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. 

Noise levels fall dramatically during lockdown


21/05/20

Today’s Times carries a remarkably good article on noise:

One of the great compensations of lockdown is hearing less noise, at least of the external, ungovernable kind.  Everywhere people are marvelling at hearing the complexity of birdsong, the peacefulness of streets with so little traffic, the pleasure of walking in parks without aircraft rumbling overhead.

This is a remarkable, temporary liberation from one of the greatest and least considered sources of stress in our lives. Most of us are battered by noise every day.  The imposition of noise and the level of it has risen sharply over the past 40 years. 

It goes on to outline how noise can impact our health, well-being and productivity at work and ends with a rally call:

Let’s campaign for more bicycles, quieter road surfaces, lower speeds, fewer planes, minimal announcements, restrictions on the construction hours the government has just, mistakenly, extended. It’s what our hearts and minds not only want but cannot flourish without.

The full article can be found here:  http://hacan.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/The_Times2020-05-21_page22-1.pdf

Court grants Heathrow leave to appeal on third runway

PRESS RELEASE

7/05/20 for immediate use

Campaign group HACAN, which gives a voice to residents under the Heathrow flight paths, has said that today’s judgement (1), to grant Heathrow leave to appeal does not mean a third runway is back on track.

Heathrow was granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in its bid to overturn the verdict of the Court of Appeal, delivered in February, that the Government had failed to take account of the Paris Agreement on climate change in making its decision to allow Heathrow to start drawing up detailed plans for a third runway (1).

HACAN chair John Stewart said, “Today’s ruling was much as expected.  The surprise would have been if an appeal on an issue as big as this had not been allowed.  What it does not mean is that the third runway is back on track.  Heathrow remains very much on its own as the Government is not backing its appeal.”

Stewart added the post-virus situation adds to the unlikelihood of a third runway ever being built: “There is real uncertainty about future demand as the country emerges from lockdown.  Investors will want to make sure they will get a real return on their money before agreeing to the £14 billion needed for a third runway which could easily rise by the time it goes ahead.”

The court did not give a date when the appeal would be heard

The Government has said it will abide by the decision on the Supreme Court.  If Heathrow wins it will be able to resume drawing up its plans for a third runway to be presented to a Public Inquiry,

probably within the next two years.  The Government, though, would have the final say as it would need to endorse or overrule the recommendation of the planning inspectors.

ENDS

Notes for editors

(1). https://www.supremecourt.uk/news/permission-to-appeal-decisions-07-may-2020.html

(2). On 28th February the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government’s policy on a third runway at Heathrow was illegal. It found that the Department for Transport should have taken the climate change implications of the Paris Agreement into account when drawing up the National Policy Statement which outlined its plans for a third runway. The court invited the Government to review the climate section of the National Policy Statement (NPS).  The NPS, drawn up by the Department for Transport, put forward the case for a third runway at Heathrow.  In June 2018 the House of Commons overwhelmingly voted in favour of the NPS by 415 votes to 119.

That gave Heathrow the green light to draw up detailed plans for the new runway.  Those plans would need to be put to be put to a Public Inquiry but the principle of a third runway had been agreed by Parliament.  What the Court of Appeal found was that the NPS was unlawful because it had not taken into consideration the Paris Agreement and the commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Court did not rule against a third runway and invited the Government to reconsider and amend what the NPS about the third runway in order to take account of the Paris Agreement.  In normal circumstances that it what a Government would do so that the project would be delayed rather than abandoned.  But it is widely assumed that the Prime Minister Boris Johnston, a long-standing opponent of Heathrow, will amend the NPS to kill off a third runway.  The Government decided not to appeal.

For more information:

John Stewart on 0207 737 6641 or 07957385650 

Sheer fury unleased against the aviation industry

Taming the Tsunami of anger against the aviation industry

Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I’ve been taken aback by the sheer fury against the aviation industry which the Coronavirus crisis has unleashed.  I’m not talking about anti-capitalists calling for ‘system change not climate change’.  That was fairly predicable.  

What has come across with the force of a tsunami is the anger and resentment directed at the aviation industry from ordinary residents living under flight paths.  It is as if a lid has been lifted and uncontrolled emotions have poured out like hot lava escaping from a volcanic eruption.

Social media, email inboxes, the mainstream press have been flooded with material railing against industry bail-outs, insufficient testing of people arriving at airports or the merest hint of aviation workers being asked to take a pay cut. I’m not saying there is not truth in some of those accusations.  But the accusations themselves have been dwarfed the sheer fury and frequency with which they are being made. 

It is symptomatic of a much deeper anger.  People’s anger doesn’t allow them to acknowledge the industry has any good points.  Well-written articles about the importance of air freight to bring in medicines and essential supplies are met with an embarrassed silence. It’s like what happens in a violent revolution:  good and bad are treated alike and all trampled underfoot. 

Fury on this scale must have real roots.  It can, it is true, be reinforced by fellow travellers, particularly on social media, and be as contagious as any virus.  But there has to be more than that behind it.

We need to look at – the aviation industry in particular needs to look at – where this fury is coming from.  A leading campaigner said to me, “the industry didn’t look after us in the good times, why should we be nice to it now?”  And broadly, with some notable exceptions, that’s true:

  • Why did so many American airports choose to put their new concentrated flight paths over just a handful of communities when they could have created multiple routes and rotated them to share out the burden?
  • Why does Charles De Gaulle still land over 150 planes at night when both Frankfurt and Heathrow have periods without scheduled flights?
  • Why is Luton Council, the owner of the airport, the judge and jury of when it breaks its own planning regulations?
  • Why does Newcastle refuse to even consider giving residents respite?
  • Why did Glasgow Airport turn a deaf ear for over a decade to calls for insulation from residents who have planes just 400ft above them?

All these problems could have been sorted without affecting the viability of the aviation industry.  The industry knows that.  Residents know that.  In these cases, and many more, the industry felt it could ignore the residents almost at will.  We begin to see where the fury and the anger have come from.

Research shows that people become more annoyed if they feel that any industry, any company is not doing all it can to mitigate its downsides.

There are signs in the UK things will improve.  ICCAN, the Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise, is due to publish a best practice guide later this very year and ICCAN’s very presence should improve the industry’s behaviour.  The Government’s Aviation White Paper, also out later this year, is expected to introduce tougher standards on noise, sound insulation and community engagement.

And there are some airports which are doing noticeably better than others.  And there have been welcome initiatives taken across the industry. 

But I think what is needed is a new contract between airports and their residents.  A contract where best practice is not just the norm, but is mandatory; where first-class consultation is not just a nice-to-have, but is compulsory; where if residents want respite, the airport needs to provide it; where the provision of sound insulation is not a post-code lottery; where residents help shape the noise policy of the airport and are not merely consulted on it from time to time.  Airports, and perhaps airlines as well, should be required to provide an annual public account showing if and how they have met the regulations.  If they have not, the most effective sanction would a requirement to reduce the number of planes using the airport by, say, 5% in the following year.

I hope that is not unrealistically tough.  But I think something like this is required to abate the fury of residents.  It would not harm the industry, even an industry that is currently on its knees, stricken by the virus, for these sorts of regulations to be met. 

The other factor fuelling the fury is the  sheer number of flights now going over so many communities.  Respite in my view should be a no-brainer for the industry.  It is the way to reduce flights numbers over particular communities while allowing some overall growth at the airport.

It would be a mistake at this stage to talk about more taxes on the industry in order to manage demand.  It will take a long time to recover from the lockdown.  The boss of Lufthansa said in the last few days: “It will take months until the global travel restrictions are completely lifted and years until the worldwide demand for air travel returns to pre-crisis levels.”

We need the industry to revive.  Aviation has been a critical part of the globalised economy which has over the last few decades has lifted billions out of poverty.  Aviation facilitates trade which brings prosperity and often opens up closed societies.  Moreover, with less than 10% of the world having ever flown, there will be, in time, increased demand for both business and leisure travel.

What many residents fear, though, is return to the bombardment of noise over their heads. I suspect in due course there needs to be some demand management to ensure this doesn’t happen.  Aviation is under-taxed, with no tax on aviation fuel and no VAT on tickets (outside a few countries).  Something like the Frequent Flyers Levy (where each person gets one tax-free return flight each year but tax rises with each subsequent flight) could do the trick.  It would manage demand and maybe reduce it in parts of Europe.  The clever move – and I think the right move – would be to use the revenue from the tax to go to both Governments and the aviation industry for research and development into quieter and cleaner planes by both the public and private sector.  Imposed in the short-term, the tax would be an additional burden for an industry on its knees.  In the medium-term, though, it may well be a key part of the answer which will help abate the anger of residents while bringing benefits to the aviation industry.   

John Stewart

Community engagement a condition of expansion

In this short blog I argue that the Department for Transport in its forthcoming White Paper should make expansion or growth at any airport conditional on quality community engagement: https://hacan.org.uk/blog/?p=634

We don’t know yet what will happen with the third runway at Heathrow.  But whether or not it is dropped, it is important that one aspect of the process remains: the community engagement Heathrow has undertaken as part of its efforts to secure a third runway.

Some of the engagement was undertaken voluntarily; some was mandated by the National Policy Statement – Heathrow would not get its third runway unless it had shown it had engaged with its local community.

The proposal in this short blog is that future expansion at any airport across the country should be conditional on good community engagement.  It should become a key criterion in determining whether the expansion is given the go-ahead.

If a third runway is dropped, the Government will be encouraging growth at other airports.  Yet many of them are very poor at engaging with their communities.  It was clear at a recent Aviation Communities Forum conference, which brought together campaigners from across the country, that most airports just do not have adequate engagement procedures in place.

ICCAN, the Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise, is planning to publish a best practice guide later this year.  That will be very welcome.  But isn’t there a case for the Department for Transport in its forthcoming Aviation White Paper to go one step further and make expansion/growth conditional on first-rate community engagement?   

Court rules Government policy on 3rd Runway illegal

28/2/20

The Court of Appeal  ruled that the Government’s policy on a third runway at Heathrow was illegal. It found that the Department for Transport should have taken the climate change implications of the Paris Agreement into account when drawing up the National Policy Statement which outlined its plans for a third runway. The court invited the Government to review the climate section of the National Policy Statement.

What the court ruling means

(This is a longer piece than we normally put on our home page but we feel the potential importance of the decision justifies it – if you want to send this story as link, use https://hacan.org.uk/?p=5971

The National Policy Statement on Airports (NPS), drawn up by the Department for Transport, put forward the case for a third runway at Heathrow.

In June 2018 the House of Commons overwhelmingly voted in favour of the NPS by 415 votes to 119.

That gave Heathrow the green light to draw up detailed plans for the new runway.  Those plans would need to be put to be put to a Public Inquiry but the principle of a third runway had been agreed by Parliament.

What the Court of Appeal found was that the NPS was unlawful because it had not taken into consideration the Paris Agreement and the commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Here is the key paragraph of the judgement:

” Our decision should be properly understood. We have not decided, and could not decide, that there will be no third runway at Heathrow. We have not found that a national policy statement supporting this project is necessarily incompatible with the United Kingdom’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change under the Paris Agreement, or with any other policy the Government may adopt or international obligation it may undertake. The consequence of our decision is that the Government will now have the opportunity to reconsider the ANPS in accordance with the clear statutory requirements that Parliament has imposed (paragraph 285).”

The Court has not said there will be no third runway but is inviting the Government to reconsider and amend what the NPS about the third runway in order to take account of the Paris Agreement.

In normal circumstances that it what a Government would do so that the project would be delayed rather than abandoned.  But it is widely assumed that the Prime Minister Boris Johnston, a long-standing opponent of Heathrow, will amend the NPS to kill off a third runway.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in a statement to Parliament yesterday, said: “The court’s judgment is complex and requires careful consideration. We will set out our next steps in due course”.

The NPS, for example, could be amended to allow expansion at other airports instead of the third runway at Heathrow.  That is what Grant Shapps hinted at in his statement.

“We fully recognise the importance of the aviation sector for the whole of the UK economy. The UK’s airports support connections to over 370 overseas destinations in more than 100 countries facilitating trade, investment and tourism. It facilitates £95.2 billion of UK’s non-EU trade exports; contributes at least £14 billion directly to GDP; supports over half a million jobs and underpins the competitiveness and global reach of our national and our regional economies. Under our wider “making best use” policy, airports across the UK are already coming forward with ambitious proposals to invest in their infrastructure”.

The Government has said that it will not appeal to the Supreme Court to get yesterday’s decision overturned.

Heathrow will appeal to the Supreme Court but might struggle to overturn yesterday’s decision without Government backing.

It is expected that Heathrow will continue to draw up, and consult on, its detailed plans for a third runway while the appeal is being taken to the Supreme Court.

Except for the ruling on climate change, the Court found all other aspects of the NPS – on noise, air pollution etc – were lawful.

Appeal Court’s summary of its Judgement:  https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Heathrow-summary-of-judgments-26-February-2020-online-version.pdf

Full Judgement:-  https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/r-friends-of-the-earth-v-secretary-of-state-for-transport-and-others/

What will the Government do if it drops a third runway? It is clear from Shapps statement to Parliament that it will encourage expansion to take place at other airports.  I suspect, too, that Heathrow will come back with plans to increase the number of flights using the airport by abandoning/reducing the half day’s runway alternation enjoyed by communities in West London.  There might also be a push from the airlines for more night flights.

The re-organisation of Heathrow’s flight paths will continue as it has been driven by new technology not by the third runway.

The ruling could have implications for other large projects.  The Court has ruled that projects must be assessed to ensure they adhere to the Paris Agreement and ate compatible with achieving a zero-carbon target by 2050. There are being questions raised today over the Government’s £28bn road building programme.   And, although the Paris Agreement regulations are carried out on a national basis, other countries will be looking with interest at this judgement. 

Court rules Government policy on 3rd Runway illegal

28/2/20

The Court of Appeal  ruled that the Government’s policy on a third runway at Heathrow was illegal. It found that the Department for Transport should have taken the climate change implications of the Paris Agreement into account when drawing up the National Policy Statement which outlined its plans for a third runway. The court invited the Government to review the climate section of the National Policy Statement.

What the court ruling means

(This is a longer piece than we normally put up but we feel the potential importance of the decision justifies it – if you want to send this story as a link, use https://hacan.org.uk/?p=5971 )

The National Policy Statement on Airports (NPS), drawn up by the Department for Transport, put forward the case for a third runway at Heathrow.

In June 2018 the House of Commons overwhelmingly voted in favour of the NPS by 415 votes to 119.

That gave Heathrow the green light to draw up detailed plans for the new runway.  Those plans would need to be put to be put to a Public Inquiry but the principle of a third runway had been agreed by Parliament.

What the Court of Appeal found was that the NPS was unlawful because it had not taken into consideration the Paris Agreement and the commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Here is the key paragraph of the judgement:

” Our decision should be properly understood. We have not decided, and could not decide, that there will be no third runway at Heathrow. We have not found that a national policy statement supporting this project is necessarily incompatible with the United Kingdom’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change under the Paris Agreement, or with any other policy the Government may adopt or international obligation it may undertake. The consequence of our decision is that the Government will now have the opportunity to reconsider the ANPS in accordance with the clear statutory requirements that Parliament has imposed (paragraph 285).”

The Court has not said there will be no third runway but is inviting the Government to reconsider and amend what the NPS about the third runway in order to take account of the Paris Agreement.

In normal circumstances that it what a Government would do so that the project would be delayed rather than abandoned.  But it is widely assumed that the Prime Minister Boris Johnston, a long-standing opponent of Heathrow, will amend the NPS to kill off a third runway. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in a statement to Parliament yesterday, said: “The court’s judgment is complex and requires careful consideration. We will set out our next steps in due course”.

The NPS, for example, could be amended to allow expansion at other airports instead of the third runway at Heathrow.  That is what Grant Shapps hinted at in his statement.

“We fully recognise the importance of the aviation sector for the whole of the UK economy. The UK’s airports support connections to over 370 overseas destinations in more than 100 countries facilitating trade, investment and tourism. It facilitates £95.2 billion of UK’s non-EU trade exports; contributes at least £14 billion directly to GDP; supports over half a million jobs and underpins the competitiveness and global reach of our national and our regional economies. Under our wider “making best use” policy, airports across the UK are already coming forward with ambitious proposals to invest in their infrastructure”.

The Government has said that it will not appeal to the Supreme Court to get yesterday’s decision overturned.

Heathrow will appeal to the Supreme Court but might struggle to overturn yesterday’s decision without Government backing.

It is expected that Heathrow will continue to draw up, and consult on, its detailed plans for a third runway while the appeal is being taken to the Supreme Court.

Except for the ruling on climate change, the Court found all other aspects of the NPS – on noise, air pollution etc – were lawful.

Appeal Court’s summary of its Judgement:  https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Heathrow-summary-of-judgments-26-February-2020-online-version.pdf

Full Judgement:-  https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/r-friends-of-the-earth-v-secretary-of-state-for-transport-and-others/

What will the Government do if it drops a third runway? It is clear from Shapps statement to Parliament that it will encourage expansion to take place at other airports.  I suspect, too, that Heathrow will come back with plans to increase the number of flights using the airport by abandoning/reducing the half day’s runway alternation enjoyed by communities in West London.  There might also be a push from the airlines for more night flights.

The re-organisation of Heathrow’s flight paths will continue as it has been driven by new technology not by the third runway.

The ruling could have implications for other large projects.  The Court has ruled that projects must be assessed to ensure they adhere to the Paris Agreement and ate compatible with achieving a zero-carbon target by 2050. There are being questions raised today over the Government’s £28bn road building programme.   And, although the Paris Agreement regulations are carried out on a national basis, other countries will be looking with interest at this judgement. 

COURT RULES GOVERNMENT POLICY ON HEATHROW THIRD RUNWAY ILLEGAL

PRESS RELEASE

27/2/20 for immediate use

COURT RULES GOVERNMENT POLICY ON HEATHROW THIRD RUNWAY ILLEGAL

The Court of Appeal today ruled that the Government’s policy on a third runway at Heathrow was illegal.  It found that the Department for Transport should have taken the climate change implications of the Paris Agreement into account when drawing up the National Policy Statement which outlined its plans for a third runway.  The court invited the Government to review the climate section of the National Policy Statement.

John Stewart, the chair of HACAN, the residents’ organisation which has been campaigning against a third runway since 2003, said, “It does look as if this is the end of the road for a third runway.  It is hard to see a Government lead by Boris Johnson, who has always been against the runway, appealing against this decision.  In fact, it probably gives the Prime Minister the opportunity he was looking for to drop the runway.”

The challenge had been brought by a number of local authorities (Hammersmith, Richmond, Windsor & Maidenhead, Hillingdon and Wandsworth), the Mayor of London, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Plan B.

The Government is expected to make a statement later today.

ENDS

For more information:

John Stewart on 0207 737 6641 OR 07957385650