The Heathrow no third runway campaign may be nearing a historic victory for people power after a campaign by residents environmental groups and trade unions.
The High Court ruled last week that the Government has to go back to the drawing board over its plans to expand Heathrow. This makes it virtually certain that a third runway will not be built at the airport.
A wide-ranging coalition of local residents and environmental campaigners, with some trade union and business support, will have taken on the might of the aviation industry and a government in love with big business and won.
A third runway at Heathrow was what the aviation industry in the UK wanted above all else. It has never before lost a key battle to expand an airport in the UK, yet it now stands on the brink of defeat.
The High Court judge ruled that the Government’s go ahead to BAA, announced last year, cannot stand in law because it didn’t take full account of government climate change policy and failed to assess the economic benefits of the new runway properly.
To rub salt into the aviation industry’s wounds, both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have said they will scrap plans for a third runway if they win the forthcoming General Election.
This is no fluke, but the result of strategic, radical campaigning by the biggest and most varied coalition ever assembled to fight airport expansion proposals in the UK.
The coalition included residents’ groups, large environmental organisations from Greenpeace to the more conservative National Trust, countless individual environmentalists, the direct action network Plane Stupid, 26 local authorities, at least half a dozen trade unions, some key business figures, and a cross-party group of MPs.
We saw that a passive approach of simply responding to government consultations and public inquiries would lead to almost certain defeat.
These official processes are sold as allowing the public to have their say, but are designed to allow the authorities to proceed with their schemes. Instead, the coalition took the battle to the authorities.
We organised marches and demonstrations. We staged our own consultations. Plane Stupid took direct action. And, perhaps crucially, we challenged the mantra that a third runway was essential for the economy.
We showed that London’s economy was not dependent on the new runway, as firms would continue to come to London attracted by the many other things it had to offer business.
Further, the coalition began to offer positive alternatives. We showed how a fast, affordable rail service could tempt people off many of the short-haul flights which clog up Heathrow’s runways.
We promoted the economic and environmental advantages of tele-conferencing. And, perhaps most important of all, we got involved in the debate about ‘green’ jobs.
We worked with organisations like the Campaign against Climate Change and trade unions such as PCS to explore ways of enabling a ‘just transition’ to take place from working in unsustainable industries to the creation of jobs in greener industries.
The government and the aviation industry had not faced this sort of challenge and they had no idea how to respond. In fact their response was so weak and muddled that even the High Court, not known as one of the country’s more radical institutions, slated their plans.
The High Court may have wounded the plan for a third runway. The Tories may soon kill it off. But the impetus for change came from a vibrant grassroots movement that was prepared to demand radical change in a daring, imaginative way.
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