Villagers mourn as Heathrow runway decision dooms their historic home town to demolition
The prospect of being paid a 25 per cent premium for their homes makes little difference to residents of Harmondsworth, which will make way for a third runway
In the village of Harmondsworth, the British government’s decision Tuesday to back expanding London Heathrow Airport with a new third runway was welcomed like a death sentence.
Much of the historic village will be razed and concreted over under plans to enlarge Europe’s busiest airport. And the prospect of being paid a 25 per cent premium on the market value of their homes isn’t softening the blow.
With its small village green fringed by pubs, a church, the post office and a red telephone box, Harmondsworth could be mistaken for being in the middle of the countryside - were it not for the roar of the planes taking off every other minute a kilometre away.
The green is festooned with banners campaigning against the new runway.
Inside The Five Bells pub, a few people quietly gathered to watch on television as the long-feared decision was announced.
A mixture of longstanding local residents and climate change activists gathered on the green outside to vent their despair.
“It’s a nightmare,” said Bhanumati Patel, 69, who has lived in Harmondsworth for 25 years.
“It’s very sad. We’ve been treated very badly.”
“Of course I’m worried. It’s terrible. Where are we going to move to?” she said.
Under a compulsory purchase order, those living on the land needed for the new runway would be forced to sell up.
They would receive 125 per cent of the market value for their homes, plus taxes, legal fees and moving costs.
But some residents fear their house prices will now plummet, and they would only receive the lower price, and be unable to afford an equivalent home locally, where London house prices are surging.
“As soon as you wipe out homes, that puts up the cost of other houses in the locality. It could force us to live somewhere we don’t want to live,” said Jane Taylor, a resident of neighbouring Sipson, which is also facing being partially flattened.
“Calais is exactly what they want to do to us: ship us out to somewhere we don’t want to go,” she said, referring to the ongoing demolition of the “Jungle” migrant camp in France.
Under the airport plans, most of the village would be razed, though the High Street would be spared, along with St Mary’s church, and the 59-metre-long Great Barn, the largest timber-framed building in England which was built in the early 15th century.
Parts of the church date back to 1067, and although it would just escape the bulldozers, there are fears that nearly a millennium of worship could be coming to an end.
“It will become a museum. The building would survive but the church would disappear,” said Amatu Christian-Iwagwu, the vicar of Harmondsworth for the past nine years.
“The church is the gathering of God’s people, and if they’re not there, there’s no church at all.”
He invited Prime Minister Theresa May, a vicar’s daughter, to tell him what her father would do.
“Tell me how I’m going to manage the anxieties of the elderly people here, who are very unsure and very much troubled by this. They are going to lose their homes,” he said.
Anita Knott, 70, from nearby Wraysbury, said Tuesday’s decision was “diabolical”.
“The pollution and the noise are going to be even worse. Improve Heathrow, but don’t expand it,” she said.
The Stop Heathrow Expansion campaign is well-established and locals are not ready to give up yet.
Upstairs in The Five Bells, Harmondsworth residents have put up display boards and campaign literature.
“The fight will go on,” said Lesley O’Brien, whose home will be knocked down under the new plans.
“All the High Street here will stay but you couldn’t possibly live here. Who would use the shops and the pub?”
Seasoned environmental activists roamed around the green.
“We’ll be bringing back the climate camp and expand it with a people’s climate conference,” said Daniel, accepting the eco-warrior label.
Daniel said there were plans to open a “base camp” at an undisclosed location in the area, adding: “It will inspire people around the world to fight climate change and global warming”.