If respite is the answer, what is the question?

11/9/16

Guest blog by Chris Keady

you can reach the full HACAN website on www.hacan.org.uk 

If respite is the answer, what is the question?

Pick one of the following:

  1. ‘I’m not sure’,
  2. it depends who one asks; or
  3. am I bothered?

Before those desperate for respite, and about to explode with rage at this point, thinking this is some anti respite piece, don’t worry, it’s not. It is clear to anyone with a conscience that some people, and some communities, are desperate for relief from what is often unremitting aircraft noise, and it is only right that this is resolved. Respite designed and applied well, therefore, has a key role to play in current and future regimes, but it is not a panacea.

The point of the rhetorical question, therefore, is not to encourage discord, but to encourage a brief pause for reflection, and even further essential adjustment in the approach, and scope of the remedies available. As we shall see later the concept of ‘respite plus’ has developed to address the parts respite doesn’t, and as a response to serious Mental Health concerns arising from concentrated aircraft noise. The origins of the solution must not be lost in the race to transform airspace as the very people it was initially designed to support will have been betrayed and lives will be lost.

But what is respite anyway?

It has already been hinted at. Respite is a period of rest, or relief from something difficult or unpleasant.  The term is often used in the context of care giving, where carers are typically given a short break to recharge their batteries before resuming their duties and facing the world again.

In recent years, however, the term has been adopted by the aviation industry and applied as a means of providing a break for communities from incessant and particularly concentrated aircraft noise. It is increasingly seen as an essential element in the airspace redesign toolkit, particularly when introducing new flight paths. It is often used as a means of promoting the new arrangements.

The aviation industry has also learned from unsuccessful implementations of concentrated flight paths abroad, that respite is not an optional extra. In several instances respite has had to be introduced following the roll out of brutal concentrated flight path regimes, where there was little or no consideration for the lives or health of the overflown, who were considered ‘fair game’ or merely collateral damage. This was, and remains, unacceptable.

But while respite may be regarded as essential in addressing the toxic effects of concentrated flight path noise it is not the last word on the subject. For example “What does respite ‘look’ like in practice?”, ”What does it sound like?”,                 “How long should it be provided for ?“,  “How frequently should it be provided for? “, “Who should receive it?” ,“Why? “, and “When” and “How should ‘respite plus’ be applied?”.

Respite Plus and Hot Spots

These were concepts first publicly aired at the Aircraft Noise and Mental Health seminar held at the House of Commons earlier this year (July 2016). The concepts were particularly set within the context of new flight paths, and solutions necessary to address the ‘noise vulnerable’, and people, for example, with serious pre-existing mental health conditions. Effectively many were ‘unexploded bombs’ ready to be triggered by new flight path regimes, with potentially fatal consequences. These concerns were well–founded, and supported, for example, by several published European studies on ‘noise vulnerable’, and depression, and first-hand accounts.

Respite plus’, was therefore a response to the scope of respite, and other factors coming together, creating a ‘perfect storm’. Invariably ‘hotspots’ were at the eye of the storm, although they were often under the radar. This anomaly arose, as they could often be lost in noise contours as noise was perceived and treated as an average. Typically such hotspots might, for example, consist of two or more converging low altitude flight paths, and up to 500, noisy, over flights; although other nightmare permutations were also possible.

A brief period of respite in such circumstances would be inadequate and too late for pre-existing seriously depressed, for example, as they would most likely have been tipped into crisis before the intensely concentrated noise subsided, and a brief respite period was ushered in. Also if they suffered from hypertension (known to be badly affected by concentrated aviation noise) the health risk would fall off the Richter scale, and hence the need for ‘Respite Plus’.

There are three main components (stages) to ‘Respite Plus’:

1) Stage 1: ‘Double Take’. This is essentially a highly localised risk impact assessment that drills down to an identified (or flagged up) serious health risk. This may occur, for example, where two or even three (new) concentrated flight paths converge at low level above a home(s).

As already noted these may deliver c. 500 noise events a day, perhaps from 4.30 am through until midnight (aircraft won’t always fly to timetable). The noise will be intense, and seep into poorly insulated homes, disturbing sleep, and wellbeing. Every event will trigger a physiological ‘flight or fight’ response, whether this is consciously acknowledged, or not. And the sheer size and number of aircraft, and close proximity to some peoples’ homes, will negatively impact on local skyscapes and amenity. This will hardly improve the physical or mental health and wellbeing of those affected, or their ability to move.

When one has struggled back from the abyss, the very bowels of very serious mental ill health, has learned to live and believe again after years of rehabilitation and support from family and loved ones, it is incredibly worrying and destabilising when one realises that airspace change may literally kill you, as pre-existing health conditions rapidly deteriorate.

It is perhaps instructive to note that while it is known that concentrated flight paths may cause depression, there is no idea about what a safe noise ‘dose’ is, although ‘once in a lifetime airspace change’ is being ushered in without a shred of concern about this. This can’t be right. But 500 daily low altitude noise events, in the scenario described, isn’t safe. Yet if these same aircraft were at 4,000 feet or more, then the experience and impact would, perhaps, be significantly less bad. Perhaps one can  begin to see the problem?

But in view of the above, and in the absence of an impartial arbiter/Ombudsman, ‘double take’ provides a challenge, and a crucial opportunity to adjust flight paths, where possible, to ameliorate risk, and to distribute noise more equitably locally.

This approach is more humane than the touted ‘fewest people’ approach to flight path design, which seeks to minimise the number of people affected by noise, which typically compresses and concentrates noise into a smaller footprint – dumping more noise on fewer people. This takes no account of the misery, blight and ill health such an over-concentrated approach will have. Instead, any review of such ‘hotspots’ should reconsider redesign opportunities using a ‘least harm’ test. Thus by adjusting, or modestly tweaking, converging flight paths it should be possible to share the noise impact more equitably within the local community. Thus the net effect of a ‘least harm’ approach may be to increase the number of people affected from, say 1000 to 1012 people, but this would share the noise more fairly while saving lives. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t this fairer and more humane?

The ‘double take’ review may be triggered, for example, by a consultant psychiatrist in the case of noise vulnerable people, who suffer from serious pre-existing mental health conditions, and who have been assessed as being at serious risk of harm if significant change occurs in their environment. As mentioned earlier there may be other permutations, but this was considered a priority, and one has to start somewhere.

2) Stage 2: passive noise mitigation solutions                

If significant residual noise impacts remain after attempts at Stage 1 to review and adjust flight path(s) on a ‘least harm’ basis, then Stage 2 triggers the scoping, specification and provision of passive mitigation solutions.

Those affected will be actively involved in the process once an acoustic survey identifies the extent of any problem, and the possible design options (choices) have been defined.

The solutions may be enhanced / prioritised in the case of serious pre-existing physical (e.g. hypertension) and/or mental health conditions which are known to be adversely affected by aviation noise. In some cases both conditions may co-exist, significantly increasing the risk of premature death. Thus a health/noise impact assessment should surface and apply a multiplier to this very significant risk so that appropriate measures are put in place to address it.

The standard components of any solution are likely to be acoustic insulation (various types), and acoustic secondary or double/triple glazing. What matters will be what works, but those affected should be treated as customers with choices rather than involuntary consumers of aviation pollution. So colour of double/triple glazing, for example, may matter to some (may not all want white), and the aesthetics will matter, quite probably, in some, more sensitive cases.

Other products may include:  external roof window shutters, acoustically glazed roof window sashes (minus ventilation flaps), acoustic window and door shutters (internal), acoustic screens (glass/other), acoustic panels (internal/external) to absorb noise, air conditioning units main rooms (when windows and doors can’t be opened), and acoustic baffles for window, bathroom, and roof vents

Some people will no doubt look at this list and roll their eyes, but if one thinks about the worst health-affected initially, perhaps, and walk in their shoes for a moment,     ill-founded prejudiced attitudes may change.

Once the noise mitigation products have been installed there should be a post implementation audit to ensure that noise reduction objectives have been met, before certifying as such. This certification is important in that it ‘designs in’ quality thresholds that have to be met and signed off. They may offer some peace of mind about the effectiveness of the installations.

Often finance is used as a reason to do nothing. With toxic concentrated flight paths and known serious pre-existing health risks, this isn’t an option. Many feel the industry is under-taxed, and there is considerable scope to consider increasing Air Passenger Duty, levying VAT on zero-rated aviation fuel, or introducing a concentrated flight path tax (perhaps even top-slicing efficiency savings, by definition, derived from the overflown). There is a (strong) argument to hypothecate some of the tax levied to allow the airports to spend it on measures such as ‘respite plus’.

3) Stage 3: Moving on

This stage applies where the earlier stages fail to resolve the noise impact, and health is seriously compromised, or is likely to be seriously compromised in this instance, in the case, for example, of qualifying pre-existing health conditions. By ‘seriously compromised’ one means a serious and imminent health risk, which unaddressed may result in death.

The scheme, in the case of an owner occupier, would address the pre and post flight path change value, if any, as this is what will potentially lock people into a location that is killing them, as without support, they will be unable to escape. So if pre and post flight value difference was, say £100k, then e.g. if 75% was paid as redress, a further ‘top up’, low rate loan would be extended for the balance This loan could then be charged to the new property the person/household would be able to move to, and then repaid on death, sale or assignment, thus contributing to the cost of the ‘moving on’ scheme. The higher the exit barriers for ‘at risk’ individuals the greater the emotional, psychological and physiological damage and potential for catastrophe. In short, people need the possibility of a viable exit strategy, even if they don’t take it. They need hope and a safety net.

It is conceivable that an equivalent scheme can be developed for those in private rented or social housing so as to ensure an inclusive approach.

The benefit and possibility of ‘moving on’ for the worst affected can’t be under estimated. These people will not be solely those around the perimeter of airports, but will be stuck under low altitude highly concentrated flight paths, perhaps even under a ‘hot spot’ where two or more such flight paths converge, as described earlier.

Such a scheme is affordable, and unless the envisaged scope is unrealistically widened, is very much necessary – in fact it is essential – and ‘doable’.

There is a strategic role here too for a housing body to work with the airport, local authorities and significantly affected others, to develop schemes which liberate people from ‘landlocked’ overflown properties. Properties could be repurposed, exchanged as collateral with Housing Associations for alternative homes, amongst other things. Everyone has a responsibility to think and work outside the box to ensure that those who may have to struggle with new and extraordinary aircraft noise are given hope and options, rather than an imminent and very likely death sentence.

Why HACAN backs respite

Respite: Desirable? Practicable? Inevitable?

Here are some thoughts on why HACAN is backing respite.

People under the landing flight path in West London have had respite since the 1970s.  Planes landing at Heathrow switch runways at 3pm to give people a half day’s break from the noise.  Our members in West London tell us that this is what makes life bearable for them and, in the past, have taken to the streets to defend it.

For as long as I’ve been involved with HACAN ( since late 1990s), people under the approach path west of the airport – in places like Windsor – have lobbied for the end of the Cranford Agreement so they could get rid of all-day flying and get the respite enjoyed by West London.  With Cranford coming to an end, that will happen.

For almost as long, people in South East London have been calling for some respite from the noise.  Since 1996 when the point at which many more planes were guided on to their final approach path several miles further east than previously, areas like Peckham, Clapham and the Oval rarely get less than 20 planes an hour and can get over 40. (It also applies to places like Henley to the west of the airport when an east wind is blowing).  It is not pure concentration.  There is still an element of dispersal, particularly the further east you go.  But, judging from the emails and phone calls HACAN has got for well over a decade, people don’t like it.  The overwhelming demand is for periods of respite – predicable breaks from the noise – even if that means concentration at other times.  HACAN reflects this view in calling for respite.

I accept that the experience of some people under the departure routes is different.  For many years take-offs were dispersed across the Noise Preferential Route (NPRs) which have been in place since the 1960s.  Over the last decade or so aircraft technology enabled planes to be concentrated more and more on the centre-line of the NPRs.  Again, reflecting the views of our members and supporters, HACAN has always opposed this concentration.

Its impact became more apparent to more people during the 2014 trials when certain areas, like Teddington and Ascot, were bombarded with concentrated routes.  Living under them was sheer hell for many people and, even though the trials have ended, the experience has lead people to call for dispersal of the departures.

The question which must be faced is whether new technology makes some element of concentration inevitable for both landings and departures.  The technology allows for aircraft to be guided much more precisely.  It would enable concentrated routes to be introduced at every airport.  That would save the airlines money and fuel and bring some relatively small reduction in the amount of CO2 emitted by each aircraft.  It would also reduce the number of air traffic controllers that would be required.  And, if coordinated across continents (as is beginning to happen), it would make more effective use of airspace.

Given these advantages to the industry, there is worldwide momentum to it happening.  It will drive the UK Government’s consultation on airspace changes later this year.  As campaigners, we have to ask ourselves:  can we stop this (even if we wanted to)?  In my view, it would require local residents to protest at airports around the world on a scale never before seen.  I am not at all sure that is going to happen.

The alternative is to embrace the new technology and ensure it works in favour of residents as well as the industry.  To prevent what happened in n America where brutally concentrated routes were introduced, very much at the expense of residents..  Under pressure from the residents a lot of the airports are being forced to row back and introduce an element of respite.  But the principle of precision navigation remains; it is simply being accompanied by respite.

Nearly a decade ago HACAN saw the danger of what could happen if pure concentration was introduced.  We therefore started a long, strategic lobbying campaign to forestall it by ensuring the respite became an option engrained in Government policy and put in practice in a meaningful way at Heathrow.  We also knew from the emails we received from members and supporters who were getting dozens of planes an hour that they believed the new technology could work for them if it shared the burden.

And by sharing the burden they did not mean putting it to new areas.  Let me give an example of how it could work in South East London.  Aircraft could go over the Bermondsey, Vauxhall close to the river for a third of the day; the central area of Peckham and Stockwell for another third; and over Brixton Hill to the south for the final third of the day.  All areas currently overflown.  I stress this is just an example.  But, if it was feasible, so many residents tell us it would improve their lives immeasurably.  Some tell us that it would be the difference between staying where they and moving house.

Of course all this has to be tested to see if it is practicable.  And also how far apart flight paths need to be to provide meaningful respite from the noise.  That is why we are backing Heathrow’s decision to commission an independent study into what respite could look like. (The study will be ready next year).  Heathrow, I believe, want to get future flight paths (and flight paths will change with or without a third runway) to work for both the industry and residents.  That is our position also.

Jock Lowe, the former Concorde pilot, who is heading up the Heathrow Hub bid, has promoting innovative curved approaches to Heathrow.  They have real potential to increase the amount of respite any one community can enjoy.  Some in the industry have cast doubts about the feasibility of all Jock’s ideas but few deny that they will be part of the mix in the airspace changes that are to come.

Of course meaningful respite for departures is going to be difficult.  The existing Noise Preferential Routes are narrow.  Creating new ones would be controversial.  The industry may need to accept an element of dispersal.  We hope the Heathrow-commissioned study – the first of its kind in the world – will throw up feasible options.

Of course, respite is not the whole answer.  Heights of aircraft are important.  Good insulation can help.  But, given the new technology now available to the industry and the inevitability of precision navigation technology being introduced,  I feel that meaningful respite will be essential to protect residents.  Done well, it could do more than simply protect them; it could improve the current situation for many people.  A lot of them are banking on it.     

The Pointless New Airport

Even if you are a big fan of aviation, you’d be hard-pushed to back the proposed new airport outside Nantes in west France.

The huge numbers which turned up last weekend (9th and 10th July) to two days of protest highlighted once again why the plan to build the airport has become the most controversial environmental project in France.

It is causing the Government of Francois Hollande a major headache.  There are over 200 groups across Belgium and France which back the opponents of the airport and which carry out demonstrations in their own areas in support of them.  There were violent scenes a few years ago when the French Police tried to evict some of the thousands of young activists who are camped in Le Zad on the site of the proposed new airport.

Hollande tried to get round his problem by calling a (non-binding) regional referendum this summer.  People were asked to decide whether they wanted to retain the existing one-runway airport close to the city or back the new two-runway airport over 17 kilometres outside Nantes.  Hundreds of thousands of people voted.  The vote went 55% to 45% in favour of the new airport.

But, far from settling the issue as Holland had hoped, the breakdown of the result has highlighted the pointlessness of the new airport.  The city of Nantes split 50/50 but the communities in the city close to the existing airport plus those under its flight path voted to keep it.  They wanted to keep the jobs it provides and signalled that the flights to the half-empty airport are not a problem.  They vote in favour of the new airport was swung by communities 20 – 50 kilometres north of Nantes, some of whom felt the new airport might provide them with jobs and others who believed it would be easier for them to get to than the exiting airport on the other side of the city.

So this is a major new airport, ‘Nantes International’, being proposed on prime farmland not to relieve congestion at the existing airport, nor in response to demands for noise relief for those under existing flight paths, nor even because Nantes is in the middle of nowhere; it is just two hours by train to Paris.  And not because a convincing economic case has been made for it.

The justification for the new airport seems to be that it will act as a catalyst for economic growth in the west of France.  Plonked in the middle of nowhere, the idea is will serve the surrounding towns, Nantes, Angers and Rennes, each of the many kilometers from the airport.  But there are real doubts whether there are sufficient people in these medium-sized towns to sustain such a project.  Almost certainly, any realistic assessment of the market would rule out the airport.  And the links to these towns from it are unplanned.  There may or may not be a rail link to Nantes.  Rennes and Angers would be served by coaches!  The campaigners claim that the airport has more to do with the egos of the local politicians than the needs of the local area.

The Government needs to start building the airport by February or the planning permission it got five years ago falls.  That means it would need to start evicting the environmental activists in Le Zad and the local farmers in the autumn.  It recognizes that, given the scale of the opposition across France and beyond, it will require the army rather than the police to do so.  It may be a battle it cannot win.

You don’t need to be an anti-aviation activist to be against this new airport. 

Fair Flight Paths

20/6/16

Guest blog by Chris Keady

The UK will have it’s airspace modernised over the next few years, and this will mean, what the industry has described as, ‘once in a lifetime’ changes.

Naturally, with so much at stake, communities up and down the country (particularly the already overflown) are concerned to ensure that the process delivers fair outcomes, and fair flight paths. This is a reasonable expectation.

The CAA and NATs are leading principally on the design of the new flight paths and essentially have peoples’ lives in their hands. Designed well, flight paths can be a revelation; designed badly they can be a death sentence.

The current principle for flight path design is that of ‘least people’ (affected). Although this may be efficient, it is hardly fair (fair is about treating people equally without favouritism or discrimination). It is also worthwhile remembering that most systems require scope for adjustment. Ruthlessly pursuing the ‘least people’ principle can be seen in:

  1. Centreline concentration – this has been raised time, and time again by communities who argue for greater dispersal (distribution) of noise. Not only is this feasible, it is It is even fairer to people who may also have to endure concentrated arrivals also for part of the time.

2. Over use of concentrated flight paths to hammer the same people again, and again. While this may be very efficient, again, it isn’t very fair.

There are significant perceived and known health risks associated with such an approach, such as cardio vascular disease/hypertension, and premature death, as well as stress, anxiety, depression, including severe depression (with increased suicide risk potential).

Other concerns around concentrated flight paths concern equalisation. All flight paths are not equal, and while they may look similar in terms of a line on a chart they may have completely different impacts. To be ‘equalised’, and fairer, we need to understand that we are comparing like with like (or as near as). So the volume of traffic, intensity, aircraft mix (there are ‘tiddler’ aircraft and monsters), altitude and proximity to properties are needed to really tell the story.

Noise averages, paradoxically, as in noise contours appear to be insufficiently sensitive to identify what could be a micro noise ghetto or hotspot. Here several flight paths may converge (perhaps as many as three) delivering perhaps 3 times the noise as any of the individual ones. Is this fair? And if it isn’t how do we equalise it, or at least try to make it a little fairer? Arguing about it, if you are a minnow in a pond of bigger fish is, on its own, unlikely to resolve it, and overtime it is likely to get worse as even more traffic is dispersed over your head.

While the ‘least people’ principle can stick, it should be moderated by a ‘least harm’ test. Therefore if challenged, as in the hypothetical case of 3 flight paths into one, a ‘least harm’ test could be applied, enabling the minor rejigging of the flight paths at that point. This might see a neighbour taking  part of the strain. The net effect might then be 710 people affected instead of 709/708 (whatever) but the upside is that lives are saved for the otherwise overdone original target. This highlights the importance of flexibility, challenge, integrity, and (pragmatic) adjustment in a system.

So, while we all probably want, and need, fair flight paths I truly worry how this is going to be fairly delivered in practice.

 

‘Give us a break from the noise’

I’ve been checking the emails HACAN has received over the last two months.  There is one striking feature.  Over 95% of those which contain a complaint are from people living in areas that get aircraft noise all day long.  Some are about departure routes that have become more concentrated.  Some are about arrivals over places that get no respite.

Astonishingly, not one has come from the parts of West London which enjoy a half day’s break from the noise when landing aircraft switch runways at 3pm each day.

The message couldn’t be clearer.  It is a period of relief from the noise which people value above all else.  Heathrow has commissioned a major study to assess what meaningful respite might look like and how it could be introduced.  It is the first airport in the world to undertake such a wide-ranging study.  It is due to be published next spring.

The plans for a new runway at Heathrow – if it ever given the go-ahead – all include provision for respite.  The most creative come from Heathrow Hub (who want to extend the existing northern runway).  The brains behind the scheme is the highly respected former Concorde pilot Jock Lowe.

He argues that is feasible and safe for planes to join their final approach path as close as three miles from the airport, thus allowing for multiple respite routes..  He argues, too, that, his scheme potentially allows for more respite than Heathrow’s plan for a 3rd runway because there will be fewer conflicting movements.

Respite is also expected to feature in the Government’s proposals when it consults on airspace changes later this year.

But the clear message from the HACAN emails are desperate for respite. In the hot summer weather many of those living in the noise ghettos are in despair.  They are angry and want change.  They may differ a little on how they define ‘respite’ – some prefer the words relief, dispersal, sharing it around – but they are all united in one call: ‘Give us a Break from the Noise’.

 

Flight paths for people on the way?

4/4/16

by John Stewart

At last we are seeing movement on introducing flight paths which can benefit residents.

Last week Gatwick Airport accepted the recommendations of an independent report which outlined a new approach to flight paths.  http://www.gatwickairport.com/globalassets/publicationfiles/business_and_community/all_public_publications/2016/gatwick—response-document-action-plan-final-31mar2016.pdf (pdf)

These included looking to introduce multi-path approaches to share out the noise burden.  The devil of this scheme will lie in the detail and there will need to be changes from the routes suggested to avoid some areas getting both arrivals and departures.  But the change in the airport’s attitude from just from a couple of years ago has been seismic.  It had changed routes with little or no regard for residents.  This provoked a backlash from some very well-healed areas.  The result has been that the airport has had to rethink it approach.

The Gatwick decision comes hard on the heels of a consultation from the Civil Aviation Authority suggesting new ways in which it oversees changes to flight paths which are more transparent and involve local people more closely.https://consultations.caa.co.uk/policy-development/proposals-for-revised-airspace-change-process/consult_view

HACAN has broadly welcomed the proposals in the consultation:  my_response (2) (pdf)

The CAA had been heavily criticized, including in a report it had commissioned from the consultants Helios, over the way it had been overseeing proposals for changes to flight paths.  For example, its decision to allow London City Airport to concentrate its flight paths has provoked outrage from residents, MPs and local authorities in the areas affected.  Our sister organisation, HACAN East, will be seeking to meet with the CAA over the decision.

Many of the flight path changes are being driven by the industry’s desire to use the new computer technology now available to fly planes on more precise routes.  That can save airlines fuel, increase the capacity of the airspace, improve the resilience of busy airports and make some savings on climate change emissions.

Although concentration of flight paths is not an inevitable result of the use of this new precision technology, it has been the outcome in many places, most notably in America where communities and city authorities have been up in arms.  Quite rightly so, as noise ghettos have been created.

Some years ago HACAN foresaw this danger of noise ghettos and has engaged with Heathrow Airport to come up with flight path proposals which not only bring benefits to the industry but also to residents.  We identified the provision of respite as the key, i.e. the sharing around of concentrated routes in order to give people predicable periods of relief from the noise. (The proposed routes at Gatwick are, I believe, slightly different: the intention is to use the multiple routes not to give periods of predicable relief but to ensure no community get all the planes but the aim is the same: to avoid the creation of noise ghettos).

Heathrow Airport has invested a considerable amount of effort in preparing for respite.  It has commissioned a major study looking at how meaningful respite can be introduced in and around Heathrow.

The prize for hundreds of thousands of residents could be huge.  It is not just that noise ghettos are likely to be avoided but that the current situation will be improved.  Years before we had heard of precision technology, HACAN had been pressing for just this sharing out of concentrated routes because of the daily nightmare people were experiencing.

This is not something many of the people living under the landing flight path in West London truly understand as most of them already get relief when planes coming in to the airport switch runways at 3pm.

But this relief only applies to those in the boroughs closest to the airport.    In a typical week, by far the largest number of emails and phone calls I get come from people outside these areas.  Some are from people under departure routes (which I’ll deal with shortly); the majority from people in South East and East London driven crazy by what they see as constant noise; sometimes, according to surveys carried out by HACAN, over 40 planes an hour.

These people don’t fear new flight paths.  They can’t wait for them to be introduced.  They want the blessed relief that predicable flight paths, switched on a regular basis, would bring.  I am not exaggerating when I say that people ring me to tell me their fervent hope is that they can hold out until the respite comes in.  They don’t have to move away in the meantime because of the noise.  There are even people who have rented out their homes for a few years, intending to move back in when relief and respite become a reality.

The emotions and the passions, the fears and the hopes are intense.  It is the same for many under the departure routes.  The “ghettoisation” of departures has been intensified as aircraft have increasingly all followed the centre-line of the Noise Preferential Routes (the 3 kilometre wide band which aircraft need to use until they reach 4,000 ft).

It will be harder to introduce meaningful respite within the Noise Preferential Routes and some sharing around within the NPR might be more appropriate.

Heathrow is under a lot of pressure to announce what flight paths will look like if a third runway is built.  I suspect it does not know where they will all be.  It is unlikely to be in a position to know until it completes its respite study (expected to be spring 2017).  By then, it will be clearer whether it is planning flight paths for a two or three runway airport.  A third runway clearly brings all sorts of other issues but, even with a third runway in place, Heathrow claims it could provide 95% of people with respite 50% of the time.  That’s much more than it does today.  For most people that’s not an argument for a third runway but what it does reveal is the possibilities for respite that are opening up.

Mental health and aircraft noise: frankly, who gives a damn?

25/2/16

Guest Blog

Two years ago a ground breaking summit was held at London’s City Hall to “discuss practical solutions to the contentious issue of aircraft noise”.

It delivered a resounding recommendation for an Independent Noise Ombudsman to protect the welfare of the overflown.

But two years later, precisely zilch has happened. Alarmingly, this suggests that the public health and welfare of the overflown is still not taken seriously. I firmly believe this is the case despite herculean efforts by organisations such as Hacan (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise).

Who then can people rely on, and trust, in all of this, if it is commonly perceived that the relationship between airlines, airports, regulators and civil servants are too cosy, and there is no independent champion for the overflown? Who?

Yet never at any time in aviation history are people more vulnerable, and at risk of serious blight and ill health, from the imposition of newly prescribed concentrated low altitude flight paths, than now.

So what are the risks of low altitude concentrated flight paths on health?

 Research generally confirms that aircraft noise can increase blood pressure, and cause heart disease, strokes and dementia. That’s, of course, if your lungs don’t seize up first from inhaling toxic air. One also often dies significantly sooner than counterparts outside these flight paths. What’s not to like?

But it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to realise that concentrated, low level, flight paths, in particular, may increase known health risks significantly, as effects are not diluted ,as with traditional dispersed (diluted) flight paths – hence the term ‘concentrated’.

Instead aircraft after aircraft are navigated precisely down, not so much flight paths or corridors, as tramlines! Whilst this is an impressive technological feat it is far less impressive if you find that they are interminably skimming your roof top, without variation. In such cases the unfortunate involuntary consumers will inevitably receive a double, super concentrated dose of noise and toxins – precursors, as noted, to very probable ill health and premature death. This is why much greater dispersal and variation with low altitude flight paths is essential. This point appears not yet to have been grasped by the aviation industry, or Government policy makers. It urgently needs to.

The effect of the relatively new phenomenon of low altitude concentrated flight paths appears to be worryingly under-researched. What dosage is safe? What controls are in place? Are they sufficient, and if so, who says so?

But what about mental health?

Research suggests that existing sufferers of mental illness are generally more sensitive to noise.

For the involuntary consumers of noise and air pollution. everything will be more intense as noise and particulates saturate narrow ‘tramlines’. This fact appears to be lost on Public Health officials and politicians. So what dose is safe? Where’s the evidence? Where are the controls? Does anyone really care?

A review of literature on the relationship between aviation noise and mental health clearly indicates that more needs to be done. But despite there being clearer indications from several sources linking the two, there has been a reluctance to commission further research.

Moreover there has been a regrettable lack of empathy in some quarters implying, for example, that depression and Mental Health is still beset with misunderstanding, prejudice and inequality in Britain 2016.  It’s as though depression is a ‘non-event’ for the aviation industry, and that those who dare say they are profoundly affected, are somehow irrelevant or exaggerating. This, incidentally, merely compounds the sense of isolation and alienation suffered, and I can testify to that.

Recent research implications

Recent published research points to a large study at Hamburg Airport which highlights that a 10db increase in aircraft noise may result in a 10% increased risk of depression. The suggestion is that further research is required, but there are other studies also positively correlating a relationship between aviation noise and likely mental ill health.

A study in Japan, for example, has found that people exposed to aircraft noise levels above 70dBs (A) Ldn have higher rates of mental instability and depressiveness.

And another study, found that those living closer to airports showed a higher frequency of ‘generalised anxiety disorder’, a precursor I would suggest to other forms of mental illness, particularly depression, especially when there is little or no equality or access to justice, as with the UK’s draconian regime. Put yourself in their shoes for a few moments, if you can….Not nice is it?

Another European study, published in European Commissions Science for Environment Policy (Noise Impacts on Health) journal, January 2015, issue 47, advised that the health of vulnerable people exposed to noise is under-researched, and suggested that vulnerable groups of people, such as those with mental illness, may be more at risk from exposure to environmental noise than healthy adults.             I believe that this is a very sound hypothesis.

A growing number of overflown have been saying for some time, and a growing body of literature supports this, that aircraft noise can trigger or exacerbate mental illness as well as the generally more accepted (and acceptable?) physical illnesses.         One needs to consider not just those without any current form of ill health, but also those with pre-existing conditions including high blood pressure or mental health including depression, when undertaking the research.

But depression is not such a ‘big deal’, surely?

Depression is a very real illness and it sticks in the throat to have to say this in 2016, but one has to. It can affect every aspect of one’s life, including work and social life, appetite, motivation, relationships, ability to get out of bed, and ultimately the desire to live. It can have truly devastating effects.

I never really talk about my ‘black dog’, but feel I have to, as the stakes are now so high, not just personally, but also for the invisible underclass caught by similar circumstances.

About 12 years ago I was a patient in a locked hospital ward having tried to end my life. I was a whisker away from a body bag, but was interrupted …..My life at that point was literally hanging by a thread. I was given a second chance and I grasped it with both hands. Consequently I work relentlessly hard, one day at a time, at staying well.

Hanging, is the most common suicide method for males, less so for females. But depression can affect people in many ways, and severe depression can be life threatening, no ifs or buts about that. It can devastate not only the lives of those affected but also their families, friends and loved ones, for years and even lifetimes.

I fought my way back from hell. Not only had I lost the will to live, I had other complications:  psychotic depression is the most severe form of depression and renders you more prone to suicide. It can come with a range of other nasty complications such as severe restlessness and delusional thinking, and is thought to be caused by major life/environmental change.

I was on the edge of the abyss and hanging onto reality by my fingernails at the time. Scared, anxious, and bewildered by the experience, I was an absolute train wreck. However I edged back to the ‘real world’ one step at a time. I was extremely lucky to have family who coaxed me back to life, although they were distraught and despairing at times, and an employer who patiently waited for me, coaxed me, coached me, and believed in me, when I had lost all belief and self-confidence

It took me years to begin to trust myself, and for my family to trust me, and to feel substantially healed, and to get our lives back on track. So I habitually do the things that are ‘good’ for me, while trying to avoid any toxic influences. Deep down, however, I have an anxiety and a strong drive to stay well since the experience was so hellish, and the chances of a further successful outcome are very slim, as episodes of illness have become progressively, and dramatically worse.

And then the aircraft noise came

Approximately two years ago, following dispersal from elsewhere, larger, lower flying, long haul aircraft began overflying our home all day long, when Heathrow was on easterly operations (on average, c. 30 % of year). Flights had become more concentrated although this was denied.

We had just finished our sanctuary – a loft extension – but with aircraft noise now flooding in, had to gut it and fit high density acoustic insulation and boarding, using the last of our savings. But noise still leaked through air vents, trickle vents, soffits, and velux ventilation flaps, and no-one – I’ll spare blushes, and mention no names here – cared a jot (I really wanted to use the ‘f’ word here).

Efforts to resolve were blocked or discredited suggesting that perhaps I was imagining things. This was particularly nasty as I had been so ill a decade earlier that, yes, this was a feature of the illness.

The fact was aircraft were disproportionately impacting our home when there was a 3 km prescribed zone to disperse the impact. I had to borrow to pay for an independent report to confirm what I had already said. Again this was stonewalled, and my genuine sense of alienation grew (for someone who had struggled to stay well this was particularly cruel).

Talk of airport expansion and the possible prospect of more noise seriously raised my anxiety levels, and I knew from past experience that anxiety and worrying over intractable problems only sent me round in an endless loop, causing me to worry more. I tried CBT, and a range of other interventions, nothing made a difference.  The large air craft in close proximity to our roof spoke volumes, and the lack of control over the situation only made matters worse.

In addition, plans to ‘simplify’ the way airspace is used by 2020 has seen the move towards concentrated flight paths, and the compression of noise. Noise is corralled, affecting a minority among communities particularly badly, where aircraft are flying at low altitudes. Blight, ill health and injustice are bequeathed so the rest of society can flourish and benefit from their misery. Is this really the right thing to do?

ISSUES

The overflown are more vulnerable now than at any other time in aviation history. The widespread deployment, particularly of low altitude, concentrated flight paths, will create unprecedented health risks and create noise ghettos. This is the new Apartheid, creating an underclass, with no rights, and no protection. Democracy will have turned its back on them, and will have turned back the clock.

It sticks in the throat, therefore, that in a week a convicted sex offender is invoking his Human Rights to avoid deportation, the overflown have absolutely no Human Rights. Yes, that’s correct. Zilch!  And to make matters worse aviation noise is exempted from the suite of environmental noise protection laws which apply in any other area of public life. Such provision is offensive, abusive and simply wrong.

The obsession with aviation growth, and its seeming inevitability, is seeing the compression of existing noise footprints to make them smaller. Coupled with the PR of quieter aircraft one might think one followed the other. Not so. In fact, as many aircraft are lower within the compressed contour zones, and there are more of them, then the experience for the overflown in many cases is much worse. The proximity of aircraft to rooftops also leaves a ‘psychological footprint’, long after the noise has gone – a palpable sense of personal space violation. Remember if one is within 60metres of HS2 then one automatically receives full statutory blight compensation, whereas the same doesn’t apply to blight from flight paths. Words genuinely fail me here. Is anybody listening? Does anyone care?

One also needs to recognise that noise monitoring, ineffective and non-independent as it is, averages noise. People don’t hear or experience averages, they hear and observe events – one after another, which invariably trigger a physiological response as the heart beat and blood pressure increases, and mind races. So not just noise, including loudness and pitch, but vibration, number, frequency and proximity to private space and one’s home, affect one’s overall experience.

The pin point precision and direction of aircraft at low altitude over the same property time and time again, at perhaps 60-90 second intervals, is impressive from an operational efficiency perspective, but dangerous to health and well-being. Hot spots in the flight paths network need to be reviewed at a micro level, and measures taken to ensure that occupiers, especially those vulnerable to aviation noise, and those with known pre-existing health conditions, are treated fairly and decently. At the moment they are treated no better than the weekly garbage. They’re disposable.

The delay in establishing an Independent Noise Ombudsman to provide some much needed protection and redress for the noise afflicted is unacceptable, and any material changes to existing flight paths in the past two years – and some arguably have been ‘snuck in’ – and, those going forward, should be captured within the enabling provisions. This might then protect those from air space modernisation, or airports implementing changes that are detrimental to sections of communities, but which otherwise might not be covered by any mitigation or redress arrangements (in other words the perpetrators could weasel out of their responsibilities, again).

The Government, proponents of airport expansion, and airports should live up to their Corporate Social Responsibilities, and seriously invest in mitigation and compensation for schemes for those affected. The amounts presently offered, as a whole, are derisory.

People expect, and are entitled to ‘quiet enjoyment’ of their home, whether they own or rent it. It should be a place of retreat from the hurly burly and somewhere they should feel safe. If there is a problem they have legal redress to resolve it. With the overflown this doesn’t apply. Yet we know aviation noise affects physical and almost certainly mental health, and we do little or nothing about it. We collude with the grim reaper by doing nothing. How do you think this makes those screwed by this discriminatory system feel? How do you think this affects their physical and mental health?

Why then does the World Health Organisation recommend that external sound levels should be kept below an average level of 30dB(A) in the bedroom, or a maximum of 45dB(A) for a single event? It’s because health and wellbeing can be affected by external disturbance, and sleep can be disturbed. This is why airports should be mandated to provide ‘world class’ schemes to ensure that bedrooms and living rooms especially are protected to achieve this benchmark, and that each installation is independently audited to ensure compliance.

Mental Health is still misunderstood and ignorance has created a society where too many fail to appreciate how devastating depression or other forms of mental illness can be, or the blatant inequality that people endure on a daily basis. Those stuck under imposed concentrated low altitude flight paths, for example, have the double whammy of the inequality of aviation noise, as well as the inequality of mental illness to try and survive (an unenviable burden).  It is about time this dualism was acknowledged, so that we can move on and find appropriate solutions.

Concentrated low altitude flight paths, coupled with weak governance and control systems, place some of the most vulnerable in our communities at risk of being pushed over the edge- to become just another statistic. There are no Human Rights, there is no equality, nor justice for them, just pain, loss, ill health and most likely an earlier death than the spectators outside the ghetto walls, looking in mostly indifferently.

If once in a life time airspace changes have, and will be made, as the aviation industry have announced, they will inevitably have ‘once’ in a lifetime’ consequences. Lives will be turned upside down so others benefit. As a society it is, therefore, only right that we understand and redress this.

Presently some areas receive a break from aircraft noise and respite is seen as a significant benefit, and indeed it is. If, as it may, displace and disperse more noise on others in due course, then this too should be managed sensitively and fairly. It should also be borne in mind that some people newly affected by noise, or affected by more noise, may not be able to tolerate the new dose. In such cases the benefit of a respite break will be of no use to them. Again such cases need to be considered and appropriate solutions found.

I’m reminded that a sign of a civilised society is not only how well it looks after its people, but how well it looks after the vulnerable and weak. Mental Health and aircraft have come a long way in the past 50 years, but they are uneasy bedfellows. More work needs to be done to appreciate that good mental health should be a universal entitlement, as should access to justice and equality for the concentrated overflown.

I have struggled writing this blog because it has been painful to admit the truth, and revisit old memories. I also worry that nothing will change, leading to an inevitable ‘car crash’, hence this blog. However, I do hope that many who read this text will discuss and raise the issue from a Human Rights, Mental Health, or Justice perspective.  After all how many people will have to die from bad Government policy and bystanders’ indifference, before good people do something?

Please help, if you can.

Thank you.

Chocksaway, on behalf of a wider family of noise and health affected overflown

It will amaze you the number of places affected by Heathrow and/or City planes

You’ll be relieved to hear that I don’t intend to publish a regular weekly blog on what I have been doing! 

But it struck me that my activities this week are a perfect illustration of how the planes from Heathrow and City aircraft are impacting on a much wider area than many people think.

It is 42 miles from Greenwich to Reading.  It is also 42 miles from Edinburgh to Glasgow.

The equivalent of the entire area from Edinburgh on the east coast of Scotland to Glasgow on the west coast is impacted by aircraft from Heathrow and/or London City.  And that is probably an underestimate.

My week illustrated it.

Monday was due to start at 7.20am with an interview on Radio Berkshire to talk about Heathrow’s Adobe huts in school playgrounds.  Except news of David Bowie’s death had just come in….so it took preference.

The rest of the day was office-based (Stockwell, 17 miles from Heathrow, around 28 planes an hour) dealing with emails, correspondence, preparing HACAN East evidence for the forthcoming Public Inquiry on London City’s expansion plans and putting the finishing touches to a conference on flight paths we are helping to organise at the end of the month.

In the evening to Harmondsworth and the monthly meeting of SHE (Stop Heathrow Expansion), which represents the people in the Heathrow Villages.  Meetings where passions can run high.  Understandably.  There are the people who will lose their homes and community if a 3rd runway goes ahead.  Not home until nearly midnight.

Tuesday, a big day.  Starts with Radio Berkshire at 7.20am (even David Bowie can only die once!).  A morning transport meeting at London Bridge before moving on to the House of Commons for the launch of the report of Noise and Health we commissioned from the Aviation Environment Committee at 2pm.  Very pleased with the launch.  60 people there including a number of MPs and peers, key decision-makers in Government and the aviation industry, leading acousticians and as well as campaigners.  Superbly chaired by Tania Mathias MP.

The evening to Stratford to chair the management committee meeting of HACAN East.  Every person who tries to trivialize the impact airports can have on communities should have been at this meeting.  There were two key items on the agenda:  the forthcoming public inquiry into City Airport’s expansion plans and the decision of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to allow the airport to concentrate its flight paths.  The latter in particular could change people’s lives forever including people sitting round the table.  These were deeply serious issues we were dealing with.

Wednesday morning was taken up with following up on Tuesday’s activities:  the media coverage of the launch; setting up meetings with MPs and peers who attended the launch;  and discussions with lawyers on possible challenges to the CAA’s decision on  City Airport’s flight paths.

And lots of emails to catch up on.  I’ve written before that most of HACAN’s emails come from South East London.  Another one today, a new complainant:

“It iUIis quite unreal in Brockley as not many other people here seem to talk about it . but as our garden backs on to a large open area of railway, allotments and forest we have a lot of sky. sometimes there are 2 planes behind each other and we see them coming from all directions to align for the runway above us. official figures i got from Heathrow say its 650 planes a day so that is 1 every minute !!   it is indeed relentless and the situation has rendered us really stressed.”

The evening took me to a cold and wet Hammersmith for a meeting with West London Friends of the Earth.   Good meeting looking at the role local FOE groups can play in the wider coalition against the 3rd runway we have set up.  Next week the coalition has an important meeting discussing its activities for the coming months.

It always interests me how different groups bring different things to the coalition.  On Monday in Harmondsworth the focus was community destruction.  In Stratford there was deep concern about noise.  At the FOE meeting noise was hardly mentioned, with being the emphasis on air pollution and climate change.  The trick for the coalition is to combine these very different perspectives.

Thursday saw more work on the HACAN East evidence to the forthcoming Public Inquiry.  And also work on promotional material we are putting together for use over the next few months.   In the afternoon I met with National FOE to talk through how airports could feature in their activities around the Mayoral Election in May.

In the evening I was either saying ‘good afternoon’ or ‘good morning’, via Skype,  to a couple of  people in America hired by the airports to assess their flight path changes.  The assessment has been prompted by the soaring number of complaints the airports received following their decision to concentrate flight paths.  They were interested in Heathrow’s approach and in particular its decision to commission work on practical ways of introducing respite.  I expect to hear more about that at the Heathrow Noise Forum next week.

Friday morning saw me in Brockley to assist a young noise expert who is looking to assemble a noise-cancelling device.  We were taking readings of the existing noise.  Arriving at Brockley Station, I was reminded just how intrusive aircraft noise is in the area.  There is some dispute about how long it has been this bad, but no dispute that it is bad.  This is the sort of area where respite could be a life-saver.

In the afternoon I was at Mile End in East London to take photos of a campaigner for some of the promotional material we are putting together.  It was good fun.  But on my way back I spotted what I think prompted this blog.  I regret not being quick enough to take a photo of it but just above Mile End Station was a Heathrow plane coming into land about 1,000 ft above a London City plane taking off.  And that scene is repeated time and again in the areas on a daily basis whenever the west wind is blowing…about 70% of the year.  Don’t tell people in Mile End they shouldn’t have moved close to an airport!  They simply didn’t!

Monday I’ll be up early for Radio Gloucester at 7.30am and then straight to Willesden Magistrates Court for the start of the trial of the 13 Plane Stupid activists who occupied the Heathrow Runway.

But, take heart, I won’t be blogging about next week or any other week! This is a one-off!     

“When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes duty”

This blog was first posted on the the HACAN east website –  “When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes duty”. It describes how the CAA has allowed London City Airport to concentrate all its flight paths without any meaningful consultation with residents.  The contrast with Heathrow’s approach couldn’t be more stark.  Heathrow is financing a year-long study into how respite can be meaningfully introduced.  It is even possible that London City’s plans may undermine Heathrow’s efforts.

by John Stewart

“When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes duty”

These words were thought to have first been uttered by the American President Thomas Jefferson. And they have been used by many people since.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that they apply to London City Airport’s plans, just given the green light by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), to concentrate its flight paths over selected communities across London. To, in effect, create noise ghettos. Beginning 4th February.

HACAN East is speaking with lawyers to find a way of challenging the decision.

Most days Bow, Leyton, Leytonstone, Wanstead, Redbridge, Barkingside and Collier Row will get all the departures from the airport. Thamesmead will be badly hit by arrivals. All these areas will be hit about 70% of the time in a typical year: the days a west wind is blowing.

When the wind comes from the east all the departures will go over Barking Riverside, Dagenham and Hornchurch. And all the arrivals will go over Sidcup, New Eltham, Mottingham, Catford, Forest Hill, Dulwich Village, Herne Hill, Brixton, Stockwell and Vauxhall.

Although these changed flight paths are due to come in on February 4th, most of the communities that will be affected have not been told about them.

The information is hidden away:

http://publicapps.caa.co.uk/docs/33/Module%20B%20final.pdf (page 26 indistinct map for South London and p27 for Thamesmead).

And inhttp://publicapps.caa.co.uk/docs/33/B05-LCAL_A_ConsultationDocumentIssue1.0.pdf(page 24 for Dagenham and page 26 for Leyton and Leytonstone).

In 2014 London City carried out the most minimalist of consultations. It put a technical document on its website (telling virtually nobody it was there it was there) and informed its supine Consultative Committee who discussed the matter in closed session and whose website was down during the ‘consultation’ period.

London City argued that it did all it was required to do as set out in the guidelines of the CAA which is charged with overseeing the process. It based its argument on its belief that this was not a significant change.

We beg to differ. Areas in North East London will get 30% more aircraft overhead than they do now. And South London will be transformed. At present planes from London City do not present a big problem to most people in South London (outside Thamesmead). This is partly because they are less noisy than the Heathrow planes but mainly because they are dispersed across a wide area.

All this will dramatically change for South London. All the aircraft will be concentrated over selected areas. These areas will get all the City planes when the east wind blows, the very days they currently enjoy much welcome relief from the continuous stream of Heathrow aircraft they get during westerlies.

And, just before Christmas, the Civil Aviation Authority agreed with London City Airport that this was not a significant change! It published a press release announcing its decision in late November: http://www.caa.co.uk/application.aspx?catid=14&pagetype=65&appid=7&mode=detail&nid=2497 but its full reasoning wasn’t made available until the 22nd December: https://www.caa.co.uk/Commercial-industry/Airspace/Airspace-change/Decisions/London-Airspace-Management-Programme-Phase-1A/

The CAA was already in deep trouble over the way it oversaw changes at Gatwick and elsewhere. A report (commissioned by the CAA) from the consultants Helios slated it: www.caa.co.uk/CAP1356. The independent report slammed the CAA over the way it had conducted the consultation about flight paths at airports across the UK. It branded the consultation as lacking transparency and criticised the CAA for being judge and jury.

The report came out in early December, just ten days after the CAA announced that it would allow London City Airport to concentrate its flight paths. When I met with the Civil Aviation Authority’s CEO Andrew Haines, a decent and thoughtful man, I asked him why they hadn’t waited until they had seen the Helios Report before deciding on the flight paths for London City and other airports. He believed they might have run into legal difficulties if they had done so.

But the CAA’s endorsement of London City’s flight path plans and the consultation which preceded it shows much its processes need a complete overhaul.

The Civil Aviation Authority:

  • Endorsed a 30% increase in flight numbers as not significant
  • Allowed concentration in South London when dispersal was presenting few problems
  • Took no account of the joint impact of London City and Heathrow aircraft, now or in the future
  • Ignored the numbers of people – running into tens of thousands, maybeover 100,000 – affected by the changes
  • Has not informed communities of the changes less than a month before they are due to begin

I’ve known the CAA well over the years and it does do good work – sound research into noise and safety for example. But its supervision of flight path changes is not fit for purpose.

The hope of the local communities had been that it would challenge City Airport. London City has over the years managed to alienate local communities, local authorities, the Mayor of London and many of the area’s councillors and GLA members. Some of my friends in West London may criticise Heathrow. And Heathrow has made mistakes. But, in recent years, Heathrow has poured a lot of money into studies on effective respite, into assessing changes in flight paths and their impacts on communities and into trials of steeper descent approaches.

London City, by contrast, couldn’t even been bothered to tell communities that they will soon be living under concentrated flight paths. We expected nothing more from the airport. We were, though, expecting more from the CAA.

The CAA has let us down badly. It has concurred in a process that is riddled with injustice. It has allowed certain areas to be turned into noise ghettos…when that didn’t need to happen. Where’s the justice in that?

It is inconceivable that tens of thousands of people will accept this. As Thomas Jefferson might have said, “When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes duty.”

 

Heathrow impacts areas way beyond West London

I’ve written about this before, but it is worth saying it again.  Heathrow is not just a West London problem. Or just a Windsor problem.  Its impact is felt over 25 miles from the airport. 

Kate Hoey, the Vauxhall MP, emphasized it again in the House of Commons this week (14/12/15) during questions to the Transport Secretary when she said:

“The Secretary of State is a very honourable gentleman, particularly as he is my constituent. I am sure that deep down he is not particularly happy today. In his statement, he talked about the best possible outcome for local residents. Does he accept that my Vauxhall constituents may not be considered as local residents to Heathrow, but that it is crucial that their views are taken into consideration?”

This video, commissioned by HACAN, illustrates the impact of aircraft noise on Vauxhall, about 17 miles from Heathrow: https://youtu.be/rXf8o_khz8s

A study HACAN commissioned from the independent noise consultants Bureau Veritas in 2008 found that in Kennington Park, close to the Oval Cricket Ground, “aircraft noise dominated the local environment.”  In a separate study HACAN found that during certain periods of the day over 40 planes an hour fly over the Oval.

It is important to stress the extent of the noise problem to counter the accusation heard again in recent days following the Government’s decision to postpone a decision on expansion that it is a handful of ‘West London Nimbys’ who are damaging the national interest by holding up a third runway.

“As I sit and write this, I am simply go-smacked at the level of noise that is happening right outside my home right now is actually legal.  The sky is resounding with the thunder of constant aircraft noise.  My kids have definitely taken longer to wind down than usual this evening before bed and I have been agitated and unable to concentrate on much because of the extremely annoying whine and roar of airplanes!!”

An email sent to HACAN in August.  From Hounslow, Windsor or even Vauxhall?  Try Walthamstow, deep into North East London. 

Of course, it is not true that everybody in Walthamstow is disturbed by the noise.  Just as there are people in Hounslow, Windsor and Vauxhall who are not bothered by it.

But my point is that there are people far the airport seriously impacted by it. A lot of them.  HACAN gets more emails from South East London than from any other area.

Most of these people are not captured by the noise statistics or their opinions sought in opinion polls..  They live outside the official noise contours, even the more realistic ones used by the European Commission.

If they were polled, I’m pretty certain the big demand would be for respite: a predicable break from the noise.  It is the constant refrain in email after email which HACAN receives, week after week.  Heathrow Airport has now recognized the problem and has commissioned research to look at practical ways of introducing respite.  It is a year’s research.  But respite can’t come soon enough for so many people in vast swathes of London and the Home Counties.