THERE were scenes reminiscent of Handforth Parish Council as the Farnborough Aerodrome Consultative Committee (FACC) met on June 17, with environmental campaigners tuning in en-masse to demand more scrutiny of the airport’s environmental impact.
More than 40 members of the public – many representing local environmental groups including XR Farnham, XR Godalming, Waverley Friends of the Earth and Alton Climate Action Network – attended the virtual Microsoft Teams session.
And, like the virtual Handforth council meeting that went viral in December, it quickly descended into farce.
Chairman Phillip Riley took just six minutes to mute campaigner Mike Grant after the Farnham-based environmental alliance spokesman raised concern that the minutes of the previous FACC meeting “materially misrepresented” a debate on the airport’s eco-credentials.
And a number of campaigners quickly found themselves muted too as they leapt to Mr Grant’s defence, with Mr Riley demanding: “Please remain quiet until invited to speak.”
Waverley Borough Council leader Paul Follows also criticised the minutes for not accurately reflecting the debate, and accused Mr Riley of “shouting people down”.
Cllr Follows was also close to being silenced, until he told the chairman he was a committee member.
The serial ‘muting’ continued, with a small business owner cut off mid-sentence as she asked a question about flight paths in south Farnham, and a public questions session was quickly shut down by the debate-shy chairman.
Afterwards, Cllr Follows said: “Other than the general rudeness with which members of the public were addressed – which I was treated to myself before reminding them I was a committee member – I was dismayed by the attitude of the committee management in regards to questions from the public.
“Many of the questions submitted over the last few months have gone unanswered and moves were made to further curtail public questions by allowing only committee members to ask them in session and that they need to be a sponsor of anything coming in from outside for it to be registered.
“This in my view was a wholly unacceptable position and I unilaterally adopted all outstanding public questions.”
XR Farnham campaigner, Mike Grant, added: “If the FACC is supposed to act as a forum in which local concerns can be amicably resolved, then it is failing badly.
“Worse still, it shows every sign of its corporate capture by the airport operator, Farnborough Airports Limited.
“Multiple interventions by Cllr Follows eventually saw the minutes disputed, forced FAL into answering questions put to it in March and secured a special meeting of the FACC in September to examine a detailed proposal on carbon emission reductions and the admission of an environmentally-focused local group.
“Perhaps there is a slow, dawning realisation the climate and ecological crisis is not going away, that private jets at Farnborough are making it worse and that the FACC must engage in finding solutions urgently for the sake of our children.”