Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006
Protests against Manchester Runway extension
Tunneling under the proposed runway. Photo: Andrew Testa.


As airlines cloud the skies, tunnnel tactics at Manchester Airport are undermining the ground beneath their feet. Ally Fogg clears the smog...

Squall 15, Summer 1997, pp. 36-38.

Recipe for a Runway

  1. Take an area of ancient woodland double the size of that lost to the Newbury Bypass.
  2. Cover with a million tonnes of stone dug from Derbyshire quarries. Remove a few cute furry animals and relocate in an unsuitable corner.
  3. Sprinkle liberally with promises of jobs and assorted propaganda.
  4. Add the most unsustainable industry imaginable and leave to boil for twenty or thirty years.
  5. When the planet turns a nice golden-brown colour, remove any remaining traces of life and leave your creation for eternity as a monument to twentieth-century insanity.

When former Environment Secretary John Gummer and Transport Secretary George Young gave the go-ahead for £170 million's worth of runway at Manchester Airport in January, few in the area were surprised. Despite twenty five years of local opposition to the plan, the Ringway consortium of Manchester Airport PLC and its chums had launched a propaganda onslaught over several years which promised the Earth. It left the local campaigners looking like a few selfish villagers from affluent North Cheshire, worried about little more than their house prices. Unfair though this portrayal was, there seemed to be nothing they could offer to compete with promises of 50,000 local jobs, untold riches to the local economy, and even a 'Green Charter' promising species relocation, tree planting and a hundred other 'benefits to the environment'.

With Ringway boasting the support of the City Council, the local press, local and multinational industries and even Labour's shadow transport minister (Manchester MP Keith Bradley), opposing voices were few and far between. It is no coincidence that Graham Stringer (now a Labour MP), was simultaneously leader of Manchester City Council and Chairman of Manchester Airport PLC - the Council owns 55 per cent of the Airport.

Only after the decision was announced did the volume of arguments against the runway begin to match and even exceed the local establishment's PR offensive. This is due almost entirely to the efforts of the fastest growing eco-protest camp Britain has ever seen.

Protests against Manchester Runway extension
Treehouses on the edge of the runway at the Zion Tree camp. Photo: Nick Cobbing

Local Facts and Fiction

  1. Land. Building the second runway will require the destruction of 43 ponds, 15km of hedgerow, seven hundred acres of mature woodland and over 1,000 acres of greenbelt. The Airport's 'Green Package' promises to create new habitats for a range of wildlife including badgers, bats and Great Crested Newts, but such schemes are notoriously unreliable. As to whether naturally occuring ancient woodland can be replaced, perhaps we shall find out in a couple of thousand years.
  2. Jobs. The claim by Manchester Airport that Runway Two would create 50,000 jobs, still parroted regularly by the Manchester Evening News, was discredited during the public inquiry by an estimate (ironically from a Manchester City Council economist) that 8 or 9,000 was closer to the mark. This February, Manchester Chamber of Commerce put the figure at 5,000. In truth no-one knows; there has been no independent study of possible employment-creation effects. What is widely presumed however, is that any new jobs created are likely to be low-paid and short-term. They are also unlikely to go to those who need them in the massive nearby housing estate of Wythenshawe, which has 30 per cent unemployment. Since only 10 percent of the current Airport personnel come from the estate, there is no reason to believe a higher percentage will be employed by the expanded airport. More importantly, if £172 million were spent in other areas of the local economy, far more and better employment could be created. Manchester City Council's figures show it costs £76,464 to sustain a job for a year at the airport, compared to £26,913 in education.
  3. Associated development. Perhaps the most devastating effect of the new runway on the local environment will come not from the planes but from cars. An estimated 15 million extra car journeys per year will take passengers to and from the airport, primarily on the already congested M56 which is expected to carry 30 per cent more cars than the M25 carries now. To cope with demand, new roads are planned including the A6(M) Stockport bypass and a new Eastern Link Road. A number of office developments and retail parks are planned near the airport and new roads, again built on greenbelt sites.
  4. Air and Noise Pollution. It is known that the components of incompletely combusted gases produced by aircraft are toxic, but there has been no independent study of effects on human health. Taking what is known already about the effect of car exhausts, and adding the 'factor X' of local air traffic, there can be no doubt that the impact of Runway 2 on local air quality will not help Manchester's status as pollution capital of Britain. Those living closest to the flightpath are already suffering distressing levels of noise pollution, something which is guaranteed to increase with a second runway. An elderly couple from the local village of Styal have complained to the press about having to replace the glass in their greenhouse every year because the noise of planes keeps cracking it.

Planes and the Planet

"The full environmental effects of air travel are still somewhat unclear," Malcolm Ferguson, Senior Fellow at the Institute of European Environmental Policy stated recently, "but even based on what we already know, there is a significant impact on global warming and ozone degradation which is totally disproportional to the benefits. The demand for air travel exceeds any possible definition of sustainability, and any scientist taking a precautionary line would say that at the very least, there are serious grounds for concern." Estimates for the contribution of air travel to global warming range from 3 to 30 per cent. A recent study has estimated that 'if the airport grows as planned, CO2 emissions by 2020 [from planes] could be greater than from all other transport in the regional catchment'. The impact on the ozone layer of jet travel is also worrying scientists. Already it is suspected that high-flying aircraft are causing damage, but a report in a recent New Scientist entitled 'Aircraft wreak havoc on Ozone layer' crystallized those fears. It described how a new range of 500 supersonic airliners will fly high enough to deposit ozone-eating pollution in the ozone layer itself, having a direct effect on stratospheric ozone. It is also self-evident that the more accessible and affordable air travel becomes, the more it becomes feasible to transport people, food and consumer goods thousands of miles around the world.

The effects are to encourage economic and cultural dependancy on a deeply unsustainable and temporary system of transportation, with inevitable consequences for smaller and more sustainable local economies. It takes up to 2.2 litres of (untaxed) kerosene to transport just one pound of vegetables across the world.

Legalities and Hot Air

The total process of planning applications and Public Inquiry took nearly five years. The Airport presented a host of contradictory economic and environmental evidence. The Inquiry refused to consider the global environmental impacts of the runway. The Secretaries of State concluded that the runway was an 'inappropriate development in the greenbelt' but perversely decided it should go ahead anyway, similarly they noted many of the environmental problems that the Runway would create but then dismissed them. They described the natural woodland lost as "irreversible and irreplaceable". Bizarrely they noted "with concern" that climate change effects had not been modelled, but then said that Runway 2 would not be an important contributor to climate change. How did they know? All of this will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever been involved in a Public Inquiry. The legal process is not yet quite exhausted.

As well as challenging the eviction order on the protest camp at appeal, the protestors are currently taking the case to the High Court to demand a judicial review of the Public Inquiry. As Squall goes to press, they are arguing that the Inquiry process itself was flawed. To be granted the review they must demonstrate that the Inquiry was either illegal, against the spirit of the law, or irrational. On the face of it, the latter seems to give them a pretty good case. Fighting the case officially has been a frustrating task for those involved, but a necessary one.

Jeff Gazzard of Manchester Airport Environmental Network attended all 101 days of the Public Inquiry, he told Squall: "We've had to explore every avenue, however cynical we were. We will try any legitimate means to stop this runway, to the very best of our abilities. When we've been through the legal process and won the arguments but still lost the decisions, we are in a much better position to complain, because we've done it properly. That's why we have joined in the direct action protest and become very much part of it. We are going to fight this all the way."

Protests against Manchester Runway extension
In the trees above the Bollin Valley. Photo: Nick Clague.

Taking to the Tunnels

On a cold Saturday night in January, ten activists, many of them veterans of the M65, M66, Newbury and other road protests, set up the first tree-house overlooking the River Bollin and announced themselves as the Coalition Against Runway 2 (CAR2). This was to become Flywood camp, the first of seven separate camps along a short stretch of the valley. It is still the acting camp HQ, and where visitors arrive first, to be met with a banner reading No Members, No Leaders, No 2nd Runway, No Pasaran!

Under the camp are five tunnels, each with an array of new hurdles to flummox scab tunnellers. The other camps are Zion Tree which claims the biggest tunnel; The Sir Cliff Richard OBE Vegan Revolutionary Camp which claims the best name and what one protestor describes as 'the tightest, nastiest, meanest tunnel in the world'; Wild Garlic Camp which is possibly the most defendable, and certainly the most beautiful camp; River Rat (aka River Tarts) is now the fastest growing camp; The-Camp-Of-Many-Names and the family friendly Jelly Baby Camp are the newest and currently the least populated, but hopefully not for long.

The eleven tunnels which now snake below the camp shall be considerably more difficult to evict than their predecessors at Fairmile. This is due in no small part to the presence of a small army of Fairmile tunnellers who came to the airport after the evictions in January, including some bloke called S****y. 'Hyper' Phil told Squall "There's no doubt that S****y has learned a thing or two since Fairmile. If they want to get us out of some of these tunnels they are just going to have to dig their own tunnels around ours.' The expertise of the world's most famous tunnel dweller has more than made up for the hassle of 'S****y Fever' which has brought dozens of teenage fans to the camp in the hope of meeting their hero. It is also worth mentioning that an unprecedented amount of publicity, some money and huge support has been generated by the celebrity presence.

In early March the airport made the unprecedented step of beginning to erect massive barbed wire fences around the camps. The decision was provocative and intimidatory. Fences would go up by day and come down again by night. Police claim that £30,000 damage was done to fencing in one weekend. A massive security presence was employed around the 3 to 4 miles of perimeter fence, costing somewhere in the region of £5,000 a night. Twelve sets of floodlights shine all night. Both Manchester and Cheshire Police vans patrol every half hour, and still fencing comes down. There have been some unsavoury incidents during confrontations between protestors and security and police, of which no-one is very proud but, by and large, the protest remains peaceful, and the protestors continue to enjoy camp life.

"The people here are amazing," says Hyper Phil. "Everybody's working really hard, there's very little lunching out going on. I spend half my time in a state of total exhaustion and the other half in total elation." The camp is growing, but there is still a great need for people to come and join the protest. With the fencing in place it may be very difficult for people to gain access once evictions have started, although several cunning plans are being devised. If people want to join the protest they may have to come before the eviction and stay, particularly if they are inexperienced climbers who need to learn to use harnesses, walkways etc. Plenty of tuition is available. New arrivals should not be intimidated by the security gate they have to grant you access until the eviction begins.

The protestors are determined that they can win, as Hyper Phil told Squall: "We can stop this runway by mass non-violent direct action. If it is not stopped it is not because we couldn't, it's because we didn't have enough people. It comes down to every individual and their own involvement." With Airport developments now planned at Heathrow, Birmingham, Newcastle and possibly even a third runway in Manchester, it is possible that the next great battleground of the environmental movement will be for the skies. Be there at the beginning. Coalition Against Runway 2 can be contacted on (0161) 834 8221

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