diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Random borough (9): Hillingdon (part 3)

Somewhere historic: Harmondsworth
Harmondsworth is a small village located on flat meadowland just under a mile north of Heathrow airport. It's not historic in the sense that William the Conqueror built a castle here or that Henry VIII stopped by to cure the locals of dropsy, but it is still a very old village. St Mary's Church dates back to the 12th century and its Norman doorway is one of the finest in London. Nextdoor there's a golden-brown tithe barn, reputedly the largest in the country (although I grew up in a different village which also claimed the same thing, so I'd take that with a pinch of salt). Harmondsworth therefore boasts one scheduled ancient monument and several Grade II listed buildings, all gathered around a triangular village green with a couple of pubs and a few sweet asymmetrical cottages. Most historic. For now, anyway.

Because not even the giant Terminal 5 is expected to be enough to feed Heathrow Airport's future expansion, so a sixth terminal and a third runway will most likely be required. Original plans for the third runway (published in 2003) saw the wholesale destruction of Harmondsworth village. Church - razed. Tithe barn - relocated. Quaint village green - tarmacked. And all so that international business could expand, long distance freight traffic could increase and you and I could fly abroad more often. Tough decision. But then last year, after a major public outcry, BAA amended their plans slightly. They still plan to build their new runway except fractionally further east, so now only the northeastern corner of the village is scheduled for demolition. Like the areas pictured below, for example.



The first picture shows part of Harmondsworth Moor - in twenty years' time thunderous aeroplanes will be taking off on the new runway across this field. The second shows one of the many existing houses under threat - this very spot will form the western end of a new taxiway. And the third shows a field immediately to the east of Hatch Lane - the new terminal 6 is destined to be plonked right here. Not good. And not good for the rest of the village left behind either. Although all of the listed buildings will survive, noise levels beside the end of the new runway will be quite unbearable. Nobody's going to want to live here beside the perimeter fence, not quite this close to an umpteen decibel blast every couple of minutes. Every house will be blighted, so when the new runway opens BAA might as well have knocked down the whole village anyway.

It was surprisingly quiet in Harmondsworth on Saturday afternoon. The graveyard around the church was deserted, apart from the odd bumblebee. The tables outside the Five Bells pub were packed with hordes of good-natured unwashed student types with sculpted hair and piercings. An old lady in a sari sat down in the bus shelter on Holloway Lane and smiled across the street. One front lawn in Hatch Lane was busy receiving its first lawnmower trim of the season. A courting couple disappeared with intent down a heavily willowed path into Bateman's Orchard. The cattle on Harmondsworth Moor just stood and watched it all. And, in the distance, the planes taking off at the airport were clearly audible but never overly intrusive. It's strange to think that this peace could be shattered so utterly and irrevocably, and all for the benefit of people who'd never think of visiting Harmondsworth otherwise. Still, it has a better future than the neighbouring village of Sipson which is still due for complete eradication if the third runway gets the go-ahead. The last village round here which suffered a similar fate had the rather quaint name of 'Heath Row'. And who remembers that nowadays?
by bus: U3

the environmental impact of Runway 3 (FoE)
map of proposed airport expansion
local 'Five villages' campaigning blog
route of Runway 3 flightpath (bad news for Chelsea, Hammersmith and Brentford)
existing Heathrow flightpaths for takeoffs
HACAN ClearSkies - campaigning against Heathrow noise pollution


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