BAA’s attempt to get a High Court Injunction banning over 5 million people from demonstrating in the Heathrow area was truly astonishing. But, on reflection, it should not have surprised local people since it was pretty typical of BAA’s behaviour over the years. This is a company which, it appears, is prepared to go to just about any lengths to get its way. As far back as 1980, BAA said that Terminal 4 would be the last major development at Heathrow and agreed to cap the number of flights at the airport. That cap was exceeded by the time Terminal 4 opened. By the 1990s, BAA was pushing for a 5th terminal, adding that there was no question of a 3rd runway being built. Now, with Terminal 5 safely in the bag, it is actively supporting a third runway, a 6th terminal and plans to increase the number of planes on existing runways.
These plans are facing major opposition from: local campaign groups; all the local authorities in the area; the Mayor of London; the London Assembly; most of the area’s MPs, and a growing number of environmental organisations and individual activists. Never before has BAA faced such united opposition. The suspicion is that BAA used the Camp for Climate Action as an excuse to injunct 5 million people in an attempt to stifle and frighten the growing opposition.
In recent months, BAA has used the classic tactic of companies under pressure: wooing the ‘safe’ opposition while trying to demonise the rest. BAA and the Department of Transport have been meeting with carefully-selected local residents’ groups to discuss how their needs can be met during this autumn’s consultation on its expansion plans. But not the two main campaign groups: HACAN and NoTRAG (No Third Runway Action Group). By including them in the injunction, BAA is clearly trying to portray them to local people as extremist and unrepresentative of the so-called silent majority.
BAA is trying to conjure up the image of a local community about to be overrun by environmental extremists attending the Camp for Climate Action, supported by those dangerous radicals from HACAN and NoTRAG. I believe BAA has badly misjudged the mood of local people affected by Heathrow. People are fed up with the broken promises; angry at the constant noise of ever-more planes flying overhead; and awake to the climate change arguments. This mood was reflected at a recent public meeting in a local community centre staged by the Climate Camp and which I chaired. People from the Climate Camp were cheered by a packed meeting. One local resident summed up the mood: "I've lived here twenty years and, at fifty years of age, I've got to say I'd given up. I've said to my wife: ‘what will happen, will happen’. But tonight you lot have changed my bloody mind!” This is just the sort of unity that frightens BAA, and which it tried to stifle with the most wide-ranging injunction in UK history.
John Stewart, the Chair of HACAN ClearSkies (representing residents under the Heathrow flight paths)
This article first appeared in the Ecologist August 2007