New Heathrow runway plans hit skids

Protesters hold a protest picnic at Mannchester Airport in Manchester, England. A simultaneous protest was held at London's Heathrow Airport.

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KAI RYSSDAL: Tomorrow the British government is said to announce a plan to relieve the congestion at London's Heathrow airport. Beause Heathrow's not just busy, it's at the breaking point. The two runways it has can't really handle any more traffic. So the government is expected to say it's going to build a third one. But protesters have hit on a plan to stop construction of the three mile-long strip of concrete -- the good old fashioned land grab. From London, Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports.


STEPHEN BEARD: A group of environmental protesters has bought a one-acre field close to Heathrow. It lies directly in the path of the airport's proposed third runway.

Activist Leo Murray says the plan is to split the land up into tiny squares and give title to as many people as possible, tangling the whole deal up in red tape.

LEO MURRAY: There are hundreds of people who have been given these parcels of land including MP's from all three major parties. And we've just heard Emma Thompson, an Oscar-winning actress. This actually represents a serious legal spanner in the works for the people that are pushing this third runway.

If Heathrow gets permission to build the runway, the protesters will be forced to sell the field. But dealing with hundreds of owners, some as far away as the Canadian Arctic, won't be easy.

That's the point, says organizer Zac Goldsmith. The idea is to slow down the whole process.

ZAC GOLDSMITH: We can delay that quite a long time. And the idea really is to delay it until beyond the election. And that way I think we probably do kill this project altogether.

The next election is due within 18 months. The Opposition Conservatives say if they win, they'll scrap any plans for another runway at Heathrow.

Arguments over this have raged for years. Opponents say the world's busiest international airport shouldn't get any busier.

But Heathrow is full. Expansion is an economic necessity, says airport spokesman Tom KellY.

TOM KELLY: Whether you need to fly to L.A. for the Golden Globes or to Shanghai for business, this country needs long-haul flights. And only Heathrow has the volume of traffic to make those long-haul flights viable.

Aptly enough, the struggle over the runway has gone global -- 7,000 people from all over the world have applied to become part owners of the Heathrow field.

But planning lawyer Ian Trehearne claims that this ploy may not work. New planning laws mean that the authorities may be able to dismiss the ownership issues as a nuisance.

IAN TREHARNE: It would be perfectly lawful for the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which will make the decision, to disregard the fact that the land has been chopped up into many, many different little pieces.

The government has put off a decision on the third runway until the end of the month. In the meantime, a scruffy little field tucked away behind a pub has become the latest battleground for Britain's aviation industry.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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