Heathrow Blue

Heathrow Blue

Almost a hundred years ago today, my mother would have been walking home from the local grammar school where she was taking a course in shorthand and typing (now its an FE college and they mainly teach hairdressing) and had she looked up on a day like the one I took this picture, just a couple of miles distant, she would have seen (as the weather forecast had promised me) a clear blue sky, with not a wisp of cloud. She might have been on her way to help her father at his market garden, though more likely going home to help here mother in the kitchen.

A mile or two to the north, my father – if he was on one of his rare days off from work – might have been cycling on the quiet country lanes between the orchards of Heath Row, a hamlet in the south-west of Middlesex. The chickens might be making a bit of noise, and there would be the occasional clip clop of hooves on the stony parts of the dusty roadway. The bees would have been buzzing, birds singing, and as he neared the Bath Road, there might be the occasional car or lorry disturbing the peace

September 24th when I took the picture above was a beautiful day, and I’d been sitting out in the yard a the back of my house eating my lunch. I’d been trying to listen to the radio, but had missed the odd vital word drowned out by an air-plane passing overhead. Luckily for us, building Terminal 4 blocked one of the airport’s six runways and the noise we used to suffer a few days a year when strong crosswinds made the main East-West runways difficult is no longer. We now live away from the flightpath and the noise is no longer deafening, and our windows seldom rattle, but is still occasionally loud enough to make conversation difficult.

Those lanes through Heath Row are of course long gone, though not far away (and threatened by impossible plans for new runways) a few remnants of the past remain. But the lanes couldn’t bear the traffic to the airport and we now have the M25 and the M4 (and not far away the M3) and together with the airport they now provide some of the most polluted air in Western Europe. On some roads the smell of petrol is such you feel you could run a car on air alone.

The weather forecast had promised a clear blue sky. I drained my lunchtime coffee, looked up and saw it. D700, 16-35 at 16mm, 1/400 f10 ISO 200. Heathrow Blue.


Within a few days of making this picture, an envelope came through my door with what purported to be a questionnaire from an organisation that styled itself as ‘Back Heathrow: the grassroots campaign.’ It had none of the feel of a grassroots campaign, and the approach was clearly skewed to be part of a campaign for the expansion of Heathrow.

I wasn’t surprised to read later from Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East of England, that this was a part of a PR campaign run by Robert Gray – the founding director of lobby group ‘The Aviation Foundation’. The group was established by four of the biggest companies in the UK industry: BAA, British Airways, Manchester Airports Group and Virgin Atlantic.

Heathrow occupies a little over 12 square kilometres in the west of London. It was in the wrong place from the day it was built as an entirely unneeded military air field (because a civil airport would have been unlikely to have got permission), and certainly by the time I was watching the planes flying over my back garden to land there. Successive governments failed to grasp the nettle and provide London with a new airport to replace it, though we do have Gatwick, Stanstead, Luton and the ridiculous London City as well.

‘Back Heathrow’ stresses the large number of jobs that Heathrow provides in the area, while failing to consider that there would be little change in this if extra and runway were built at Gatwick or Stanstead.

Perhaps it’s time for some real blue sky thinking. I’ve long felt that there are better uses of 12 square kilometres of outer London, though there is no real possibility of turning back the clock to its fruitful agricultural past. Housing (we are desperately short), industry, shops, schools… The terminal buildings are essentially shopping centres now (if with nothing I want to buy), but some could perhaps be converted into proper shopping centres. Much though I’d hate to see a Westfield Heathrow, it would be considerably less environmentally damaging than an airport.

Development of a site this large would provide many new jobs, perhaps even as many as the airport closure would mean were lost to the area – and many of those that ‘Back Heathrow’ includes would in any case remain were the airport to go. I hope that others who receive the mailing will see it in its true colours as ‘Cack Heathrow’ too.

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