When is a consultation not really a consultation? Answer: When the questions asked are leading questions. 

Here’s an example of what is meant by a leading question: “When did you stop beating your wife?” The question does not give the person answering it any room to say “But I have never beaten my wife”. Instead the question is phrased to ensure that genuine alternatives are avoided.

The Farnborough Airport consultation, I believe, falls into a similar category. 

The proposal claims there will be future market demand for ‘connectivity’. It does not say how that future demand is calculated. It simply takes existing numbers and runs them upwards on a graph year by year. It looks scientific but is not. It’s just a compound growth rate, which could be about anything. But when technology has produced Zoom and Teams, the demand for ‘connectivity’ can be met in other ways, can’t it? 

Pause for a moment; apparently, business users require ‘enhanced levels of connectivity and assurance’. Why? What makes business users superior to everyone else? Why are their needs to be met, while others are to be trodden underfoot? It’s a moral question.

The proposal document goes on to offer ‘increased sound insulation’ to local residents. It is trumpeted as a bonus. 

But such an offer implies there will be greater (intolerable?) levels of noise. Is that an acceptable outcome?

Lying behind the proposal is the great god Mammon. Of course economic growth matters – without a properly functioning economy we can’t afford hospitals or schools. But hasn’t our region reached a point where economic growth is becoming counter-productive? Schools are overcrowded, hospitals are bursting at the seams; land for building barely exists.

The proposals for the development of the airport reveal large moral questions. Why are the board and their advisers ignoring them?

Bishop Christopher Herbert is the former vicar of The Bourne near Farnham, Canon of Guildford Cathedral, Bishop of St Albans and member of the House of Lords' Lords Spiritual.