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Greenpeace Buys Land To Block New Heathrow Runway
by Dave Demerjian
January 13, 2009

heathrow-200Greenpeace announced today that it has bought a parcel of land that sits directly in the path of a proposed third runway for London’s Heathrow Airport. It’s the latest move in a long-running battle between environmentalists who say expanding Heathrow would be an environmental catastrophe, and expansion advocates who say without a new runway Europe’s top airport will become an antiquated also-ran.

Greenpeace’s plan for the 0.4-hectare parcel, which it purchased from an undisclosed owner, is sure to have expansion advocates reaching for the Rolaids. The group will sell off the land in tiny pieces to environmentalists, celebrities, and anyone else who feels like buying in. This means that if the UK government were to exercise eminent domain laws to acquire the land, it would have to deal with thousands of different landowners and the lawsuits they would be sure to bring. Regardless of where you stand on the expansion issue, you can’t deny that Greenpeace’s move is a brilliant one.

Among those that have already bought a chunk of the land from Greenpeace are actress Emma Thompson. “I don’t understand how any government remotely serious about committing to reversing climate change can even consider these ridiculous plans,” she told Sky News.

The pro expansion camp, not surprisingly made up of business and aviation leaders, say that without a third runway, Heathrow will lose its status as a global hub and risks becoming a third world airport. They say its two existing runways are completely maxed out, and that without additional capacity Heathrow will be overtaken by airports in Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, as well as growing Middle Eastern hubs like Dubai.

Environmentalists argue that Heathrow’s existing runways actually are operating at only 70-percent, and need to be run at full capacity before a new runway is even discussed. Besides, Greenpeace and others say, the fight over Heathrow expansion is one with enormous environmental ramifications. Greenpeace claims that if runway number three is built, Heathrow will become the largest single polluter in the UK, emitting 27 million tons of CO2 every year. That would make it impossible for the UK government to meet its previously stated goal of an 80-percent emission cut by 2050.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Gordon Brown is said to be split on the issue, and PlaneStupid, the advocacy group that’s been driving expansion advocates nuts for years, claims that Britain’s Transport Secretary is now worried the runway proposal lacks enough support to ensure its passage through Parliament. Brown has announced he’ll meet with anti-expansion parliamentarians, suggesting that support for the expansion plan may be flagging.

The Greenpeace land grab is just the latest move from British environmentalists, who have raised creating chaos at UK airports to an art form. Yesterday hundreds of protesters planted themselves at Heathrow’s Terminal One for a formal tea, complete with champagne and cake, Edwardian costumes, and a string quartet. In April, an anti-noise group organized a flash mob at Heathrow to protest the disastrous opening of Terminal 5, and in December 50 activists used wire cutters to break into a secure area at London’s Stansted airport, forcing flight cancellations and gaining themselvers international media attention.
The Heathrow fight is important, and it also makes for great theater.

Photo: sharkbait/Flickr