Grow Heathrow is a community garden space and activist centre in Sipson, in the path of the proposed third runway at Heathrow Airport. Grow Heathrow activist Cameron Richards spoke to Solidarity about the project and its place in the wider movement against climate change.
Grow Heathrow came out of Transition Heathrow, which came out of the 2007 Climate Camp.
That Camp was sited outside the airport, protesting against the plans for a third runway. From that, a group of environmental activists decided to focus on the fight against expansion.
A number of people moved into the local community, and formed Transition Heathrow in 2009, and were later invited to squat a plot of land in the village of Sipson, right in the path of the proposed third runway.
The project has blossomed since then. We’re a community garden space providing spaces for workshops. Our electricity and hot water is completely off-grid.
We do a lot of work with the community, including arts projects. We work with grassroots campaigns such as Stop Heathrow Expansion, the local community campaign against the third runway. We’re trying to model a low-carbon economy in a space that they want to tarmac into a climate-change disaster zone.
We won a huge victory in 2010 by stopping the proposals in their tracks, but in 2012 the government established the “Airports Commission”, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, which has an explicit brief to recommend airport expansion and an new runway in the south east. This has been narrowed down to either Gatwick or Heathrow. That closes down the conversation completely.
Britain need to cuts its emissions by 80% by 2050; this investment in high-emissions industries takes us in the exact opposite direction.
We work very closely with John McDonnell, the local Labour MP. He’s been a huge supporter of the project, and has been since the beginning. We’ve worked with him in wider community campaigning. He’s completely onside; he’s a rarity as a politician, in that he stands up for the people he represents.
We also work with other local politicians, from a variety of parties. There’s a strong local majority against expansion, which is cross-party. However, no political party that might conceivably govern, or be part of a government, has committed to stopping expansion, so for us the fight is sure to continue after the election.
Our wider perspective is for a zero-carbon economy. We want work and production to be organised on a zero-carbon basis, and we try to make our space a microcosmic illustration of how zero-carbon models can work.
We support aviation workers’ struggles, and stood in solidarity with the British Airways cabin crew workers’ strike in 2010.
We want there to be low-carbon and ultimately zero-carbon jobs for people to transition into, which there aren’t enough of currently. So it’s about focusing on the lack of low carbon alternatives being provided in the overall system, not on individuals’ current jobs. Many have the skills to and would work in a low carbon economy if one was being offered.
There has to be government initiative to create new climate jobs. At the moment the government has the opposite perspective, creating jobs in high-emissions industries like fracking and aviation.
People often forget that workers at Heathrow are often also members of local communities too. Of course they want to keep their jobs, but they don’t believe in expansion at any cost.
The wider climate movement has revived significantly as people build towards the UN climate conference in Paris in December 2015. But whatever comes out of Paris, the fights against fracking and airport expansion will continue, and they’ll have to be led by alliances of the climate movement and local communities.
One of things our project shows is that sustained campaigning around particular issues, and building strong alliances, can maintain action even in the context of the slight dip in the wider movement that followed the last UN summit in Copenhagen. It’s about choosing the fights we feel we can make a difference on, and seeing them through.
The environmental movement, working with local communities, will not let a new runway be built, wherever a future government decide they want to build it.
This is a strong movement against corporate pursuit of profit at the expense of the planet, and it is a movement that will win.