Heathrow’s Populus Poll: not all what it seems

Heathrow Airport today released the results of a poll asking people if they were more or less likely to support candidates in the local elections who back Heathrow expansion. http://mediacentre.heathrowairport.com/Press-releases/One-quarter-of-local-residents-more-likely-to-vote-for-local-councillor-if-they-back-Heathrow-expa-8a4.aspx .  It found that only 42% of people expressed an opinion on the issue:  of those, 25% of people said they were more likely to vote for their local councillor if they support expansion and 17% more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes expansion.

On the wider issue of support for a 3rd runway, people in the boroughs around Heathrow remain split, with just under a half supporting it and just over a third opposed.

The fact that a third of people stubbornly refuse to back expansion will worry politicians.  It adds up to a lot of people: over half a million on total. (Each borough contains about 250,000 people.  The 7 boroughs Populus surveyed contain about 1,750,000 people in total.  A third of that is 525,000).

The results are similar to the previous polls carried out by Populus.  But remain out-of-kilter with other polls.  Last year referenda and polls carried out in three West London boroughs found that 72% of people were opposed to a third runway at Heathrow.  That is also the message MPs get on the door step.  Questions need to be asked about what information is given to people by Populus before they are asked their views.

A work of art: the art of distortion


by John Stewart

It’s got ‘em talking.  And fuming.  Back Heathrow’s latest news-sheet and questionnaire.  I didn’t get one dropped through my door but many of our supporters did and they sent me copies.

The newsletter is a work of art.  The art of not quite telling it as it is.  Take the front page “Hillingdon Council want Thousands of Houses on Airport”.  What message does that convey to you?  The clear implication is that Hillingdon wants the airport to shut.  They have never said that.  It leader, Ray Puddiford, has merely said that, if an Estuary Airport opened and Heathrow had to close, there would be the opportunity for the land to be used for housing and new businesses.  Back Heathrow turns that into “Hillingdon Council Leader Ray Puddiford: Ungrateful – Shutting down Heathrow represents a ‘remarkable opportunity’.”

 The sleight of hand goes on.  It quotes from the report commissioned by threeLondonboroughs which indicates that thousands of jobs are at risk if Heathrow were to close.  It conveniently overlooks another key finding of the report that the impact of a second runway at Gatwick would have a ‘negligible’ impact on employment at Heathrow.

 And then there are “local residents” who are quoted.  Steve Ostrowski may live in Hillingdon but what we are not told is that he also works at the airport.  And then there is Gary Dixon who says he’s “lived near the airport for years.”  Local Hillingdon people tell me his area is not impacted by planes.  Not forgetting Shaun Brimacombe from Harlingon who asks “If noise does affect them then why did they choose to live next to a major international airport?”  Back Heathrow’s bosom buddies atHeathrowAirportknow full well that there are people distraught by aircraft noise living 20 miles from the airport.  They didn’t “choose to live next to a major international airport.”  They don’t get a quote.

Although we don’t share it, HACAN recognizes there is an argument to be made for the expansion ofHeathrowAirportbut this news-sheet does nothing to advance it.

You can contact Back Heathrow at Premier House, 50-52 Cross Lances Rd, TW3 2AAor by email hello@backheathrow.org or via their website:  www.backheathrow.org

 Thinking of filling in the survey?  Don’t risk it!  You could be quoted out of context in their next news-sheet.  Better to say nothing.  Return an empty envelope.  It’s Freepost! 

Doing nothing about noise at Heathrow is not an option


by John Stewart

I’ve written about it before.  But last week brought it home to me once again.  Doing nothing about noise at Heathrow is not an option.

On Tuesday evening I chaired a meeting in Brockley, 20 miles from Heathrow in South East London.  As I stood outside the church hall before the meeting started, I could hear a plane one every two minutes or so, turning to join its final approach path to Heathrow.

I saw the same manoeuvre taking place on the screen last Friday when I visited the headquarters of NATS (National Air Traffic Control) in Swanwick and.  NATS are impressive.  They run an effective, efficient organisation that, it must be said, has improved significantly since they were privatized.  But the question I was left pondering was whether they are being asked to do the impossible at Heathrow.  They are required to mange safely and efficiently over 1300 planes landing and taking off each day but also are keen to assist residents under the flight paths.

 Which brings me back to Brockley.  As I sat with the air traffic controller watching his blank screen light up with planes approaching Heathrow, nowhere shone more brightly than the dazzling white line of aircraft on their final approach path, many having joined 20 miles from the airport.  More than one million people live within those 20 miles.  Around a third of those – the people living closer to the airport inWest London– get a half day’s break from the noise when the planes change runways at 3pm.  The rest, like Brockley, get no relief.

 And make no mistake the noise can be a real problem in those areas further from Heathrow.  A report published by the respected acoustics form Bureau Veritas in 2007 found that in many of these areas “aircraft noise dominated the local environment.” http://www.hacan.org.uk/resources/reports/st0699.pdf   http://www.hacan.org.uk/resources/reports/hacan.flight.paths.study.pdf (summary).

 Doing nothing cannot be an option.  But my visit to  NATS showed me that doing something is difficult.  Quieter planes on their own won’t do it because the number of aircraft is the big problem.  Steeper descent approaches would help somewhat.  Predicable respite periods can be managed before 6am when there are fewer planes but NATS would struggle to introduce them during the day when they need to land as many as 45 planes an hour.

The most useful solution for “the squeezed middle” – those living some distance from the airport under the final approach path – would be for planes to join the approach path much closer to Heathrow.  The bright lights on the NATS’ screens – the planes – would be shared around more equitably.  The former Concorde pilot Jock Lowe, the man fronting the Heathrow Hub bid for a third runway, believes it can be done.  NATS are not ruling it out as more of the precision technology becomes available.

NATS are more hopeful of improving things more rapidly for residents under the take-off routes.  There is more scope for giving respite.  Aircraft also have an increasing ability to ascend ever more steeply.

I didn’t ask NATS about the impact of a third runway at Heathrow.  I didn’t really need to.  If 480,000 flights a year severely restrict NATS room for manoeuvre, 740,000 would light up the air traffic controller’s screen with a brightness yet unseen.  Wouldn’t they?  


Chancellor tinkered with APD but the underlying message: it is here to stay


by John Stewart

The Chancellor’s announcement on Air Passenger Duty (APD) in yesterday’s budget speech was significant.  Less so because of the changes he announced; more for his underlying assumption that APD is here to stay.  This is a considerable blow to the aviation industry which for some years now has been united in its opposition to the tax.  But it was never going to be abolished.

 Successive governments have recognized that aviation is under-taxed.  When Kenneth Clarke, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced APD 20 years ago in his budget of November 1993 he said: “First, air travel is under-taxed compared to other sectors of the economy. It benefits not only from a zero rate of VAT; in addition, the fuel used in international air travel, and nearly all domestic flights, is entirely free of tax. A number of countries have already addressed this anomaly”.

 At present there is a huge discrepancy between what motorists are taxed and the tax paid by the aviation industry.  Revenue from car travel (tax on fuel and VAT) bring the Treasury about £12 billion a year.  APD raises around £2.8 billion.  It would need to be quadrupled match the income from car travel.  Other European countries are bringing in APD-type taxes (through, so far, at a lower level than APD is charged).

 Yesterday’s Budget sorted out some anomalies in the system.  Currently passengers travelling to the Caribbean, Asia or Australia pay more tax than those going to America.  By April 2015 all long-haul passengers will pay the American rate – currently £67 (for a single journey) rising to £71 when the change comes in.  The change has probably come about more from political pressure than a desire to please aviation industry lobbyists.  The rate on short-haul flight – £13 for a single journey – will remain the same.  APD will be imposed on private jets.

The details of the changes can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/293853/TIIN_6063_air_passenger_duty_banding_reform.pdf

 The changes outlined will cost the Treasury £985m over four years from 2015, according to Budget documents.  It does mean that aviation is even more under-taxed but the big message is:  APD is here to stay.

The equity implications of building a new runway at Heathrow


by John Stewart

Daniel Moylan, the Mayor’s aviation adviser, told the londonnoisesummit earlier this week that “millions on waiting lists have no choice about living under flight paths.”

 Decision-makers would do well to heed Moylan’s words when deciding Britain’s future aviation policy.

 Planes using Heathrow go over areas of deprivation unmatched by any other major airport in the South East.  It is true that the planes also fly over some very smart areas but anybody proposing the expansion of the airport has got to face up to its impact on some of the poorest communities in the land.

The figures speak for themselves.  According to the latest Indices of Deprivation (2010), the three local authorities with the highest percentage of deprived people in the country are Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets (http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/mar/29/indices-multiple-deprivation-poverty-england).  All are disturbed by noise from both Heathrow and London City.  A report commissioned by HACAN in 2007 from the independent acoustics firm, Bureau Veritas, found that the cumulative noise impact from both airports meant that Poplar in Tower Hamlets was experiencing levels of aircraft noise akin to parts of West London: http://www.hacan.org.uk/resources/reports/st0699.pdf http://www.hacan.org.uk/resources/reports/hacan.flight.paths.study.pdf (summary).

A total of 10 London boroughs (Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Haringey, Islington,Waltham Forest, Barking and Dagenham,Greenwich, Lewisham and Lambeth) rank amongst the top 50 most deprived local authorities in the country.  With the possible exception of Barking and Dagenham, all are troubled by Heathrow aircraft.  There is no local authority in the Gatwick or Stansted areas listed in the top 50.

 The loudest voices of complaint may come from the wealthier areas of West London but make no mistake many people in the poorer areas are suffering from aircraft noise from Heathrow.  Here’s an email HACAN received last week from the Lambeth/Southwark border:

I really need your advice.  How do we (by we I mean as an area) start to pursue the different people responsible for air traffic and planes to review the use of airspace over the SE11/SE1 area.  In this area we are at the crossroads of the airports (City and Heathrow) and river helicopter traffic and it seems to be an inconvenient truth that is completely ignored.  Perhaps because the area is largely a poor borough and it is a well know fact that less affluent people complain less but that does not mean they are not suffering.  The areas are under constant air plane traffic, no matter the wind direction.  We get both Heathrow and City aircraft.  The level of noise has reached the point that it is disrupting the life of residents, workers, students and those in spiritual prayer. The flights first pass over the area at 04:30 and often continue until 23:00.  At many times of the day there is a plane passing every 60-90 seconds.  This is 7 days a week.  No respite periods are worked into the scheduling.  The flight paths throughout the day are very precise and do not vary much, this means the area gets no respite.  There needs to be better planning for the use of the airspace over the area.  What has been created since mid-2012 is a noise ghetto.  There must be a better way to manage the plane traffic so that they do not use the same route over the same area with such intensity 7 days a week.

 In a quality of life survey, looking at all the world’s major cities, published recently, London was way down the list in 38th place: http://fw.to/qn9igGb   It lost out because of the quality of its environment and the traffic congestion on its streets.  The survey didn’t drill down into the quality of life in particular communities within the cities but studies consistently show that the living environment tends to be worse in low-income areas.  For example, the policy of successive governments of concentrating traffic on main roads and often traffic calming ‘residential’ roads has worsened noise and pollution for many poorer communities who live, in disproportionate numbers, on main roads.  A study I did (Poor Show, 1998) found a fifth of council tenants in the London Borough of Greenwich rated traffic noise as big a problem as crime, with those living on main roads the most concerned.

These are the communities that fly the least.  Whether it is from traffic, trains or planes, they are the victims of what Les Blomberg, the executive director of the US-based Noise Pollution Clearing House called ‘second-hand noise’:  “noise that is experienced by people who did not produce it. Like second-hand smoke, it’s put into the environment without people’s consent and then has effects on them that they don’t have any control over.”  There will be even more second-hand noise from a 3rd runway at Heathrow.

I understand the argument made by Heathrow Airport that a new runway could help increase the prosperity of London and thus lift some communities out of poverty and so give more people more choice about where they can live.  But two inescapable facts remain:  there will always be a huge number of people living in social housing in London; and planes using Heathrow go over areas of deprivation unmatched by any other major airport in the South East.    

Heathrow Noise: doing nothing is not an option

I’ve been asked why we are jointly organizing a Noise Summit on Tuesday with Let Britain Fly! and London First, two organizations with whom we don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with on the question of airport expansion. 

 The answer is simple.  Doing nothing about noise at Heathrow is not an option.

 For some other airports in the country noise may not be a pressing, daily problem.  At Heathrow it is.  According to the European Commission, over 725,000 people live under the Heathrow flight paths (28% of all people impacted by aircraft noise across Europe).  A recent report from MVA consultancy suggests it could be closer to one million: http://www.hacan.org.uk/resources/reports/Understanding_UKCommunity_Annoyance_for_2M_Group_final_03092013.pdf .  Very obviously, not all these residents are seriously disturbed by the noise but even if 5% are, that means that 50,000 people are badly affected.  Many more will find the planes at least very irritating.

Whatever happens regarding Heathrow expansion, the current noise climate created by Heathrow requires action.  With or without a third runway, the aim has got be to cut the number of planes going over any one community in any one week.  There is the possibility that could be achieved through a creative use of respite periods.

Fifteen years ago neither the Government nor the aviation industry were not acknowledging the problem, far less engaging in finding solutions.  That has now changed.  The Noise Summit is an example of that.  I am under no illusions that what helped change attitudes was the defeat of the plans for a 3rd runway at Heathrow and the subsequent realization by government, business and industry that, if they were to stand even an outside chance of ever getting a third runway, they would need to deal with the noise problem.  But change has happened.  No longer is it taken for granted that the Heathrow noise climate – the worst in Europe and, by some distance, the worst in the UK – is an immutable fact of life.  It is accepted that it must be improved.  The Noise Summit is part of the process to look at ways in which that can be done.

Air Pollution: 3rd runway would require M4 and M25 to be virtually 100% diesel-free


by John Stewart

Today the London’s Mayor is due to launch his low-emission zone for London.  It is an attempt to bring down the seriously high levels of air pollution in London- the highest NO2 levels of any capital city inEurope, way above the EU legal limits.

 Last month the EU took the first step towards taking legal action against the UK.  It follows the announcement of the European Commission’s Clean Air Policy Package on 18 December which required member states to meet current EU legal limits by 2020 and to achieve further reductions by 2030.

 Look at any map and it becomes clear that two of the biggest problem areas are Central London and Heathrow.  The problem at Heathrow arises not just from the aircraft but also from the traffic on the M4 and the M25.

 The impressively knowledgeable Simon Birkett, who heads up Clean Air for London, estimates that, for the Heathrow area to meet the EU legal limits by 2020, only 10% of the traffic on the M4 and M25 could be diesel.  And he says that, if a 3rd runway was in place by 2026 (the planned date for its opening if it is ever built), there would need to be a virtual ban on diesel cars and lorries on the two motorways to meet the legal limits.

 This is a very big ask.  Another huge barrier to building a new runway at Heathrow.  Of the other UKairports, only London City risks breaking the EU rules.

 For more information: www.cleanairinlondon.org

The Nantes Airport Protest: its wider relevance


by John Stewart

On Saturday Nantes was ablaze.  The anger at the proposed new airport outside this city in Western France boiled over:  http://youtu.be/eIgNvAHIVmw.  Up to 60,000 people took part in what was largely a peaceful demonstration:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyZ9aDDqWfQ&list=PLYfjo3JyLy2TBtLWV_afrBLvUCVOzdOWa&feature=share   The local campaign group ACIPA say that the tension rose when the police refused to allow the march to take the normal route through the city.   When part of the march tried to do so it “faced violent police repression shot with rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades”: http://communiques-acipa.blogspot.co.uk/

I have been to Nantes several times over last few years (although wasn’t there not on Saturday).  The campaign has become a cause célèbre in France.  It has “support committees” in over 200 towns and cities across France and Belgium.  On a regular basis each committee lobbies and demonstrates in its own area.  Over 60 coaches arrived in Nantes on Saturday with supporters from across the nation.

During the last Presidential elections four “peasant” farmers, whose land was threatened by the new airport, went on hunger strike for a month.  They were visited by most of the presidential candidates.  All, except for Hollande and Sarkozy, came out against the airport.

The profile of the campaign wasn’t always so high.  I first met the campaigners in 2008 when five desperate farmers drove through the night to promote their case at a major Heathrow rally.  They subsequently modelled much of their campaign on the successful fight against the 3rd runway.  In particular, they built up the widest possible alliance of support.

The proposed new airport would be built around 15 miles from the city of Nantesi n a landscape dotted with small farms and attractive villages.  It is the classic French countryside, but without the British and their second homes!

The rationale for the new airport has never been entirely clear.  Nantes already has a single runway airport which is under-used.  The regional government argues that the new airport would regenerate the area.  This is hotly contested by the campaigners who commissioned their own report which challenged the government’s economic case: http://www.cedelft.eu/publicatie/review_of_the_social_cost-benefit_analysis_of_grand_ouest_airport_%3Cbr%3E_comparison_with_improvements_of_nantes_atlantique/1191   They argue that the new airport has more to do with boosting the egos of the local politicians – including the former Mayor of Nantes Jean-Marc Aryault who was made Prime Minister under Hollande – than beefing up the economy.

It remains unclear how much support there may be from people in Nantes living under flight path to the current airport for the new airport.  Certainly, it is not visible.  In contrast, the opposition has mushroomed over the last six years.  Local people have been joined by a range of political and environmental organizations as well as the direct action campaigners, many of whom live in tents and tree houses in a local wooded area known as the ZAD.

There have been tensions from time to time between the local community and the direct action activists in the ZAD but last winter the ZAD won huge respect from other parts of the coalition when, in freezing cold conditions, they defied attempts by authorities to remove them.

It is probably impossible at this stage to know what will happen next in Nantes.  But I think it is part of an emerging pattern:  it is becoming increasingly difficult to build major new projects anywhere in Western Europe.  The Nantes campaigners have links with those opposing the HS2 high-speed link in Britain (http://stophs2.org/news/5792-les-grands-projets-inutiles-imposes) through what is known as the Campaign against Useless Imposed Mega-Projects.  It is what is says on the tin!  It includes the NO-TAV movement against high-speed rail in Northern Italy and Save RosiaMontana, the Romanian campaign against a vast cyanide-mined gold extraction project in Western Transylvanian.  Last year the Nantes campaigners hosted the Useless Imposed Mega-Projects’ annual meeting.

Iain Martin wrote in the Daily Telegraph (14/1/09) about the Heathrow anti-third campaign: “the coalition assembled outside Parliament is extraordinarily wide. It runs from radical eco-warriors to middle-class mothers in west London, hedge fund managers in Richmond, to pensioners and parents in Brentford”.  The links now being made by opponents of mega-projects are in some ways an extension of this.  The anarchist on the streets ofNanteshas little in common with the millionaire executive in the Chilterns…….except they are both passionately against a mega-project.

Certain conditions seem to need to be present for a mega-project to attract opposition from very disparate people. 

  • There is a real doubt whether the mega-project is essential for the economy.  The economic case for the new Nantes Airport, HS2, the Rumanian gold-mine and the third runway at Heathrow are all hotly contested.
  • The mega-project is site-based, i.e. there is land, homes, countryside or communities to defend.
  • The mega-project is attracting significant local opposition.  If the local opposition is non-existent or small, the essential first building block is missing.
  • The mega-project must attract outside opposition. Nanteshas become a magnet that has drawn a diverse range of protesters each there for a differ reason: environmentalist; anti-capitalist etc.

The new Nantes airport proposed for this unfashionable part of France has become the classic ‘useless’ mega-project.  I suspect Heathrow Airport – and probably also the promoters of HS2 – will be looking closely at what happens next at Nantes.

The economy is not dependent on a 3rd runway at Heathrow. Here’s the evidence


by John Stewart

 Heathrow Airport is more honest than many of its supporters when making the economic case for a third runway.  They acknowledge that it is not the only game in town.  The issue was highlighted last week when DeAnne Julius, a former member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England and British Airways chief economist in the 1990s, wrote a piece in the Financial Times (No one answer to the London airport question, 14/2/14 – http://on.ft.com/1c4OyKj) suggesting that a two-hub solution may be best for London’s economy, i.e. a second runway at Gatwick rather than a third runway at Heathrow.

I will return to Julius’s case for Gatwick in a moment but first to acknowledge there is merit in Heathrow’s argument.  Their case is well-known.  The Airport argues that, unless  a third runway is built, London will have fewer direct flights than other European hub cities (Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Madrid) to the key business destinations in emerging economies like China, India and Mexico.  And that this matters because there is evidence that direct flights are an important tool in attracting business.

Heathrow argues that it is only a major hub airport which can provide those flights because the transfer passengers which a hub attracts provide the extra passenger numbers which make frequent flights to these destinations commercially viable.

Organisations like the Independent Transport Commission support this view.  Peter Hind, author of research they commissioned and highlighted in the Financial Times (16/2/14), said “Regular long-haul routes need transfer passengers to supplement those starting or ending journeys locally.  Hosting a hub will remain key to sustaining and or developing global aviation connectivity.”  He added: “More UK passengers already transfer via Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle hubs than through Heathrow, Amsterdam, Paris and others are able to compete with London by hosting growing networks.”

Boris and the backers of an Estuary option make a similar argument but go further.  They are arguing for a mega-hub (4 or more runways, 24 hour operation) that would give London the hub airport inEurope.  It would be in the super league alongsideDubai and the fast-expanding airport inIstanbul. Paris,Frankfurt and the other European hubs would be left behind.

The argument Julius makes is different.  Here’s how she put it in the Financial Times:

“There are clearly advantages to large hub airports, especially for cities with small domestic markets. For Singapore or Dubai, it is imperative to have an airport large enough to attract transfer traffic on which the small domestic market can piggyback. But London is the very opposite of Singapore or Dubai. It is the quintessential international city. It has a big domestic market of business and leisure travellers who want to fly from London. It also attracts large numbers of business and tourist visitors from other countries who want to come to London, not transfer through it. The larger this so-called ‘origin and destination’ traffic is, the smaller will be the benefit to a city of attracting transfer traffic. According to the Airport Commission, London is the largest aviation market in the world (in terms of passenger numbers) and the largest ‘origin and destination’ market. In other words, like New York, London is both large enough and international enough to support two international airports. It does not need to consolidate capacity in a single mega-hub – whether at Heathrow or in the Thames estuary – in the hope of attracting more transfer passengers”.

Her argument rests on this key fact: more passengers (business people and tourists) terminate in London than in any other world city.  BecauseLondon is the magnet, Heathrow does not need to expand as a hub in order for transfer passengers to provide sufficient numbers of people to fill flights to destinations across the world that would not otherwise be commercially viable.  If airport capacity is provided – at whatever airport – people will flock to the capital in even larger numbers, drawn by the magnetic pull ofLondon. London is the hub.

It is becoming ever more clear that the economy is not dependent on a third runway being built at Heathrow.

What percentage of the population is deeply disturbed by aircraft noise?


by John Stewart

Frankie Goes to Hollywood had a big hit with their 1983 song Two Tribes to War.  It is a bit like that with aircraft noise.  Not so much war, perhaps; just mutual incomprehension.  People who are deeply disturbed by aircraft noise just can’t understand why their next-door neighbour hardly hears the planes.  And the neighbour dismisses the noise sufferer next door as either cranky or using the noise to cover up their real concern: the price of their house.

Just how noise affects people is a key question – perhaps the key question – in assessing the impacts of a third runway at Heathrow.  Heathrow Airport is carrying out useful focus group research in an attempt to find the answer.

The numbers under the Heathrow flight paths are well-known:  currently over 725,000; a third runway would add around another 150,000.  What is much less clear is how many of these people are, or will be, deeply disturbed by aircraft noise.

However, there is some research to help us find that answer.  It is estimated that about one in ten people are particularly noise-sensitive.  According to the German psychologist, Rainer Guski, these people are likely to become more annoyed by noise than the general population.

 But there are other factors at play.  I summarized them in my book Why Noise Matters, published by Earthscan in 2011: “we are likely to become more annoyed if we believe the noise may be harming our health or putting us in danger.  We can get very annoyed too – even desperate – if we feel we have no control over the noise or we cannot stop it getting worse.  Generally, we are less annoyed if we feel there may be benefits linked to the noise: such as jobs or economic regeneration.  We are also less annoyed if we believe the authorities are doing everything they can to mitigate the effects of it.”

We also know that, although many more people are exposed to traffic noise, there is evidence to show that people become disturbed more quickly by aircraft noise.  It is thought this could be to do with the high-level of low frequency it contains.  In Why Noise Matters I concluded: “Wherever noise has a stronger than average low-frequency component – such as powerful stereo-systems, wind turbines, heavy lorries, high-speed trains – it seems particularly problematic.”

How does all this play out in the communities under the Heathrow flight paths?  Reactions of individuals to aircraft noise could not be more varied.  At HACAN we get angry letters from people who live within touching distance of the airport telling us we are talking nonsense since they have no problem with the noise.  At the other end of the spectrum, there are people 20 miles from the airport who go to their relatives at weekend to escape the noise.  In between, there are a lot of people who feel they can live with the noise (particularly if they were born and brought up under the flight path); and there is the group of people who are annoyed by the noise but not to the extent that it preoccupies them or they grab the first chance to move away when the opportunity presents itself.

What, then, be the impact of a third runway at Heathrow?

A small number of people would be deeply disturbed by the extra planes.  Heathrow’s early research suggests it will be a lot less than 10%.  I suspect it might be closer to the 10% mark because of the large number of people who would be under a flight path for a first time.  What happened when the fourth runway at Frankfurt opened is instructive.  The shock to the system of a plane coming over every 90 seconds or so brought thousands on to the streets in protest.  These protests still continue well over two years after the runway has been open.  I suspect that Heathrow will try to manage the impact of a new runway better than the Frankfurt authorities did but we can still expect a percentage of lives of be wrecked by the noise.

Heathrow’s problem, though, is less the fact that 10% of people or, if their predictions are right, even fewer, will be utterly disturbed by the noise if a third runway is built but more that it will be 10% of such a high overall number:  with a new runway in place at least 875,000 people will be under the Heathrow flight paths

10% of 875,000 is 87,000 people.  Even 5% is 43,000.  That 43,000 figure is just less than 3 times the total number of people who will be living under a flight path at Gatwick if a second runway is built.  Or about 4 times the total number current affected by noise at Stansted.

 Aircraft noise is not the defining issue in the lives of most people living under the Heathrow flight paths.  But it might be the issue that defines whether or not a third runway is ever built at Heathrow.