Villagers turn to civil disobedience in battle against third runway at Heathrow

Writing in the Guardian, Sandra Laville reports on how some residents of the Heathrow villages, facing eviction and loss of their homes and communities, refuse to be cowed by the airport threat.  Some, who have never broken the law before have been forced by circumstances not of their choosing, to adopt civil disobedience as they fight to save their way of life.  Some of the 13 activists from Plane Stupid, who cut through Heathrow’s perimeter fence and occupied land close to the northern runway last week came from Sipson.  They felt their actions were justified not only because of the homes to be bulldozed and the community to be lost, but because of the hugely increased carbon emissions that a runway would cause. They will appear at the Uxbridge magistrates’ court on 19th August, accused of aggravated trespass.  One commented: “I find the whole idea of direct action and of being arrested very stressful. But I feel it has to be done.”  On the 20th July local builder, Neil Keveren (previously chairman of anti expansion group, SHE) went to court for his action in blocking the access tunnel to Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 for 20 minutes recently. He was given a £895 fine. Some think this may become like the long battle for Greenham Common.

Villagers turn to civil disobedience in battle against third runway at Heathrow

Faced with destruction of Harmondsworth and other villages, residents began taking matters into their own hands – and things escalated sharply

With its 11th century church, listed buildings and 15th century timber barn managed by English Heritage, Harmondsworth is a paean to reverence, tradition and antiquity.

Faced with destruction of their village as they know it, to make way for a third runway at Heathrow, however, some residents have begun to adopt tactics such as civil disobedience as they fight to save their way of life.

That campaign escalated sharply last Monday, when 13 individuals cut through the patrolled perimeter fence around Heathrow in the early hours of the morning, chained themselves together and lay down on the northern runway in the name of the campaign group Plane Stupid, closing the runway for three hours and cancelling 13 flights.

Among them were individuals who have never taken part in civil disobedience or been arrested before. One of the protesters, Eddie Thacker, 26, who has lived for two years in Sipson, one of three villages which face destruction, predicted there would be much more direct action to come, as residents and seasoned activists fight to stop the third runway being built.  
In Harmondsworth alone 780 homes will be destroyed and at least one primary school torn down should the bulldozers move in and destroy half the village. But it is not just the destruction of bricks and mortar that is inspiring such action, it is the impact of a third runway on climate change.  
Like Greenham Common, Thacker believes, the fight to stop aviation expansion will become a defining battleground. “This is going to be the environmental struggle of our times and it has to be won if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change,” he said. “This is a such a key battleground environmentally in terms of climate change, and people are beginning to be inspired by this kind of action.”  
Another of those arrested on Monday, a 23-year-old gardener from west London, who moved to Sipson two years ago to become part of the campaign against the airport, said he was taking part because he saw evidence from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research that if aviation growth is not reduced by 2037, all of the carbon that it is safe for the UK to emit will come from flying alone. “I find the whole idea of direct action and of being arrested very stressful,” he said. “But I feel it has to be done.”  
Thacker and his 12 associates have been charged with aggravated trespass and entering a security restricted area of an aerodrome. They are to appear in Uxbridge magistrates’ court on 19 August.  The other protesters include Graham Thompson, one of the co-founders of Plane Stupid, who believes the issue of climate change has been played down in the debate over the aviation expansion.  
“We are increasingly concerned that David Cameron is going to perform a U-turn and that his no ifs no buts no third runway was a false promise,” he said. “We thought it was important to get climate change right back into the debate. The biggest source [it is one of the biggest, but not the biggest… AW note]  of emissions is aviation, you cannot keep expanding aviation and claim as this government has done to be serious about tackling climate change. We have to cut emissions urgently.”  
While Thompson has been arrested in the past, some long-time residents who have lived entirely law abiding lives are also taking up civil disobedience. 
The day after the Davies commission came down in favour of Heathrow expansion, Neil Keveren, a builder who was born in Sipson and lives in Harmondsworth, drove his van into the access tunnel for Terminals 2 and 3, parked up, climbed on to the roof and unfurled two banners, “residents against expansion” and “no ifs no buts no third runway”. 
Keveren stayed for 20 minutes before he was arrested and spent six hours in a cell. He is due to appear in court on Monday 20th.  
“I want them to know they are not holding all the cards,” he said. “They took away our democratic choice by kicking the Davies commission decision into the long grass before the election.  I am not a member of Plane Stupid but I would be proud to be one, I’ve never broken the law before, but I felt this had to be done. 
“People have made life choices based on no third runway – where to send their kids to school, where to bury their elderly. There is no wriggle room for Cameron in this, the new scheme is no different to the old one, it is just as disastrous.”   
The government has indicated it will make a decision on whether to back a third runway at Heathrow by the end of the year.  
For one resident, the combination of direct action from groups such as Plane Stupid, and the will of the villagers, could be vital in the weeks and months ahead as the fight against expansion escalates.
Ruth Bacon has lived on Summerhouse Lane in Harmondsworth since 1949 when Heathrow had just one runway, and since then has been fighting to stop its incremental expansion.   
Now 86, her home would be bulldozed to make way for a third runway. “I’ve been to all the protest meetings in the past and will keep doing so,” she said.   
“I’ve been positive all the way through that we can stop this if we all stick together. Last time this all came up one of those young protesters promised she was going to come and lie down outside my house if the bulldozers come. And I thought, well that would be nice, wouldn’t it?”



Harmondsworth could be the Greenham Common of a generation say protesters as court dates set

20 JULY, 2015 (Colnbrook Views)

As court dates are set for protesters involved in the two separate incidents at Heathrow Airport in recent weeks, activists warn that Harmondsworth will be the Greenham Common of a generation and the defining battleground for “a fight against catastrophic climate change”.

The Guardian yesterday reported that protesters from Plane Stupid arrested following the protest on the northern runway last Monday will appear at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court on August 19.

Twelve protesters were arrested in total, charged with “aggravated trespass” and “entering a security restricted area of an aerodrome”, according to the paper.

During the protest Police told the activists they could face civil claims from the airport running into millions of pounds for the disruption, but the airport appears to be taking a softly softly approach.  Heathrow’s vast media machine completely ignored the protest, posting only a brief note about the disruption itself.

Neil Keveren, previously chair of Stop Heathrow Expansion, who carried out a separate unofficial protest in the access tunnel to Terminals 2 and 3, appeared in court today.  Keveren said he had never broken the law before but felt it had to be done.

They took away our democratic choice by kicking the Davies commission decision into the long grass before the election.

He spent six hours in a police cell following his protest.

Featuring an 86-year old whose home will be demolished to make way for a third runway, The Guardian notes that law abiding residents of Harmondsworth are increasingly prepared to turn to direct action in the face of broken promises. It quotes one resident as suggesting that Harmondsworth could be the Greenham Common of a generation, the defining battleground of “a fight against catastrophic climate change”.