Don’t keep calm say NO to aircraft noise

Night Flight Campaign

As a member of the London Assembly I am often contacted by Londoners about their concerns over aviation noise. I am fully aware of the distress noise causes communities as well as the detrimental impact it can have on quality of life.  My view, which is shared by my colleagues, is that amongst the many twists and turns of the aviation debate, the concerns of Londoners around noise are too frequently dismissed or regarded as secondary to other issues. 

The Mayor of London has comprehensively failed to get to grips with aviation noise.

The principle producer of noise pollution is Heathrow Airport with 28 per cent of all people in Europe affected by aircraft noise living under the Heathrow flight paths. In the last decade the problem has spread across London with disturbance now being felt up to 20 km away from the airport.  There are some parts of London that suffer noise disturbance from planes arriving and departing from London City Airport in addition to aircraft from Heathrow. This is not sustainable for a city that aspires to be, the best major city in the world to live in, as Mayor Boris Johnson set out in his recent 2020 Vision for the Capital

The response of Heathrow Airport to the concerns of Londoners has been as lacklustre as the Mayor’s own response, leaving many wondering to whom they can turn to make change happen.  Heathrow’s mitigation scheme for affected residents is much less than that offered by London City Airport.  Residents near Heathrow must wait for the noise to reach a higher decibel level than their counterparts near City Airport before they are even eligible for support. This assistance when it is provided can only ever mitigate, not eliminate, the noise distress which they experience every day of their lives. 

The first step to mitigate the issue of noise pollution must be for the Mayor to re-establish the GLA Noise Team which was shut down when the Mayor came to office. The team would be able to undertake a comprehensive update of the Mayor’s noise strategy which has not been revised in nine years.  The noise strategy would act as the foundation for a tough set of guidelines setting out the mitigation measures that airports offer and seek to create a uniform standard of measures that all airport operators could adhere to. 

The current self-regulation by the airports has failed Londoners. They have demonstrated their inability to restrain their commercial activities from having a detrimental impact on the quality of life of Londoners. The GLA Noise Team should become a statutory regulator of aviation noise mitigation schemes and act as a guarantor of the public interest. 

The work of the Airports Commission is arguably one of the most significant national inquiries into infrastructure commissioned by the government in recent decades. This is the best opportunity Londoners have had for many years to put their concerns on aviation noise to decision makers. It is critical that noise disturbance and the lack of effective mitigation measures against it are uppermost in the mind of the Commission.

I believe re-establishing the GLA Noise Team could make a real difference to the lives of millions of Londoners. Mayoral indifference coupled with the ineffective actions of the airport operators have left Londoners frustrated and disenchanted with political process. The final report of the Commission must go some way to bridge that gap. 

Noise, as well as other environmental factors, clearly swings the debate about airport capacity against any expansion of Heathrow. The London Assembly unanimously opposes Heathrow expansion in terms of either runway capacity or passenger numbers, and has called for the final report from the Airports Commission before the next general election. 

Put simply, Londoners cannot be expected to tolerate the aviation noise that blights communities on a daily basis for a moment longer. So don’t keep calm, say no to aircraft noise and don’t expect the Mayor to do anything about it.


4 thoughts on “Don’t keep calm say NO to aircraft noise

  1. Tim Henderson

    I was surprised to read in the Environmental Assessment of the planning application recently submitted to Newham to expand London City Airport that for airports, according to Planning Guidance Note 24, noise in areas with less than 57 dBA Leq is not a material consideration to be taken into account in making a decision. Many of the areas of London that suffer disturbance from aviation noise and generate annoyed complaints are outside this 16 hour summer day contour. The European Noise Directive uses the 55Lden measure which seems to mirror the affected areas more closely. Surely the guidance note should be revisited ?

    You mention areas which are affected by planes using both London City airport and Heathrow. At face value, the Environmental Assessment for City Airport completely neglects any noise contribution from Heathrow planes.

  2. Tim Henderson

    Further to your comment that the GLA Noise Team should be re-established, I note that the report

    “Effect of noise on Physical Health in London Report of Phase I – Review of Topic”

    was apparently commissioned by the GLA Noise Strategy Team in December 2007.

    The summary notes :

    “In the next phase of the project, these [exposure-response ] relationships can be applied to the specific “scenarios” of London Heathrow Airport, London City Airport and road traffic noise [using London Noise Maps etc]. A second report will present the results of these calculations to estimate of the numbers of people at cardiovascular and related health risk”

    I have been unable to find the second report. Was it commissioned ? Or is it possible that if the Noise Team has been disbanded that this work is no longer being pursued ?

    It would have been useful to inform the Health Impact Assessment accompanying the planning application for the Cranford Agreement abolition works at Heathrow [see comment on the “It’s official – Aviation noise is bad for your health!” blog post.

  3. Buford H. Walton

    The Airports Commission consultation on its aircraft noise discussion paper ended on 6th September. Gatwick airport submitted their response, which admits that expansion at Gatwick would mean the number of people impacted by noise could increased from 3,300 to 11,800. But they say they can lower the number – including use of respite periods, as at Heathrow now. The airport said one runway would be used for take-offs, and the other for landings, swapping between the two, and so giving people half a day of respite. As aircraft are increasingly able to fly an exact route, using a sort of aircraft SatNav, called PP-RNAV, flights can be concentrated along one route. The debate continues whether it is more humane to those overflown to concentrate flight paths, or to disperse them. The latter shares the misery around, so many more suffer, but to a lesser extent. However, airports judge the level of dissatisfaction by the number of people complaining, and dispersed routes mean more people complain.

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