The land earmarked by the Government for the construction of a third runway at Heathrow airport has been bought from under the noses of ministers by a coalition of celebrities, scientists, politicians and green campaigners.
Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson has been joined by Alistair McGowan, Greenpeace and others from across the political spectrum, who now own the site. They exchanged contracts on the land - a field north of the airport - last week, and now legally own the plot. They say they will never sell it to BAA or allow the airport operator's bulldozers onto their site.
Emma Thompson said: "I don't understand how any government remotely serious about committing to reversing climate change can even consider these ridiculous plans. It's laughably hypocritical. That's why we've bought a plot on the runway. We'll stop this from happening even if we have to move in and plant vegetables."
The deeds to the site - right at the heart of the Government's proposed plan for Heathrow expansion - were signed on Friday by Thompson, McGowan, Conservative Party green advisor Zac Goldsmith and Greenpeace director John Sauven (PDF of deeds on request).
Beneficial owners who've also signed-up include local Labour MP John McDonnell, Conservative front bench spokeswoman Justine Greening, Lib Dem MP Susan Kramer and Royal Society Research Fellow Dr Simon Lewis - an acclaimed climate scientist. Greenpeace is inviting members of the public to also become beneficial owners and pledge to do what they can to defend the land from the Government and BAA. The green group hopes to attract thousands of people to take a stake in the land, under the campaign banner AIRPLOT.
At full capacity, an expanded Heathrow would become the biggest single source of C02 emissions in the country. It would emit nearly 27 million tones of CO2 every year - equivalent to the emissions of 57 of the least polluting countries in the world combined (10).
TV impressionist Alistair McGowan said: "BAA were so confident of getting the Government's go ahead, but we have cunningly bought the land they need to build their runway. Now that we own it, we'll never sell it to them and we're confident that we'll be joined by people from all over the world who will help us defend it. No government which is serious about tackling climate change would ever think of expanding Heathrow, and because we care about our planet's future and our children's future, we are not going to let them.
"The Government, by deciding to build this runway, is sticking two fingers up to the environment and the people of this world. By giving this runway the go-ahead Gordon Brown is effectively holding a giant blow torch to the polar ice caps and saying ‘Melt! Melt!' In the end aviation expansion will have a serious effect on sea levels and will decimate the very countries people feel it is their right to fly to. This isn't just about the destruction of Sipson but the destruction of the world as we know it."
Greenpeace campaigners are today creating a message in chalk on the land, visible from the air, which will say ‘OUR CLIMATE - OUR LAND' (site visits on request, with elevated scaffold position for filming). Alistair McGowan started digging yesterday, and the message will be completed this week. Greenpeace director John Sauven says that the legal owners of the site will block the runway at every stage through the planning process and in the courts. They will never sell the land to Spanish-owned airport operator BAA, and if it comes to it many thousands of people will be prepared to peacefully defend their field in person, standing in front of bulldozers and blocking construction.
Sauven added: "We've thrown a massive spanner in the engine driving Heathrow expansion. As the new owners of the land where the Government wants to build the runway, we'll resist all attempts at compulsory purchase and represent millions of people from across the world at any planning inquiry. And if it comes to it, Greenpeace will be joined by huge numbers of people to block BAA's bulldozers from getting onto our land. This site will become a focus for climate campaigners across Britain and the wider world because this new runway cannot and will not be built. People wanting to take a stake in this project should go to the Greenpeace UK website and sign up."
(Further quotes from beneficial owners in notes below - a map of the position of the site is online and copies are available on request.)
Geoff Hoon is expected to give the green light to a third runway and sixth terminal at the airport this week, claiming the development is important for the economy of the nation. But the BAA/government economic case for a third runway has been comprehensively discredited. On Sunday the Labour-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research stated that the runway would become a white elephant and called the economic case ‘greatly overstated'.
Conservative frontbench spokeswoman Justine Greening, who has signed-up to be a beneficial owner of the site, said:
"At every stage the Government has ignored public opinion and shamelessly ignored the grave environmental risk of expanding Heathrow. At every stage, residents have made their concerns and views against further expansion very clear. The battle to stop Heathrow expansion will continue because preserving our quality of life is so important. I have got involved in buying this land to very actively represent the views of my own constituents. If the Government will not listen in Parliament, then ministers will find they have to listen in the courts."
Members of the public interested in becoming members of AIRPLOT should go to greenpeace.org.uk. Beneficial owners are included in a legal deed of trust and are represented in any legal fight for the land by the four purchasers of the land. Greenpeace lawyers are looking into all options for using the land and its owners to block the third runway.
For more information contact Greenpeace on 0207 865 8255 / 07801 212967
The case against Heathrow expansion:
- Unrestrained airport expansion will make it impossible for the UK to play its part in tackling climate change. The Government has committed the UK to an 80% cut in Co2 emissions by 2050 (1). Research from the respected Tyndall Centre shows that if the industry is allowed to expand as predicted, aviation alone would destroy any hope of hitting this target (2)
- Aviation currently receives £9bn per year in tax subsidies (3). This money could be spent to help deliver cheap, reliable, and environmentally sound transport solutions.
- A recent report jointly written by the Government's environment watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission, and the influential left wing think tank, IPPR, called on the Government to completely rethink its aviation policy because of doubts over the environmental and economic data underpinning the Government's pro-expansion policy. It recommends that the Government launches a full, independent review of its 2003 aviation white paper.
- The economic benefits of aviation expansion have been overstated. There is growing uncertainty over the industry's projections of future demand given oil price instability (4)
- Meanwhile the costs of climate change are growing all the time - the floods in summer 2007 were estimated to have cost £3 billion. The Stern report on the economics of climate change estimates that business as usual climate change will cost between 5 and 20% of global GDP (5).
- Small increases in the efficiency of planes will be overwhelmed by an unrestrained growth in flights. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution found that the industry's targets are ‘clearly aspirations rather than projections'(6)here are some basic technological restraints that make major improvements impossible to imagine. However, if the Government caps the total number of flights at current levels, these efficiency gains could have a positive impact.
- Aviation emissions do more damage to the climate because they are released at altitude. Scientists multiply aviation emissions (which include other harmful gases not just C02) by between 2 and 3 to calculate their increased climate impact - a phenomenon known as ‘radiative forcing'.
- Including aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme will not solve the problem. According to a report from Ernst and Young, even in the toughest ETS scenario emissions from the aviation sector would grow by 83% by 2020 (7). More recent research shows that in order for the ETS to have any chance of working from 2012 onwards, the Government must halt expansion now (8).
- Per person, Britons emit more from flying than any other people else on the planet (603kg per person per year, compared to 434kg for Irish and 275 kg for Americans) while in the UK aviation accounts for 13% of the country's entire climate impact (9) - a figure that is growing fast.
Quotes from beneficial owners:
Dr Simon Lewis, Royal Society Research Fellow at the University of Leeds said:
"Many scientists have urged Gordon Brown to drop these proposals. We cannot continue business-as-usual and meet our climate change commitments. It's as simple as that. Agreeing to massively increase flights from Heathrow against the best scientific advice - to drastically reduce our carbon dioxide emissions - is a reckless decision that will come back to haunt us."
Susan Kramer, Liberal Democrat MP, said:
"We will never give up this battle. We will use every weapon from tactics like this land purchase to taking the Government to court. The battles for quality of life in our area and on climate change are simply too important for us to give up. The Government brought this fight to us, but they will regret it."
John McDonnell, the local Labour MP at Heathrow, said:
"We've bought the runway from under the Government's nose and we're going to stop them expanding Heathrow. We'll defend this land in the courts and we'll never let the bulldozers on. We can beat climate change, but not by almost doubling the size of the world's biggest international airport."
Environmental writer George Monbiot said:
"Heathrow was built on the orchards that once supplied London. I'll be doing my bit to restore the site to its proper function by planting an apple tree on the plot. Years hence, when the threat of a third runway is a distant memory, I will send the first box of fruit I harvest from it to Downing Street."
1. Department of Climate and Energy - 16th October 2008 http://nds.coi.gov.uk/environment/fullDetail.asp?ReleaseID=381477&NewsAreaID=2&NavigatedFromDepartment=False
2. K, Anderson, A Bows, P, Upham (2006) Growth scenarios for EU & UK aviation: contradiction with climate policy, Page 42.
3. Sewill. (2003) The hidden cost of flying. AEF. The figure of £9 billion was confirmed by BAA consultants Volterrra, in November 2003. Since then, inflation and the increased number of passengers raised the figure to £10 billion but it was brought back to £9 billion by the rise in air passenger duty on the 1st of February 2007.
4. Generated User Benefits and the Heathrow Expansion: Understanding Consumer Surplus (July 2008) http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/reports/consumer_surplus.pdf
5. http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/media/4/3/Executive_Summary.pdfT&E background briefing
6. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, 29th November 2002. The Environmental Effects of Civil Aircraft in Flight. Special Report
7. T&E background briefing (2007) Including Aviation in the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) page 2.
8. Bows, A. & Anderson, K. "A bottom-up analysis of including aviation within the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme", Tyndall Centre for climate Change Research, Working Paper, November 2008 http://d.scribd.com/docs/emvlodk9ezdqje6fo5s.pdf
9. Green values: consumers and branding - TGI consultants; 13% figure from Gillian Merron in answer to parliamentary question 26th April 2007.
10. Department for Transport's ‘UK Air Passenger Demand and CO2 Forecasts' November 2007 states that in 2005 Heathrow emitted 18.2 million tonnes of CO2, with 476,000 flights. Using this as a base line, an extra 226,000 flights at Heathrow (bringing total numbers of flights to 702,000) would result in an additional 8.64 million tonnes of C02. The Energy Information Administration's website documents the emissions of countries across the world: http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/international/iealf/tableh1co2.xls
11. In 2005, Drax emitted 20.8 million tonnes of CO2. The Energy Information Administration's website documents the emissions of countries across the world: http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/international/iealf/tableh1co2.xls