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27 February 2008

Making planes on Parliament

We talk to a member of Plane Stupid, which mounted a protest against Heathrow's third runway from th

By Paul Evans

Richard George, a member of Plane Stupid – which this morning staged a rooftop protest at the Palace of Westminster – passed much of the morning making paper aeroplanes.

He said the group had managed to penetrate Parliament in what will be seen as a serious security breach by pretending they were attending a debate and then slipping away, accessing the roof via a fire escape.

Having unfurled their banners, declaring ‘No 3rd RUNWAY’ he told by phone from the demonstration on the top of Parliament that there wasn’t much else to do.

“Greenpeace used a Freedom of Information request to secure a document showing that BAA wrote a section of the consultation on Heathrow’s third runway. So we made paper aeroplanes out of it.”

The group are protesting at what they regard as the “shockingly anti-democratic” nature of the public consultation, which ends today – and at Gordon Brown’s refusal to make aviation a priority in the government’s climate change strategy.

Explaining why the group took to Parliament’s roof, he cites the inadequacy of the consultation process.

“We’ve tried using the consultation, and we looked for the question asking ‘do you want a runway?’ There isn’t one.”

“Personally, I’d rather be at work than on the roof, but it’s their arrogance that’s pushed it on us.”

George acknowledges that highly visible direct action of this kind can be alienating to the public, conceding: “some people might be put off, and I wish that wasn’t the case. But how else can we do it?”

“This is a government that prides itself on consistently ignoring the public. In a sense, we’re the most democratic people here.”

Plane Stupid has a track record of involvement in such stunts, having previously blocked the entrance to Manchester Airport, and attempted an occupation of Easyjet’s offices.

On this occasion though, the group represents the most visible faction in a broad anti-runway coalition – earlier this week Greenpeace climbed a plane at Heathrow in protest over the same issue. Those opposing the development include the four leading candidates for Mayor of London, and many of the affected west London boroughs.

The group of protesters remained until after Gordon Brown’s arrival for weekly Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, during which he condemned the group.

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