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Airplot – a very cunning plot indeed!

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Ever dreamt of buying a plot of land somewhere? Your own place in the sun perhaps; somewhere you could to jet off to on the weekend? How about this one? It may lack the sun, but it’s very handy for the airport. No need to worry about the size of your carbon footprint getting there.

You don’t even have to pay a penny, eurocent or dime …

What’s the catch? Well, you probably won’t actually ever want to visit, as this plot of land, the size of half a football pitch, is slap bang in the middle of the planned third runway for Heathrow airport.

Greenpeace and a bunch of British celebrities have cunningly bought the plot to stop the Labour government’s Heathrow expansion plans. They invite anyone from around the world to sign up as a beneficial owner in order to help complicate the planning process.

Oscar winning actress, Emma Thompson, one of the four legal owners of the small plot, said, "I don't understand how any government remotely serious about committing to reversing climate change can even consider these ridiculous plans. It's laughably hypocritical. That's why we've bought a plot on the runway. We'll stop this from happening even if we have to move in and plant vegetables."

On the day of the launch of Airplot (13 January 2008), over 5000 people signed up.

airplotmap.jpg (Photo: Airplot, Greenpeace)

Controversial expansion plans

The government argues that Heathrow, already at full capacity, cannot cope with the increasing demand and needs a third runway and 6th terminal to compete with European rivals like Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam, which all have three runways already.

It is supported by a pro-expansion group, consisting of business and trade unions, led by BAA, the airport’s owner, and British Airways, which uses Heathrow as its main hub. They agree that Britain’s economy is at stake and there is no alternative.

But the controversial plans face stiff opposition from environmental groups, local government, politicians and residents who have strong environmental/health and safety concerns.

Heathrow already generates 50% of UK aviation emissions, according to official figures, and exceeds EU standards for air quality for which the UK will have until 2015 to comply at the latest. It is also the only major airport in Europe with planes stacking up over a large capital city.

Green light from government

In announcing the government’s controversial decision to go ahead with the plans yesterday (15 January 2009), the UK Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, added a number of concessions to allay environmental concerns and appease sceptics, including 40 rebel Labour MPs and two senior government ministers.

But opponents are cynical of government promises of “green slots” for only the cleanest airplanes and new targets on emissions. Heathrow has a history of broken government governments dating back to the 1960s.

eurostar_flickr_oliverN5.jpg (Photo: OliverN5, flickr)

Alternatives to expansion

Whilst London’s Mayor is investigating the viability of a new 24-hour airport in the Thames estuary, Britain’s main opposition political parties look to high-speed rail as the alternative – the success of Eurostar and high-speed rail networks in Europe setting an example. But, supporters of Heathrow expansion dismiss the idea of a new airport and say both a hi-speed rail link and third runway are needed.

The diggers are expected to start work in 2015, completing the job in 2019. But campaigners, like those behind Airplot, look set to disrupt this timetable with lengthy legal challenges.

As both sides dig in, it looks like there will be a long fight, with a fair amount of turbulence along the way.

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