UP-DATED MONDAY FEB 13.
There has long been a suspicion the government's U-turn that led to its decision to consult on the idea of a Thames Estuary airport was, in part, driven by the Treasury and the Chancellor. It was said they had been won round by the argument that such a project would deliver investment and jobs - along with regeneration - at a critical time.
But how was the Treasury won round? A clue perhaps lies in the meetings George Osborne and his officials had with the backers of the idea that were disclosed to us under the Freedom of Information Act.
Although we aren't being told what was on the table at these meetings as it is not deemed to be in the public interest.
Treasury meetings with Thames Estuary airport backers>>>
What we do glean from the details provided is that there seemed to be a sympathetic ear at the Treasury, where officials met representatives of Foster and Partners and the consultants Halcrow no less than four times to chew over the idea.
The rather gushing email sent by an unnamed representative of Foster following one meeting talks revealingly of how stimulating and reassuring the meeting was given that both sides believed passionately in the same points.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with any proponent of any scheme seeking contacts with politicians and their officials. You wouldn't expect anything less where a project as huge as this was concerned. Access is critical to getting the message across.
But if the government wants to be seen to be playing a straight bat over what is undeniably a massively contentious issue, it will have to better than come up with the fig leaf of an excuse that it has to withhold information about what exactly was discussed at these meetings.
It is, frankly, an insult to say on that policy discussion needs to take place behind closed doors so opinions can be expressed candidly. In its response, the Treasury says it acknowledges that there is a public interest in what is a 'live' issue - which in its way makes the case for full transparency and openness - not the case for running away and hiding.
It is interesting to speculate on whether, had the Treasury been approached by, say, the leader of Medway council, for such a meeting, Mr Osborne or his officials would have proved quite as accommodating.
Either way, it is vital that the government's consultation starts from a position of neutrality.
There are arguments on both sides to be had but public confidence in the integrity of that consultation won't be enhanced if there is any suspicion that one side is getting greater opportunities to promote their views above the other.
Read the Treasury's full response to our FOI request here:
Treasury Meetings FOI.pdf (2.34 mb)
The transcript of the email sent by Foster and Partners to Treasury officials:
“It was a pleasure to meet with you this morning. We appreciate you making the trip over to our office and hopefully the experience of actually seeing us all busily working was useful. We found the conversation we had both stimulating and highly reassuring as you both made so many points that we both passionately believe in.”
“The brief presentation we did of some of our thinking and the initiatives we have been taking around infrastructure seemed to resonate with your interests and I am sure we could have spent a lot more time talking. We look forward to developing these conversations.”