Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Campaigners remain defiant after Manchester airport protest sentencing

At the end of a two day trial 6 campaigners from the ‘Manchester Airport on Trial’ group were sentenced today following pleas of not-guilty to charges of aggravated trespass. They were standing trial for an action last May 2010 where they formed a human circle around the wheel of a Monarch Airline jet, acting out of necessity to prevent the higher crime of climate change.undefined
After an exciting trial where the defence called upon expert witnesses including climate scientist Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, public health expert Robin Stott, and Heathrow MP John McDonnell amongst others the judge recognised the “sincerity” and “laudable motives” of the protesters, and handed down lenient sentences of 2 year conditional discharges and £310 court costs whilst One defendant received 80 hours of community service.
Although the coalition government cancelled plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, regional airport expansion is still being heavily pursued. In November 2009 Manchester Airport received planning approval from Manchester City Council to expand the World Freight Centre at Manchester Airport and increase passenger numbers by a third, which will result in the demolition of local homes and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Despite a High Court ruling which recognised the incompatibility between expansion plans at the UK’s commitments to emissions reduction targets, Manchester City Council has shown an unwillingness to rethink their plans or engage in discussion.
During the trial Martin Eakins, local councillor for Northenden, described the local efforts to prevent expansion at the Airport. In response to the judge’s suggestion that campaigners would have had a strong case for judicial review of the plans, he explained that they had been refused funding on the basis that their challenge would be unsuccessful. Local resident, Pete Johnson, whose home on Hasty Lane faces demolition, told the court that their efforts to engage with the council and oppose the expansion were “thwarted by politicians with vested interests,” and that he felt “angry, frustrated and cheated.”
This was fittingly reflected in a statement from John Mcdonnell MP, who vocally opposed the third runway at Heathrow.
“When governments themselves so blatantly ignore the wishes of the people they are elected to represent, when they promote the sectional interests of one sector of business above the interests of their citizens, when they deny Parliament an effective role, when they subvert their own democratic planning processes, and when their actions so dangerously contradict their own legislation on climate change, responsible citizens are left with no alternative but to take direct action to further the cause that they believe in.”
One of the most inspiring and reaffirming experiences for the defendants and everyone who attended the trial was hearing from leading climate scientist Kevin Anderson, who spoke out on the aviation industry’s ‘special treatment’, asking;
“Why is it fair that aviation continues to be a special case while every other sector has to reduce their emissions? Every year we have an exponential increase in CO2 embedding us in a future of dangerous climate change. If aviation continues to grow that means we’re heading for 4 degrees, but that would only be a transient temperature on the way to an equilibrium rise of 6 to 8 degrees. A rise of 4 degrees is dire, above that it gets worse and worse- it is a future that we contemplate at our own peril.”
He also highlighted how aside from setting fire to a large pool of kerosene in your back garden, flying was the most carbon intensive activity that anyone can engage in.
Speaking at the end of the trial the defendants released the following statement:
“This is the first action in the north contesting airport expansion, and whatever the outcome in court today, this trial will not be the last.

The court heard from respected climate scientists that climate change is accelerating, and continues to be the biggest threat to life as we know it. Having heard from this, the expert testimony, we are more convinced than ever that our actions were justified and necessary.

We have heard in court today from local Councillor Martin Eakins, and from Heathrow MP John McDonnell that the political system both locally and nationally is failing to address the public health emergency that is climate change.

The court heard that Manchester Airport’s expansion plans are based on outdated and flawed policy. Manchester City Council, who own the airport, have a responsibility to abandon proposed plans and change course while there is still time.
The court heard from local resident Peter Johnson, whose home on Hasty Lane faces demolition in order to expand Manchester Airport. He expressed how efforts to oppose the expansion were “thwarted by politicians with vested interests”; and how he felt “angry, frustrated and cheated” by the system that is supposed to represent him.

None of this evidence was challenged in court, and yet the court saw fit to find us guilty.

As the court heard, civil disobedience has a long and honourable tradition in this country, and Manchester has a proud place in that history. We all have a duty, and a responsibility, and we will continue to act to stop climate change.

We would like to thank everyone who has supported us during the trial, locally, nationally and internationally.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

Aviation expansion= a 4 degree increase; “a future we contemplate at our own peril”

At 9am this morning, a real sense of solidarity could be felt outside Trafford Magistrate’s Court. There was a great turn-out to support the six defendants from Manchester Airport on Trial appearing in court to face charges of aggravated trespass charge for forming a human chain around the Monarch Airline jet at Manchester Airport in May 2010. Everyone was in high spirits, mixed with anticipation, despite the drizzling rain. The relaxed atmosphere was slightly tainted by the unnecessary presence of a FIT officer, invasively filming supporters of the defendants as they arrived at court.
By lunch time today the court had heard from defendants Robbie Gillett and David Cullen who defended their actions on the grounds that they were proportionate and necessary in the face of climate change in order to prevent death and serious injury by stopping emissions from the airport. Robbie stated that attempts had been made to engage and meet with local government and challenge the expansion plans through formal routes but they had been ‘fobbed off’. A strong argument was also presented by Dave who successfully challenged the prosecution’s assertion that climate change is still a spilt debate.
Into the afternoon the first expert witness, Professor Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, was called as part of the defence.

He summed up what campaigners have been saying for years as he questioned “why is it fair that aviation continues to be a special case while every other sector has to reduce their emissions?”.
He then went on to say “every year we have an exponential increase in CO2 embedding us in a future of dangerous climate change. If aviation continues to grow that means we're heading for 4 degrees, but that would only be a transient temperature on the way to an equilibrium rise of 6 to 8 degrees. A rise of 4 degrees is dire, above that it gets worse and worse- it is a future that we contemplate at our own peril.”.

The second witness, Dr Geoff Meaden, was also called to the stand related the actions to both local and international concerns. He spoke about the ‘tipping points’ we are reaching with global temperature rises as well as the increased possibility of flooding in the Manchester area due to changes in weather patterns, and specifically how the airport itself would be submerge by just a two metre flood.

At the end of day one the defendants, campaign and court can be under no illusion that we need to start waking up to the fact that climate change isn’t just a problem for future generations; we are seeing its devastating impacts now. The aviation industry is receiving special treatment in terms of the expansion that is being allowed and financially in the tax break of £9 billion each year it is given, including paying nothing on fuel, while public sectors are cut and the VAT we pay on toilet roll increases to 20%.

The actions of the Manchester defendants are an example of how we might be able to see real change; signing petitions just isn’t enough anymore. We need to start targeting the industries and corporations who are not only dodging tax whilst public sectors are cut, but also continue exploiting our planet.
Tomorrow the defence will continue with the court hearing from local councillor Martin Eakins, who will speak on the democratic deficit in the region, and local resident Pete Johnson speaking about the barriers to pursuing a judicial review against the expansion due to the prohibitively high costs involved.
Come and support the defendants tomorrow or Wednesday morning at 9am at Trafford Magistrate’s Court, Manchester, or send your statements of support to manchesterairportontrial@gmail.com.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Runway campaigners to re-unite

Environmental activists who occupied tree-houses and barricaded themselves in underground tunnels during the long running protests against the construction of the second runway at Manchester Airport will be re-united at a public event this Thursday 17 February commemorating the 10th anniversary of the opening of the runway in February 2001.

(Original article from the Manchester Mule)

Hosted by activists from Manchester Climate Action and People and Planet, the evening will see veteran activists from around across the country return to Manchester for an event including a photo and video exhibition from the protest camps, displayed at the University of Manchester Students Union.

Merrick Godhaven, 41, who now lives in Leeds explained why he was returning for the event, "There's a radical history of resistance to power, and that history will never be taught in schools. We have to make the effort to make this people's history live, and see that one generation can take inspiration and practical ideas from what has gone before. The present campaign against Manchester Airport is also a source of inspiration to me. Seeing the new generation of activists team up and share ideas with the older one makes us all stronger and more likely to succeed."

Lance Crookes, who was also involved at the time, and who now lives in Northenden said, "Manchester's council leaders were very vocal when they promised that 50,000 new jobs would be created as a result of the 2nd runway but there has been silence since it opened in 2001."

MULE contacted Manchester Airport for a response on the question of job creation, however they declined to respond.

Simon Bradley, 22, from Manchester People and Planet, “The event not only looks at the rich heritage of environmental activism in Manchester, but also provides a valuable opportunity for today's generation of activists to meet those who were campaigning on the same issues a decade ago. With the airport still at the top of the environmental agenda in Manchester, swapping stories and experiences can help us raise awareness and challenge the Airport's dangerous expansion plans."

The event is being organised in the run up to the trial of six climate activists who breached airside security at Manchester Airport last May – temporarily shutting the airport down. The four day trial begins on Monday 21st February at Trafford Magistrates Court. The defendants are charged with aggravated trespass and will plead not guilty.

"Site Battles: Second Runway at Manchester Airport” will take place on Thursday 17th February at 7.30pm at the University of Manchester Students Union. The event is free and open to members of the public.