An article in The Ecologist, Nigerian farmers win High Court victory in fight against Ekiti airport, is a story of a successful struggle against a land grab for an airport. On 2nd October 2015 the state government of Ekiti, in western Nigeria, sent in bulldozers to clear 4,000 hectares of farmland for an airport. Bulldozers were sent in and began destroying crops, without even warning the farmers, never mind making provision for compensation for their loss of land and livelihood. Affected farmers from the five affected villages fought back, organizing a protest and filing a suit.There was widespread criticism of the airport project, allocated an enormous amount of public funds in a state where many residents are impoverished. The viability of the project was dubious as many airports in Nigeria, including one in the neighbouring state, are underutilized.
The plan for Ekiti airport was not, to my knowledge, referred to as an ‘aerotropolis’. But the land area allocated, 4,000 hectares, is far more than would be required even for an enormous global hub airport (an unlikely prospect in an agrarian state). In comparison, Atlanta Airport, in the USA, the busiest passenger airport in the world handling over 100 million passengers in 2015, covers an area of about 1,600 hectares. As well as land used for airport operations.this includes considerable commercial space, such as retail and warehouses.
On 20th January 2016 farmers held a protest, storming the Ekiti airport project site and demanding that work cease immediately, in respect of the suit that they had filed. They held placards with slogans reading: “Gov Fayose, Please Leave Us Alone, Don’t Damage Our Life”, “This Land Is The Major Cocoa Plantation, Please No Trespass”, “Please Relocate Your Airport to Government Forest”, “We All Say No To Illegal Airport Project”, “Iwajo, Aso Say No To Illegal Airport”, and “Igbogun Cries Over Illegal Destruction of Our Property”. They also stated that at least ten farmers, including three women, had ‘died of shock’ caused by the destruction of their farms.
In 22nd March the Ekiti farmers secured victory in the High Court, which ordered that forcible take-over of their land for the airport was unconstitutional, illegal, null and void. But there are plans for major new airports all over Nigeria, in the states of Osun, Bayelsa, Abia, Ogun, Anambra and Nasarawa, all of which are being vigorously opposed. Citizens are calling on governments to use the vast amounts of public funds being allocated to these airports to infrastructure that will benefit ordinary people – to repair roads and bridges and support small businesses. And yet another major airport plan is looming. The Yobe state government plans to build a N6 billion (over US$30 million) cargo airport in Damaturu, to act as a gateway for investment in the state and facilitate export of meat, dairy produce and gum arabic (acacia gum). The scheme which is meeting with criticism and goes against state commitments to prioritise water supply, schools, clinics and roads to benefit local communities.
Residents of Jeju Island (South Korea) are resisting a proposed airport that would displace people from five villages. The project has been imposed on local communities without consultation, and with little consideration on how the planned influx of millions of tourists would impact on rural people. The majority of local people oppose the airport, and it is being met with a series of protests.
Onpyoung Village resident in costume, speaking as the Youngdeung Goddess at a demonstration last week. The goddess is worshipped in a rite performed by shamans each lunar February.
Indigenous residents of Jeju Island’s southeastern region are employing traditional shamanic culture to protest the airport that is slated to displace the populations of five villages. So far, the mainstream media outside of Jeju has done little to document resistance to the project. The new airport is opposed by the majority of residents in the villages affected. Hundreds of locals from Onpyoung and Sinsan villages, elderly and young alike, including middle school students, have enacted a series of demonstrations against the development.
Residents dressed as Jeju’s three founding father figures, Go, Yang and Boo, the mythical original residents of Jeju Island.
“You’re trashing our hometown and we’ll have nowhere to go.”
Farmers and women divers (haenyo) from the village gather in front…
Landholders of San Salvador Atenco, Mexico, successfully resisted plans to build a mega-airport on farmlands in 2001. In 2006, the government punished the community with a brutal police raid. The propject was revived, even larger than before, in 2014. Resistance continues, and UK based Dorset Chiapas Solidarity is urging people to write to the two UK firms that have been contracted as the airport’s architect and engineering consultant.
Leaflet distributed at the Climate Change March in Edinburgh
Defending their lands and opposing the new airport in Mexico City
On the front line of Blockadia, resisting climate change
Solidarity with the people of San Salvador Atenco
British companies are involved
In her book THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING – CAPITALISM VS THE CLIMATE, Naomi Klein writes of the central importance of Blockadia. She describes how round the globe local people are taking direct action to resist extreme extractive industries and mega-projects which cause great damage to the environment and contribute significantly to climate change. One such struggle is happening now in Mexico.
In 2001, the indigenous common landholders of San Salvador Atenco were successful in their fight against the building of a new airport in Mexico City on their ancestral farm lands. The Peoples Front in Defence of the Land (FPDT) became emblematic for their highly symbolic machetes…
Indigenous communities are protesting the expansion of Suriname’s international airport. The airport has obtained title to the neighbouring, indigenous land, and wants to expell most of the population of the Arawak villages Hollandse Kamp and Witsanti. Indigenous people reject the airport’s claim that they are the trespassers. They also protest against the airport’s dumping of untreated sewage into waterways that run through the two neigbouing Arawak villages.
Despite 500+ years of resistance, Indigenous people in Suriname are still not recognised as land owners. Suriname law doesn’t recognise collective land ownership at all. The state owns all land which is not individually owned. The government recently transfered ownership of the two indigenous villages to the state-owned International Airport of Suriname, without any consultation with the indigenous people who have lived there for generations.
For more information, contact http://www.vids.sr/
Press conference of chiefs, Hollandse Kamp, Suriname, 16 October 2015
In northern England, Leeds City Council plans to release 36.2 hectares of land to enable expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport, supporting its goal of doubling passenger numbers to 7.1 million by 2030. The land is currently designated as ‘greenbelt’ – green space surrounding urban areas that is protected from development, in order to ensure than urban dwellers have access to countryside and prevent urban sprawl. Adjacent to the airport terminal, the land in question is currently used for farming. In addition to an increase in terminal capacity to accommodate more passengers the land would be used for commercial development to support the growth of Leeds Bradford Airport – an ‘airport village’ consisting of a hotel, restaurants and shops, an air freight park and an ‘air innovation park’.
On 15th July opponents to Leeds Bradford Airport’s plans to concrete over greenbelt land gathered to protest outside the Leeds City Council Executive Board meeting which discussed the plans for a few minutes. As documented in the minutes of the meeting, attendees emphasized the Council’s continued support for expansion of the airport. The only note of caution was an assurance that consultation with ‘all relevant parties’ would be widespread and thorough.
The report proposing allocating the 36.2 hectares of greenbelt land to Leeds Bradford Airport had already been discussed at the Development Plan Panel on 26th June 2015. Its a lengthy document – 176 pages long. On page 5, the issue that land at the airport is already allocated for ’employment’ so therefore available for development, with most of it remaining under occupied, is raised. Airport supporters’ response to this point is that the scale of land allocation proposed will make it an attractive location, and it will be supported by promotion and marketing internationally to prospective tenants. Bizarrely, the supposed solution to vacant business space is supposedly to provide even larger space, and the established business space should have received more promotion and marketing support to reduce the risk of it languishing unoccupied.
It is not as if there is a shortage of business space in Leeds or Bradford. Both cities have plenty of vacant business premises, already constructed or on land with planning permission for industrial/warehouse development. An industry website lists 157 industrial properties available to rent in Leeds. The largest is a new development, Leeds Distribution Park, adjacent to Junction 47 of the M1 Motorway, with planning permission for industrial/warehouse development up to a maximum single footprint of 750,000 sq ft (17 acres). The website lists 40 industrial properties available to rent in Bradford. The largest is Bronte Business Park, boasting 16 acres of development land allocated for employment use.
Leeds Bradford Airport, and its supporters at Leeds City Council, aims to support commercial development on greenbelt land with more than just promotion and marketing. They are angling for ‘Mini-Enterprise Zone’ status, as stated on the the document submitted to the Development Plan Panel, see page 13. This is already in place elsewhere in England, including at Manchester and Newquay airports. Designation as an ‘Enterprise Zone’ is a subsidy, as tenants are gifted a Business Rate tax exemption of up to £275,000 per eligible business. This tax break is unfair and unwarranted preferential treatment for tenants that are fortunate to be in the Enterprise Zone. In the case of airports, space in the Enterprise Zone is granted to businesses that are aviation dependent, thus maximizing use of the airport’s passenger and/or cargo facilities and facilitating airport growth.
Businesses which do locate in the Enterprise Zone may not even create jobs, as firms will be incentivized to relocate from other premises in order to take advantage of the tax break. The argument that the airport-linked commercial development will boost the economy for neighbouring communities and the wider region, which the proponents of the project are most insistent about, is flawed. The shops, restaurant and hotel that are planned would result in air passengers spending more of their time, and money, on airport land, instead of stimulating economic activity in Leeds Bradford Airport’s host community.
Another aspect of the rationale for commercial development on green space is to strengthen the case for more ‘surface access’ to Leeds Bradford Airport. This means construction of another road link, a dual carriageway from the A65 in Rawdon to the A658. It would not come cheap and taxpayers would have to foot the bill. It is anticipated that public sector funding will be confirmed for the new link road. The route of this road plan is not revealed. Figure 13 in the report discussed by the Development Plan Panel entitled ‘Indicative Alignment of New LBIA Road Link’ is not actually included in the report, it is ‘TBC’, left blank. Already, Rawdon Greenbelt Action Group is campaigning against the link road; they are concerned that enormous swathes of greenbelt land will be damaged or lost altogether, along with the special landscape character of the area.
Leeds Bradford Airport’s ‘airport city’ plans are a smaller scale version of aerotropolis development that is already underway across the Pennine hills, at Manchester Airport. This is opposed by the Stop Expansion at Manchester Airport campaign group. There is also a Facebook page. Airport-linked business premises is being constructed on land formerly designated as ‘greenbelt’ and, under the guise of alleviating traffic congestion, construction of a link road, costing £290 million in public funds, has commenced. Calling the road a ‘relief road’ does not disguise the fact that it is designed to increase traffic to and from the airport. Most recently, hundreds of residents of High Lane village in Stockport, on the route of the new road, turned up to an exhibition to express their concerns over increased air pollution, noise and vibration from heavy vehicles.
There is strong opposition to aerotropolis development on green space, and associated road infrastructure, at both Leeds Bradford and Manchester airports. Linking up these campaigns will strengthen them.
On 10th April 7,000 farmers protested against land acquisition for a ‘greenfield airport’ (on an undeveloped site) in the Vizianagaram district, near the town of Bhogapuram, on the northern coast of Andhra Pradesh. Farmers are concerned that the airport will deprive them of their lands and livelihood. The video below shows news footage of the protest. It is in the Andhra Pradesh language, Telugu, but the visuals are revealing. After 45 seconds of captions there are crowd scenes along with speakers, and is it is worth watching to get an impression of the scale and spirit of the demonstration.
The land that the government intends to acquire, a full 60 square kilometres, constitutes more than half of the 105 square kilometres of farmland in Bhogapuram. In early April it was reported that opposition to land acquisition was mounting. People from 16 villages were gearing up for a major protest and planning to blockade a major road, the NH-16 arterial highway between Chennai and Kolkata, even though they were informed by police that anyone participating in the roadblock would be arrested. An all-party meeting of villagers also decided to prevent officials from entering their villages. Senior officials had already tried to enter the village of Chakivalasa but the residents forced them to retreat. They chanted slogans like ‘don’t want airport’ and ‘go back’ and demanded improvements to vital amenities including water, housing and roads.
On 10th April farmers protested outside government offices demanding cancellation of the airport project. The number of demonstrators – 7,000 – far exceeded the 3-4,000 that had been anticipated. Several political parties supported the protesters, who were adamant that they will not give up their fertile farmland. The protest was peaceful. Demonstrators defied the police arrest threat over the roadblock plans, bringing traffic on the NH-16 highway to a halt for over an hour.
Villagers, dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, from their land which would be lost if the airport project goes ahead, accused the district administration of failing to inform them of the detail of the airport plans, including how much land would be taken from each of the villages. They are concerned that they may be forced to give up their land, and that the prices offered to farmers would be low, as has already been witnessed in nearby districts in the region where the government is attempting to acquire farmland for a new capital city for Andhra Pradesh. Karottu Satyam, president of the Bhogapuram mandal (administrative district) told reporters that ‘The government is literally pushing us onto the roads’.
The area of land the Andhra Pradesh state government intends to acquire for the airport project is vast: 60 square kilometres. The Times of India reported that the plan is actually for an aerotropolis, an airport surrounded by commercial development. Government sources stated that the 60 square kilometre site would be divided into three sections: 20 square kilometres to be set aside for the airport, 20 square kilometres for servicing aircraft i.e. an MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) facility and an aviation academy and 20 square kilometres would be given back to the farmers as ‘developed plots’. An area of 20 square kilometres for the airport itself is even larger than the world’s busiest passenger airport, Atlanta Airport in Georgia, US, which handed more than 96 million passengers in 2014 and covers just over 15 square kilometres of land. 20 square kilometres is far more than would be required for an MRO and aviation academy, so no doubt considerable commercial development such as retail, tourism, residential and industrial facilities are planned.
The 20 square kilometres that would be given back to the farmers would be under a system called ‘land pooling’. This entails acquiring land for development by pooling parcels of land from a number of landowners. Developers then receive a large portion of the land for further real estate development. The remainder is divided into plots which are allocated to landowners, possibly with the addition of compensation for loss of agricultural income. Ajay Jain, State Energy and Infrastructure Secretary attempted to assure farmers that they would benefit from the airport project, recognizing that farmers who gave up their land for Hyderabad Airport were ‘short-changed’ because the price of the land ‘skyrocketed’ shortly after it was acquired.
But it is understandable that attempts at assuring farmers facing loss of their land for the aerotropolis are being met with scepticism. The land pooling system has already been used for acquisition of enormous tracts of fertile agricultural land, 120 square kilometres, for a planned new Andhra Pradesh capital city. The Deccan Herald described land pooling for the new city as a ‘reign of terror over the villagers/landowners’ belying government insistence that completion of the land acquisition process has been smooth and voluntary. Once farmers have signed legal documents the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) can take possession of the land, develop it, sell it and raise loans by mortgaging it. Evidence that the new city plans are a pretext for a land grab, primarily aimed at benefiting real estate developers, is compounded by the fact that none of the necessary clearances for the new city, such as social and environmental impact assessments, have been complied with, casting serious doubts over the feasibility of the enormously ambitious scheme.
There have been major protests against the land pooling process. On a recent visit to Rayapudi village in the Guntur district Medha Patkar, co-founder of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), described land pooling as ‘land fooling‘, a ‘corporate conspiracy meant to grab the farmers’ land and deprive them of their livelihood’. People face removal from land they had lived on for many generations, and it will have a ‘genocidal’ effect on the rural economy. Farmers she had met with in several villages told her that they had been forced to sign consent forms for handing over land, which they were offered a mere ‘pittance’ for. Some farmers were left deprived of their only source of income. Patkar said that the CRDA land acquisition procedure is an illegal infringement of people’s rights and retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer MG Devasahayam dubbed the CRDA the ‘Capital Real Estate Development Agency’.
Already, the real estate boom predicted by critics of the airport project is reported in Bhogapuram. Real estate developers are flocking to the area as the price of land has escalated at least fourfold.