THE Prime Minister is to be invited to visit a parish in Middlesex, most of which could end up beneath the third runway at Heathrow.
The Vicar of Harmondsworth, Canon Amatu Christian-Iwuagwu, believes that Theresa May, as the daughter of an Anglican priest, will understand how to help the community face the Government’s announcement this week of the expansion of London’s main airport. “She is a vicarage girl,” he said on Tuesday. “She understands what it means to be in a parish. Perhaps she can help me to provide support to these people here.”
If the proposals favoured by the Government go ahead, his parish to the north of the existing Heathrow runways faces being all but swept away. While the 12th-century Grade II* church of St Mary the Virgin will escape the bulldozers, up to 700 homes — about half the village — will be demolished.
”If the church remains but the people go, it becomes a museum,” he said. “The church is just a building: the Church of God is the people gathering together to worship God. If the people go, there is no church.”
He said that he welcomed the fact that a decision had been made after decades of speculation. “I wanted a Yea or Nay so people can decide what they are going to do, and be prepared to face the consequences.
”People wanted the Government to make a decision so they could decide what to do with their houses: all of them are blighted. Some have moved away from the parish, the congregation is down from about
45 to 25 regular attenders.”
He said that, as parish priest, his remit had been to hold the community together. “It is not a usual parish,” he said. “It is a parish of tension and worry, and the outcome of that is anger. Sometimes people argue in the middle of services. Some people want to talk about it; others don’t, because they are very anxious, particularly the elderly.
”They are concerned about having to move: some even thought they would be kicked out the day after the announcement. Now the decision has been made, they at least know which is the direction forward. We now have certainty — and we know who our enemies are.”
On Tuesday evening, after the announcement, Canon Christian-Iwuagwu held a service of hope in St Mary’s, to pray for spiritual guidance. “Even people who do not normally attend church are coming. There is no other place to run to. They come to ask God for a sense of direction.”
East of the airport, the Team Rector of Richmond, the Revd Wilma Roest, said that people were “really disappointed” by the decision. “They are deeply concerned about the physical- and mental-health issues that a third runway might bring: the effects on climate and air pollution, and of night flights and noise levels.
”The difficulty is that there will not be a final decision until 2017/18. So there is going to be another year of insecurity. People are worried about what that means. Living with that is very hard. A lot of our people here are not young any more. Not knowing what the future is going to bring is frightening for them. But the Church is one of the places that can hold a community together. It becomes quite important in times of insecurity and when people are unsettled.”
West of the airport, in Windsor, the local authority is threatening court action to stop the development. The Team Rector, the Revd Ainsley Swift, said: “Everybody knew it was pretty inevitable, and they are hoping it isn’t too much more intrusive. We are already woken up at four in the morning as flights begin to arrive, but there are places worse off than us.”
On Tuesday evening, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith, a long-time campaigner against Heathrow expansion, resigned his seat in the Commons, triggering a by-election. He will stand as an anti-airport-expansion independent.
Simon Dudley, leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council, said: “Our residents will suffer a substantial loss of quality of life, with many impacts, including additional intolerable noise affecting more people, increased number of planes flying overhead, worse air quality, increased traffic, and likely housing and infrastructure problems.”