The inaugural meeting of the London (Heathrow) Airport Consultative Committee took place at 11.00am on Friday 23 July 1948 at the Middlesex Guildhall in Parliament Square. In 1998 we celebrated 50 years of continuous service to the community by what is now known as the Heathrow Airport Consultative Committee. The Committee was the first, and for some years the only, such Committee in the United Kingdom. In 1948, Heathrow Airport was in the then County of Middlesex, the Council of which provided a joint Secretariat for both Heathrow and Northolt airports.
At the first meeting, the nine Committee Members decided that they did not need to have meetings at Heathrow Airport and there was some disagreement over the Terms of Reference which were proposed by the then operator, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, as some members wanted a more meaningful role. The Airport Commandant, and the civil servants involved, were, for example, aghast at the suggestion that the Committee should have any right of direct access to the Minister. After compromise, the Terms of Reference adopted were essentially, those in use today.
In its early years, at a time of acute housing shortage, the Committee gave a great deal of practical support to securing adequate housing provision for airport based staff in local areas. With assistance to what became British Airways Staff Housing Association, some 3,500 homes were provided by 1952, many of them in Stanwell, Heston and Feltham.
Complaints from the public about airport operations were far fewer but the subjects are little changed today, engine ground running noise, for example.
There have been too many milestones in the Committee’s history to relate them all here but several should be highlighted because of their influence on the work of the Committee.
In 1965, the Middlesex County Council was abolished as was the County upon its absorption into Greater London. The Secretariat function was then undertaken by the Greater London Council at the County Hall until, in 1975, British Airports Authority decided that it wished to provide that service. The first Secretary of that Committee then appointed on his retirement from Greater London Council, was Don Huntley who had formerly exercised that role as Town Planning Committee Clerk.
Appointed as Chairman of the Committee in June 1973, Douglas Eden, then a Councillor of the Greater London Council, was to continue in that office whilst British Airports Authority was privatised, to become BAA plc in 1986, and to serve until he retired from this office in August 1997, a term of 24 years which is believed to be the longest for any Consultative Chairman in the United Kingdom.
Since 1973 the Committee has been faced with rapidly increasing traffic at the airport. Passenger traffic has trebled, from 20 million in 1973 to 64 million in 2000, whilst air transport movements grew from 280,000 to 459,700 in 2000.
Many of the matters dealt with by the Committee over the past 50 years continue today albeit in different form and size – new or extended terminals, increased road traffic and parking, improved road access and public transport, aircraft noise and increasingly today, gaseous emissions from engines, Government airport policy and operational regulation and safety matters amongst them.