Guest blog: don’t forget flight paths

We have published this letter to us in the form of a blog as it highlights a key point that has been made to us in an increasing number of emails and letters; that, in focusing on opposition to a third runway in our campaigning, we are in danger of neglecting measures, such as respite, needed to assist people currently suffering from the noise.


We like what you do.   We don’t like the sound of a third runway.  But we are worried that the focus you are putting on a the third runway in your campaigning is obscuring the fact something urgently needs to be done for people like us who are bombarded right now by the noise of planes landing at Heathrow.

To be brutally honest, a third runway is not our main concern.  It is over a decade away. And, to be utterly frank, if it meant an improvement to our current situation we would welcome it.

We all live in South East London. We met at the Oval watching cricket and got chatting not so much about the number of runs on the scoreboard but more about the number of planes going overhead.  Sometimes there were over 40 an hour.  We all live within about a two mile radius of the Oval.

Some of us have moved in over the last few years; others have been in the area for over 30 years. None of us thought to ask about planes when we moved in. We are almost 20 miles from Heathrow.

Those of us who have been here for many years began to see a change in the late 1990s. We have since learnt from the useful briefing sheets you have produced that it was around that time that more planes starting joining their final approach path in SE London rather than SW London as they had done previously.  We became the new neighbours of Heathrow.

We note from posts on twitter and facebook we are not alone in having our lives ruined by this constant noise. Some of our neighbours have moved away to escape it. But many people can’t, particularly if you a renting in one of the many council estates in the area.

We appreciate the huge efforts HACAN has made to put respite on the agenda. That is what we want: a predicable period of relief from the noise where we know we can enjoy our homes, parks and gardens without the fear of the next plane roaring overhead.  Where we can watch the cricket to nothing more than the sound of the bat and ball and the roar of the crowd.

Please make this a central part of your campaigning.  What about ‘rallies for respite’?  We’d be there.  Even worth missing the cricket for!

You may begin to see why the campaigning against the third runway doesn’t resonate with us.  We understand why it is so important to people who will lose their homes and don’t want the compensation they would get. We can see why it is so critical to those people who would be under a new flight path for the first time.  We ‘get’ that some people oppose it on climate change grounds.

But, though it may be heretical to say so, if a third runway could bring us a better deal than we have now, we’d go for it. And we don’t believe that is necessarily fantasy. We have followed what the ex-Concorde pilot Jock Lowe has been saying about curved flight paths. They could be used in a way that allowed flight paths to be shared much more fairly.

Are we being NIMBY? We hope not and we don’t think we are. HACAN, you have written eloquently about the unfairness of ‘noise ghettos’ in the past. You may even have coined the phrase! All we are saying is that noise ghettos shouldn’t exist and that we currently live in one.

So, please HACAN, as well as your Rallies against the Runway, let’s have a Rally for Respite. It’s only cricket after all!

John Stewart, HACAN chair responds:

In the autumn the Government will be consulting on the principles that should inform any airspace changes (nationally).  It is within this framework that Heathrow will make changes to its flight paths, whether it operates as a two-runway or three runway airport.  Heathrow has commissioned a major independent study to find out what meaningful respite will look like.  We have backed the study and, through the Heathrow Noise Forum, were closely involved in the preparatory work for the study.  It is the first of its kind in the world and will be published next year.

Whatever the decision on the third runway, flight paths will be a major focus of our work over the next period.  This will include campaigning for respite as well as pressing for the best possible operational practices such as steeper ascent and descent pathways.  Let’s rally together for respite! 

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