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Heathrow Airport Expansion: An Enclosure of the Commons.

December 7, 2016

Heathrow Airport Expansion: An Enclosure of the Commons.

Aviation is one of the main sources GDP for most countries in the world. However, it contributes greatly to global warming and climate change due to Carbondioxide emission by aircraft and the heavy noise created during landing and departures. This has often created disturbances for people who are residents within the areas of airports for which Heathrow airport is of no exception.

The United Kingdom has one of the biggest aviation markets in Europe with the biggest airlines (British Airways), the largest airport (Heathrow), and has high passenger turn over (Whitelegg, 2000). From research on journals and other publications on Heathrow expansion, government’s motivation to expand Heathrow Airport was as a result on trade to increase their GDP per capita and to maintain its international leadership on trade and commerce. The plan was supported by many aviation industries such as the British Airways Airlines, Virgin Atlantic Airways, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Trade Union Congress and the then labour government. Nonetheless, people such as the former mayor of London Boris Johnson, advocacy groups such as the green party, friends of the earth and other prominent individuals opposes the project on the basis that it will breach EU laws and questions around green gas emission (BBC, News, 2010). While the project was originally cancelled in 2010, came 25th October 2016 the new Prime Minister Teresa May gave the approval for a third runway and the expansion of Heathrow to proceed. The decision of the Prime Minister sparked outrage and controversy among the public and many environmentalists.

The discussion centred around Heathrow airport expansion has been mostly on its environmental effect to human health. Heathrow airport is situated around large towns such as Harmondsworth and Sipson and is a home to thousand of Residents. On this note, for the British government to expand Heathrow airport is seen as a deprivation of the right of the commoners who have been resident in these places for many years thereby seizing their right and ability. A third runway and a sixth terminal will mean that historic villages will be demolish, ancient buildings, schools and local pubs will be reduced to rubble. Some 700 homes, churches, graveyards could be ‘’bulldozed’’ with entire villages seen disappearing, which will mean that seven hundred residents will be displaced from their comfortable home zone by this process (Ryan, 2006). The expansion of Heathrow was not only going to affect the commoners of the locality, the excessive air traffic by aircrafts will result in increased Carbondioxide (CO2) emission. This situation will increase air pollution and also cause noise disturbance for thousands of Londoners thus breaching the new EU health limits on noise disturbance (Whitelegg, 2000). It was concluded that the proposed expansion of Heathrow would have disproportionate impact on ethnic minority communities such as exposure to poisonous fumes from aircraft, which could later lead to long-term health problems irrespective of whatever measure the government propose to take to cut down on green house emission. The UK government did not adequately assess these impacts neither were the local people consulted.

Not all decision made by a government in the name of development realistically reflects the interest of the commoners. The plan for a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow by the British government was focus mainly on trade to increase their GDP per capita without considering the wellbeing of the commoners who are the most deprived on the pretext that UK government wants to maintain its international leadership on trade and commerce. To achieve this, the government went on to substantiate the importance of Heathrow airport on the basis that the city of London will lose huge amount of income if Heathrow airport is not expanded and fear of congestion they will lose a lot of business to other neighboring European countries such as Brussels and this will hinder the UK economy (Heathrow Expansion, 2007). The Department for Trade (DFT) believes that the expansion of Heathrow will create job for the local people and will boost the economy of the United Kingdom (DFT, 2007).

Although the expansion of Heathrow airport was a very important innovation, critics believe that the UK government did not consider the commoner’s concerns and wellbeing, which include air pollution and excessive noise from aircraft which residents had serious concerns especially regarding their comfort and safety. The noise from aircraft according to locals has seized their privilege from having relaxing time in their gardens, school children from playing in the play ground, also damaging their learning ability to pay attention in class. Aviation industries declared that noise problem had reduced rapidly, also supported by the British government defending the concerns raised by the commoners on the ground that technology will be used to solve the commoners’ problem on air pollution and the disproportionate noise from aircrafts. This was disputed by locals to be unreliable and false as shown in the Heathrow terminal 5 inquiry (HACAN News, 1997). It was argued that if government is now talking about technology why was this not done long time ago? From this perspective it will be assumed that the government was trying to persuade the commoners/residents to stop any rebellion against the expansion of Heathrow airport.

The UK government claimed that the Heathrow expansion is essential for their economy and therefore any restriction of such expansion could have an impact that will be detrimental to their economy since it is a source of competition with other European hub airports for trade and commerce, others looked at it as a flawed. It was estimated that the net economic benefit of building a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow would be around £5billion. The UK government however, argued that Heathrow is on the verge of suffering a decline in connectivity to the world due to the fall in passenger numbers caused by the global economic recession, they believe will increase again when the recession ends. However, there were major flaws in the Government’s case. It was discovered that there were more British tourist and business people flying abroad from UK on holiday and working than other foreigners coming to the UK resulting into economic deficit when comparisons were made. It is believed that, there would be no net economic benefit from expanding Heathrow.

Considering the above it was said that the Government’s economic case for Heathrow was fundamentally flawed. Aviation is one of UK’s fastest growing sources of carbon dioxide therefore cutting growth in air travel would help Britain develop a new green economy and reduce their dependence on insecure and dirty fossil fuels. Therefore the opinion was that Government should fundamentally review its entire aviation strategy, and abandon its airport expansion.

Alternatively it was expected that the government should plan and invest in to short-haul flights such as fast rail travel. It reveals flaws in the Government’s economic case showing why expansion isn’t necessary for London to remain competitive and accessible. It is possible that if the government should use an alternative means of transportation, this will help reduce pollution through the emission of Carbondioxide and also reduce vibration noise. Rail travel has much lower carbon emissions per passenger than flying. It is more cost effective and environmentally friendly in terms of air pollution, noise disturbance, safety and less impact on the commoners as compared to aircrafts.
It is believed that at least 50,000 flights per year leaving Heathrow are on routes with a viable rail alternative and one of the most popular destinations served by Heathrow is Amsterdam with 27 flights per day. Other short haul destinations with fast rail links served by the airport include Paris, Brussels, Manchester, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Glasgow, Leeds/Bradford, Lyon etc. and therefore passengers on these routes can use the train instead of aircraft with thousands of tons of carbon dioxide emissions saved per year.

The UK Land compensation Act, 1973 part 1 allows the compensation to landowners especially if the land is devalued by physical factors such as noise, vibration, smell and fumes caused by the use of public work. The Law provides compensation in respect of loss of value arising from indirect effects of airport development during construction (Department for Transport and Trade (DFT 2003:144).

To this degree, it can be argued that the expansion of Heathrow airport was underpinned by the capitalist motive where the ruling class will use power on the working class to claim Heathrow and its environs to develop a third runway and a sixth terminal in their own interest. The act of the government to overrule the commoner’s rights left the commoners with little option but to rebel in the form of causing obstructions at airports and by flying out banners to show the government their grievances. To this current government and the Department of Transport, the well – being of the commoners is of less importance rather, their major focus is on how to boost the UK’s economy (Topham et al., 2016).
The story of Heathrow Airport and it expansion can be fast-tracked way back in the 15th and 16th centuries were many subsistence farmers were stripped of their land and were typically working under the hospice of the aristocrat. To this extend many farmers had to move to other cities in search of work. This controversy led to series of government act such as the general Enclosure Act of 1801, which sanctioned large –scale land reform (Landes, 2003).

The term ‘commons’ historically referred to natural land and pasture that belong to a community. This was the case until the 16th century when the process of enclosures started. Linked to Marx’s concept of primitive accumulation, enclosure was fundamental in the formation of capitalist relations because it concomitantly secured the landless labour class and the initial accumulation of capital. Harvey (2003) argues that this process of enclosure happens continuously in capitalism, describing it as ‘accumulation by dispossession,’ essentially capturing an on-going process in which the logic of capital extends to ever new domains of society. This can take the form of land grabs and enclosures of previously community owned resources or privatization of formerly public services such as healthcare and education.

It can be argued that accumulation by dispossession has been the driving force of expanding capitalist relations, pushing struggles for the commons to the centre of political mobilisation. The current drive for privatization and commodification of commons are jeopardizing public governance. Today, across the UK many commons are exposed to privatization and private ownership. It is against these contexts that several social movements have emerged across the UK with the aim to develop common movement that will act as a political force to questions current economic relations and proposes progressive alternatives to the decisions of elects of the state.

De Angelis (2012) refer to the commons as a vehicle for repossessing ownership of commons. According to De Angelis he state that to defend the commons from new enclosures and to create new commons one should always take a critical position towards the commons and not glamorize it. Although, Harvey (2012), warns that the enclosure of commons by the state could be in common interest, like in the cases of enclosure of Amazonian rainforest by the state to protect it. There is always the question of who benefits from the commons. We should examine commons critically, on a daily basis and use it as a model for bonding commoner struggles. Considering the above, not all decision made by a government in the name of development realistically reflects the interest of the commoners.