Hundreds of climate change campaigners protested at several locations around Heathrow on Sunday, including the proposed site for a third runway. Despite fears of disruption, however, operations at the airport were unaffected.
About 200,000 air passengers were expected on Sunday to use the airport, the busiest in Europe, on one of the peak travel days of the summer.
“Despite earlier threats by the camp organisers, we are pleased that the protesters have so far decided to respect the rights of our passengers and not interfere with the airport’s operation,” said BAA, the airports operator.
Protesters from the week-long camp for climate action chose to focus their day of direct action at targets outside the airport perimeter fence. These included the main office building of BAA and the nearby communities of Harmondsworth and Sipson, where hundreds of homes would have to be demolished if a third runway and sixth passenger terminal were ever built.
Police said last night there had been more than 40 arrests after minor skirmishes. The protests against the contribution that fast-growing air travel is having on rising emissions of climate change gases were expected to continue this morning, when the camp for climate action is due to be wound up.
Heathrow will remain a focus for growing protests by both environmental campaigners and local residents, however.
In late autumn, the government is expected to launch a public consultation into proposals both to make more intensive use of Heathrow’s existing two runways and also to build a shorter third runway towards the end of the next decade.
BAA has faced a barrage of criticism over its management of the existing Heathrow facilities and the long delays at check-in and security. British Airways, the main airline operating at the airport, has struggled to cope with thousands of misplaced bags and with one of the poorest punctuality records of any leading European airline.
The operating problems have contributed to a small decline in passenger volumes at Heathrow in recent months. Both BAA and British Airways have warned that passenger facilities at the airport will remain severely overstretched until the new £4.5bn Terminal 5 comes into operation in late March next year.
In the communities just to the north of the airport, the “Stand-off of Harmondsworth High Street” passed finally without incident on Sunday.
Police had blocked the assembled throng of about 300 climate protesters from marching down the high street into the village, where scores of houses would face demolition if a third runway were constructed.
As a column of riot police made its way towards the battle lines, the tension mounted and the crowds’ boos temporarily drowned out the sound of helicopters circling overhead. But the local MP intervened, safe passage was negotiated, and the procession was eventually allowed through.
The women of the No Third Runway Action Group looked delighted. “BAA tried to take an injunction out on us – if they’d been successful we’d have lost our funding,” Linda McCutcheon of Notrag said.
But she had no complaints about the police. “They’ve been wonderful – absolutely fine.”
Despite the collective fears of impending climate chaos – or “You fly, we die” as one protester put it – the march was remarkably convivial with banners such as “B.A.A. B.A.A. black sheep” and “Boeing Boeing, Gone!”
At times there appeared to be more police than protesters, but aside from a few scuffles, the march remained peaceful.