a mass-produced promotional leaflet it used.

Around 1.5 million leaflets were printed, but they failed to include the addresses and times of a series of public meetings held during the consultation, which took place between February and May this year.

Furthermore, the "Heathrow Expansion – Have Your Say" leaflet was biased in favour of the Government’s position on Heathrow, according to the former Lord Justice of Appeal.

He said that it "fell short" of best practice and criticisms that it was "mere propaganda" on behalf of Heathrow" were justified.

In his interim report on the consultation, released earlier this month, the former judge stated: "The headline points, as presented in the leaflet, did give the impression of a 'hard sell' for Heathrow."

Sir Jeremy added: "It would have been much better if a more neutral leaflet had been distributed, giving more information about the addresses of the local events."

However, he praised the "careful thought and preparation" that went into plans "for raising awareness of the consultation, both locally and nationally".

The publicity campaign for the consultation incorporated both local and regional events, as well as advertising in local newspapers, online, and on local and national radio.

While the "numerous criticisms of the content of the leaflet were justified," Sir Jeremy concluded that the consultation was "well planned and, with one exception well executed".

Responding to the criticisms, a DfT spokesperson told PRWeek: "The Government has clearly stated that it prefers the northwest runway scheme at Heathrow, and the information included in the leaflet is consistent with material produced since this was announced in October 2016."

They added: "We have also been clear that we want to hear everyone’s views and Sir Jeremy Sullivan found the consultation was generally fair, open and transparent. We are analysing more than 70,000 responses, and these will be fully considered before the NPS [National Policy Statement] is presented to Parliament for a vote next year."

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