BAA is putting profits before communities


Last Monday we opened up a new front in the fight against climate change when six of us chained ourselves to the doors of the British Airport Authority's (BAA) offices in protest against the company's plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport.

Two days later, Mike Clasper, the chief executive of BAA, which owns Heathrow, Gatwick and five other UK airports, tried to provide some "reassurance on aviation and climate change" when he wrote in these pages.

What Clasper failed to mention was the £9bn a year tax break that the aviation industry already receives, through tax-free fuel and VAT-free transactions. Neither did he mention that 45% of flights in Europe are 500km or less in length - destinations reachable by train, bus and ferry alternatives, which are more than 10 times less polluting.

But his biggest sleight of hand was BAA's solution to the problems caused by aircraft pollution - an emissions trading scheme, whereby the aviation industry would buy what I would term permits to pollute from other industries. A report soon to be published by the European parliament will cast real doubt on the effectiveness of such a system unless it is part of a package of measures that includes taxes on kerosene and VAT on aviation's transactions.

We suspect that BAA is pushing hard for a stand-alone emissions trading scheme because it knows it will have minimal effect on its plans for growth. At its airports across the UK, BAA is proposing the biggest single programme of airport expansion that this country has ever seen, looking for new runways at Stansted, Heathrow, Edinburgh and possibly Glasgow, with significant increases in flights at Gatwick, Aberdeen and Southampton.

When he accuses people living near Heathrow of hiding behind arguments about climate change, he is both incorrect and offensive. BAA wants to wipe established communities off the map in one of the biggest forced dispersals of people in the UK since the Highland Clearances, entirely demolishing the village of Sipson. However, his plans will also lead to the destruction of communities throughout Africa, Asia and even Europe, as the world begins to feel the full consequences of climate change.

Residents living near to airports have long suffered from the daily bane of noise and air pollution, and have consistently highlighted these problems. Indeed, Heathrow airport is probably already breaching the European Union legal limits for levels of poisonous nitrogen dioxide.

Certainly, further expansion at the airport would be subject to legal challenges, but the plans will also be a target of our direct action campaign. Local people now have nothing to lose, except that is, their homes, local church, pub and successful primary school.