The threat is finally over and Stansted’s second runway is OFF the table!
Hard to believe it’s been ten years since we first identified a threat to almost 20 hectares of irreplaceable woodland habitat in the heart of the Essex countryside. Little did we know that this would become the highest profile case the Woodland Trust would take on - a journey that would lead us from the depths of ancient woodland to the streets of London, through the Royal Courts and beyond even to the Copenhagen Climate talks. A fight that would see us on the front page of the Independent, and incorporate such varied government tomes as the Aviation White Paper, the Planning Bill, and the Terrorism Act of 2006.
For many years the threat posed to the long term safety of the UK’s woodland heritage by aviation has been a core campaign for us. As the fastest growing polluter, the long term consequences of the industry’s contribution to emissions are dire for ancient woodland - a uniquely stable habitat that is by definition centuries old. Philipland Wood is just one of 6 entire ancient woodlands that were to be destroyed for a second runway at Stansted Airport.
The Coalition announced in the joint programme for governing it would refuse permission for new runways (as we blogged about last week) and BAA have withdrawn their plans accordingly. Chief executive Colin Matthews said “We recognise the importance of government policy in a matter as significant and controversial as runway capacity.”
It makes a huge difference to have government on the side of the environment, a welcome change from some of the environmentally-damaging decisions previously taken. But in my view this shift in gear has a lot to do with the commitment of campaigners. Without huge opposition voiced by millions of people over many years, generated by groups like the partners in the Airport Watch coalition the battle on the ground against new runways and bigger airports would not have reached the corridors of power and changed the outcome so effectively.
Over the course of this campaign the Trust alone has reached hundreds of thousands of people through creative action and traditional advocacy, finding many thousands of new supporters plus new allies in the conservation sector. We have crossed the thresholds of social media. We brought ancient trees to the metropolis; we planted a new wood and even an orchard. We questioned statistics and demanded a voice for woodland be heard through legal challenges and spoof films.
And we’re just one of many in a far bigger movement, tenacious and vociferous in its challenge. Thousands of you have given us your support over the years, generating almost 20% of all G2 objections to Uttlesford District Council. You have helped us and our friends at Stop Stansted Expansion to save those woods. You have helped us and our ‘Airplot!’ friends at Greenpeace save the 1,000 year old ‘Harlington Yew’ and other notable and veteran trees from Heathrow’s third runway.
A naturally cautious bunch, at the Trust our celebrations are slightly tinged with “what ifs”. BAA’s actions are merely a formality in response to a Coalition which has clearly demonstrated to the industry that there is little appetite for expansion at these large airports. And BAA would have had to re-submit an application for Stansted’s G2 soon or abandon it anyway. At Gatwick 75 hectares of ancient woodlands - including our own Edolph’s Copse – are safe but possibly only until 2019, when a block on any new runway is lifted. Regional airports could well see the threat turn towards them instead and more woodland could come under threat. But we do not rule out new plans for a second runway at Stansted forever. Indeed, we don’t know who will even own Stansted in the future.
Still, with ten years of campaigning now firmly behind us that air of caution won’t stop us dancing!!