Those unfamiliar with Harmondsworth – one of three villages that would be destroyed should the Heathrow expansion go ahead – might be forgiven for thinking it is just another commuter village, but an impressive 600-year-old, Grade I listed barn and the 11th-century St Mary’s Church prove otherwise.
While the church and barn – once dubbed “the Cathedral of Middlesex” by late poet laureate Sir John Betjeman – will be saved from demolition, the proposed expansion would allow the airport’s boundary to engulf half of the peaceful village, destroying businesses, a primary school and 750 homes in the process.
Those whose properties will be spared will still find themselves living next to one of the world’s busiest airports.
“The new boundary line is on my back garden perimeter fence, which I’m not happy about,” said Paul Rice, 68. “How can we possibly live with the noise and pollution? Everything beyond my garden will go.”
Mr Rice was told that BAA Airports Limited would buy him out. But another cause for apprehension is his business. “I’ve got a successful carpet business here in the village. I’m going to lose it when most of the village is decimated. There’ll be nobody here to use the pub, the shops, the church – it will be a ghost town.”
In the Five Bells pub, talk circulated around conspiracy and rumours of private deals being made between government bodies and investors.
“We’ve been waiting for this decision for 60 years already,” added Mr Rice, “this is why they’ve never built on the fields surrounding the village. Really I feel the suspense has got to end. They’ve got to make a decision and let people move on with their lives.”
Leslie Reynolds O’Brien is one of the many villagers whose house is in line to be knocked down. “I’ve lived there for 45 years,” said Ms O’Brien, who is retired. “And I’ve been campaigning against the plans for decades. It’s a medieval village and I can’t believe they just want to knock it down. Elderly people are very worried, they’ve lived here all their lives. Where will they go?”
Emma Wood, 31, said she and her children would leave, despite having lived there for 19 years. “I was married in the church… But I’d have to move out.”Reuse content