CHATR: Opposition to Heathrow expansion ‘unstoppable’.

In the run up to the Mayoral election on 5 May, in which all candidates have declared themselves against Heathrow expansion, Nigel Walley, Head of Social Media for CHATR, considers the scale of the opposition to the 3rd runway.

A remarkable feature about the campaign against the 3rd runway is the strength, depth, and variety of the opposition ranged against Heathrow.  Even Heathrow’s own opinion polling reveals that millions of Londoners oppose the expansion of the airport.

The opposition to the third runway is cross-community and cross-party, extending to local MPs from both major parties, five cabinet ministers and all six of the leading London Mayoral candidates for 2016.  Opposition has brought together Local Authorities from all the boroughs that surround Heathrow and driven the creation of a wide variety of local action groups, such as CHATR (Chiswick Against the Third Runway) with a specific area or community focus.


However, what is unique about the anti-third runway campaign is that, rather than being a new and fledgling initiative in response to a current threat, it is one built on over 40 years of opposition to Heathrow and the overflying of London.


40 years of opposition to Heathrow expansion


For planes to approach the runway directly over densely populated London has caused problems that have long generated opposition.  As an international airport serving a capital city, it has been recognised for over forty years that Heathrow was built in the wrong place.  The airport had its origins in a World War Two airbase and grew informally and through expediency in the early years of commercial air travel.  By the 1960s its impact on the Western suburbs became apparent and opposition to additional landing slots, and the noise caused by early and late landings in particular, grew rapidly among the local population.


HACAN  – the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise


HACAN was formed in the 1970s and has provided four decades of opposition to Heathrow expansion.  In the 1970s HACAN was instrumental in persuading the Government to introduce runway alternation in West London to give residents a half day’s break from the noise.

HACAN took the lead in representing local communities on noise issues at the Terminal 5 Enquiry in the late 1990s.  This process cost the Government more than £80m, and used up 80,000 separate documents in a four-year inquiry.  The enquiry was lost but it resulted in what was intended to be a legally-binding cap of 480,000 planes being able to use the airport each year. This was already in breach of an earlier government commitment delivered when permission for Terminal 4 was granted in 1982.  At the time, the government said that should be the last expansion of Heathrow and imposed a limit on the number of flights of 275,000 a year.  At this point, the local communities around Heathrow began to realise that it was impossible to trust Government commitments and that opposition to growth needed to be permanently active.

In 2001 HACAN and a number of the Heathrow action groups took the UK Government to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing successfully that, under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, night flights were an infringement of the local residents’ right to the ‘peaceful enjoyment’ of their homes.  HACAN won the case but the Government appealed and they won that in 2003.

HACAN has long provided the rallying point for a wide-ranging coalition of residents groups, local authorities, sympathetic politicians of all parties, environmentalists, direct action campaigners, businesses and trade unions opposed to as new runway. Among the groups now active in opposition are: Friends of the Earth who have been crucial in formulating the environmental opposition; Airport Watch; the Heathrow Consultative Committee; the Heathrow Noise Forum, the Local Authority Aircraft Noise Council (LAANC) and The Community Noise Forum and the direct action group Plane Stupid.



Opposition around Heathrow


Last week the Advertising Standards Authority banned an advert from ‘Back Heathrow’ claiming that most local people back expansion at the airport.  There is in fact, a very long and established organisation at work around Heathrow opposing the 3rd runway.  Those communities most directly affected by the proposed ground works such as the villages, like Harmondsworth, Sipson and Longford that are scheduled for destruction around the airport have been confronting the issues for 20 years.  Many people in those areas have grown up with the blight of airport expansion and destruction of their homes hanging over them. 

Many such groups against Heathrow expansion made submissions to the recent Airports Commission.  For a campaign to have this level of co-ordinated grass roots opposition is unprecedented and must give the Government pause prior to any decision, because it shows the level of organisation and co-ordination ready to fight any decision to build.


Political Opposition


There are mainstream political forces ranged against a third runway.  London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has long opposed a new runway at Heathrow, a factor which contributed to his election as Mayor and also to his subsequent election as local MP in Uxbridge, a constituency bordering the airport.  Boris Johnson went as far as commissioning alternative schemes for the Thames estuary from Norman Foster and Arup to explore the feasibility of alternatives. 

Other senior Government MPs against include Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, whose Putney constituency is on the Heathrow flightpath and Zac Goldsmith, Tory MP for Richmond Park, who has threatened to resign his seat and force a by election if the third runway is given the go ahead.  Local MPs in West London including Labour’s Rupa Huq and Ruth Cadbury have also been clear in their opposition to any further expansion since taking their seats at the 2015 election. 

The issue has affected the way the Conservative Party views London, already a trouble spot for the Tories, and has had a direct impact on the campaign for London mayor.  David Cameron took the highly political step to delay a final decision on the Third Runway till after the Mayoral election – many believe in an attempt to help the Tory candidate.  From that point it would have been inconceivable for a candidate from any party to have stood on a platform supporting the third runway.

The message to the Government is that opposition to the third runway at Heathrow is a broad, well organised coalition of interested groups.  We are well funded, and are building on the experience and connections built over thirty years of opposition to expansion at Heathrow.  In the unthinkable circumstance that the government ignores the compelling arguments laid out in the other elements of  HACAN’s ‘Impossible Hurdles’ campaign, then they must know that they are walking into a political battle of unprecedented scale and organisation.


Nigel Walley is Head of Social Media for CHATR and runs his own company, Decipher Media Consultants.



For more information about CHATR please contact:

Website: www.chatr.org.uk

Twitter: @CHATR_Heathrow

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