How PR turns a “nimby” public into “overwhelming” support

How PR turns a “nimby” public into “overwhelming” support
- the real story of the St Athan consultation

30 000 leaflets, newspaper notices and 1700 letters to St Athan residents inviting the public to the 4 Exhibition days resulted in the completion of just 40 ‘feedback’ forms (see ”Analysis” **). Moreover, the comments were very critical, including many from St Athan people opposed to closing the Eglwys Brewis Road. Those supervising the exhibitions complaied of ‘nimbyism’.

Wing Cmndr Richard Read put a brave face on it (Academy Logbook in the Glamorgan Gem of 7 August – billed as the “first of his exclusive progress reports”; turned out as his last report too). He wrote of “highly successful public exhibitions” from which he could “sense underlying support” from the demands for information and questions to be answered. Demands went in to see the results on the website, as promised, but nothing appeared till March 2009.

How did they rescue the situation? They decided to keep the Eglwys Brewis road open. Second, they decided to circulate further questions angling for an ‘overall… positive’ response from those who had left addresses. This resulted in 35 further returns. As 75 looks dismally small, they added 10 for forms filled in by couples, calls to the enquiry line, e-mails and comments made via the website to claim a total of “well over 100 comments” (Project brochure, March 2009). Comments and critical questioning of Brigadier Neild at the 14th July meeting were, on the other hand, ignored (curiously Camargue made no record of that meeting with Jane Hutt AM and other notables).

The Q&A prepared in response to feedback ignores criticism of the project as a whole and uncomfortable questions on eg. of Raytheon as an arms dealer and what non-UK forces to be given training. Rather than refer to the ‘Academy’ as it was called at the Exhibitions, the questions are now in Orwellian fashion written to cover the Defence Training College.

Only the 75 feedback forms have been consider for Camargue’s ”Analysis”. Then only the 35 relate to the concluding claim that the “overwhelming majority of respondents” said the plans “represent a positive opportunity for the community”. For the numbers show only 20 would say this of the military college (57%) and 22 of the aerospace park, out of the 35 returns.

On the basis of this exaggeration of a simple majority of a small selection, the First Minister claimed “public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour” of the planned College (breakfast speech of 20 March).

** Published in March 2009 by Camargue On behalf of Metrix and WAG

The objective of this consultation was to seek people’s views on the current proposals for the proposed development of the Defence Technical College and Aerospace Business Park at MOD St Athan and enable them to provide input. (note it was actually called “Defence Training Academy” at that time)

40 forms were returned then the visitors to the Exhibitions were circulated with additional questions, resulting in 35 extras (2 forms from 3 individuals, 10 from couples). The new questions:
# Overall, do you think the development of the Defence Technical College represents a positive opportunity for the local/regional community?
# Overall, do you think the development of the Aerospace Business Park represents a positive opportunity for the local/regional community?
# Are you in favour of the proposals to keep the Eglwys Brewis Road open and improve it in places?
Closing the EB road had generated a lot of opposition, so they decided to drop this in the interim!
The first two additional questions were angled to secure approval, but they still only got 22 and 24 approvals out of the 35.

Twenty comments of support were recorded under ‘general comments’ ranging from ‘support in principle’, e.g. as long as considerations such as traffic were taken onboard, to outright support for the scheme.
Comments included:
• ‘Fully support the development’
• ‘Broadly in favour of the redevelopment due to the economic benefits’
• ‘The concept is highly commendable’
• ‘Although I generally support the development, I have concerns concerning transport and access to the site’
• ‘I think the general concept is good. It will be nice to see the population of the camp back where it was 50 years ago’
• ‘It has been sad seeing RAF St Athan shut down over the years. It will be nice to see it fully operational again’
• ‘My wife and I are in agreement with the proposed Defence Academy’

The overwhelming majority of respondents said they think that both the Defence Technical College and Aerospace Business Park represent a positive opportunity for the community. In addition, a similar number of respondents were supportive of the proposals to keep Eglwys Brewis Road open – demonstrating that the changes made to the draft plan following feedback received at the initial public exhibitions had been welcomed.

The Q&A prepared in response to feedback (none critical of the project) say

Why can’t the main access to the site be from the south on the B4265?
The main access to the Defence Technical Academy will be via a new access road and junction built from the B4265 to ensure that traffic to and from the site is provided with direct and separate access onto the main road. If the main access to the site was from the south, it would be necessary for all traffic to cross both the railway line and runway making it an unviable option.
However, there are proposals to create an access to the southern area of the Aerospace Business Park, located to the south of the runway, from the B4265.
[many have said the West Camp access should be used, already bridging the railway line; proposing another bridge just for part of the aerospace park cannot be economic. The runway (side spur used for access to workshops) can be done via a light-controlled crossing].

Is there a possibility of a train station at St Athan?
The possibility of reinstating St Athan train station has been considered. However… it is felt that Llantwit Major is the best placed local station to serve the site. In addition, it would be unlikely that an additional station would be supported by Network Rail or the Train Operating Companies without the closure of an existing station on the line.
[shows quite scanty consideration; other excuses are ‘significant signalling works (at Cogan junction!), 1-hour service is not attractive, no trains after 9pm, they would run buses to Llantwit station, and ‘vast’ investment. In fact, a new halt at West Camp/Boverton would be attractive].

How much will the construction of the Defence Technical Academy cost?
The cost of construction of the estate at St Athan will be approximately £700m.
[the ‘College’ and East camp shops, offices, messes and single accommodation is £450m, another £75m would cover 500 service family homes @ £150k, leaving a generous £175m for the swimming pool, athletics track, sports centre, outdoor pitches, small arms range, workshops and storage (west of Picketston) – don’t forget the greenwash ‘new habitat creation’ at West Orchard, that may be taken from the farm but not justified by the downsized Aerospace park.]

And nothing about improving training here just bailing out Red Faces !!


No comments: