Close-up from rear of passenger jet landing at night.

"We knew Heathrow expansion would come back to haunt us."

Plans for a third runway at Heathrow were recently approved by parliament. Friends of the Earth local groups in west London have been here before.
  Published:  04 Oct 2018    |      3 minute read

You can be in favour of Heathrow expansion, or you can be serious about stopping climate change. You can’t be both.

Oliver Hayes, climate change campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

Outside the Royal Courts of Justice, protesters gather in the ongoing battle against Heathrow (pictured below). Inside, Friends of the Earth gets the green light to take the government to court in the spring of 2019. It will argue that giving permission to a third runway at Heathrow is unlawful on the grounds of climate change.

Read on to meet the local campaigners working to protect their communities from airport expansion.

Close-up of Friends of the Earth supporters outside the High Court campaigning against a third Heathrow runway.
Friends of the Earth supporters campaigning outside the High Court.
Credit: Friends of the Earth

In the mid 1990s Nic Ferriday took early retirement from a job with British Telecoms. He quickly found his life being taken over by plans to build a 5th terminal at London's Heathrow airport.

Nic became heavily involved in researching and preparing evidence for the public inquiry into the Terminal 5 proposals. He was representing a number of local Friends of the Earth groups in west London who had teamed up to submit evidence.

The inquiry became the UK's longest ever, and Nic attended hearings over 4½ years.

Nic Ferriday from Ealing Friends of the Earth, outside a tube station.
Nic Ferriday from Ealing Friends of the Earth
Credit: Friends of the Earth/Celeste Hicks

At the end of that inquiry, of course, Terminal 5 did go ahead. But a 3rd runway was ruled out.

"We didn't really believe it at the time," says Nic. Now, 23 years later, he still lives under the roar of jet engines in Ealing. These days he enjoys spending more time volunteering at his local nature reserve in Perivale.

Green light for 3rd runway

And Heathrow expansion didn't go away.

In July 2018 MPs voted by a sizeable majority to approve plans to build a 3rd runway. Boris Johnson, now Prime Minister, came under fire for missing the vote following his widely-reported vow to lie down in front of the bulldozers and "stop the construction of that third runway".

Heathrow is the UK's busiest airport and has been running at near-capacity for several years.

The plans have been welcomed by some people who believe the expansion would create economic benefits. But there was deep disappointment for environmental campaigners who fear the new runway will:

  • Exacerbate local air pollution.
  • Increase noise.
  • Threaten any progress the UK makes on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions as part of the Paris climate agreement.

Unhappy with the government's decision? Make your voice heard by signing our petition for action on climate change.

Long haul

Friends of the Earth has launched a legal challenge over the 3rd runway decision, claiming that the impact on the climate has not been considered. London Mayor Sadiq Khan and a number of London councils have also launched a legal challenge to the plans.

“Expanding Heathrow serves a small minority of frequent flyers at a horrendous price for the planet. Backing airport expansion reveals a government refusing to seriously engage with the unfolding climate change disaster and undermining its own boasts of climate leadership,” said Oliver Hayes, climate change campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

And Friends of the Earth local groups in Ealing, Richmond & Twickenham and Hounslow & Brentford are preparing to work together once more.

(ltr) Simon Thompsett, Nic Ferriday, Maggie Thorburn
(ltr) Simon Thompsett, Nic Ferriday, Maggie Thorburn
Credit: Friends of the Earth/Celeste Hicks

Maggie Thorburn from Hounslow & Brentford group grew up in Isleworth with planes overhead. Her father, a lecturer, introduced her to the problem of air pollution and she joined her local Friends of the Earth group in the late 1970s.

"My dad always wanted to go back to Scotland because he hated the air pollution, so for many years I didn't value the west London landscape," says Maggie.

"But I've realised that if this third runway goes ahead we will lose so much under concrete, so much habitat and wildlife. It's deeply unfair that local people and the environment are being made to bear the brunt of this."

It is unacceptable to use our carbon budget up to create more opportunities for the luxury of low-cost flightsSimon Thompsett, Richmond & Twickenham Friends of the Earth

As they prepare to take on the aviation industry once again, Nic and his Friends of the Earth colleagues believe the case needs to be won on the economic argument.

"The claims that expansion will create significant growth and jobs are not borne out by the published evidence," says Nic. "The environmental and health impacts have not been adequately costed."