CONTROVERSY surrounding the Farnborough Aerodrome Consultative Committee blew wide open last week after the leader of Hampshire County Council said he believed its constitution had been finalised.

In a letter to a Church Crookham resident, Ken Thornber said he thought the consultative committee had been “properly constituted” in line with Department for Transport guidelines.

However, certain members of the committee believe that its draft constitution is at serious variance with government guidelines and risks undermining public confidence in its indepen-dence.

Concern is centred on the appointment of Cllr Pat Devereux as chairman.

A member of the ruling Conservative group on Rushmoor Council, Cllr Devereux also sits on its development control com-mittee, which approved the airport’s development.

However, it appears that any fears there may have been laid to rest.

Rushmoor Council’s Director of Environmental Services, John Edwards, said: “I think it’s important that the chairman is seen to be independent, but the challenge is that indepen-dence means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.”

Mr Edwards is working with an airport representative, TAG’s Ann Bartaby, and Farnham councillor Vic Scrivens, both members of the committee, on framing a long term constitution for the committee.

Asked whether the revised framework would be presented to the committee as a fait acompli at its next meeting in July, Mr Edwards said: “The committee will be presented with some thoughts and it will be up to them whether they want to go down that route or take another course.”

Mrs Bartaby, TAG’s planning and development director, went further, saying: “An independent chairman would not be a member of the committee and that’s what we are investigating at the moment.”

Welcoming the assurance that the working group was leaning towards a fully independent chairman, Farnborough Aerodrome Residents’ Association, Geoff Marks, said he thought Mr Edwards comments were significant.

“It shows that pressure from the public does get results and I look forward to securing a chairman who is perceived to be independent of any factional interests.”

There are various examples in other parts of Britain of how airport consultative committees can be structured.

One example is that of the committee which meets to monitor London City Airport in Docklands.

The London City Airport Consultative Committee, consisting of various interest groups from the operator, community groups, Newham Borough Council, to name but a few have met under statute since 1997.

The committee’s website says both its chairman, John Adshead, former senior planner with the Department for the Environment, and its secretary, Stuart Innes, are independent of the airport.

It says: “The chairman and the secretary must be independent of the airport and of any other interest represented on the committee or of any interest in, or affected by, the airport and its operation.”

Mr Innes told the Mail: “I do not know of any consultative committee in the country where there’s doubts about the independence of the chairman.

“They fell over backwards to secure someone of independence and stature.

“They would be on a hiding to nothing if they chose to take on someone who was a stooge,” he added.