I’ve been asked why we are jointly organizing a Noise Summit of 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.