Airport’s shock appointment
LOCAL RESIDENTS AND OPPOSITION GROUPS ANGERED BY MOVE
THE man behind a residents’ pro-third runway campaign group has bagged a top job at Heathrow Airport – in charge of engaging with the those who will lose their homes over the expansion.
Rob Gray’s transition from director at Back Heathrow, to director of community and stakeholder relations at Heathrow Airport, has angered both local residents and opposition groups.
According to the airport, this new position ‘recognises the importance to Heathrow of working with local communities in delivering an expanded airport’.
Campaign group Stop Heathrow Expansion, and residents of the nearby villages earmarked for demolition, were left “dumbfounded” after the announcement on Tuesday April 25.
Back Heathrow has consistently disagreed with Stop Heathrow Expansion, arguing the airport should be removed from the Hayes and Harlington constituency because MP John McDonnell opposes expansion, and disagreeing with each other’s protests repeatedly over the years.
Christine Taylor, whose home in Harlington will be severely impacted by a third runway, said: “I can’t imagine a worse appointment than Rob Gray, who has spent the past four years working hard to destroy our homes, our health and our livelihoods. I’m shocked.”
Under Mr Gray’s four-year leadership, Back Heathrow was the subject of controversy when an advert for theirs was banned for making false claims that the local community “supports expansion”.
Opposition group Stop Heathrow Expansion highlighted how Mr Gray also oversaw a mismanagement, whereby people replying to their campaign materials were automatically registered as supporters.
Rob Barnstone, campaign coordinator for Stop Heathrow Expansion, said: “Heathrow are taking a backward step in community engagement with this appointment.
“Many people are sceptical enough about engaging with the community relations team already.
“The fact that somebody who headed up such a controversial and tainted company, masquerading as a grassroots residents group, is now to be dealing with the very people whose homes he has spent four years trying to destroy. “Is it April Fool’s Day again?” Heathrow Airport claim it is committed to developing an airport that is quieter and cleaner and continues to provide opportunities for its neighbours and future generations.
In making the announcement, the airport boasts that “Rob brings firsthand experience of the area from his time running the community campaign group Back Heathrow”.
Mr Gray said: “I have always been an advocate of Heathrow because of the huge opportunities it offers local residents. I also recognise local concerns and the need for Heathrow to deliver on the commitments it has made to mitigate the impacts of expansion.
“Heathrow has demonstrated its willingness to listen and change its plans based on feedback.
“I’m looking forward to working with local communities to ensure our plans reflect their views.”
Mr Gray will take up the new role this month, working under executive director for expansion, Emma Gilthorpe.
Taking over from Mr Gray will be Labour MP, Parmjit Dhanda, who held a parliamentary seat in Gloucester from 2001 to 2010.
Mr Dhanda, who was born in Southall, went to school in Hayes and later served as a Hillingdon councillor, said: “As someone who knows the Heathrow patch very well, I am delighted to lead this vital campaign.
“Expanding Heathrow offers a golden opportunity for many local people and for the country, so we will make that case strongly.
“Yet expansion cannot come at any cost, which means we need to be sensitive to the needs of residents for quality air, controlled noise and fair compensation to those directly affected.
“I know from experience that there is a generation of people who are proud of the prosperity that Heathrow has brought to tens of thousands of local residents.”