You say consultation. We say sham!

Tin of Sham

At a packed meeting yesterday afternoon the combined forces of the anti-Heathrow expansion movement heard something they'd always suspected. The consultation, due out today, will be a sham. The Government has made its mind up; like it or not, Heathow expansion is going ahead.

We had gathered to meet with Aviation Minister Jim Fitzpatrick, in a final face-to-face before the launch of the latest consultation on the third runway. Plane Stupid, of course, was not invited, but I snuck in to hear just what Fitzpatrick (coincidentally also Environment Minister for the Department for Transport) had to say.

The Government is launching a "full and open consultation", not on demand for the third runway itself, but on whether the third runway can be built within "strict local environmental limits". The public is not being asked whether it wants a third runway, but whether Heathrow can expand without affecting noise levels, nitrous oxide and traffic levels around the airport. Of course, the decision is a foregone conclusion: the DfT and BAA have been colluding together to make dammed sure it'll get the go ahead.

There's a good reason why they aren't asking if we want expansion. The latest Mori poll shows that 70% of people don't want a third runway, and only 22% of London firms support the runway, according to the London Chamber of Commerce.

Conveniently, limiting the strict "environmental limits" to "local" means that there's one huge elephant in the room: carbon dioxide emissions. In the four-and-a-half years since the White Paper was published, aviation's emissions have taken centre stage in our anti-expansion arsenal. The World Development Movement recently calculated that emissions from the third runway alone will be the equivalent of those emitted by Kenya. The consultation will contain "data" on emissions, but critically no questions or opportunities to comment on the climatalogical imact of expansion.

It was all too apparent that those most affected by expansion - local communties and the developing world - are being left out of discussions. Of the 11 'roadshows' laid on for people to debate nox levels with Government 'experts' (remember, they can't oppose the runway, just whether it will be 'green' enough), not one will take place within the villages set to face the 'dozers if the runway goes ahead. Sipson, Harmonsworth and Harlington residents will be bused to nearby roadshows, as "there wasn't a suitable location" available.

When asked where the Government plans to re-house those unlucky enough to live under the proposed runway, the Minister and his officials looked uneasy. "That's for BAA to decide," one ventured. "They claim it's not their problem," the residents replied. The civil servants fell silent, shuffling in their chairs.

By this point tensions in the room were running high. The Minister, clearly uncomfortable at the barracking he was getting, scribbled a quick note to his secretary: "In two minutes call me a lift pls". He then jumped up, said he'd been paged, and darted out of the room, leaving his officials to face the music.

In the face of the climate science, in spite of the nitrous oxide levels, regardless of the noise impact on almost two million people and straight over the homes and communities of Sipson and Harmonsworth, the Government will press ahead for expansion. All that stands in the way are the two million people affected by increased noise, the five million members of Airport Watch, the growing army of environmentalists, the direct action movement and two small villages grown sick of years of abuse at the hands of BAA.

Bring it on!

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