Over the past three days, French riot police have been violently evicting inhabitants at The ZAD, that is to say those who are defending the vast area around Nantes which has been earmarked for a new airport.
For years, hundreds of activists have joined locals by moving onto this 1,600 hectare area of rich agricultural land in order to defend it from the threat of a proposed new Nantes airport. Yet in the name of the ‘public good’, over 1,000 riot police began a siege of the area earlier this week. In a bid to clear the ZAD to make way for a new airport, the French authorities have been forcibly removing people from their homes. They arrived armed with helicopters, riot vans, and trucks (to carry away the bricks from the houses they’d destroyed!). Through the use of tear gas, arrest, and the occasional act of arson (on Wednesday, eye witnesses report having seen police burning down someone’s home without even confirming first that it was empty), the riot cops have been violently evicting residents at the ZAD.
The fight against a new Nantes airport has been a high profile affair in France. During the general elections, two local farmers went on a 28 day hunger strike after having been threatened with compulsory purchase orders on the land their families had farmed for generations. The struggle at Nantes has attracted international attention too; in July this year people from all over Europe arrived at the ZAD for the European Forum Against Useless Projects.
Many homes have been evicted at over the last three days to make way for a ‘secure’ zone on the land around the proposed new airport. Yet the activists and locals currently remain in force and are trying to take back the land. Three houses and many fields are still occupied by ZAD residents, who have been joined by supporters and activists from far and wide. The battle is on, and there’s everything to fight for.
If you can get down there to help defend the ZAD, or if you want to send a message of support, you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Picture the scene: it’s early in the morning. The sun is shining and you’re sitting having your breakfast, which happens to be a café au lait and a baguette because, for the purposes of this exercise, you are French. While you quietly contemplate some elaborate existentialist theory (did I mention you’re French?), you notice the post drop through the letterbox. One official looking letter drops to the floor. You open it, cautiously…
Oh là là! What has fallen onto your doormat is nothing less than a compulsory purchase order for your farmstead! That’s right, the farmstead you’ve lived and worked on for as long as you care to remember, the ground you’ve tended to with your own bare hands, your past, your present, your future… All of this is being taken from you. Stolen. Demanded by a government which claims to represent you. And to what end? In order that a multi-billion pound industry can build a new runway over the top of it. Why, you ask? So that they can increase their profit margins of course (tsk, don’t waste our time with stupid questions, Monsieur!!).
Sadly this is no elaborate horror story. This week, the first two farmers in Nantes have been issued with compulsory purchase orders for their land by the government in order to make way for a second Nantes airport. What is particularly dreadful about this is that the authorities who want to build the airport are embroiled in legal challenges from those campaigning against the airport. If the campaigner’s challenges are successful, the airport will be stopped but the farmers will still have lost their land and their livelihood.
Faced with the total destruction of their way of life and the loss of their homes, these brave farmers are fighting back. This week marks the beginning of their hunger strike.
For years campaigners in and around Nantes have been fighting against plans for a new airport. In March, thousands of campaigners took to the streets of Paris to protest against the plans. Many of them had travelled 400km from Nantes to the French capital on their bikes and tractors. This Wednesday, in support of the two farmers and their hunger strike, campaigners set up camp outside the Monument de la Résistance in Nantes with their sheep and tractors! They need your support – please join the campaigners if you can or email them a message of support.
With plans to expand airports popping up all over the EU, there has been an unprecedented EU-wide fight against expansion. As well as fierce battles in Nantes, Plane Stupid activists recently visited anti-airport expansion campaigners in Munich, and in Frankfurt, where campaigners have recently won a ban on night flights. Up to 5,000 thousand campaigners are turning up every Monday to take part in protests in the new airport terminal, with up to 20,000 people showing up for Saturday specials.
Throughout history people have taken bold actions to stop injustices from taking place on their doorstep. The French farmers are now doing just that. By going on hunger strike they are not only standing up for local communities and the climate in the face of powerful corporate interest and single minded politicians, they are demonstrating to us all that we have the ability to take the power back. Join them, and let’s take that power back together.
There are many reasons to love the French. Where would we be now without our stripy tops, crème brulées or berets? And now, from the nation which has shown us that it is possible to project sex appeal without the need for soap, comes another unlikely combination. Enter the Tracto-Bike!
Before you jump to conclusions, I can assure you this is not an obscure new bicycle powered tractor invention from our froggy cousins across the Channel. No indeed. This is a case of the French are doing what they're best at – protesting. French stylee.
So, a few days ago, a coalition of tractors and bicycles are took off (slowly!) on their 400km six day journey from Nantes to Paris to protest against plans for a new Nantes airport. The residents of Nantes have good reason to be up in arms. They are fighting off plans for an enormous new airport which, if built, would see the destruction of an area which is highly biodiverse, as well as being a prime dairy producing region, covering around 2,000 hectares.
The most ludicrous thing of all is that Nantes already has an airport which is not even at full capacity. Yet despite this fact, and despite the obvious implications that building a whole new airport complete with fossil fuel spewing aircraft has for an increasingly warming climate, the French authorities seem to think that a massive new airport is justified. Unsurprisingly, the French public are unimpressed.
So if you happen to be free on November 12th then why not grab your bike, or your tractor, and head over to Paris to join the farmers, activists, politicians and local residents as they arrive in style in their protest against a new Nantes airport? The campaign against Nantes airport is already the biggest in Europe and looks set to get bigger. May the politicians ignore the farmers at their peril!
If the discovery of various undercover cops within the climate movement over the last few weeks has not yet destroyed any last scraps of faith that you had in our supposedly 'democratic' system, then perhaps todays news will help finish it for good.
Despite an outcry from local residents in Newham who suffer from noise and air pollution on a daily basis, despite Newham Council's failure to consult local residents and surrounding boroughs on the impacts of expansion, and despite the fact that airport expansion of any type is in total opposition to the governments legally binding climate change commitments, the High Court has today refused to quash Newham Council's decision to allow London City Airport to expand its operations by 50%.
The failure of the legal system to stand up for the public good and against short sighted corporate interest has once again been made clear. For the residents of Newham, expansion will mean more noise and more pollution in one of the poorest areas of the whole of the UK. Yet many of the people who will suffer most as a result of the negative impacts of expansion were never even asked for their opinions. Not the residents of Newham. Not the surrounding London borough. And certainly not the populations of the developing nations which will be hit first and foremost by a changing climate.
Never has the need for direct action been so great. Our political system is not designed to deal with the threat of climate change. Worryingly, it is also increasingly helping to support the interests of large companies over the human rights of citizens. Once again, the law has served as a testimony for why direct action is a necessary course of action. LCA may today have won in the courts, the real battle is far from over.
Reacting to the decision, chair of local campaign group Fight the Flights Anne-Marie Griffen said:
"We are desperately disappointed by this decision. London City Airport already causes major disturbance and pollution to people living locally - the disappointment we feel at this outcome will be shared by thousands of residents across East London who are severely affected by London City Airport's operations but were not consulted about expansion.
Without clear guidelines to local councils on aviation expansion, the emissions targets set have no hope of being met. Fight the Flights is currently taking legal advice as to whether to appeal".
Life's full of blissful little ironies. We've plotted and plotted and plotted to ground the aviation industry, only to be pipped to the post by nature. Which is funny when our understanding was that aviation was supposed to wreck the environment, not the environment wreck aviation.
One of the most striking impacts of the last few days without air travel is that not only is the UK much more peaceful with so many stag parties stuck in Prague, but day to day life seems to be carrying on. In fact, huge swathes of people across the country are being treated to a taster of a much better quality of life (although Tesco's is almost out of pre-packed pineapple chunks - oh, the humanity!).
It turns out the UK is actually rather a pleasant place to be when there's not a constant drone of aircraft overhead. Thousands of residents living under the flightpath have suddenly been blessed with a taste of life without being woken up at 4.30am on a daily basis by aeroplanes thundering overhead. Perhaps if we weren't tormented by high levels of noise and air pollution on a daily basis, fewer people would feel the desire to board a plane to leave the country for a break.
We're constantly preached at by the aviation industry about the essential nature of air travel. Like the 'essential' cargo flights from Nottingham East Midlands Airport to transport goods which are now being transported... wait for it... OVERLAND. According to a UPS delivery spokesperson, European roads are actually "very drivable".
So, Eyjafjallajokull, you may have an unpronounceable name and an odd smell, but nonetheless we thank you for giving us a brief glimpse of life without planes. And for demonstrating that, despite what the aviation industry would like to have us believe, a world without air travel could well be a very happy place indeed.
It's official. Newham council is crap. Last year, Newham gave the go-ahead to a massive increase in the number of flights at London City Airport, a decision which was given the green light by London Mayor, Boris Johnson. This decision recently earned Johnson the 2010 award for worst planning decision and Newham Council is in the proverbial dodo.
Not only have local campaigners Fight the Flights launched a High Court challenge against the council’s expansion decision but now the Greater London Authority’s environmental committee is holding a public debate and review of the impact that expansion would have.
This is where you come in. The committee want all of us to tell them why Newham's decision to allow City to expand sucks. So, while City Airport flights spew out greenhouse gasses and deafen East London residents in order to fly fat bankers around, here's a summary of why you might want to tell the GLA that expansion at City flies in the face of common sense.
Climate change. Yes, we'll keep saying it until we're blue in the face. No matter what industry would like to have us believe, there's no way we can keep expanding air travel all over the UK and reduce our carbon emissions: high carbon industry is incompatible with a low carbon society. Period.
It’s probably unlawful. Just last week, Lord Justice Carnwath ruled that the decision to expand Heathrow Airport must be reviewed (and hopefully scrapped) in the light of the 2008 Climate Change Act. Following the same logic, this ruling for Heathrow should also stand for City Airport.
Local noise and air pollution. Newham already has above average levels of child mortality, asthma, cancer and respiratory illness. More jets will mean more local air pollution for Newham and East London residents. The airport has also persistently failed to monitor noise pollution levels: since 1999 their noise readings have been based on estimates. How convenient.
Newham council is well dodgy. The relationship between the head of London City and Newham Council is a bit too close for comfort. Conflicts of interest are rife. Newham council didn't bother to consult on the expansion with... well, anyone.
The consultation was a con. Newham claimed to have sent out 10,000 letters to local residents (apparently the opinions of the other people in the borough didn't count), but many residents received up to 6 letters at a time, with many others receiving nothing.
No consultation in neighbouring boroughs. None of the other East London boroughs were consulted, despite the fact that changes in flightpaths from the airport are already blighting the lives of thousands of East London residents.
Unfortunately, as with so many political decision-making processes, we have to spell out the obvious and make sure Newham council are held to account. Normally we encourage people to take direct action to achieve this. On this occasion, the GLA enquiry is important enough to support. So get in touch with them now and tell them why you think City airport shouldn't be allowed to increase its flights.
Time to pop the champers, don your dancing shoes and skip around the room like a loon. Fair enough they may not seem like the most likely candidates for us to be praising, but Redbridge Council have just done something utterly wonderful, and Newham and their City Airport fat cat buddies ain't gonna be best pleased.
Last Thursday, Redbridge Council unanimously agreed to oppose "further expansion or changes to flightpaths or the mode of operation of airports...which would result in an increase in aircraft noise suffered by the residents of this borough". That means you, City Airport!
However, Redbridge's good deeds don't cease there. Not only did they oppose any airport expansion which would affect their borough, they emphasised that airport expansion should not be permitted anywhere on local noise and pollution but also climate change grounds. It turns out that Newham (surprise surprise) didn't bother to ask Redbridge what they thought about the prospect of deafeningly loud flightpaths being redirected over their heads. They're pissed off about that too.
This won't be the first time that Newham forgot to consult, well, anyone except themselves. Fight the Flights is taking Newham to court on the grounds giving City Airport permission to expand goes against government policy on climate change (even if the government seems to have forgotten any such policy exists), and that Newham failed to consult local residents. And of course we're continued to hound City Airport like the relentless activists that we are. Newham must be quaking in their carbon crammed boots.