Wednesday 15 August 2007

Back Blogging and Supporting The Climate Change Camp at Heathrow

It is good to be back blogging again. I haven't blogged for the last few weeks because I have had to devote my time to my family. Both my mother and my stepfather have been seriously ill. We are coming through it but we wouldn't have without the superb care, dedication and professionalism of the health workers at James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth, the social workers and support staff from Norfolk Social Services and the residential care workers in the Salisbury Care Home which provided my parents with such wonderful respite care. I can't thank them enough for the support they all gave us.

I am back in action now and down at the Climate Change Camp in my constituency supporting this protest against the threatened third runway at Heathrow. Let me explain why I support the camp.

With a group of friends I organised the first public meeting and set up the first anti third runway group way back in 1985. Our aim was to expose the incremental growth of Heathrow airport beyond the scale and all the boundaries originally set for this airport. The British Airports Authority and successive Governments had promised my constituents time and again that the airport had reached its limits and would grow no further. This happened after permission was given for a fourth terminal at Heathrow and at the fifth terminal Inquiry BAA wrote to me and all my constituents promising that if a fifth terminal was allowed there would be no third runway.

Within six months of this promise BAA and the Government came forward with plans not only for a third runway but also a sixth terminal. In addition, this week it was leaked that the threatened third runway is not a short take off runway as promised but a full length runway requiring even more homes to be demolished.

BAA and the Government have quite frankly lied about the implications of a third runway for local communities around Heathrow. In an independent study commissioned by the Department of Transport in the early 1990s the true extent of the impact of a third runway was exposed. Up to 4000 homes would have to be demolished or rendered unliveable by air and noise pollution. Three schools, community centres, churches and a series of villages would be demolished and destroyed. Up to 10,000 local people would have to be forcibly removed from their homes and communities, the biggest forced migration in this country's history since the Scottish clearances.

This is a working class, multi cultural community with a high density of population. It appears that the Government has made the calculation therefore that we are expendable in order to continue to maintain BAA's high profit margins. The Government's policy is that the third runway and sixth terminal can go ahead if the environmental problems, particularly air pollution can be overcome. Gordon Brown has already indicated that he is in favour of expanding Heathrow. We are now fearful that in September the Government will bring forward a "dodgy dossier" of doctored estimates of measures suggesting falsely that the environmental issues can be addressed and thus a third runway can be permitted.

The argument that BAA and Brown always put forward is that expanding Heathrow is essential for our economy and for jobs. Even on their own rationale this ignores the fact that developing more sustainable alternatives such as rail network expansion would provide the same economic benefits and just as many, if not more, jobs. Because the Government's aviation policy making is dominated by the interests of the private sector corporates of the aviation industry the search for short term profits is placed continuously before long term planning in the interests of our community and the environment. Even for my local economy the growth of the airport has had mixed benefits in terms of jobs. Whilst the airport has brought jobs to the area, its growth has forced up land prices and industry has moved out to be replaced by wharehousing. Large numbers of skilled jobs have been replaced by much fewer unskilled work. Our local economy is now so unbalanced that it is largely dependent on the airport which makes the whole area dependent on the fluctuations in the fortunes of the aviation industry.

Over the years of campaigning for a sustainable aviation policy I, like many others, have gained a much greater understanding of the environmental impact of the growth of airports and flying. Already in my community there are people living in an environment whose air by European standards is poisoned by air pollution from Heathrow airport and its surrounding road network. Globally we now have a fuller understanding of the impact that aviation growth is having on climate change. Even the Government's Stern report was forced to recognise that aviation is the fastest growing contributor to pollution and climate change in this country.

Action is needed and if Governments aren't listening and are even colluding in placing the interests of the aviation industry before our long term futures then direct action is needed. That is why I am supporting the Climate Change Camp and why I am there each day participating in this protest.

This type of protest is in the long standing democratic traditions of this country and our movement, going back to Winstanley and the Diggers. The Camp protesters are committeed to a peaceful, non violent strategy. There may be some who want to go further and the media and BAA would love to divert attention from the real issue of the environment and onto any violence of any demonstrations but it is critical that we do not allow our central message to be drowned out from any side.

Our message is that our planet is being plundered for profit. The third runway decision is the most important environmental policy decision in Western Europe today because it will set the standard for future aviation policy making. Stopping the third runway could be the first step in a new, sustainable environmental transport policy for Britain and Europe. It is so significant, that is why I am supporting the Camp and urge others to join us.