HACAN New Year 2015

Five years ago in the week between Christmas and the New Year I wrote Victory Against All Odds – the story of how the campaign to stop a third runway at Heathrow was won.  It was five months before the 2010 General Election but I was banking on the fact that Labour, which was promoting the new runway would lose, and that David Cameron  – “No ifs; not buts; there will be No Third Runway” – would become Prime Minister.

Five years on the third runway is back on the agenda.  For a short period when Justine Greening was Transport Secretary, Theresa Villiers was responsible for aviation and Maria Eagle shadowed transport for Labour, it looked as if we might have killed the third runway.

However, I would argue it has been far from a wasted five years and, in one crucial respect, we are in a better place than we were in 2010.  Amongst my concluding words in Victory Against All the Odds were these: “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 immeasureably 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.”

A key task for HACAN in 2010 was to get the authorities to recognise this problem; indeed, more generally, to find ways to improve things for residents under the flight paths of a two-runway Heathrow.  It coincided with a change of attitude from Heathrow Airport, then still called BAA:  they had been chastened by their failure to get a third runway and realized they had to do things differently.


HACAN commissioned the consultants Bureau Veritas** to carry out a study to assess

if, and how, flight paths over London have changed over the past 10 years. The study,

No Place to Hide, was paid for by a grant from the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

It just covered London. It did not cover areas to the west of the airport, but the findings

outlined would be applicable to those areas.

Key findings:

Aircraft noise has become a London-wide problem.

In places 20 kilometres from Heathrow “aircraft noise dominated the local

environment.” For example, there was “an almost constant background of aircraft noise” in

Kennington Park, close to the Oval Cricket Ground, well over 15 kilometres from the airport.

In some areas of East London flown over by both Heathrow planes and City Airport

noise levels were comparable to those in parts of West London.

Key conclusions:

“The increase in the number of movements between 1996 and 2005 can clearly be seen”

“In terms of geographical spread, the greatest increases have occurred in the early

morning and in the evening – arguably the relatively more sensitive times of day”

“The relatively high levels of aircraft noise that do occur at some distance from the airport

are certainly enough to be noticed by those living in those areas and in certain circumstances

to cause some disturbance and intrusion.”

“The results of this study do explain why aircraft noise from operations at London

Heathrow is a cause for concern beyond the boundary of (the officially recognised*)


* The official contour (where the Government and aviation industry acknowledge there may be a noise problem)

contains the area enclosed by the 57 dB(A) LAeq contour. That is, the area where aircraft noise averages

* The official contour (where the Government and aviation industry acknowledge there may be a noise problem)

contains the area enclosed by the 57 dB(A) LAeq contour. That is, the area where aircraft noise averages out at 57

decibels over the course of the summer – roughly between Barnes and Heathrow.

Key reason for the increase:

The growth in the number of aircraft using Heathrow (and in some areas, City Airport)

has required changes to be made to landing patterns:

 Many more routes between the holding stacks and the airport are now in use;

 Planes are forced to take less direct routes from the stacks, resulting in many more

turning movements (which has increased noise levels).

Not one of those presented here lives within eight miles of Heathrow, and not one of them

knowingly chose to live under a flight path. The flight paths came to them, without any kind of a

public process, without any meaningful avenue of complaint, without any hope of redress. Each

has written as honestly as they can of the way in which their lives are blighted by aircraft

overhead, but reading accounts is not really enough: one has to be directly subjected to the level

of aircraft noise these people experience day and night to understand the way it eats into a

person’s life.

http://hacan.org.uk/resources/reports/hacan.living_under.pdf 2002 Living under Heathrow’s flight paths


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