The campaign to halt the expansion of Heathrow will intensify dramatically after it emerged that thousands of homes will be blighted by new flight paths to handle a massive increase in traffic from the airport.
As the week of climate change protests reached a climax yesterday with a blockade of the headquarters of the airport operator, BAA, a coalition of 12 communities - two million people - unveiled a new battle over noise pollution in London and the home counties, which will be the inevitable outcome from a planned third runway at Heathrow.
Under government proposals, which will go out to public consultation in autumn, the world's busiest international airport would see its number of take-offs and landings nearly double from 480,000 to 800,000 a year by adding a runway for short-haul flights by 2020 and expanding the use of the existing two runways.
The third runway alone will account for an extra 240,000 flights each year.
Flight paths to cater for the new runway would cut across a swath of London and the South-east that has previously avoided being directly over-flown by planes, including Maidenhead, Slough, Chiswick, Hammersmith, Chelsea and Notting Hill - home to the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron. At least 150,000 households will find themselves directly under flight paths for the first time.
And figures seen by The Independent suggest the number of people who are subjected to aircraft noise levels above the 57 decibels, considered by the Government to be the "beginning of community annoyance", will rise from 375,000 to 535,000 if the proposals go ahead.
Opponents, led by local authorities and environmentalists, promised a campaign which will focus on the environmental impact of the airport's growth, including air-pollution levels close to Heathrow and stress or illness caused by a "sky of sound" over the capital.
Residents in Sipson, the village to the north of Heathrow where 700 properties will have to be demolished to make way for a third runway, have vowed to take direct action to protect their homes as well as pursue their case in the High Court.
The campaign will encompass street protests and leafleting homes under the new flight paths to lobbying of ministers by local MPs and political leaders. Legal moves are under way to force the Government to reveal the findings of an air pollution audit around Heathrow, which it is alleged have already been disclosed to BAA.
Protesters said that the Camp for Climate Change showed a "line has been drawn in the sand" by opponents to BAA's plans for Heathrow, including thousands of homeowners who will have realised the impact of the expansion proposals in recent days.
One leading campaigner said Heathrow will now become "the new Twyford Down", the site of the long-running battle in the early 1990s over the extension of the M3 in Hampshire.
The group of 12 local authorities in and around London opposed to the third runway, planned to open in 2017, accused the Government of exaggerating the economic benefits from aviation while failing to measure its environmental impacts. Government figures show that the increase to GDP by expanding aviation will be £13bn by 2030, outweighing climate change costs.
The third runway will cater for many of the short-haul business and tourist flights that environmentalists argue should be replaced by alternative transport. The flight paths to be used by planes using the Heathrow runway are still being decided by the Civil Aviation Authority and will not be published until next year - after the Government consultation paper on Heathrow, expected in October.
Experts consulted by the 2M group, so-called to reflect the population of the 12 local authorities, say new routes will be a necessity. Edward Lister, the leader of Wandsworth Borough Council, which is leading the 2M group, said: "It is inevitable that there will be new flight paths over parts of London and the Home Counties that have never experienced over-flight.
"In the meantime, the CAA is working on flight paths that will not even be included in the Government's own proposals. People are facing an undefined threat with one certainty - there are going to be lots more aircraft coming out of Heathrow and they will need to fly over places where they don't fly already."
BAA, owned by the Spanish group Ferrovial, has announced a £6.2bn spending programme to improve terminal facilities at the airport after the £4bn Terminal Five opens in March.
But the company admits that its greatest constraint is runway capacity at Heathrow, which currently runs at 98.5 per cent - far above that of the airport's key competitors such as Paris Charles De Gaulle and Amsterdam's Schiphol. In the short-term, Heathrow is looking to change the use of its two existing runways to "mixed mode", meaning each runway will be simultaneously used for take offs and landings. This will increase capacity by 15 per cent or 80,000 flights a year.
Communities facing a noisy future
* Airport: Stansted
Communities affected: Takeley - village in the borough of Uttlesford, Essex, is half a mile south-east of Stansted. Broxted - Essex village 2 miles north-east of Stansted airport.
* Airport: Gatwick
Communities affected: Charlwood - small village in south-east Surrey, is a mile west of Gatwick. Hookwood - small village in south-east Surrey, half a mile north of Gatwick. Horley - small town less than a mile north of Gatwick in south Surrey
* Airport: Bristol
Communities affected: Felton - village in north Somerset is half a mile east of Bristol airport. Winford - village in north Somerset one mile east of Bristol airport
* Airport: Bournemouth
Communities affected: Ferndown - small Dorset town, two miles west of Bournemouth airport.
Throop - small Dorset town, two miles south of Bournemouth airport.
* Airport: Birmingham
Communities affected: Much of east Birmingham: especially areas known as Avon Park, Oak Ridge Park, and Woodlawn.
* Airport: Edinburgh
Communities affected: Suburb of Newbridge within Edinburgh, a mile south-west of Edinburgh airport.Reuse content