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The Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise (ICCAN) was established by the UK Government in 2019 to act as an independent, non-statutory advisory body, set up to provide independent, impartial advice on civil aviation noise and how it affects communities. 

As part of the Airspace Modernisation Strategy, the Government has asked airports to redraw their flight paths and update the airspace that exists in the skies above the UK.

The UK’s airspace has remained the same for decades and the Government says it requires updating to allow new technologies to be properly utilised, and to make allowances for any future growth in capacity.  

Updating such a key piece of national infrastructure will impact many thousands of people across the country and that is why airports and other organisations acting in their role as ‘airspace change sponsors’ are required to engage and consult with stakeholders and the public. By doing so, they can gather information and understand views about the impact of a particular proposal and ensure that anyone who may be affected by a change can see and understand what is being proposed.

Disturbance caused by aviation noise has a big impact on people and can lead to a detrimental effect on quality of life and health. As stated in our Corporate Strategy  ICCAN is ‘determined to get to a place where people feel their concerns about aviation noise are listened to’. Change sponsors have a duty to provide as much information as possible to people who are going to have their lives potentially altered by new flight paths operating overhead.

Conducting a well-planned consultation means that airspace change sponsors will:

This toolkit has been produced to help sponsors plan for public consultations predominantly for Level 1 airspace change proposals under Stage 3A of the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) CAP1616 process as they consult with impacted groups, local communities and other airspace users about changes to their departure and arrival routes. It will also be relevant to some Level 2 changes, and the principles in it should equally apply.

This toolkit has been devised to complement the CAA’s CAP1616 guidance and to offer practical ideas for consultors as they plan for a public consultation.  As such, this toolkit should be read alongside the CAP1616 requirements found in Appendix C and offer ideas and suggestions to support airports in achieving better participation in the consultation process.

This toolkit is not intended to be taken or used as specific guidance, rather it should be seen as a suite of advisory options and a tool that change sponsors use when they are drawing up plans for their public consultation at Stage 3A of CAP1616.

ICCAN’s focus is noise and the implications any future airspace change may have on people’s lives, as they could be exposed to increased or new noise because of the proposals. Consultations under CAP1616 are not solely focused on noise but incorporate wider elements that consultees can provide their views and feedback on.

As such, this toolkit contains many principles that can be adopted for other aspects of the consultation, but it is vital that change sponsors ensure noise is appropriately addressed and not conflated with other issues. It is the view of ICCAN that noise and its impacts on people’s lives should be a key focus of any consultation.

The advice within this toolkit has been developed from ICCAN’s own research having engaged with airports, the CAA and the Airspace Change Organising Group (ACOG). ICCAN ran a workshop for airspace change sponsors in March 2020 to learn more about their experiences of public consultation. In developing this toolkit, we also sought views from the public, via an online survey, seeking to learn more about their exposure to, and experience of, previous airport run consultations. The feedback received from both sponsors and the public has, where appropriate, been incorporated into the toolkit.

It is ICCAN’s aim for this toolkit to develop and grow as airspace change consultations are delivered and best practice is shared from across the UK.

It is responsibility of the change sponsor to decide which methods to adopt as part of consultation planning, and ICCAN hopes that this toolkit acts as a helpful map to guide them through the process.

How should the toolkit be used?

This toolkit should be considered by airspace change sponsors as they start consultation planning under Step 3A of CAP1616. It provides information on issues to consider, approaches and potential methods that could be adopted for the consultation strategy and the preparation of consultation documents.

As part of the Step 3A submission made to the CAA with the consultation plans, the change sponsor must also include a full options appraisal demonstrating the rigorous evidence for its new flight options which will be reviewed and assessed by the CAA as part of the CONSULT Gateway. This toolkit does not provide any guidance on how to prepare the Options appraisal document.

We recognise that considerable work will have been done by the change sponsor in Stage 1 to identify stakeholders, engage with them on design principles, and in Stage 2 to assess and identify which options to consult on. This toolkit should be used to build on that work and it does not prejudice or change anything that has been done to date or before its publication.

This toolkit has been produced with the knowledge of the CAA. During its production, ICCAN engaged with the Airspace Change Organising Group (ACOG) who have been established to coordinate the delivery of key aspects of the Government’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy, namely the national programme of airspace change amongst major UK airports, about our plans for a consultation toolkit

ICCAN commissioned the Consultation Institute (tCI) to provide expert advice and guidance during the development of the toolkit. 

Given that tCI has working relationships with several airports, we ensured we worked with a consultant that had no previous experience in aviation to avoid any conflict of interest.

This toolkit has been prepared to provide an overview of issues relating to aviation noise for airspace change sponsors to consider within the consultation planning process, and a selection of consultation methods that could be relevant in the context of airspace change collected from within the aviation industry, and as well as from further afield.  

Recognising that this is not an exhaustive list of consultation methods and that change sponsors may have other ideas, we hope that this toolkit will provide change sponsors with a useful resource for the consultation planning process.

The first version of this toolkit had been intended to be published in April 2020 but was postponed due to the impact of Covid-19.

This toolkit provides advice and best practice that can be adopted by change sponsors as they seek to begin work on their airspace change proposals again, following a pause during the pandemic. ICCAN is aware that several change sponsors are already preparing for Stage 3 consultations, so the timing of this document is not intended to prejudice any pre-existing engagement or consultation work that has already been undertaken.

CAP1616 guidance states that change sponsors should consider ICCAN’s best practice when developing their consultation strategy, and should be able to demonstrate, if asked by the CAA, how they have drawn on its best practice.

This is an advisory toolkit, aimed at complementing the CAP1616 guidance and as such it should be considered as supporting advice for the change sponsor to use as they feel is relevant.

ICCAN has no role in the decision-making process for airspace changes, which is entirely within the CAA’s remit.

Early engagement

As the CAP1616 guidance sets out, engagement with stakeholders and interested parties must have taken place prior to starting consultation planning (Step 3A).

Early and continuous engagement is key for a successful consultation, so active engagement during the Stage 1 – Define and on-going dialogue during Stage 2 – Develop and Assess should set the foundations for effective participation during Stage 3 – Consult.

If stakeholders are already engaged and informed about the airspace change process, then they should be able to provide more in-depth and informed answers once the consultation is active. If there is confusion around the concept of airspace change then change sponsors run the risk of spending more time during the consultation answering questions on why a consultation is happening, instead of focusing on the proposals and understanding views.

The CAA guidance is clear that providing impacted groups, stakeholders and the public with the correct context needs to be a priority during the early engagement process and evidencing that a two-way conversation has occurred is critical for the change sponsor to pass through the early gateways of the CAP 1616 process.

Ensuring clarity, so that stakeholders are aware of what they’re being asked to comment on and what potential exists to influence outcomes is a key feature underpinning the CAP1616 process and will be especially important during the consultation stage.

The importance of consultation

What is consultation?

The Consultation Institute (tCI) describes consultation as ‘the dynamic process of dialogue between individuals or groups, based upon a genuine exchange of views and, with the objective of influencing decisions, policies or programmes of action’.

In the context of airspace change, consultation has a crucial role as it enables stakeholders to provide their feedback on how new proposed flight paths could impact them, including increased or changed exposure to aviation noise. In some cases, this will be the first time some people have been exposed to more frequent or more significant levels of aviation noise. So due consideration must be taken by the change sponsor of the views expressed as part of the consultation process. Anyone who may be impacted by a change should be able to see and clearly understand what is being proposed, as well as what the impacts, benefits and trade-offs are so that they can provide informed responses.

Stakeholders will not always agree with the proposals that are offered. However, by communicating with them and involving them in a well-planned and transparent consultation, change sponsors can demonstrate that they have been open, fair, transparent and considerate when assessing the views provided.

ICCAN recognises that there is no single right way of undertaking a good consultation. Each consultation is different, with different proposals, impacts and audiences to consider. For consultation to be effective, it is accepted that it should adhere to what has become known as the ‘Gunning’ principles.

The Gunning principles have, for many years, underpinned good practice in delivering effective public consultation and have also formed the basis for legal challenge (judicial review) when it is felt that the consultor has failed to meet the required standard that these principles define.

Failure to deliver an open, fair, transparent and effective consultation will result in a change sponsor having to re-consult.

This could come at a heavy cost to the sponsor, both resourcefully and reputationally, and may also impact neighbouring airspace change proposals under the FASI-S and FASI-N plans.

The consultation must take place when proposals are still at a formative stage

What does this mean for airspace change sponsors?

A public consultation should only be planned for when there is still an opportunity to comment on the proposals and influence the outcome. As the CAP1616 guidance requires a full options appraisal to have been completed in moving forwards to consultation planning (Step 3A), this should be used to demonstrate that the proposals are still at a formative (ie developmental) stage, and how they have been shaped and selected for public consultation.

The consultor may have a preferred option. However, if this is the case, it is important that the consultor evidences the alternatives that were considered as part of defining the preferred option and the rationale behind this. The consultor must also still be willing to take in to account other options which may be proposed during the consultation. There may be situations where, due to the size of the change, a sponsor might choose to present only one option. In this situation, it is still imperative that consultation takes place so to provide people with the opportunity to comment and help shape the proposals going forward.

For a consultation to meet the requirements of this principle, it is important that the consultee feels able to objectively influence the decisions to be made based on feedback given. If decisions have already been made regarding certain aspects of the proposals, then this must be clearly stated and explained to the consultee so they are able to understand why they are not within the scope of the consultation. Throughout the planning stage for public consultation, change sponsors must be careful to demonstrate that they have not already made a decision regarding the proposals, as this is considered pre-determination.

Sufficient reasons must be put forward for the proposal to allow for intelligent consideration and response

What does this mean for airspace change sponsors?

Individuals responding to a public consultation should have access to sufficient information to understand the proposals and give intelligent consideration to the proposals when providing feedback.

This means it is imperative that any information presented during the consultation is accessible and allows individuals, without any prior knowledge of the aviation industry or the airspace change process, to reasonably understand what is being proposed and the likely impacts, such that they can provide an informed response on the proposals.

Adequate time is given for consideration and response

What does this mean for airspace change sponsors?

It is good practice to allow at least 12 weeks for a public consultation to take place.  CAP1616 does allow for some flexibility on the length of the consultation depending on the proposal, but a rationale must be provided to the CAA. The timing of the consultation must also be taken into consideration such as to avoid any legitimate reason why people might not be able to respond, such as school holidays or religious holidays. Timing a consultation to fall over a holiday period is likely to invite criticism and thereby invite risk into the process.

The product of consultation is conscientiously taken into account when finalising the decision

What does this mean for airspace change sponsors?

The airspace change sponsor must enter the consultation with an open mind and take all views into consideration before making a final decision and submitting final proposals to the CAA as part of Stage 4B of the CAP 1616 process. Conscientiously taking views into account can be best evidenced through reporting the views received and demonstrating how these have influenced the change sponsors thinking in any final proposals which are submitted to the CAA (Step 4B). 

Best practice consultation principles

When preparing a consultation, the airspace change sponsor should consider a series of key questions:
  • What are the objectives of the consultation – will people understand why you are consulting and what might change as a result?
  • Who is likely to be impacted by your proposals – have you identified who these people are, and have you put in place appropriate methods to ensure they are engaged and aware?
  • What exactly are you consulting on – how have you defined these proposals and is it clear what is in and out of scope?
  • What are the benefits of people responding to this consultation – why should audiences take the time to feedback on these proposals? What are the benefits?
  • How will you report back on what you learn from the responses?
  • Who will consider the findings of the consultation before any decisions are made?

In the  CAP1616 guidance these questions are addressed under the headings of Audience / Approach / Materials / Length.

By using this toolkit you will consider some practical options and decisions when preparing a consultation strategy which will then ensure you have fully addressed these key questions.