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.

A response to Kate Andrews pitiful article describing the Heathrow villagers as ‘bananas’

13/12/15

By John Stewart

This is the first time ever I’ve had to tell myself to ‘my mind language’ even before I write a word of my blog.  But the article by Kate Andrews in Friday’s Daily Telegraph made me so angry that, had I written this blog straight after reading it, even Donald Trump might have thought it distasteful.

Two days later I am still angry but it is mixed with pity for Kate Andrews who seemed to lack any empathy with people who homes and communities are under threat by a third runway at Heathrow.

Here’s her piece in the Telegraph.  Best to look at it before you read more of this blog: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/aviation/12045665/Anti-Heathrow-campaigners-dont-help-their-cause-by-shouting-people-like-me-down.html

Nobody involved on Thursday night would defend aggressive behaviour. But picture the situation they were placed in.  Channel 4 had come down to their pub – the 11th century Five Bells – in Harmondsworth to get their reaction live on air to the announcement about the 3rd runway as it was being made.  This announcement was not just of passing interest to them.  It could determine their very future.  It could mean their homes were saved or….they faced eviction.

With good reason this is a community living on the edge.  These are angry people who feel bitterly betrayed.  They believed David Cameron in 2009 when he promised. ‘No ifs, no buts, no third runway.’  Many of them had been Conservative voters all their lives.  They are not professional protesters.  They are ‘the hard working British families’ that every Government likes to talk about.

Did you get any sense of that from Kate Andrews’ article?  More to the point, did she grasp any of that in her brief visit to the pub?  She seems to have had no sense of the situation these villages find themselves in.  She almost admits her bewilderment and lack of understanding when she writes,

“I’m not sure what went so horribly wrong last night. Was it my talking about economic benefits of something that affects people personally? Was it the drive to make “good television”? Was it being in a pub?”

But then, instead of exploring that further she says:

“My suspicion is that whatever went wrong has something to do with the culture of the anti-runway campaigners.”

A generalization, if ever there was one, without a shred of evidence to back it up.

Her deep lack of understanding of the impact of Heathrow was again shown up in perhaps her most revealing phrase:

“many of the billions generated by the airport expansion should be directed towards local communities, giving residents a cash top-up for the inconvenience of noise pollution.”

“INCONVENENIENCE”.  Noise pollution is just an “INCONVENIENCE”!  At that stage I would have been shouting at her.  Daily, I get emails from people whose lives have been turned upside down by the noise.  And some of them live over 20 miles from the airport. They are not inconvenienced by the noise but deeply, deeply disturbed by it.

I can’t help but think what happened on Thursday was that a strong supporter of the third runway came face to face with the human consequences of building it, probably for the first time, and was out of her depth.  That’s the real message of her article.  It makes me angry she wrote it using the words which she did.  It makes me sad she doesn’t understand what she did.

One of the women who Kate Andrews says shouted at her went home that evening, distraught as a result of the events.  She wept bitterly for two hours.  She had just lost her husband, her life-long partner.  She could face the prospect of losing her home of over 40 years as well.  Who’s the real victim here, Ms Andrews?

 

 

It’s not just all about Zac

11/11/15

by John Stewart

Much of the business community has responded with predicable outrage at the decision to postpone a decision on new runways.  Although it might be being overdone for effect, it’s understandable. Following the Airport Commission’s backing for of a third runway in in July, Heathrow and its business backers had every reason to feel they had it in the bag.  Now they are being asked to play six months of extra time.

The Government has been accused of playing politics; of postponing the decision until after May’s Mayoral elections in order to stop the Conservative mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, from resigning his Parliamentary seat i the middle of the Mayoral campaign.

Zac Goldsmith has played a blinder in his opposition to a third runway but it would be a mistake to see this decision as all about Zac.  The Government has understood the real problems with a third runway at Heathrow and, given those difficulties, it has understood it needs to keep alive the option of an extended runway at Heathrow (as proposed by Heathrow Hub) and of a second runway at Gatwick.  The Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was very clear on this point on the Today programme this morning.

The last Labour Government tied and failed to build a 3rd runway at Heathrow.  The obstacles are enormous:

  • Pollution levels that could exceed the EU legal limits
  • 250,000 more planes a year over the capital city that already experiences more aircraft noise than any other place in Europe
  • The demolition of almost 800 homes
  • The need to put part of the M25 in a tunnel
  • A cost to the taxpayer of the associated road and rail infrastructure that could run into billions

These are big, big concerns.  With or without a Mayoral election looming, they would justify more time being spent in the long grass to get them right.

 

Why HACAN Backs Respite

There have been a number of tweets recently asking why HACAN backs respite (predicable periods of relief from the aircraft noise).  

In a word, it’s because it is what the majority of our supporters tell us they want.  The call has been long, loud and consistent over many years.

That is not to say that everybody wants it.  A number of people – particularly those living under take-off routes – prefer dispersal.  That’s fine.

The take-off corridors, known as Noise Preferential Routes, are three kilometers wide.  They were established in the 1960s and, until relatively recently, aircraft, when taking off, were spread across the corridor.  It meant that, while nobody got guaranteed periods of silence, no community was continuously overflown.  It also helped that there were three and sometimes four NPRs in use at any one time which spread the load around.  (Over recent years planes have become much more concentrated on the centre-line of the NPRs which is causing big problems – I will return to that later).

The situation with landings has been very different.  People can feel bombarded by the noise. And want a break from it. Of course a minority of people under the landing flight paths already get respite.  These are the communities living in the West London boroughs closest to Heathrow.  Since the 1970s planes landing at Heathrow have switched runways at 3pm to give these people a half day’s break from the noise. (Of course, if you live between the two runways, the benefit is much less apparent).

But everybody else under the landing flight paths gets no respite.  People are suffering badly.  I wrote in an earlier blog: “I would argue the current situation across huge swathes of London and the Home Counties is untenable and change can only be a good thing.  40 planes an hour can overfly the Oval Cricket Ground or Clapham Common”.

This video of Vauxhall, 17 miles from Heathrow, gives a flavour of the disturbance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXf8o_khz8s

A 2007 report commissioned by HACAN from the consultants Bureau Veritas found that in Ruskin Park in Camberwell, almost 20 miles from the airport, “aircraft noise dominates the local environment”.   It said that in Kennington Park, close to the Oval, there was “an almost constant background of aircraft noise.”  And in some areas of East London flown over by both Heathrow planes and City Airport it showed noise levels were comparable to those in parts of West London.

And this had been going on since 1995/6 when landing procedures were tightened up.  Glenda Jackson, aviation minister at the time, told the House of Commons (28/10/97): “when the airport is busy, which is for much of the day, aircraft will join the ILS [the final descent path] further east over Battersea, Brixton or Lewisham.”

One resident wrote at the time: “I’ve lived in Clapham North at the same address for almost 20 years.  Until 3 years ago one hardly noticed the planes, apart from Concorde, of course.  Then in summer ’95, as if someone somewhere had flicked a switch, the occasional drone became a remorseless whine.  It was like an aerial motorway, open from early morning till at least mid-evening.”

Since those days that resident and thousands like him have been calling for a break from the noise, for some form of respite.  And HACAN has backed them.

To some extent we got distracted from the task when we were forced to fight a third runway when it was proposed (in 2002/3 by the last Labour Government). 

When the proposal was defeated after an eight year I wrote in  Victory Against All Odds – the story of how the campaign to stop a third runway at Heathrow was won (http://www.hacan.org.uk/resources/reports/how.the.heathrow.campaign.was.won.pdf) :

“HACAN has been part of a famous victory. But we have work yet to do.  The planes are still roaring over our heads.  During the years of the campaign the noise has become immeasurably worse for many people.  Planes are lining up to join their final approach path further out than before.  Aircraft noise is now a real problem for more people much further from the airport…..For these people victory in the third runway campaign will ring very hollow indeed if nothing is done about the sky of sound over their heads.”

The victory in 2010 gave us a new opportunity to get something done.  Heathrow Airport had lost the battle.  As a result, it was much more inclined to listen to residents than before.  HACAN and Heathrow agreed to park the things that divided us – notably a third runway and night flights – and see how, through an element of cooperation, we could find ways to improve matters for residents at a two runway airport.  It was in the interest of both of us to do so.

Top of our agenda was improving the day-to-day noise climate for residents.  Respite was the constant call for people under the landing flight paths.  But things were changing too for people within the take-off Noise Preferential Routes.  Planes were being directed down the centre-line of the NPRs.  HACAN argued – and still argues –  that there should be either a return to dispersal or an alternation of the routes within the NPRs.

Concentration anywhere without respite would be unacceptable.  It would simply create noise ghettos.

There was pressure from outside the UK for concentration.  New technology enabled planes to be guided much more precisely on landing and departure.  In theory this allowed for planes to line up many miles from the airport and land on one or two narrow corridors.  It saved the airlines time and cut fuel costs.  But it would have been utterly unfair on the residents who found themselves under the chosen flight paths.  Most American airports have gone for this pure concentration approach, causing uproar in the localities.

But, more positively, this new precision technology can potentially provide the respite that many residents have been wanting for twenty years.  A series of concentrated flight paths, regularly rotated, would share out the noise.  I’m aware of the problems inherent in this but doing nothing is simply not an option for tens of thousands of residents.

The challenge is to find a way to bring relief without impacting noticeably on new areas.  HACAN has been talking constructively about this with the aviation industry for some time.  And Heathrow has now commissioned a study to look at how respite could be implemented in practical terms.

Of course its motives are mixed – one of them is to try to make a third runway more palatable – and HACAN itself has been accused of being too close to the industry.  It is for others to make up their minds about that, on the basis of the facts.  But I truly believe that this engagement does represent the best opportunity for two decades for many long-suffering residents to get a bit of peace and quiet.

 

Noise Metrics: the Curious Case of Leq

26/10/15

by Dr Chris Woodward , Research Team, CHATR (Chiswick Against Third Runway)

There has been a fair bit of dispute recently about whether or not the Heathrow noise climate has been getting better or not.  Heathrow Airport claims it has.  Many residents say is has not.

A lot can be explained by the way annoyance cause by aircraft noise is measured, as Chris Woodward explains:  

Much information on airport noise uses a family of metrics to measure annoyance known as Equivalent Continuous Sound Levels (Leq). Of the noise maps presented by the Airports Commission, for example, about two-thirds use these.

The general idea behind Leq is that, with an intermittent source of noise pollution (such as aircraft flying overhead), it is not unreasonable to calculate an average to express the general noise level over a given time period. Incidentally the period often used is the 16 hours between 0700 and 2300, in which case the metric is abbreviated to LAeq16h (the “A” subscript refers to a correction to take account of the varying sensitivity of the human ear to different sound frequencies).

In order to calculate such an average one needs a record of how noise intensity, expressed as decibels (dB), changes over time. Now the decibel is an exotic beast, in the jungle of scientific units, partly because it is logarithmic. This means (amongst other things) that an increase – say a doubling – of sound intensity, does not result in a doubling of the decibel reading. In fact it results in an increase of 3 dB units (regardless of the initial decibel level). An increase of 10-fold in sound intensity leads to an increase of 10 dB units. Such are the wonders of logarithms.

There are a number of reasons for using a logarithmic unit to express sound intensity. One is that human beings perceive the loudness of sounds in roughly the same way. So, for example, a doubling of sound intensity (as measured scientifically using a recording device) would be perceived as a much smaller increase in loudness by people rating the change on a subjective scale. So the decibel, although not a perfect measure of loudness as perceived by the human ear (and brain), is not too far adrift either. So far, so sensible, more or less.

Problems arise however when this logarithmic scale is combined, in a calculation, with the variable time in order to arrive at an overall “average”. In particular, the way Leq metrics are calculated is not, as one might expect, to take the average of the decibel reading over time, but rather to take the average of the underlying sound intensity (as measured scientifically) and then apply the mathematical logarithm function afterwards.

Those whose school mathematics is rusty may need reminding that these two methods of calculation give radically different results. Of particular interest is the impact of an increase in the number of sound events – say planes flying overhead – on the calculation. For example, if the number of overflights in a time period increases by 50% (approximately the projected overall increase if a third runway is built), one might expect a sensible metric of noise pollution to increase by 50% as well. And this is indeed what the first calculation method would show. But this is not how Leq is calculated: using the actual method of calculation, Leq would increase by a mere 2 dB units. So, if you are a few miles from Heathrow, and your current LAeq16h is say 57dB, a 50% increase in overflights will “only” increase this to 59dB! Incidentally, the same criticism applies to some other metrics where sound intensity is combined with time, for example Sound Exposure Level (SEL).

So is Leq a useful unit?

For scientists, it is an objective average of sound intensity. But as a measure of noise pollution, perceived by human beings, its value seems limited and the data it generates misleading. Members of the public could be forgiven for considering it more than a little opaque: but at least, if they have read this blog, they will understand one reason why published noise maps, projected to apply if a third runway is built, show relatively small differences from the current ones.

Is Heathrow getting quieter? Yes and No

19/10/15

by John Stewart

Is the overall noise climate around Heathrow improving?  In recent weeks there have been claims and counter-claims.  We try to unravel them.

‘Around Heathrow’ is possibly not the right phrase.  Flights from Heathrow can cause problems to people living 25 miles from the airport.  So, is the overall noise climate improving?

Last year (2014) the number of people blighted by Heathrow aircraft noise hit a 13-year high of just over 270,000, according to figures from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) based on the Government’s preferred measurement.

But Heathrow recently released figures which claimed the numbers impacted had fallen from 750,000 in 2013 to 702,000 last year.

To confuse things further both the CAA and Heathrow are correct! They are measuring the noise using different .

The CAA is using the Government’s preferred noise measurement known as the 57 LAeq contour.  This looks at the number of planes, and the noise of each plane, flying over an area over a 16 hour day.  The noise is then averaged out over the day.  If the average is 57 decibels or more, that area is considered to be affected by the noise.

This 57 decibel cut off point has for years been widely criticized.  Places like Fulham and Putney, clearly impacted by aircraft noise, lie outside the contour.  Most European countries use a different measurement and the recent Airports Commission Report downplayed it.

But the CAA is correct that the numbers within the 57LAeq contour have risen.  This is thought to be down to people moving into new homes and properties becoming households of multiple occupancy.  This increased population has off-set any benefits from less noisy aircraft and improved operational practices.

So where did Heathrow get its figures?  It used the measurement known as Lden recommended by the European Commission.  This averages out noise over a 12 hour day, then separately over a four hour evening and an eight hour night.  It adds 5 decibels to the evening measurement and 10 decibels to the night one to allow for lower background noise levels at these times.

It is regarded as more accurate than the 57LAeq contour.  It certainly tallies more closely with the actual areas where noise is problematic.  In London is includes area such as Clapham.  The total numbers affected has been considerably over 700,000.

Heathrow, however, has brought the total number down to 702,000.  It’s is good PR for the company.  Whilst their new figure is technically accurate, the sleight of hand they have used to get it would have wide-boys of the world purring with pleasure.

The reason why the overall numbers is down is simply because of a reduction in night noise.  Because 10 decibels are added to night flight noise to account for the lower background levels, Heathrow has only to introduce a relatively small number of less noisy planes at night to make a disproportional impact to overall noise levels.  That is what has happened.

The Airports Commission picked up on the inadequacy of current noise metrics.  It has recommended a suite of metrics being used to give a more accurate picture including metrics like N60 which indicate quite simply the number of planes which go overran area that are above 60 decibels.  To their credit, Heathrow have endorsed the need for a range of metrics to be used to measure ad explain noise annoyance.

The metrics story has a long way to run but, at present, beware that noise measurements may hide more than they reveal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dave – what’s your legacy?

14/10/10

Guest blog from Jenine Langrish

Three parties, three leaders: Tony Blair; Nick Clegg; and David Cameron.  How will history remember them?

Tony Blair united the Labour party and led them to their biggest ever majority and three consecutive election victories.  His government oversaw the introduction of a national minimum wage; freedom of information; devolution; and the signing of the Good Friday agreement.

And yet…if you ask the man in the street, he’s remembered for just one thing: his misguided decision to support George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, justified by the claim that Saddam Hussein had ‘weapons of mass destruction’.

That single policy decision has led to mass vilification in the media and ensures that he will forever be remembered as “Tony B-liar”.

Under Nick Clegg’s leadership the Lib Dems soared in popularity and surprised everyone by securing enough votes to hold the balance of power following 2010’s election.  For the first time since the days of Asquith and Lloyd George, the political party in the centre of politics held real power.  They can claim credit for a number of policies in the coalition government, notably raising the tax threshold to take over 3 million low earners out of the income tax system; introducing the pupil premium; and creating the Green Investment Bank.

And yet…once again, if you ask the man in the street, Clegg is remembered for just one thing: breaking his promise on student tuition fees.

That single concession in the coalition agreement discussions led to highly personal attacks in the media and to his party’s vote being decimated in the last election.

Which brings me to David Cameron.  He can claim credit for having overseen the recovery from the financial crisis; bringing the deficit under control; and generally keeping his party’s divisions on Europe under control.

But how will he be remembered in ten years time?  The lesson from Tony Blair and Nick Clegg is that the public have little tolerance if they believe politicians have lied or broken high profile promises.  Part of the reason for Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise ascendancy appears to be that Labour’s grass roots supporters saw him as an honest man who’d do what he said he would.

David Cameron’s highest profile promise is of course ‘No ifs, no buts, no third runway’.  As he appears to stand on the brink of an about turn on Heathrow he would do well to reflect on the lessons of Tony Blair and Nick Clegg.

Dave – how do you want to be remembered?  Do you want to be judged on your policies or simply remembered as the latest in a line of political leaders who broke their promises.  The choice is yours.

#WhatsyourlegacyDave?

What if Davies got his sums wrong……

by John Stewart

The Airports Commission recommended a third runway at Heathrow largely on the basis of the economic benefits it would bring to the country.  However, over the last few weeks evidence has emerged that the economic case for a third runway is much less convincing than it may have appeared.

What strengthens the argument is that much of this evidence, whilst unearthed by Gatwick Airport and others, is contained in the report of Airports Commission itself.

We now know:

  • The number of domestic airports linked to Heathrow will fall from 7 to just 4.
  • A 3rd runway will provide no more than 12 additional long-haul destinations by 2050

The case for a new runway at Heathrow always rested on the fact it would significantly improve connectivity to the emerging economies of the world and that it would connect more UK airports to Heathrow.  The facts suggest otherwise.  Indeed, a second runway at Gatwick would add 10 new long-haul destinations at a fraction of the cost to the taxpayer.

We also now know:

  • The £147 billion the Commission said a 3rd runway would bring to the national economy over 60 years is likely to be way too high.

Its own experts Professor Peter Mackie and Brian Pearce told the Commission that the method of modelling used by consultants PwC, which produced this figure, faced “a number of difficulties” and was about three times higher than traditional estimates.

Using the more traditional modelling methods, and assuming carbon trading is in place, the benefits of a third runway over a 60 year period fall to £69 billion.  A second runway at Gatwick would bring in just over £60 billion.

But, if the costs of the disbenefits (such as noise and emissions) and the costs of delivering the third runway are included, the economic benefits fall to £11.8 billion over 60 years.  The Commission admits Gatwick would be close behind at £10.8 billion.  (Gatwick Airport believes this is an underestimate as it argues the Commission has underestimated the number of passengers it would attract).

A recent report from the Aviation Environment Federation puts the benefits of a third runway even lower as it believes the Commission hasn’t fully factored in the costs of climate emissions.

But, even on the Commission’s own figures, the economic benefits of a third runway at Heathrow could be much less than has been commonly assumed.

Food for much thought for the cabinet committee which is assessing the Commission’s recommendation.