English residents and environmentalists prevent Heathrow Airport expansion, 2002 – 2010

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Timing
Time Period:  
October
2002
to
September
2010
Location and Goals
Country: 
England
Location City/State/Province: 
London
Location Description: 
Many actions took place at Heathrow Airport
Goals: 
To prevent the intended expansion at London Heathrow Airport
 

The London Heathrow Airport was of the busiest airports in the world when the English government began to contemplate expansion in 2002. Considered to be one of the premier airports in the world, the English government wanted to preserve the airport’s place among the best airports by improving its efficiency through expansion, including a third runway.

Several residents of the nearby community opposed the addition of a third runway as soon as they’d heard that the government was contemplating expansion. Estimates from the community suggested that 4,000 homes, three primary schools, and two churches would be demolished to make room for the runway. Those statistics left many residents angry that their community was being broken apart. On October 16, 2002, thousands of Heathrow residents gathered outside of Parliament in protest of the potential Heathrow expansion. Some held signs and others released a letter of protest to the office of the Prime Minister. Ten days later on the 26th of October, residents drove around in an open top bus, loudly playing the sounds of aircrafts to demonstrate how the expansion would increase noise throughout the community.

On December 16, 2003, despite community opposition, the government released a white paper (policy report) on the future of aviation, which included a proposal for a third runway at Heathrow Airport. The proposal did include stipulations regarding acceptable levels of aircraft noise and emissions. Many residents, politicians, and environmental groups did not believe that the stipulations would be met and so they began to take action and organize. Organizations like the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (HACAN) and ClearSkies had been established prior to the plans for Heathrow Airport expansion. The two organizations had merged in 2000 and became HACAN ClearSkies. Another local group emerged after the plans for the runway had been announced; local women and children founded the No Third Runway Action Group (NoTRAG). These two organizations, HACAN ClearSkies and NoTRAG, would be the only two that focused most of their efforts in Heathrow.

Once the plans for expansion were released, the far-reaching ramifications were obvious. With a third runway in place, the number of flights was going to increase from 480,000 to over 700,000 per year. The additional runway would also need 700 homes to be destroyed and would increase the number of people disturbed by aircraft noise to over one million. Also as a result of expansion, Heathrow would become the biggest source of C02 in the United Kingdom.

HACAN ClearSkies struggled in 2003 and 2004 to excite its membership. Recently, the group had attempted to ban the night flights at Heathrow, but failed. HACAN ClearSkies did manage to join Greenpeace, the Green Party, and other activist groups in creating a website against airport expansion. On this website, people could sign a personal pledge of opposition to airport expansion.

HACAN ClearSkies realized that it needed to learn from its past failures with the night flights. John Stewart, the chair of HACAN ClearSkies, created a strategy that would eventually lead the campaign to victory. Stewart believed that HACAN ClearSkies was too small to overcome expansion at Heathrow so he decided to build a coalition of everyone opposed to the third runway. Stewart also made it imperative that the campaign set the agenda and that it challenge the expansion with economic reasoning. Previously, the group had solely challenged aviation expansion with environmental reasoning.

First, HACAN ClearSkies was able to form a coalition of members of Parliament from several political parties. Then it lobbied the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, for support. HACAN ClearSkies also worked hard to secure the support of local authorities. It worked closely with NoTRAG to organize a rally that won the support of many key local authorities. Eventually the coalition took on a very diverse composition that included: NoTRAG, Greenpeace, Green Party, Plane Stupid, Airport Watch, Camp for Climate Action, and Climate Rush.

The campaign began to gain a lot of momentum in 2005. NoTRAG staged a mass meeting at a local school and was able to recruit over 1,000 people to attend. That same year, Plane Stupid was founded. Plane Stupid was designed as a network of activists looking to stop aviation expansion. Plane Stupid claimed no membership; instead it provided agency. What this meant was that it allowed groups to commit direct action and other acts of protest in the name of Plane Stupid. The following year, in 2006, Plane Stupid hosted a workshop about direct action. The workshop was a major success as many direct activists were recruited to take part in the campaign.

The years 2007 and 2008 saw the campaign advance even farther. Another group, the Camp for Climate Action, organized a massive camp-in that included over 2,000 activists. They were later able to nonviolently blockade the offices of the British Airport Authority (BAA) at Heathrow Airport. HACAN ClearSkies organized a flash mob in July of 2008 at the Department for Transport’s headquarters. Over 600 protesters disrobed to reveal red shirts that had “No Airport Expansion” written on them. They then proceeded to throw paper airplanes at the headquarters. Also in July, Dan Glass, a Plane Stupid supporter, super-glued his hand to the coat sleeve of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Once super-glued together, Glass told the Prime Minister, “We cannot shake away climate change like you can just shake away my arm.” This protest occurred four months after four Greenpeace activists were arrested for climbing onto a stationary aircraft and wrapping a protest banner around the tail of it. 2008 also proved to be a telling year for the political direction of the campaign. HACAN ClearSkies was able to, by popularizing the issue, persuade all four candidates for mayor of London to oppose the expansion at Heathrow.

In January of 2009, the government released more detailed plans for the expansion at Heathrow. It had appeared that all the success the campaign had been experiencing would not be enough to prevent the addition of a third runway. Greenpeace responded with a preclusive purchasing of land that was set to be a part of the runway. Greenpeace pledged not to sell the land to the government or BAA. Leila Deen, a Plane Stupid member, won additional media coverage for the campaign when she poured green custard all over Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson. Deen was quoted later as saying, “The only thing green about Peter Mandelson is the slime coursing through his veins.” The actions of Greenpeace and Plane Stupid kept the campaign in the headlines and in May of 2009, numerous big business leaders spoke out against the planned expansion of Heathrow.

One year later, following the general elections of 2010, the plans for expansion were terminated. A coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats took office and they stuck to the promise they had made during their campaigns for office; they put an end to the planned expansion at Heathrow. Plans for expansion were finally ended when ministers voted to block plans for 64 extra flights per day in September of 2010. HACAN ClearSkies, with its coalition of residents, politicians, political parties and environmental groups, successfully defeated plans for the expansion of the London Heathrow Airport.

Research Notes
Influences: 

HACAN ClearSkies was influenced by its failed campaign to ban night flights. (1)

Sources: 
BBC News “Campaigners leave Heathrow camp” BBC 20 August 2007

----. “Heathrow residents lobby MPs” BBC 16 October 2002

----. “Paper planes in Heathrow protest” BBC 3 July 2008

----. “Protesters buy up Heathrow land” BBC 13 January 2009

----. “Red alert’ over third Heathrow runway” BBC 26 October 2002

Greenhill, Sam. “Police arrest protester who gunged Mandelson with green custard” The Daily

Mail. 8 March 2009

Millward, David. “Greenpeace activists scale plane at Heathrow” The Telegraph. 25 February

-----. “Victory for Heathrow campaigners as ministers block extra flights and third runway” The Telegraph. 7 September 2010

Osborne, Alistair. “Business leaders question third runway plan for Heathrow Airport” The Telegraph. 25 May 2009

Sharp, Gene. Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential. Boston: Porter Argent Publishers, Inc, 2005.

Stewart, John. “Victory Against All Odds: The story of how the campaign to stop a third runway at Heathrow was won” Twickenham: HACAN. 2010

Walker, Peter. “Third runway plan for Heathrow scrapped by BAA” The Guardian 24 May 2010

Additional Notes: 
HACAN ClearSkies was the leader of the campaign, but had much help from the coalition it was able to build. On a separate note, the campaign was very much about the environment, but the additional runway was also going to negatively affect the quality of life for residents and so that also motivated the campaign.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Julio Alicea, 03/10/2010