Brendon Walsh, Associate
My dear old Mum once said to me ‘as you get older, nostalgia will kill you!’ She clearly didn’t mean it literally; at least, I hope she didn’t. I’d forgotten about it; then suddenly, boom, teleported back over half a decade to a happy moment chairing a meeting of the Heathrow Strategic Planning Group (HSPG).
When the flashback happened, I was chatting to the clever people at Impact Data Metrics (IDM) about their 4 billion record database. They were describing how they collate, clean and gap-fill their information before undertaking analysis to derive insights to improve decision making. The clincher, or trigger, for the time warp was when one of them said ‘we give a high degree of confidence to those developing policy and making decisions.’ And that one phrase was enough to put me back in time, sitting with this (mostly) happy group of Local Government Officers. We were in a good place because we had done our homework and had our data and analysis in place. I’m hoping the IDM Team didn’t notice the iris reflex as it only lasted a nano-second, but the memory has resurfaced for me a number of times since, and there are a couple of pointers I wanted to share with you.
To give a little context, HSPG was established in response to the proposal to build a third runway at Heathrow. It was formed from the nine Local Authorities with land adjacent to the Airport, who would be faced with the opportunities and challenges of expansion. On establishment, we had a fairly modest expectation that by coming together once in a while, we could compare notes on progress and our varying approaches. And those approaches were diverse, ranging from wholehearted support for expansion, through to threatening to judicially review any central government approval of a third runway.
The flashback was to a meeting a few years on from the inception of HSPG. By then we had got to know one another, built some trust, established working groups including meetings of Council Leaders, and agreed to undertake scenario planning of a future where expansion had been granted. We secured funding from Heathrow, central government, and from our own resources. We then commissioned the sort of data analysis described by IDM and quantified the growth in infrastructure and facilities required to service a bigger airport. Looking back at the IDM quote, we had given ourselves the confidence to look at the data, agree its validity, and draw some conclusions on the best response to land use and traffic movements to deliver a successful outcome. This didn’t negate the political aspects of the proposed expansion, but it did allow us to get ahead of the curve and, remarkably, we found we agreed on the vast majority of what was needed and where things should go.
So, to the learning: firstly, it’s essential to do the hard yards of gathering factual, high-quality data, and undertake objective analysis. Data-driven insights will then help to deliver the right outcomes. Secondly, the strength of our group came from the trust and personal chemistry, which developed from regular face to face meetings; Zoom or Teams meetings can only go so far in replicating this, and we should avoid the temptation to see this as the norm as the World gets back (hopefully) to some normality as we used to know it. Thirdly, my Mum was wrong: nostalgia won’t kill you!