The Big Question: Will the latest Heathrow protest halt the development of a third runway?

14.1.2009   (Independent)

by Michael Savage

Why are we asking this now?

Backbench rebellions, unrest within the Cabinet, fierce opposition and regular
bouts of direct action from the green lobby – the battle to create a third runway
and sixth terminal at Heathrow Airport has it all. The latest scheme designed
to scupper the project has even seen celebrities join the fight. The actress Emma
Thompson and the comedian Alistair McGowan have joined campaigners, including
the Tory environmental adviser Zac Goldsmith, the Greenpeace director John Sauven
and the Liberal Democrat MP Susan Kramer, to buy land in the middle of the proposed
site of the runway. The tactic has been used in the past to protect forests and
fight road-building schemes.

What do they intend to do with the land?

Fight to keep it at all costs, and use their ownership of it to gain a voice
in any future public inquiries into the building plans of BAA, which operates
Heathrow. They also plan to divide up the one-acre plot and sell pieces on to
climate change activists all over the world. Technically, if BAA is given the
all-clear to build a third runway, it would have powers to buy up the land using
compulsory purchase orders. But don’t imagine for a second that Greenpeace and
its supporters will give up the deeds without a fight. The new tactic also signals
the next stage in the fight to stop a runway being built. Those opposed to the
plans are already thinking ahead to the lengthy planning and inquiry process that
will take place should the Government give the nod to the project.

What are the concerns of the opponents?

The key concern for the green lobby is that a third runway would see the number
of flights rise by 220,000 a year, making Heathrow the biggest single source of
greenhouse gas emissions in Britain. That would make it very difficult for the
Government to meet its promise of reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent by
2050. It has said the third runway will not go ahead if environmental concerns
are not met. Protesters say Heathrow already breaks future EU limits on emissions
with just two runways.

Are there any other obstacles to expansion?

There are other more pressing problems for the Government to navigate in the
short term. It supports the construction of a third runway in principle. But although
its final decision was widely expected this week, opposition from within Gordon
Brown’s own party may well delay any announcement until next week or later this
month. Four Labour MPs have been promised a meeting with Mr Brown to discuss their
concerns and have asked for assurances that it will come before any announcement
is made over the future of Heathrow. Martin Salter, Andrew Slaughter, Paul Flynn
and Martin Linton all challenged the Prime Minister during a meeting of Labour
MPs on Monday evening. There are also murmurs of disquiet in the Cabinet, with
Hilary Benn and Ed Miliband voicing concerns in private about the environmental
impact of the project.

Is there any other opposition?

There is vehement opposition from local councils, which have formed the 2M group
to fight expansion. And residents in west London have also formed a well-organised
campaign. They are already organising a “flash mob” invasion of Heathrow’s Terminal
5. And spare a thought for the village of Sipson, which would be swallowed up
by a third runway. About 700 homes would go, signalling the end for a village
that has been around for nearly 900 years. Bryan Sobey, leading the residents’
fight in Sipson, said momentum was on their side. “I think the Government would
give up this plan if it could, but it does not want to lose face,” he said. “We
have had huge media interest already.” Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats
are opposed to expansion, but want the Government to make a final decision. The
Tories’ transport spokeswoman Theresa Villiers accused Mr Brown of “dithering
over the decision on Heathrow he has been promising for months”.

Who is supporting a third runway?

British Airways, which has the prime take-off slots at Heathrow, is leading the
charge in support of a new runway. The pro-lobby group Future Heathrow, made up
of businesses and trade unions, placed adverts in national newspapers this week
to make the economic case for expansion. It argues that, if Heathrow is not expanded,
Britain will lose out as companies opt to do business in France, the Netherlands
or Germany. The Unite and GMB unions are backing an expansion of the airport,
which could create 65,000 new jobs.

Is it likely to go ahead?

Despite the delays – a decision had been expected before the end of last year
– Mr Brown is expected to give the go-ahead for the third runway. The Transport
Secretary Geoff Hoon is a supporter of the project, as is the Business Secretary
Lord Mandelson. The delays are partly a ploy by Mr Brown and Mr Hoon to show they
are taking objections to expansion very seriously – the official line for delaying
a decision until January was to take full account of the 70,000 responses to the
consultation on Heathrow expansion received by the Department for Transport. But
the level of opposition is having an effect on government policy. Any announcement
about enlarging Heathrow will be made as part of a broader transport package.
Lord Adonis, the Transport minister, is keen on the idea of linking a new north-south
high-speed rail hub to Heathrow, which could be used to sweeten the deal for environmentalists.
The Government will also weave the construction of a third runway into its current
rhetoric of wanting to create jobs and boost spending on Britain’s infrastructure.

So will formal support from the Government be the end to it?

No chance. John Stewart, who runs the HACAN campaign group opposing expansion,
said that when the Prime Minister gives the green light to the third runway, it
will be “just the beginning” of a long battle to stop it happening. That is certainly
true. Once the Government gives its backing, BAA then has to receive planning
permission and navigate a public inquiry. That will take years and public opposition
will be both noisy and widespread. If the Conservatives win an election in the
meantime, they have vowed to rip up the plans for expansion. They have consulted
lawyers on the issue and believe they would have the power to tear up contracts.
The party may even have time before a public inquiry is completed to change government
policy to stop the building work from starting.

How about a Thames estuary airport instead?

Several feasibility studies have been set up into the possibility of “retiring”
Heathrow in favour of a new airport in the Thames Gateway region, which would
spare any residents from enduring noise. But the studies have rejected the idea
as unaffordable. It may not satisfy green campaigners, either – it is just another
runway, after all. But the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is a fan and has commissioned
another study into his own plans for an airport near the Thames estuary. In the
meantime, he has become another heavyweight opponent of Heathrow expansion.

Should the protesters be allowed to stop Heathrow’s development for good?


* The increase in noise and pollution created by more aircraft will have dire
consequences for residents on Heathrow’s flight path

* Expanding Britain’s airport infrastructure will make it impossible for us to
fight climate change effectively

* If the Conservatives win the next election, they say they will tear up construction
contracts in any case


* The plans may create as many as 65,000 jobs – good news at a time of plummeting
employment figures

* Without a third runway, the British economy will lose out to countries with
larger hub airports

* The scheme is part of a broader transport package including a high-speed rail
link designed to get Britain moving


link to article


In addition, for arguments about flying, wealth and the poor, see George Monbiot’s article entitled:     “Flying Over the Cuckoo’s Nest ”     13.1.2009

at   Flying Over the Cuckoo’s Nest   for the full piece.     The relevant bits on flying state:


This week, the government is expected to announce that a third runway will be
built at Heathrow.

MPs, airline bosses and rightwing newspapers have been trying to soften us up
by insisting that this is happening for the benefit of the poor. Those trying
to stop new runways are toffs preventing working class people from having fun.


If you understand and accept what climate science is saying, you need no further
explanation for protests against airport expansion.


More cheap flights must be of greatest benefit to the poor.   A campaign against
airport expansion must therefore be an attack on working-class aspirations.   It
might be obvious, but it’s wrong.

The Sustainable Development Commission collated the figures on passengers using
airports in the United Kingdom between 1987 and 2004(25). During this period,
total passenger numbers more than doubled and the price of flights collapsed.
The number of people in the lowest two socio-economic categories (D and E) who
flew rose, but their proportion fell, from 10% of passengers in 1987 to 8% in
2004. By 2004, there were over five times as many passengers in classes A and
B than in classes D and E.

Today, the Civil Aviation Authority’s surveys show, the average gross household
income (ghi) of leisure passengers using Heathrow is £59,000(26) (national average
ghi is £34,660(27)). The average individual income of the airport’s business passengers
(36% of its traffic) is £83,000(28). The wealthiest 18% of the population buys
54% of all tickets; the poorest 18% buys 5%(29).

[O’Neill champions]   Ryanair, Britain’s biggest low-cost carrier, as the hero
of the working classes. So where would you expect this airline to place most of
its advertising? I have the estimated figures for its spending on newspaper ads
in 2007. They show that it placed nothing in the Sun, the News of the World, the
Mirror, the Star or the Express, but 52% of its press spending went to the Daily
Telegraph(30). Ryanair knows who its main customers are: second-home owners and
people who take foreign holidays several times a year.

Who, in the age of the one-penny ticket, is being prevented from flying? It’s
not because they can’t afford the flights that the poor fly less than the rich;
it’s because they can’t afford the second homes in Tuscany, the ski-ing holidays
at Klosters or the scuba diving in the Bahamas. British people already fly twice
as much as citizens of the United States(31), and one fifth of the world’s flights
use the UK’s airports(32). If people here don’t travel, it’s not because of a
shortage of runway.



25. Alison Pridmore, no date given. Aviation and Social Exclusion. The Sustainable
Development Commission.

26. CAA, 13th October 2008. CAA publishes 2007 air passenger survey.

27. Francis Jones, Daniel Annan and Saef Shah, December 2008. The distribution

household income 1977 to 2006/07, Table 2, page 24. Office of National Statistics.
Economic & Labour Market Review, Vol 2, No 12.

I have added the figure for total disposable income, 2006/7 to the figure for
direct taxes, 2006-7 to give gross household income.

28. CAA, ibid.

29. World Development Movement, March 2007. Dying on a Jet Plane.

30. I have a copy of the spreadsheet leaked from a leading London media communications

31. TGI, 2008. Green Values: consumers and branding.

32. World Development Movement, ibid.

At the core of the campaign against a third Heathrow runway are the blue collar
workers and working-class mums of the village of Sipson, whose homes are due to
be flattened so that the rich can fly more. If wealthy people don’t like living
under a flight path, they can move; the poor just have to lump it. Through climate
breakdown, the richest people on earth trash the lives of the poorest.


See also Simon Jenkins on the economics of Heathrow at


A runway for jobs? It’s time aviation’s bluff was called

14.1.2009   Simon Jenkins.

“I would flatten rare toads for growth – but for all the airline lobby’s cant,
there is no wider economic case for expanding Heathrow”, says Simon Jenkins. The
BAA lobby has conned the CBI, London First and even the unions into believing
the 3rd runway is needed for the economy, fobbing them off with a factoid that
the runway would “create 50,000 jobs”. So would rebuilding mental health infrastructure,
which would thus also be “good for business”. (Guardian)       Click here to view full story…