Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Sipson may or may not be a community I don't want to hear people banging on about how cosy and convivial is the village of Sipson. The village is in the news because a brain-free decision by the UK government today means that if appeals fail, it will be buried under Heathrow's proposed third runway. (The decision ultimately could be close to suicidal for this government because the opposition is bound to attract votes for vowing to reverse the decision if elected). I like what the BBC have done here in bringing the views of local people to the foreground, and I've been listening to radio reports where, with an echo of doom, residents celebrate the existing sense of community. I came across a note on London RIP from an apprentice reporter whose patch included Sipson in the 1980s: Just a few fields away from the airport, the villages then were bucolic dots on the very edge of London. Old (Harmondsworth boasts a 11th century church and ancient barn) and surprisingly quiet (no detention centre there then), they coexisted uneasily with the airport – which was much resented by old-timers for apparently never having had planning permission in the first place. It started off as an airstrip in World War One and just growed and growed. My job involved spending hours tramping around the villages to find news stories to fill the paper every week. This was a truly epic struggle. Cat up tree was big news in Sipson and Harmondsworth at the time. The debate has polarised around environmental concerns and national economic competitiveness. But there are other axes, particularly the line beyond which broader national priorities can trump local community concerns, or indeed individual private rights. In Sipson there is a man in his 90s who refuses to move: I wish him many more years in his chosen, legitimate place. And I hope that confrontational anti-expansion campaigners with global perspectives will show due respect for the residents' own, locally-focussed campaign. People live here, and don't you forget it. But the emphasis on Sipson as a cheerful, close-knit village bothers me, because it seems to imply that without this sense of community, verifiable by visiting journalists, the place - and the people who live there - wouldn't matter. But it would, as long as people wanted to live there. The image is by Stephen Hird for Reuters and I found it here.

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