The most bitter environmental battle for a decade is set to break out over plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, with experienced campaigners saying they will join locals in taking "whatever extreme action is needed" to stop construction.
Under current proposals, the west London village of Sipson would be entirely demolished - a successful primary school, shops and 700 homes all destined for the wrecker's ball. The destruction to be caused by increased air pollution, aircraft noise and re-routed roads has not been factored in yet, but could affect 34,000 people, campaigners claim. The Government will make a decision on the project in the autumn. The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and BAA, which runs British airports, want the green light.
In recent months, however, an unlikely alliance of pensioners and environmental activists has emerged, determined to stop Heathrow's expansion by any means available.
Radical environmentalists who cut their teeth on the Newbury bypass protests of the 1990s, when they concreted themselves in countryside tunnels and lived in trees destined for the chop, say they will help villagers. "We were there with Swampy and at Manchester airport," said an activist from the group Earth First!. "We've climbed cranes and chained ourselves to bulldozers. We've trashed fields of GM crops.
"We are willing to help Sipson because BAA and the Government are planning to wipe the established community off the map to create a climate crime scene." The homes of aviation executives were "legitimate targets", he said.
Radical activists' assistance will include "non-violent direct action training" to teach residents how to resist arrest and "lock on" to machinery and each other using chains and pipes. About 50 residents are said to have already signed up to a motor blockade of Heathrow's entrance roads. "We want this to be decided legally," said Linda McCutcheon, 60, who has lived in Sipson for 39 years. "But if the Government says yes to the plans, people are so desperate and frustrated that anything will go. I will be there. We will block roads around Heathrow. We will sit in tunnels and in front of diggers."
Her husband Terry, 71, a retired bank manager, said: "You only need to drive three or four cars into the tunnel, lock the door and walk away and it stops them." Geraldine Nicholson, 36, a mother of three young boys who also organises the No Third Runway Action Group, said she would do "whatever it takes to stop them knocking down the kids' school and ruining our lives". The runway would be 150 metres from her front door, she said, bringing unbearable noise and clouds of poisonous nitrogen dioxide pollution.
Heathrow is already the world's busiest international airport. The number of flights would go up from the current limit of 480,000 a year to 655,000 - 1,800 a day. BAA denied during its application for a fifth terminal (currently under construction) that it wanted a third runway and sixth terminal, but now says that one is needed to have any chance of meeting the government's target of boosting UK airport passengers from 200 million to 500 million by 2030.
It says that a third runway would protect 20,000 jobs and generate £6bn for the economy, and would prefer expanding Heathrow ahead of Stansted airport in Essex. It says that it is too early to say for sure how many people will be affected, but denies that the figure is as high as campaigners claim.
Crucially, the plans are thought to have the backing of Mr Brown, who has launched a study aimed at "identifying solutions that would allow" the runway to be built.Reuse content