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Introducing environmental decision making
Introducing environmental decision making

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5.3.1 Structuring the decision-making process

From the start of the process, the UK Government saw the issue as an attempt to ‘maximise the significant social and economic benefits that growth in aviation would bring’ whilst minimising or ‘paying for’ the environmental impacts of such development (as quoted in ‘The Future of Aviation’).

The UK government’s decision-making process on airport expansion posed the following three fundamental questions:

  1. How much extra airport capacity (defined as the number of passengers embarking on a flight per annum) will be needed over the next 30 years?
  2. How will the environmental impact be mitigated or paid for?
  3. Based on the forecasted passenger number, where should the new airport capacity be located?

This structure is not immediately apparent in the DfT documentation but has been interpreted in this way by most commentators in the media, although many have placed the environmental impacts as the last question.

Activity 20 Considering questions that framed the process

The posing of these three questions had a fundamental impact on the decision-making process, imposing limitations on the scope of the studies and the consultations, and effectively predefining the outcomes. Can you think of a different set of questions which could have framed the process in a better way?


My instinctive reaction to the challenge set by this activity is to propose a very different set of questions. I would want to first explore the role of aviation within the UK’s transport situation (infrastructure, policy, attitudes, etc.) and look at how aviation complements and/or competes with both current and future potential developments in transport modes such as international high-speed rail. I would also want the process to address environmental impacts first and to implement sensible and practical compensation/remediation measures before delving into any major expansion plans. Finally, I would want to investigate radical alternatives to air travel including online conferencing and local tourism. Only then would I consider the three questions given.

As I describe the consequences of structuring the decision-making process with these three questions in the remainder of this case study, I will also provide other alternatives proposed by a range of stakeholders, some of which challenged both the process undertaken and the data provided. You may want to compare your response to the above activity with other stakeholder reactions, and to the study material as you engage with it.