Noise & air pollution critical to the aviation debate

Mr Singh, Stephen Knight AM and myself experiencing the noise levels over Cranford during out recent site visit

At the heart of the debate over aviation expansion is the balancing act between the demands of business against the negative impact of expansion on the quality of life for residents affected by increasing noise and pollution.

Earlier this month, the Health and Environment Committee visited Cranford, which sits just a mile away from the eastern end of the Heathrow runways.  There, I spoke to a local resident called Mr Singh.  Both Mr Singh and his wife work at Heathrow Airport.  In many respects their future, like the future of many of their neighbours, are tied to the success of the airport. Yet Mr Singh opposes expansion at Heathrow.

The reason is clear – expanding Heathrow would be catastrophic to the quality of life for residents like Mr Singh. If Heathrow were expanded, the interests of local residents would be jettisoned to serve the interests of big business.

The London Assembly Health and Environment Committee’s submission to the Draft Aviation Policy Framework addresses this balancing act.  It seeks to secure jobs at airports like Heathrow but at no additional cost to residents’ quality of life.

It is clear to us on the London Assembly Health and Environment Committee that local environmental problems, such as noise and air pollution, are the primary concerns for Londoners in the aviation debate.

On noise, we need independent oversight of airport noise management, including over the mitigation and compensation measures airports offer to residents. It is not good enough for airports themselves to undertake this responsibility. The consequence of this is a postcode lottery where different operators offer different mitigation schemes with different trigger values and area coverage.

We want the government to address the need for consistency across London.

Studies on air quality, such as the recent report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, confirm the findings of our previous report Plane Speaking, published in March 2012 on the impact of poor air quality on life expectancy.  The submission reaffirms the recommendations from this previous investigation.

On global environmental issues such as carbon emissions, the committee heard that at best the inclusion of aviation within the European Union Emissions Trading System (EST) is a short term solution. Even if international agreements and technological innovation progress at the desired pace, ETS would require unrealistic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from life style change and other sectors of economy to make up for the C02 not being cut by the aviation sector.

In this respect, the premise that “we could cover the whole of Surreywith runways and not increase emissions by a single kilogram”, as stated by Tim Yeo MP, Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, is out of kilter with the evidence presented by the experts to this committee.

But not only do his comments overestimate the effectiveness of the ETS, they fail to take on board the main concerns Londoners have about aviation – noise and air pollution.