Page last updated at 19:42 GMT, Thursday, 15 January 2009

Anti-Heathrow groups vow to fight on

A Greenpeace banner

By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

The coalition of groups opposed to the expansion of Heathrow Airport may appear to be unlikely bedfellows.

They include hardened campaigners and direct action backers Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth as well as middle-England favourites the National Trust, the RSPB and WWF.

Also joining them in the anti-camp are groups representing local councils and the residents of Heathrow's neighbouring village of Sipson.

But while each has their own reason for opposing a third runway at Heathrow, all are united in their anger over the decision by the government to give it the go-ahead.

And at a news conference in the rather sedate setting of the library room at the National Trust's central London headquarters, the coalition's panel of representatives wasted no time in telling ministers they were together and ready for a fight.

'Incredible response'

"There is a lot of anger about what happened... but there is a lot of hope as well because we believe that the government is facing the biggest coalition ever against the expansion of Heathrow," said John Stewart, the long-time leader of the residents' campaign Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (Hacan) Clearskies.

The wide ranging opposition to the airport's expansion was the coalition's strength, the groups argued, and meant they could be less easily ignored.

"There are many grounds on which people are opposed to this, but I think it is very broad and very widespread and it's rare to see such a coming together with such a huge coalition of people and organisations," said Greenpeace's executive director John Sauven.

News conference
The groups have different reasons for opposing Heathrow expansion

The "incredible public response" to the campaign group's moves to buy up land earmarked for the construction of the third runway was also proof the coalition had wider support, he said.

All the nine groups present went on to argue in many different ways why expanding the west London airport would be a bad thing.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF focused on the environmental impact of a growth in air travel.

They say the move to go ahead with a 2,200 metre-long runway ignores public opinion and wrecks Britain's green credentials.

Friends of the Earth's executive director Andy Atkins said the UK was facing "a real crisis" with regard to its commitment to reducing CO2 emissions following the decision to go ahead with expansion.

"I think the British government's position now as a leader of that fight has seriously been weakened by their own action. They have shot themselves in the foot.

"Which makes this decision not just a bad decision for the UK, I think it is actually quite an irresponsible one internationally."

'Quality of life'

WWF's chief executive David Nussbaum said the government was in effect "torpedoing" its own policies of reducing CO2 levels.

But Greenpeace's John Sauven was keen to point out environmental campaigners were "not anti-business or anti-jobs" and supported a low-carbon economy which would create jobs in the energy-efficiency and renewable energy sectors.

Geraldine Nicholson

We're not giving our children a future where they can grow up and learn and have the quality of life we would expect for them
Geraldine Nicholson
Yet, it was not just the usual voices who were speaking up against the government's decision.

Graham Wynn, chief executive of the RSPB, highlighted the threat climate change posed "to wildlife and the natural environment as well as mankind".

And the National Trust said the organisation remained "deeply concerned" about the decision to expand Heathrow because of the "erosion of the quality of life" of those visiting properties across west London and Berkshire.

On behalf of the individuals most directly affected, Geraldine Nicholson, leader of the No Third Runway Action Group (NoTrag), pointed out the residents of Sipson were not fighting "one little strip of Tarmac" but instead what was essentially "another airport put beside Heathrow".

She argued this would leave 4,000 homes uninhabitable and render six schools "useless" as educational establishments.

"We're not giving our children a future where they can grow up and learn and have the quality of life we would expect for them," she said.

While all the groups present explained their motives for joining the fight, it was down to Barbara Reid of 2M, a coalition of councils representing two million people, to explain how the anti-Heathrow expansion battle would advance.

"It is certainly the case that we are looking at a legal challenge - we are talking to our lawyers," she told the conference.

Although she would not be drawn on what the challenge would be based, she added: "This is not the end of the line as far as we are concerned.

"We will continue to fight them all the way."

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