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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 21:23 GMT 22:23 UK
Heathrow protesters vent anger
Homes with protest signs posted outside
Many residents are making their feelings clear

The planes overhead provided a fitting soundtrack to visitors arriving at an exhibition on the impact of an expanded Heathrow Airport.

The venue chosen by the Department of Transport was the Renaissance Hotel in Hounslow, yards away from the airport's perimeter fence.

This two-day exhibition was intended to give people information about the airport's proposed third runway.

But a glance along the A4 nearby showed house after house displaying defiant orange stickers protesting about the plans.

This opposition was not so vocal at the exhibition, despite the promise of a spectacular protest featuring mini-shark planes.

Villages 'under threat'
Cranford Cross
The only evidence of that was the rubber shark figures wrapped in bin bags and concealed in the corner - perhaps for an outing on Saturday.

Instead, the criticism was muted but equally forceful.

Visitor numbers swelled in the late afternoon as people arrived to study the plans in detail and talk to officials face-to-face.

There was also the chance to use touch-operated computer screens.

It all gave the impression of a government trying to appear open and transparent as it conducts its four-month consultation before publishing its White Paper on the country's aviation future next year.

Plane flying over homes
Campaigners are concerned about noise levels
But this could not lift a general air of scepticism and "fait accompli" among residents, who say they have witnessed a string of broken promises about airport expansion - most recently, Terminal Five.

Alan Telford, 65, from Harmondsworth, Hillingdon, said: "We've been conned all the way down the line."

Christine Shilling, 58, who lives in the same village, said: "No-one here can tell us what the noise level will be for the third runway, or exactly how far we will be from it, but we estimate a third of a mile.

"And we will be unable to get to our GP and services using existing routes."

She said she is unable to sell her home, where she has lived for 35 years.

Official impact of third runway
Airport size increases from 12 sq km to 14 sq km
260 homes will be taken
230 hectares of agricultural land will be required
Harmondsworth is one of five villages which will find itself sandwiched between runways if the expansion goes ahead.

Officially, only 260 homes will be "taken" if the plans go ahead, but campaigners claim a more accurate figure is 10,000.

In Harmondsworth, the high street will be split in two and the 11th century church and graveyard bulldozed.

Mrs Shilling added: "We know a woman in her 70s whose whole life is St Mary's Church - her life will just end."

Julia Welchman, 58, a teacher from Kew Gardens, said the planes overhead affect the schoolchildren and a third runway will increase the noise pollution.

She said : "Children aged four and five hold their hands over their ears because it's natural for them to protect their ears if they hurt.

People examine a large diagram of the plans
Visitors pored over the plans
"That means they cannot hold their friends' hands or hold a dolly while they're in the playground."

She said her husband was nearly killed by ice falling from a plane, while other "missiles" have included bodies, parcels and bags of cannabis.

Most of the people opposed to the runway seem to support the principle of airport expansion, but in a more controlled and sensitive way.

Critics would say that translates as nimbyism, but the impact of this proposal on these rural villages amounts to more than having to close the windows and wear some earplugs.

Pressure group Hacan Clearskies mounted an opposition exhibition in the basement of the hotel which promised to give visitors "the facts".

On a parting note of optimism, Hacan chairman John Stewart said: "At some stage, one of these protests will bring this expansion to an end.

"More people are being affected and we might be reaching that critical mass which will say 'Enough is enough'.

"The political reality is that it cannot go on any longer."

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05 Sep 02 | England
02 Aug 02 | England
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