Battle of Heathrow Nears Climax

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/19/2007 12:12:00 PM
A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Camp for Climate Action's planned protests at Heathrow over plans to create a third runway at what is the world's busiest international airport. Perhaps wisely, the group has toned down their original plan of disrupting flights and performing other acts of civil disobedience. Their reasoning is that they do not want to create exceedingly negative attention to their cause. Indeed, they are now marketing today's demonstration which will feature a siege of the privately-owned BAA (British Airports Authority, which runs Heathrow) as "fun, family friendly and suitable for children"! I sure do hope that they're right and no one is up to gluing their hands to the entrance doors of the BAA offices like some third runway protesters have already done elsewhere (see picture). "Daddy, why is that man's skin still stuck to the door after the cops pulled him away?" BTW, here a copy of the injunction obtained by the BAA against the activists over this matter. In response, activists have even cited their protests at the Airbus A380 factory as a result of this injunction.

It's an interesting three-ringed battle. Of course, you have the commercial interests that are keen to emphasize that, with judicious planning, the expansion will have negligible detrimental impact. You then have activist groups like the Camp for Climate Change Action, No Third Runway Action Group, and AirportWatch that do not necessarily agree with one another. Also, you've got resident groups like the Hillingdon Council which do not want to be associated with this action despite being vehemently against the addition. The pro-third runway interests seem to have the upper hand against a largely disorganized opposition in the sense of "united we stand, divided we fall." Playing them off each other has proven to be, as they say in England, a doddle. Unless activist and resident groups come up with some sort of cohesive political plan of action, commercial interests are ahead here. From the BBC comes this article:

Climate change campaigners who have been camped at Heathrow Airport for the past week say their protest is to climax with 24 hours of direct action.

Organisers say up to 2,000 people will take part in the day of protests, which will include laying siege to airport operator BAA's nearby headquarters.

They will also mark out the route of the airport's proposed third runway.

Police have said they are confident they will be able to contain the action, which will start at midday.

Organisers of the camp - between the M4 motorway and the airport's northern perimeter in west London - expect between 1,000 and 2,000 people to join the action on Sunday.

They are campaigning against Heathrow's planned expansion because, they say, it will contribute to climate change.

Alan Gill, spokesman for the Camp for Climate Action, said members of the local community would join the protest, which would start with campaigners marking out the 3km stretch of land set aside for the airport's third runway.

"We'll be marking out the route of the third runway there, and moving in the afternoon to BAA's corporate headquarters, which is adjacent to Heathrow," he said.

"We're stopping anyone going in or out of the building."

Alex Harvey, one of the campaigners at the camp, said the siege would last until Monday morning.

But while she said it would remain peaceful, she could not guarantee it would be lawful.

"There are certainly times when unlawful action is required in order to force changes that aren't happening fast enough," she said.

About 1,800 police officers are to be deployed to the site on Sunday and Monday.

If police intervened to stop the campaigners reaching BAA's offices, they would be protecting the interests of the corporation over the needs of the people, Ms Harvey added.

On Saturday, airline pilots asked protesters to take part in "peace talks" over climate change issues.

The British Airline Pilots' Association said "an informed debate" about climate change would be better than the campaigners embarking on any action.

Protesters said they would be willing to have talks after the camp was over.

Police said up to six arrests were made on Saturday after protesters locked themselves to the gates of an Israeli firm which flies produce to the UK.

A 22-year-old man was later arrested outside the protest site on suspicion of harassment and causing actual bodily harm.

And a 28-year-old man was arrested at 2355 BST on Saturday, initially under anti-terrorism legislation. He was later released but rearrested on suspicion of conspiracy to cause criminal damage.

Police say the protesters are on the site - a sports ground belonging to Imperial College London - illegally.

The campaigners insist they cannot be evicted without a court order as long as no criminal damage is committed.

Airport operator BAA has obtained a High Court injunction banning certain protest groups from the airport.

A fifth terminal will open at Heathrow in March 2008 and a new runway has been proposed by the government for about 2020.

And here is another update care of the Beeb. The protesters should be wrapping up their activities over at Heathrow--for the time being:

Climate change protesters are continuing to blockade the offices of Heathrow Airport operator BAA.

Up to 200 activists are camping in the company's car park as part of 24 hours of "direct action" by members of the anti-aviation Camp for Climate Action.

BAA said it had told staff not to come to the offices.

Earlier, there were scuffles between campaigners and riot police and eight people were arrested after blockading British Airways' world cargo centre.

The activists say they hope to occupy the BAA site "for as long as we can".

But the BBC's Paul Moss, who is at the scene, said BAA had told its staff to work from other offices on Monday. The protesters, he added, saw this as a victory.

A police spokesman said demonstrators had passed a "quiet night" in the car park and officers would "continue to facilitate lawful protest".

He said he was "not aware" of pledges by some activists to stop BAA employees from entering the building.

The blockade is expected to end at noon on Monday as the camp itself draws to a close…

On Sunday night, a spokesman for BAA said the protest was having no impact on operations.

"If they want to spend the night in the car park, as long as they do not interfere with our passengers, we are reasonably relaxed," he added.

Organisers say 1,400 people have been taking part in the day of action, while police at the scene put the number at about 1,000.