Villagers under threat of losing their homes if Heathrow gets the go-ahead for expansion took their protest to houses owned by two airport bosses on Bank Holiday Monday to deliver a roll-out plastic version of the third runway.
A group calling themselves Residents Against Expansion, organised and funded a “Heathrow Homeless Coach Tour”, inviting residents and their supporters to bring a suitcase to highlight the plight of thousands of people who would be forced to look for alternative places to live. Their destination was kept a secret until everyone was on the coach ready for departure from Harmondsworth Village at 9.30am.
The first stopping point was Heathrow CEO John Holland Kaye’s £3m house in Oxford. As the coach pulled up nearby it was evident that the detached, four-storey property was undergoing a major renovation and expansion programme of its own and was unoccupied. Undeterred, the residents quickly unrolled a 4m x 25m plastic version of the third runway bearing the slogan “No If, No Buts”, a reminder of David Cameron’s anti-expansion stance before the 2010 General Election.
After a brief group photo with their suitcases, the group repacked the coach and headed off to David Cameron’s constituency office in Witney, Oxfordshire.
On reaching Witney’s high street, Harmondsworth resident Armelle Thomas (69) went over to the solitary door, which is sandwiched between two shops. She clutched an old photograph of her husband Tommy as a young member of the RAF during the Second World War. Tommy had died on Friday morning, aged 93, but Armelle was determined to join the coach party to voice her disgust that her husband’s last months had been made a misery by the news on 1st July that Sir Howard Davies had recommended Heathrow and the destruction of their longtime home.
John Holland Kaye told reporters on that day that “the argument was settled once and for all” (even though it wasn’t and the government has yet to make a decision) and later said Heathrow could get “shovels in the ground in 2019″. The CEO’s ridiculous and insensitive boasting demonstrated that it was business as usual at Heathrow after years of trying to convince the public that it would not adopt the untrustworthy and deceitful behaviour typical of BAA. Holland Kaye’s comments to the press destroyed years of attempts to improve community relations.
On route to the next destination, a road sign declared that Witney is twinned with Le Touquet in France, which added to Armelle’s sense that her late husband was with the group in spirit; Le Touquet was Tommy’s birthplace.
Pouring rain didn’t dampen the spirits of the protesters and they stepped out of the coach at the third and final stop in Henley-on-Thames, the home of Matt Gorman, Heathrow’s Director of Sustainability and Environment. The house was unmistakable from the road as there was a large “Proud to Back Heathrow” poster in the window and a sticker in the back window of the car on the drive. Mr Gorman doesn’t keep a low profile. On reading these public declarations of support for the third runway proposals, the residents decided to deliver Mr Gorman something he might like – a runway outside his front door.
Later online research showed that the 5-bed detached house was bought in 2008 for £1,025,000 and could now be worth £1,365,000. If that estimate is accurate, Matt Gorman’s profit alone in the past 8 years is greater than the full valuation of many homes in the Heathrow villages. Little wonder that wealthy bosses at Heathrow don’t understand the fears of people living in blighted homes. No plans are being made to create new housing for displaced people. No schemes have been put into legal documents. No support is planned for tenants made homeless. These are issues that need to be addressed BEFORE a decision is made on Heathrow expansion.
At the Henley house, a calm and confident young woman came to the front door and talked to two villagers. They reassured her that this was a short peaceful protest and they’d soon be on their way. It was a good-natured conversation, as was the protest until half a dozen neighbours decided to come out of their houses to vent their anger about having protesters in their street. Their behaviour was a marked contrast to the sympathetic response from people in Oxford and Witney. Mr Gorman’s neighbours found it acceptable to make provocative, threatening and offensive remarks to people who had arrived to conduct a peaceful protest about their situation.
Soon afterwards, as protesters were preparing to leave, Mr Gorman arrived followed by a police officer.
Armelle Thomas with photo of her late war-hero husband shows what it means to be proud. Sheila Taylor (84), a lifelong Sipson resident, stands with her. Sheila’s home will effectively be INSIDE the airport’s proposed new boundary with her road enclosed on three sides by airport fencing. As proposals stand, Heathrow will NOT buy her house to build a runway and will instead leave her sandwiched between two runways and car parks.
Mr Gorman asked the police officer various questions to ascertain if there were laws to use against the people from the Heathrow communities who had visited him, who he had been told were taking photographs of the house and had walked on his driveway. No crime had been committed and the residents went happily on their way leaving the tiny cluster of Henley moaners to shuffle out of the rain and back into their expensive homes, free from aircraft noise and choking pollution.
One wonders how these people would react if Mr Gorman wanted to force them from their homes to build a real runway!
Mr Gorman has claimed to be interested in feedback from communities but on his day off from work he made it clear he had no interest in their views.