A woman cleans graffiti from the windows of the Labour Party headquarters following a protest by campaigners, calling for Labour to stop the planned expansion of Heathrow, 4 June in London. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images
Activists to escalate action in opposition to environmental impact of proposed expansion
Activists opposed to the government’s Heathrow expansion plans have vowed to escalate their protests in the coming weeks to avoid what they say would be an “environmental catastrophe”.
The warning follows a week of direct action in which eight people have been arrested as environmental opposition to the a third runway proposal grows.
Environmentalists warn the expansion of Heathrow will have a disastrous long-term impact on both air pollution and climate change and a group including a priest, a farmer and a pensioner have pledged to begin an indefinite hunger strike on Saturday in protest.
Alex Thompson, from the Vote no Heathrow campaign which is behind the hunger strike, said: “Catastrophic climate change is killing hundreds of thousands of people every year and yet, terrifyingly, it is absent from the discussion around expanding Heathrow, the place already emitting the most carbon dioxide in the country.
“A third runway will kill more people through hotter droughts and more powerful hurricanes, whilst helping a wealthy corporate elite pocket some government money and hop off more easily to their second homes.”
Organisers say people from all around the country will descend on Labour Party HQ in London tomorrow to begin their hunger strike. They are targeting Labour to try and persuade the party to formally oppose the Heathrow plans when they come before parliament in the next few weeks.
Thompson said Labour must “vote with its morals” and oppose the government in parliament.
“We will continue to pressure Labour until they agree to meet and impose a three-line whip. We are going nowhere.”
Organizers said around 30 people are expected to start the fast on Saturday, with around a dozen people committed to going on indefinite hunger strike.
Clare Farrell, 35, a fashion consultant from London, is one of the long term hunger strikers.
“This may seem like an extreme response but when you see this proposal in the context of the climate catastrophe we are facing it is entirely proportionate,” she said.
“I am concerned about things like air pollution, noise and dislocation of local people but it is its devastating impact on the fight against climate change that makes this proposal so extreme – and so indefensible.”
Earlier this week protesters spray-chalked slogans outside Labour Party HQ in a bid to persuade the leadership to vote against the expansion plans. Eight people were arrested. Another protest was held in parliament on Wednesday.
Thompson said the direct action campaign would intensify in the coming weeks and other environmental action groups also vowed to step up their opposition.
A spokesperson for Plane Stupid which has been opposing Heathrow expansion plans for over a decade said: “If politicians and Heathrow think that we will quietly stand by while they rubber stamp this climate disaster of a runway, then they must be plane stupid. We have resisted this for over a decade and it is still a bad idea.”
Following this week’s announcement by the government that it was backing a third runway at Heathrow, Labour said it would consider whether its four tests – relating to noise, air quality, climate change and economic growth – had been met before deciding whether to oppose the plans.
John McDonnell, shadow chancellor and a long time opponent of Heathrow expansion, tweeted on Tuesday:
“I remain implacably opposed to expansion at Heathrow and after listening to the transport minister, Chris Grayling, today I am even more convinced that this would be a costly, environmental and social disaster that will never be built.”
However, many backbench Labour MPs and key unions such as Unite and GMB support a third runway.
The escalating protests come as it emerged that a coalition of four local authorities and environmental group Greenpeace are considering mounting a fresh legal challenge to the plan.
Simon Dudley, leader of Windsor and Maidenhead borough council, said: “It is highly likely a number, if not all four of the councils, will come together to challenge this decision in the courts if it is passed in parliament in its current form.”
The other authorities involved in the potential legal action are Hillingdon, Richmond and Wandsworth, he added.
Environment lawyers at ClientEarth, who have successfully taken the government to court three times over their “illegally poor” air pollution plans, have also raised questions about the legality of the government’s proposals.
CEO James Thornton said: “The UK Government is already failing to meet legal limits for harmful air pollution, so expansion looks very tough under those circumstances. Ministers should be doing everything they can to comply with air pollution laws to protect people’s health before even considering adding to the problem.
He added: “It’s also very difficult to see how this could be done given the UK’s climate commitments. We’ll be examining the final plans with interest.”