Multi-channel and online and postal voting in Heathrow airport expansion referendum.

The background:

The authorities at the airport claim Heathrow needs an additional runway to remain competitive and to provide the vital extra capacity to meet growing demand, but local pressure groups, environmental campaigners, and local authorities have all vigorously opposed this proposal. Following a decision made in January 2009 that pledged Government support for a third runway at Heathrow and support for the ending of the Cranford Agreement, Hillingdon Council, along with the 2M group of local authorities, local action group NOTRAG and environmental organisations successfully challenged the decision in court.

The Coalition Government stated in 2010 that there would be no third runway at Heathrow, but David Cameron’s later decision to set up an independent commission into aviation capacity in the south east, chaired by Sir Howard Davis, the former head of the Financial Services Authority, prompted the West London Borough Council of Hillingdon to put the matter to a referendum in order to give local residents the opportunity to express their views.

The Challenge:

The electorate of Hillingdon Council was asked to give their views on two questions:

  • Should a third runway be built at Heathrow? Yes/No
  • Are you in favour of more flights into and out of Heathrow? Yes/No

The Solution:

  • A letter and voting slip were mailed to the whole of the 210,000 electorate in the Hillingdon Council area. The letter gave information about the Referendum and encouraged people to respond via the internet voting site, but to use the voting slip and reply envelope if an internet response was unsuitable or difficult for them.
  • By the close of poll approximately 20,000 people had voted via internet and 60,000 people used the paper slip and sent their responses back in the post. This overall response of 80,000 people amounted to nearly 40% of the electorate mailed.UK-Engage handled all of the replies together with live-time back office reporting to the client.

The Result:

The results were that two-thirds of the electorate, (66%) voted against the proposals, giving a clear and definitive view of local opinion to Hillingdon Council. These results were aired via the Mayor of London office and were fully reported in the media. UK-Engage gave the Council a full final report detailing all elements of the process and full voter turnout statistics against each polling district area.

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