HACAN call for moratorium on airport expansion

For Immediate Use

Monday 10 May 2021


HACAN has joined forces with 15 other national and community campaign groups calling on the Government to place a moratorium on airport expansion owing to the UK’s climate change targets.

The Government recently accepted the advice of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) to formally include international aviation emissions in the UK’s climate law. (1) The CCC’s analysis concludes that as well as introducing new aviation fuels and improving aircraft efficiencies, demand for flying will need to be limited. The CCC also advises that there should be no net increase in UK airport capacity as sufficient capacity already exists.

The groups sent a letter (2) to both Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps, and Secretary of State for Communities, Housing and Local Government Robert Jenrick, requesting the moratorium on expansion until the Government sets out its raft of policies that ensure the aviation sector cuts its emissions in line with the UK’s carbon budgets.

A consultation on net zero aviation is long overdue and the groups suggest a moratorium is essential to avoid prejudging the outcome of the consultation.

Paul Beckford, Coordinator, HACAN, said

“The Government commitment to include international aviation emissions in our net zero targets means that all airport expansion plans should be paused until there is a national strategy for both reducing aviation emissions and airport capacity.

Heathrow have long argued that their third runway could be delivered within climate targets by explicitly excluding international emissions from their calculations. The new Government target makes this argument redundant. Government should now amend the Airports National Policy Statement in light of these more robust targets.” 



  1. UK enshrines new target in law to slash emissions by 78% by 2035, April 20th 2021, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-enshrines-new-target-in-law-to-slash-emissions-by-78-by-2035
  2. Airport Expansion Moratorium Letter, 7th May 2021, https://hacan.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Airport-expansion-moratorium-letter-May-2021.pdf  


Paul Beckford, paul@hacan.org.uk, 07775593928

Campaigners say UK airport expansion plans must be suspended amid new climate goals

HACAN has joined 15 national and community campaign groups calling on the Government to place a moratorium on airport expansion.

Together we have written to the Transport Secretary and the Communities, Housing and Local Government Secretary. You can see the letter in full here.

The letter has been picked up by the Guardian and HACAN have issued a press release here.

ANIMA App project


This is a Quality of Life survey app developed to gain a deeper understanding of the influence of the sound and visual environment on our day-to-day quality of life.

There is increased recognition of the importance of in-situ assessments thathelp researchers develop greater understanding of how people perceive their visual and acoustic environment. Inspired by soundscape studies, and in the wider context of the ANIMA European H2020 project, this Experience Sampling Method has been developed to ask people over the course of their daily lives about the quality of their acoustic and visual environment. The dedicated mobile application prompts the user to collect data a few times throughout the day (excluding overnight). After a notification, a participant is asked to record the soundscape over a minute. They then complete a few questions in relation to their sound and visual environment, and mood. The experiment lasts approximately two weeks depend­ing on the number of notifications per day the participant finds acceptable.

Within the ANIMA project we are particularly interested in people who live in a wider airport region considering taking part. Your contribution to our research will entail downloading and using the app. At random times across the day, you will be prompted to engage with the app. All data collected will be totally anonymous (no personal data is gathered) and used solely for research purposes. By statistically analysing the responses of people living in airport regions, the ANIMA research team will gain greater understanding of what sound/visual factors contribute to different levels of perceived quality of life. Based on our findings, we will be in a better position to share knowledge with policymakers to enable them to improve the quality of life in residential areas.

Currently, the number of people exposed to a certain level of aircraft noise is calculated on the basis of a person’s registered residence. It is recognised that people’s daily activities naturally involve movements away from/towards home during the day and that they are, thus, exposed to higher/lower sound levels in their environment. As researchers, we would like to have a clearer view of overall movements, and the app asks, therefore, for permission to register your rough position all the time. Data is completely anonymous – we do not know whose position is being registered – and the location data are rounded to a 100x100m grid, thereby making it even more “uncertain” where the user actually was. You can naturally refuse to be followed, but we would really appreciate if you wouldn’t do so.

It is important to underline that we know that current levels of air traffic are extremely low compared to pre-pandemic levels. Thus, this research is not designed to capture experience of air traffic that is in anyway representative of previous aircraft volumes. The study is focused, instead, on how people’s interactions, activities and movements are affected by their soundscape. We are carrying out the study to enable us to determine the app’s usability and potential applicability when aviation is well on its way to recovery. By being involved, you will be providing us with snapshots of your experience – we have no intention to extrapolate or misinterpret the results.

Living under the flight path to Heathrow – before, during and after Covid-19

In March, 2020, the Corona virus, a global pandemic we’d only heard about a couple of months before, reached our shores and on the 23rd March the whole of the UK went into lockdown.   We stayed at home, learned how to wash our hands, understood the term socially distant, became wary of touching everything and anything, ran out of sanitizer and loo paper, and, more seriously PPE, (personal protective equipment). The streets emptied, the shops, parks and the whole of the hospitality industry closed, and we wondered how we were going to feed ourselves as Supermarkets became dangerous places. 

But in defiance of all this, the weather in the UK changed from the wind and excessive rain of Jan and Feb into an unimaginably ethereal spring.   The sun shone out of a clear blue sky and for those of us living under the flight path to Heathrow, a miracle happened: THE PLANES STOPPED. 

We could hear bird song, wind blowing in the new-leaved trees, the honk of geese taking off from the Thames, the quack of ducks or moorhens.   We could sit in the garden – it was warm enough – and hear ourselves think.  For weeks we could forget what it was like to anticipate the constant drone of planes overhead, and stop imagining pollution, like an invisible gas, drifting down on to all of us living in Kew.  

I live in Kew under flightpath 27R, of planes landing at Heathrow.  At the moment we have no take-offs, but that could change.  The prevailing wind is from the west about 70% of the time.  Before lockdown this meant that for 70% of the year, planes landing at Heathrow from  the east, have to fly over the whole of the densely-populated area of most of London to land on one of the two runways.  When they reach Barnes they take one of two flight paths – 27R for aircraft approaching the northern runway, and 27L for aircraft approach the southern runway.  Known as alternation, this is meant to give respite from noise, but by the time planes reach Kew the distance between the two paths is so narrow that it is possible hear and see planes on both flight paths i.e. ALL DAY and some of the night. 

To understand what this means here are the facts before lockdown:

  • About 650 planes a day land at Heathrow and in rush hour, air traffic controllers sometimes have to land one plane every 45 seconds
  • At Kew, 10 nautical miles from Heathrow, the minimum height of incoming planes between 6am and 11pm should be 2500ft and at night 3000ft.  Most of the time they feel and look much lower.
  • Between 11pm and 6am there are sixteen night flights
  • From 6am to 7am planes land on both runways with an even shorter time between flights landing,;  the sound never completely dies away before the sound of the next plane can be heard gradually getting louder and louder
  • Between 7am and 3pm planes will take one of the flight paths and switch to the alternate flight path from 3pm to 11 pm.

Nearly a year later in January 2021 Heathrow remained busy compared with other airports around London.  Nevertheless, on Thursday 21st Jan 2021 Heathrow handled 211 ‘movements’ (total departures and arrivals) compared to roughly 1,223 ‘movements’ on a day in January 2020 .

This state affairs will return after we get through the pandemic and may get worse.  Airspace is being re-organised and may mean that the half–day respite of flights will be reduced. If the third runway is built, the current 480,000 of plane ‘movements’  per annum will increase.   There will a third flight path less than mile further north than the current ‘northern’ flight path, 27R.  There are rumours of our area being under the flight path of departures as well as arrivals.  The noise and pollution will inevitably increase.

Heathrow is a hungry animal.  In a kind of semi-hibernation at the moment, we are assured it will wake up and return with a vengeance.  Under the threat of climate change, we have to break the pattern which says that commercial considerations of the economy are more important than the well-being and physical and mental health of the hundreds of thousands of people living within twenty miles of the airport.  The pandemic has shown us that it is not always necessary to jump on a plane for business purposes, and if we have a conscience we should avoid flying for pleasure as much as possible.  We have to question the inexorable growth of Heathrow, or any airport, and instead be looking at how to reduce noise and pollution for everyone’s benefit and the good of the world.

Harriet Grace

Covid Impact on Heathrow

Post-Covid Heathrow is in a very different place. It held its Community Noise Forum online yesterday. A useful report was given by the airport on the current state of play.  Below are the main points:

  • Heathrow passenger numbers are down 82% on where they were last year.
  • Heathrow is losing £5m a day (that is the amount its costs exceed the revenue coming in)
  • It doesn’t expect passenger numbers to be back to their 2019 levels until around 2025
  • Senior management staff levels have had to be reduced by a third (involving around 400 compulsory redundancies)
  • All expenditure, except for that needed to keep the airport operating, has been paused
  • Heathrow remains committed to community engagement but will review the form it will take in the light of its financial circumstances.
  • Its commitment to minimising the impact of noise has not changed.
  • The holding stacks are not required to be used just now because of the big fall in the number of flights
  • Some more direct routes are being used
  • As expected, with far fewer flights, the number of late-running planes (those arriving or taking off after 23.30) has been reduced significantly.

Noise is an equity issue

Listen out for the voice of the voiceless

The better-off we are, the louder our complaints about any noise problem we may have.  

This can give the impression that noise is not really a concern for people who are less well-off.

Yet, the evidence suggests otherwise.

But before looking at some of it, it is worth making this distinction.  Communities, areas, places can be impacted by noise but not necessarily disturbed by it.  To get a true picture of the noise climate both issues need to be addressed.

What is very clear is that in Britain and across the world poorer communities are the most impacted by noise. 

I suspect aircraft noise may be the partial exception to this.  It obviously depends on where an airport is sited but many flight paths fly over rich and poor communities alike.  At Heathrow, for example, some of the wealthiest communities in the land – places like Richmond and Teddington – are overflown but so are some of the most densely-populated and deprived wards in Europe.

Even in aviation, though, there may be some bias against poorer communities.  Would a developer have dared to build London City Airport in the 1980s on fashionable Hampstead Heath instead of run-down North Woolwich?  I know I’m being a bit unfair because there was no reason to build an airport on Hampstead Heath while the justification for it in East London was to regenerate an area devastated by the closure of the Docks.  

But would Hampstead ever be considered for an airport even though, on reflection, there might be a market for private jets there.  After all The Bishops Avenue is close by, home to monarchs, business magnates, and celebrities – in the famous words of an estate agent: “Among the wealthiest circles in the world The Bishops Avenue is better known than Buckingham Palace. It’s a significant demonstration of status. If you live there, you don’t need to explain to people that you’re rich.”  Houses go on the market for up to £65 million.  But a new airport nearby is just inconceivable.

Traffic noise has been described as largely a main road problem these days – i.e. on the roads where low-income communities live in disproportionately large numbers.  Ironically, it is the result of the ‘progressive’ traffic policies pursued over the last 30 years.  Traffic-calming on, and closures of, ‘residential’ roads have funnelled traffic on to the main roads which for many low-income residents are their ‘residential’ roads.

Plans to reduce or tame traffic on ‘residential’ roads can only have all-round benefits if they include proposals to cut traffic on the adjacent main roads at the same time.  It can be done by reallocating road space on the main roads away from cars to other modes of transport through, for example, installing bus and cycle lanes.  Some of the measures being brought in post-Covid may do that but it shouldn’t be hit and miss.  It needs to be a mandatory requirement. 

Anybody can have noisy neighbours but we are a lot more likely to do so if we are less well-off.  A MORI survey revealed that almost 20% of people with a household income of less than £17,500 (2003 prices) regularly heard noise from neighbours, including 93% of social housing tenants.  In contrast only 12% of people with an income of over £30,000 could hear their neighbours.

It is a similar picture with wind turbine noise.  When I wrote a short report called ‘Location, Location, Location’ in 2006 on wind turbine noise, it became clear to me that those most affected by wind farm noise were poorer communities in rural areas.  

OK, so it is fairly clear that noise disproportionately impacts low-income communities.  But are they also the people most disturbed by it?

There is some truth that people can adapt to noisy surroundings, particularly if it is the only world they have known.  There is also evidence that some people like noise; that it is silence which disturbs them.  But is a very big jump from there to argue that because people in low-income communities complain less about noise they are not disturbed by it. 

There is evidence of very real disturbance.  When I did more work on surface level transport matters 25 years ago, I spent a lot of time talking with local communities (mainly about the provision of public transport).  In the poorer areas if Inner London there were some complaints about buses and trains, but, invariably, the conversation turned to traffic.  That was the big concern: the air pollution and noise it caused; the danger it posed and the way it divided communities.  Yet rarely did the communities have the time or resources to set up an action group.

Perhaps the most dramatic evidence comes from the emerging economies of the ‘developing’ world.  I covered it extensively in my book Why Noise Matters, published by Earthscan in 2011.

This from Dr Yeswant Oke, a medical consultant and anti-noise campaigner In Mumbai (where noise levels are extraordinarily high):  ‘People and patients are silently suffering as they feel helpless.  People feel agitated and angry, impotent to some extent.  Indians are very docile.  They would rather suffer than have enmity with the neighbours.  But lately patience is wearing thin, and more and more people are complaining to get relief.’ 

A survey in Vietnam found that over a fifth of residents in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are highly annoyed by the typical daily noise levels in the cities.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  The concern about noise is there.  It is just that it is not been voiced publicly.

The obvious danger is that, if the concerned voices of poorer communities are not being raised or not being heard, the louder, more confident voices of those of us who are better-off will drive policy much more than we should.  We will get our peace and quiet….but perhaps at the expense of the voiceless.

This is what has happened on the roads.  Confident voices have pushed the traffic away from their streets on to the main roads.  And, in a double whammy against those living on main roads, the ‘confident voices’ drive regularly along these roads past the homes of people who are much less likely to have a car.

I’ve seen the same thing happen in aviation.  Communities with confident voices can get special treatment.  And those communities less well-resourced can be more or less sidelined.  I think the only explanation why communities in Glasgow – one of the most heavily overflown cities in Britain – have been ignored by the airport for so long is that the flight paths are over some of the most deprived areas in the country.

My conclusion is not that well-heeled communities should shut up.  It is that local authorities and national governments don their headphones, turn up the volume in order to try and hear – and then act on – the complaints, often whispered, from poorer and less well-resourced communities.