Harvey Rose Calls for Proper Consultation on Tram
Claims previous consultations have been biased and mishandled
Many residents in Ealing, Acton and Chiswick are rightly concerned at the possibility of having a tram system running along the Uxbridge Road. Transport for London (TfL), who are responsible for the scheme, are expected to consult residents in the next few months.
Liberal Democrats are apprehensive that TfL may not conduct a fair and open consultation. In their 2001 ‘consultation’ only a handful of people received a questionnaire. And the methodology used as well as many of the questions asked, were biased. This sadly meant that the views of most local residents and businesses were not heard.
Recently TfL held a meeting with community groups to discuss the consultation process, which was useful as it allowed different people to air their views. That alone, though, is not enough. People have to feel the process will be fair, or else they will not want to give their opinions.
It is important for both Ealing Council and TfL during the consultation to make sure that they do not distribute biased materials (e.g. press releases) – and instead only use communication to promote and encourage participation in the process. The Liberal Democrats raised this issue at a recent full council meeting in Ealing; but sadly the Labour administration did not give assurances that this will be done.
So who should be included in the consultation? It must include all affected businesses and homes as well as existing Uxbridge Road users of all transport user types. This may well include much of Ealing borough but must also include areas of Hounslow and other neighbouring boroughs.
The details of process announced so far do not seem to be designed to obtain the views of those who are disabled. For example what will TfL be doing if someone is deaf, dumb, blind, or stays in a hospital for long periods of time? It is necessary also to consult those who do not speak English as their first language.
In 2001 the literature distribution showed that using the council’s contractors does not work. TfL have to take ownership of the consultation and make sure people are paid properly to ensure quality delivery of consultation materials.
The actual text of the questions is integral to the whole consultation. Biased or loaded questions such as “The tram can be expected to reduce congestion. Are you in favour of a tram?” need to be excluded. The way many of the questions were presented and worded in the 2001 ‘consultation’ has left a bad taste in the mouth of many residents.
One way forward has been suggested – that of creating a group of people to see the question wording and allowing the group a chance to comment before the final draft is produced. This would allow more confidence in the process. As long as the group is not too big and is representative (with pro-tram and anti-tram people, as well as those unsure) then this process should be set up.
TfL must use all media to inform and consult people – including websites and discussion boards. The latter can assist in giving information to a wider set of people. A website could be used to hold an up-to- date list of frequently asked questions so people can check before submitting queries. This may save a lot of time and effort.
TfL must do more than tick boxes and consult properly, so it is fair and balanced. The literature many have seen, even recently, from TfL looked more like a sales pitch than an objective presentation of the facts. The consultation data (and not just TfL’s 'conclusions') should be open for inspection and scrutiny.
Cllr Harvey Rose,
May 12, 2004