As protesters gather in Frankfurt, British group rejects industry argument that lack of action will lead to expansion abroad
Anti-aviation campaigners have challenged the “myth” that Britain is alone in curbing airport expansion plans, as thousands of demonstrators converged on Frankfurt airport on Sunday to protest against the effects of its new runway.
The aviation industry has consistently warned that a lack of hub airport capacity in the south-east of England means European competitors will take trade away from the UK. According to polling for the Airport Operators’ Association, 73% of business leaders believe the government needs to do more to back aviation.
The government is in the process of setting up a commission, to be chaired by Sir Howard Davies, to examine whether additional capacity is needed – with options including a third runway at Heathrow or a brand new hub airport. Heathrow directors have said the growing, multi-runway airports of France, Holland and Germany are “eating our lunch”. However, campaigners say there is also widespread opposition in Europe that is restraining development.
John Stewart, of Airport Watch, said: “What we continually hear from people who want to expand Heathrow is that if we don’t build here, expansion will automatically take place elsewhere in Europe.” Instead, he said, a network of increasingly informed and organised campaigners was putting a brake on growth.
In Frankfurt, police estimated that 4,000 protesters gathered to mark the first anniversary of the airport’s fourth runway, which campaigners say has raised noise levels in southern Frankfurt.
The airport is increasing its flight numbers from 490,000 to 700,000 a year, and its passenger numbers from 56 million to more than 90 million. At weekly gatherings inside the terminals, protesters make as much noise as possible with football rattles and pots and pans.
The protesters’ overarching battle cry is that “the runway must go”, but first they want a two-hour extension of the 11pm-5am flight ban, and a ban on all flights to and from destinations reachable by train in four hours or less. “We consider that to be a reasonable demand,” said Ingrid Kopp, spokeswoman for the protest movement. The issue could determine the outcome of elections in the state of Hesse.
Munich, where a planned third runway was defeated in a referendum this year, and Berlin, where the opening of the vast Willy Brandt airport has been delayed by a series of spectacular organisational failures, have also become the focus of the growing anti-expansion campaign. Leipzig/Halle, Cologne/Bonn and Düsseldorf have also attracted protests over noise pollution caused by night flights.
Italian campaigners have overturned planned airports in Siena and outside Rome, and in France a combination of local farmers’ protests and environmental groups has blocked a proposed new airport in Nantes.
In Britain, Gatwick has been trying to tread softly with local opposition before last week saying it wanted a second runway to compete with Heathrow. Brendon Sewill, chairman of the Gatwick area conservation campaign, said any new runway would be a step change that would make it impossible to limit growth.
Unlike at Heathrow, more fields than houses stand in the direct path of potential bulldozers, although about 17 listed buildings would be destroyed or made uninhabitable by the runway, and noise levels would rise in neighbouring Crawley. Sewill said campaigners also feared the increased roadbuilding, construction and urbanisation that would follow a bigger airport.
Sewill, 83, was at the opening of the Beehive, Gatwick’s original terminal, as a seven-year-old in 1936. A decade ago he fought proposals for expansion to the north that would have left his village of Charlwood – home to a Norman church with wall paintings and yew trees dating back almost a millennium – effectively squeezed between the two runways. Only a church survives from the village of Lowfield Heath, on the current southern edge, razed in 1973 as uninhabitable and now an industrial park. “A dreadful warning to the rest of us,” said Sewill.
In the 1950s his parents were part of a defeated campaign to stop Gatwick developing, purportedly as a bad weather back-up to Heathrow. Subsequent growth meant the council insisted on a long-term agreement to build no second runway when granting Gatwick permission to build a new terminal two decades later. That agreement runs out in 2019.
Sewill said he expected to hand over to a new generation of activists before plans come to a head. Gatwick has installed some new razor wire on the perimeter fence. “They put it there to stop Plane Stupid getting in.” But, he smiled: “I hear they have good wirecutters.”
Future clashes seem increasingly likely, with the aviation industry and business adamant that expansion must occur, and the Davies commission unable to defer a decision indefinitely. But Stewart said a “sea of protest” across Europe was set to meet it. “Given the opposition, the safest assumption is that airport capacity in western Europe will remain much as it is now over the coming decades,” he said.
Cathedral authorities accused of colluding with big banks during evensong protest on eve of anniversary of start of Occupy camp
The traditional solemnity of St Paul’s Sunday evensong was disrupted when four members of the Occupy London movement, which camped outside the cathedral for four months, chained themselves to the base of the pulpit.
While the choir sang, four women dressed in white shouted their own sermon to mark the anniversary of the start of the Occupy camp outside St Paul’s, accusing the cathedral authorities of colluding with banks and failing to help the poor.
Occupy had been invited to read a prayer at the service, but if the gesture was an attempt at reconciliation, it was firmly rejected. After Tanya Paton, of Occupy Faith, had read her prayer, the four women rose from their seats and chained themselves to the pulpit. “In the fight for economic justice Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, but you invited them in and instead evicted us,” shouted activist Alison Playford.
“Your collusion with the City of London Corporation led to our violent eviction on your doorstep. You testified against us which acted to uphold injustice and inequality that is growing by the day. St Paul’s Cathedral you must stand up and be counted at this great trial of history.”
Activists from Christianity Uncut held a simultaneous protest outside, unfurling a large banner which called for St Paul’s to “Throw the money changers out of the temple”.
The female protesters said they did not plan to leave. City of London police arrived at the cathedral, but staff told them they were happy for the protesters to remain.
The Very Reverend David Ison, dean of St Paul’s, spoke immediately after the women to give his sermon, mildly joking that he now had a “captive audience”. He told the protesters that they were welcome in the church and he would be happy to speak to them after the service. “I hope you will listen to what I have to say,” he said, before arguing that “tribalism” was not the way to defeat poverty and inequality.
“We need partners, allies whether they are bankers or campers, conservative or liberal, religious or not. God’s invitation to us is to follow Jesus Christ and to change ourselves and the world to one which is inclusive and generous and calls all of our self interests into question whether it’s the interests of the Church of England or Occupy or the City of London.”
Speaking later, he said: “I’m just sorry they decided to do this, which makes it hard for members of Occupy Faith, who have been working together with us on something which is respectful.”
But members of Christianity Uncut said they had been requesting a meeting with St Paul’s since some protesters were forcibly removed from the cathedral’s steps by police given permission to do so by the cathedral authorities, following an eviction order by the City of London.
“Christians were dragged away from St Paul’s while they were kneeling in prayer,” said 25-year-old Siobhan Grimes, one of the protesters. “We have been trying to have a meeting since then and this is obviously what you have to do to get one.”
Playford said it was time for St Paul’s to get off the fence. “The cathedral makes platitudes to Occupy but they colluded with the City of London and missed a perfect opportunity to enact the teachings of Jesus,” she said. “The poor and needy came to them and they shut the door and got rid of us as soon as possible.”
The protest marked a further deterioration in relations between St Paul’s and the Occupy protesters who camped outside. Monday marks the first anniversary of the occupation – part of a global movement born in the wake of the financial crisis – which involved hundreds of protesters living in the camp while calling for an end to the perceived excesses and injustices of the global financial system.
The women cut themselves free at about 10pm after police entered St Paul’s and warned them they faced arrest, according to an Occupy spokesman.
“They have now left the cathedral,” he said. “Some of the awareness-raising they wanted to do has been done. The dean has also agreed to meet them and talk.”
Raising tensions between the cathedral and protesters resulted in the resignation of the canon chancellor, Giles Fraser, who left his post because he did not want to see “violence in the name of the church”, and a chaplain, Fraser Dyer.
Since being removed by police in February, Occupy have opened short-lived camps in Finsbury Square and Shoreditch, east London, but the movement no longer has a physical base.
“We are calling on people to take the conversation out of St Paul’s and into their homes,” said Occupy campaigner Ronan McNern.
“There is more need for this movement than ever. The welfare state is being dismantled and our call is still for people to stand up and challenge this injustice and inequality. The tents have gone but we are still here.”
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