Protests grow over Heathrow’s expansion plans
By Tom Aitken in London
I could not claim that my house in Richmond has much in common with Richmond Park, Richmond Green and Kew Gardens and the banks of the River Thames. The Park and the Gardens are visited by thousands of people most weeks in the year.
They come in search of horticultural beauty, green empty spaces and the peace and quiet associated with them.
But in Park, Gardens, Green and River Banks (and in my house) from soon after dawn until well after sunset you will be overflown, most days, by the droning carriers of international business and tourism, flying low and gradually sinking towards the runaway at London Heathrow.
Govt. approves expansion
And the government has chosen to expand Heathrow Airport over its rival Gatwick in a move that will affect Britain’s future for decades.
The long-awaited decision, which will bring a third runway, was taken by a nine-strong Cabinet committee at Downing Street today in 75 minutes – after 40 years’ of debate and delay.
Richmond Green is about twenty yards through a narrow alleyway from the main shopping street (called George Street, because the third king of that name used to pace up and down it, accosting passers by, when he lived in Kew Palace, a mile away in what is now Kew gardens).
Kite flying is popular on the Green, and most weekends in summer there will be at least one cricket match (of amateur status, I hasten to add). Passers by, including myself, who take a short cut between overs inside the boundary rope, will be hailed with scornful shouts from players and watchers alike,’ thus: ‘Get off the playing field, you….!’
All good clean fun.
Dense populations and crowded skies
But, as the plane flies, Richmond is somewhere between five and six miles from the landing strip at Heathrow. Those miles are densely populated.
And, to add to the degree of disturbance, when the skies around the airport are congested, planes have to fly round in circles at low altitudes while they wait their turn.
‘Bad planning?’ do I hear you murmur?
‘Yes’, is the only possible answer.
But the bad planning is considerably worse than you might immediately realize.
‘Heathrow built in the wrong place’
The simple fact is that Heathrow was built in the wrong place.
The prevailing winds require that planes landing at Heathrow have to approach it from the east. In other words, they begin their descent at the Thames estuary and continue it over central and west London.
The problem, bad enough as it is, is soon to be exacerbated.
Heathrow, we are told, is the obvious and necessary landing point for the bankers and other businessmen who come here to make us prosperous.
The solution is not to be found, it has frequently been firmly stated, by building a new airport somewhere between the mouth of the Thames and East London.
The mouth of the Thames is a wild life sanctuary and Conservationists have said that to build an airport on one of the Islands in that area would be villainy indeed. (Which it would be.)
Also, from Heathrow, it is claimed, it is easier and quicker for wealthy businessmen to travel to the other parts of Britain in which they want to do business.
These are are what might be described as the special pleadings lines of argument.
All of this explains why recently a crowd of perhaps a hundred or so, gathered on Richmond Green in support of a search for a better solution to the problem.
The platform had an interesting collection of people who have been fighting this good fight in its earlier rounds for some years.
Gyles Brandreth leads the protest
The man directing proceedings was Gyles Brandreth, a writer, broadcaster, former MP and Government Whip – and one of Britain’s most sought-after award ceremony hosts and after-dinner speakers.
We heard accounts of the protests so far voiced and the ways in which they had been received and then ignored.
One point, which emerged strongly, is that the new super railway links which are supposedly going to make all the important places north of London more accessible are well behind schedule and would not have all the wonderful good effects which those who have invested in them hope to see.
There were speeches from the Council Leaders of four London Boroughs which are particularly affected by aircraft noise
Another speaker was Zac Goldsmith. He is a glamorous, enormously wealthy, youngish man, and a Conservative MP
for the constituency in which I live, who said he would resign his parliamentary seat if the Conservatives announced they would allow the third runway to go ahead.
This he in due course did. The resulting by-election will take place on 1st December.
As I finished writing this at 6pm (i.e. about an hour after sunset) aircraft passed through the darkness overhead at three-minute intervals. They won’t be the last this evening. Fortunately I have double-glazing, which cuts some but by no means all of their noise.
During the meeting on the Green, from 10-11 a.m.yesterday, they passed over equally frequently.