The Pointless New Airport

Even if you are a big fan of aviation, you’d be hard-pushed to back the proposed new airport outside Nantes in west France.

The huge numbers which turned up last weekend (9th and 10th July) to two days of protest highlighted once again why the plan to build the airport has become the most controversial environmental project in France.

It is causing the Government of Francois Hollande a major headache.  There are over 200 groups across Belgium and France which back the opponents of the airport and which carry out demonstrations in their own areas in support of them.  There were violent scenes a few years ago when the French Police tried to evict some of the thousands of young activists who are camped in Le Zad on the site of the proposed new airport.

Hollande tried to get round his problem by calling a (non-binding) regional referendum this summer.  People were asked to decide whether they wanted to retain the existing one-runway airport close to the city or back the new two-runway airport over 17 kilometres outside Nantes.  Hundreds of thousands of people voted.  The vote went 55% to 45% in favour of the new airport.

But, far from settling the issue as Holland had hoped, the breakdown of the result has highlighted the pointlessness of the new airport.  The city of Nantes split 50/50 but the communities in the city close to the existing airport plus those under its flight path voted to keep it.  They wanted to keep the jobs it provides and signalled that the flights to the half-empty airport are not a problem.  They vote in favour of the new airport was swung by communities 20 – 50 kilometres north of Nantes, some of whom felt the new airport might provide them with jobs and others who believed it would be easier for them to get to than the exiting airport on the other side of the city.

So this is a major new airport, ‘Nantes International’, being proposed on prime farmland not to relieve congestion at the existing airport, nor in response to demands for noise relief for those under existing flight paths, nor even because Nantes is in the middle of nowhere; it is just two hours by train to Paris.  And not because a convincing economic case has been made for it.

The justification for the new airport seems to be that it will act as a catalyst for economic growth in the west of France.  Plonked in the middle of nowhere, the idea is will serve the surrounding towns, Nantes, Angers and Rennes, each of the many kilometers from the airport.  But there are real doubts whether there are sufficient people in these medium-sized towns to sustain such a project.  Almost certainly, any realistic assessment of the market would rule out the airport.  And the links to these towns from it are unplanned.  There may or may not be a rail link to Nantes.  Rennes and Angers would be served by coaches!  The campaigners claim that the airport has more to do with the egos of the local politicians than the needs of the local area.

The Government needs to start building the airport by February or the planning permission it got five years ago falls.  That means it would need to start evicting the environmental activists in Le Zad and the local farmers in the autumn.  It recognizes that, given the scale of the opposition across France and beyond, it will require the army rather than the police to do so.  It may be a battle it cannot win.

You don’t need to be an anti-aviation activist to be against this new airport. 

Fair Flight Paths


Guest blog by Chris Keady

The UK will have it’s airspace modernised over the next few years, and this will mean, what the industry has described as, ‘once in a lifetime’ changes.

Naturally, with so much at stake, communities up and down the country (particularly the already overflown) are concerned to ensure that the process delivers fair outcomes, and fair flight paths. This is a reasonable expectation.

The CAA and NATs are leading principally on the design of the new flight paths and essentially have peoples’ lives in their hands. Designed well, flight paths can be a revelation; designed badly they can be a death sentence.

The current principle for flight path design is that of ‘least people’ (affected). Although this may be efficient, it is hardly fair (fair is about treating people equally without favouritism or discrimination). It is also worthwhile remembering that most systems require scope for adjustment. Ruthlessly pursuing the ‘least people’ principle can be seen in:

  1. Centreline concentration – this has been raised time, and time again by communities who argue for greater dispersal (distribution) of noise. Not only is this feasible, it is It is even fairer to people who may also have to endure concentrated arrivals also for part of the time.

2. Over use of concentrated flight paths to hammer the same people again, and again. While this may be very efficient, again, it isn’t very fair.

There are significant perceived and known health risks associated with such an approach, such as cardio vascular disease/hypertension, and premature death, as well as stress, anxiety, depression, including severe depression (with increased suicide risk potential).

Other concerns around concentrated flight paths concern equalisation. All flight paths are not equal, and while they may look similar in terms of a line on a chart they may have completely different impacts. To be ‘equalised’, and fairer, we need to understand that we are comparing like with like (or as near as). So the volume of traffic, intensity, aircraft mix (there are ‘tiddler’ aircraft and monsters), altitude and proximity to properties are needed to really tell the story.

Noise averages, paradoxically, as in noise contours appear to be insufficiently sensitive to identify what could be a micro noise ghetto or hotspot. Here several flight paths may converge (perhaps as many as three) delivering perhaps 3 times the noise as any of the individual ones. Is this fair? And if it isn’t how do we equalise it, or at least try to make it a little fairer? Arguing about it, if you are a minnow in a pond of bigger fish is, on its own, unlikely to resolve it, and overtime it is likely to get worse as even more traffic is dispersed over your head.

While the ‘least people’ principle can stick, it should be moderated by a ‘least harm’ test. Therefore if challenged, as in the hypothetical case of 3 flight paths into one, a ‘least harm’ test could be applied, enabling the minor rejigging of the flight paths at that point. This might see a neighbour taking  part of the strain. The net effect might then be 710 people affected instead of 709/708 (whatever) but the upside is that lives are saved for the otherwise overdone original target. This highlights the importance of flexibility, challenge, integrity, and (pragmatic) adjustment in a system.

So, while we all probably want, and need, fair flight paths I truly worry how this is going to be fairly delivered in practice.


‘Give us a break from the noise’

I’ve been checking the emails HACAN has received over the last two months.  There is one striking feature.  Over 95% of those which contain a complaint are from people living in areas that get aircraft noise all day long.  Some are about departure routes that have become more concentrated.  Some are about arrivals over places that get no respite.

Astonishingly, not one has come from the parts of West London which enjoy a half day’s break from the noise when landing aircraft switch runways at 3pm each day.

The message couldn’t be clearer.  It is a period of relief from the noise which people value above all else.  Heathrow has commissioned a major study to assess what meaningful respite might look like and how it could be introduced.  It is the first airport in the world to undertake such a wide-ranging study.  It is due to be published next spring.

The plans for a new runway at Heathrow – if it ever given the go-ahead – all include provision for respite.  The most creative come from Heathrow Hub (who want to extend the existing northern runway).  The brains behind the scheme is the highly respected former Concorde pilot Jock Lowe.

He argues that is feasible and safe for planes to join their final approach path as close as three miles from the airport, thus allowing for multiple respite routes..  He argues, too, that, his scheme potentially allows for more respite than Heathrow’s plan for a 3rd runway because there will be fewer conflicting movements.

Respite is also expected to feature in the Government’s proposals when it consults on airspace changes later this year.

But the clear message from the HACAN emails are desperate for respite. In the hot summer weather many of those living in the noise ghettos are in despair.  They are angry and want change.  They may differ a little on how they define ‘respite’ – some prefer the words relief, dispersal, sharing it around – but they are all united in one call: ‘Give us a Break from the Noise’.


Flight paths for people on the way?


by John Stewart

At last we are seeing movement on introducing flight paths which can benefit residents.

Last week Gatwick Airport accepted the recommendations of an independent report which outlined a new approach to flight paths.—response-document-action-plan-final-31mar2016.pdf (pdf)

These included looking to introduce multi-path approaches to share out the noise burden.  The devil of this scheme will lie in the detail and there will need to be changes from the routes suggested to avoid some areas getting both arrivals and departures.  But the change in the airport’s attitude from just from a couple of years ago has been seismic.  It had changed routes with little or no regard for residents.  This provoked a backlash from some very well-healed areas.  The result has been that the airport has had to rethink it approach.

The Gatwick decision comes hard on the heels of a consultation from the Civil Aviation Authority suggesting new ways in which it oversees changes to flight paths which are more transparent and involve local people more closely.

HACAN has broadly welcomed the proposals in the consultation:  my_response (2) (pdf)

The CAA had been heavily criticized, including in a report it had commissioned from the consultants Helios, over the way it had been overseeing proposals for changes to flight paths.  For example, its decision to allow London City Airport to concentrate its flight paths has provoked outrage from residents, MPs and local authorities in the areas affected.  Our sister organisation, HACAN East, will be seeking to meet with the CAA over the decision.

Many of the flight path changes are being driven by the industry’s desire to use the new computer technology now available to fly planes on more precise routes.  That can save airlines fuel, increase the capacity of the airspace, improve the resilience of busy airports and make some savings on climate change emissions.

Although concentration of flight paths is not an inevitable result of the use of this new precision technology, it has been the outcome in many places, most notably in America where communities and city authorities have been up in arms.  Quite rightly so, as noise ghettos have been created.

Some years ago HACAN foresaw this danger of noise ghettos and has engaged with Heathrow Airport to come up with flight path proposals which not only bring benefits to the industry but also to residents.  We identified the provision of respite as the key, i.e. the sharing around of concentrated routes in order to give people predicable periods of relief from the noise. (The proposed routes at Gatwick are, I believe, slightly different: the intention is to use the multiple routes not to give periods of predicable relief but to ensure no community get all the planes but the aim is the same: to avoid the creation of noise ghettos).

Heathrow Airport has invested a considerable amount of effort in preparing for respite.  It has commissioned a major study looking at how meaningful respite can be introduced in and around Heathrow.

The prize for hundreds of thousands of residents could be huge.  It is not just that noise ghettos are likely to be avoided but that the current situation will be improved.  Years before we had heard of precision technology, HACAN had been pressing for just this sharing out of concentrated routes because of the daily nightmare people were experiencing.

This is not something many of the people living under the landing flight path in West London truly understand as most of them already get relief when planes coming in to the airport switch runways at 3pm.

But this relief only applies to those in the boroughs closest to the airport.    In a typical week, by far the largest number of emails and phone calls I get come from people outside these areas.  Some are from people under departure routes (which I’ll deal with shortly); the majority from people in South East and East London driven crazy by what they see as constant noise; sometimes, according to surveys carried out by HACAN, over 40 planes an hour.

These people don’t fear new flight paths.  They can’t wait for them to be introduced.  They want the blessed relief that predicable flight paths, switched on a regular basis, would bring.  I am not exaggerating when I say that people ring me to tell me their fervent hope is that they can hold out until the respite comes in.  They don’t have to move away in the meantime because of the noise.  There are even people who have rented out their homes for a few years, intending to move back in when relief and respite become a reality.

The emotions and the passions, the fears and the hopes are intense.  It is the same for many under the departure routes.  The “ghettoisation” of departures has been intensified as aircraft have increasingly all followed the centre-line of the Noise Preferential Routes (the 3 kilometre wide band which aircraft need to use until they reach 4,000 ft).

It will be harder to introduce meaningful respite within the Noise Preferential Routes and some sharing around within the NPR might be more appropriate.

Heathrow is under a lot of pressure to announce what flight paths will look like if a third runway is built.  I suspect it does not know where they will all be.  It is unlikely to be in a position to know until it completes its respite study (expected to be spring 2017).  By then, it will be clearer whether it is planning flight paths for a two or three runway airport.  A third runway clearly brings all sorts of other issues but, even with a third runway in place, Heathrow claims it could provide 95% of people with respite 50% of the time.  That’s much more than it does today.  For most people that’s not an argument for a third runway but what it does reveal is the possibilities for respite that are opening up.

Mental health and aircraft noise: frankly, who gives a damn?


Guest Blog

Two years ago a ground breaking summit was held at London’s City Hall to “discuss practical solutions to the contentious issue of aircraft noise”.

It delivered a resounding recommendation for an Independent Noise Ombudsman to protect the welfare of the overflown.

But two years later, precisely zilch has happened. Alarmingly, this suggests that the public health and welfare of the overflown is still not taken seriously. I firmly believe this is the case despite herculean efforts by organisations such as Hacan (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise).

Who then can people rely on, and trust, in all of this, if it is commonly perceived that the relationship between airlines, airports, regulators and civil servants are too cosy, and there is no independent champion for the overflown? Who?

Yet never at any time in aviation history are people more vulnerable, and at risk of serious blight and ill health, from the imposition of newly prescribed concentrated low altitude flight paths, than now.

So what are the risks of low altitude concentrated flight paths on health?

 Research generally confirms that aircraft noise can increase blood pressure, and cause heart disease, strokes and dementia. That’s, of course, if your lungs don’t seize up first from inhaling toxic air. One also often dies significantly sooner than counterparts outside these flight paths. What’s not to like?

But it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to realise that concentrated, low level, flight paths, in particular, may increase known health risks significantly, as effects are not diluted ,as with traditional dispersed (diluted) flight paths – hence the term ‘concentrated’.

Instead aircraft after aircraft are navigated precisely down, not so much flight paths or corridors, as tramlines! Whilst this is an impressive technological feat it is far less impressive if you find that they are interminably skimming your roof top, without variation. In such cases the unfortunate involuntary consumers will inevitably receive a double, super concentrated dose of noise and toxins – precursors, as noted, to very probable ill health and premature death. This is why much greater dispersal and variation with low altitude flight paths is essential. This point appears not yet to have been grasped by the aviation industry, or Government policy makers. It urgently needs to.

The effect of the relatively new phenomenon of low altitude concentrated flight paths appears to be worryingly under-researched. What dosage is safe? What controls are in place? Are they sufficient, and if so, who says so?

But what about mental health?

Research suggests that existing sufferers of mental illness are generally more sensitive to noise.

For the involuntary consumers of noise and air pollution. everything will be more intense as noise and particulates saturate narrow ‘tramlines’. This fact appears to be lost on Public Health officials and politicians. So what dose is safe? Where’s the evidence? Where are the controls? Does anyone really care?

A review of literature on the relationship between aviation noise and mental health clearly indicates that more needs to be done. But despite there being clearer indications from several sources linking the two, there has been a reluctance to commission further research.

Moreover there has been a regrettable lack of empathy in some quarters implying, for example, that depression and Mental Health is still beset with misunderstanding, prejudice and inequality in Britain 2016.  It’s as though depression is a ‘non-event’ for the aviation industry, and that those who dare say they are profoundly affected, are somehow irrelevant or exaggerating. This, incidentally, merely compounds the sense of isolation and alienation suffered, and I can testify to that.

Recent research implications

Recent published research points to a large study at Hamburg Airport which highlights that a 10db increase in aircraft noise may result in a 10% increased risk of depression. The suggestion is that further research is required, but there are other studies also positively correlating a relationship between aviation noise and likely mental ill health.

A study in Japan, for example, has found that people exposed to aircraft noise levels above 70dBs (A) Ldn have higher rates of mental instability and depressiveness.

And another study, found that those living closer to airports showed a higher frequency of ‘generalised anxiety disorder’, a precursor I would suggest to other forms of mental illness, particularly depression, especially when there is little or no equality or access to justice, as with the UK’s draconian regime. Put yourself in their shoes for a few moments, if you can….Not nice is it?

Another European study, published in European Commissions Science for Environment Policy (Noise Impacts on Health) journal, January 2015, issue 47, advised that the health of vulnerable people exposed to noise is under-researched, and suggested that vulnerable groups of people, such as those with mental illness, may be more at risk from exposure to environmental noise than healthy adults.             I believe that this is a very sound hypothesis.

A growing number of overflown have been saying for some time, and a growing body of literature supports this, that aircraft noise can trigger or exacerbate mental illness as well as the generally more accepted (and acceptable?) physical illnesses.         One needs to consider not just those without any current form of ill health, but also those with pre-existing conditions including high blood pressure or mental health including depression, when undertaking the research.

But depression is not such a ‘big deal’, surely?

Depression is a very real illness and it sticks in the throat to have to say this in 2016, but one has to. It can affect every aspect of one’s life, including work and social life, appetite, motivation, relationships, ability to get out of bed, and ultimately the desire to live. It can have truly devastating effects.

I never really talk about my ‘black dog’, but feel I have to, as the stakes are now so high, not just personally, but also for the invisible underclass caught by similar circumstances.

About 12 years ago I was a patient in a locked hospital ward having tried to end my life. I was a whisker away from a body bag, but was interrupted …..My life at that point was literally hanging by a thread. I was given a second chance and I grasped it with both hands. Consequently I work relentlessly hard, one day at a time, at staying well.

Hanging, is the most common suicide method for males, less so for females. But depression can affect people in many ways, and severe depression can be life threatening, no ifs or buts about that. It can devastate not only the lives of those affected but also their families, friends and loved ones, for years and even lifetimes.

I fought my way back from hell. Not only had I lost the will to live, I had other complications:  psychotic depression is the most severe form of depression and renders you more prone to suicide. It can come with a range of other nasty complications such as severe restlessness and delusional thinking, and is thought to be caused by major life/environmental change.

I was on the edge of the abyss and hanging onto reality by my fingernails at the time. Scared, anxious, and bewildered by the experience, I was an absolute train wreck. However I edged back to the ‘real world’ one step at a time. I was extremely lucky to have family who coaxed me back to life, although they were distraught and despairing at times, and an employer who patiently waited for me, coaxed me, coached me, and believed in me, when I had lost all belief and self-confidence

It took me years to begin to trust myself, and for my family to trust me, and to feel substantially healed, and to get our lives back on track. So I habitually do the things that are ‘good’ for me, while trying to avoid any toxic influences. Deep down, however, I have an anxiety and a strong drive to stay well since the experience was so hellish, and the chances of a further successful outcome are very slim, as episodes of illness have become progressively, and dramatically worse.

And then the aircraft noise came

Approximately two years ago, following dispersal from elsewhere, larger, lower flying, long haul aircraft began overflying our home all day long, when Heathrow was on easterly operations (on average, c. 30 % of year). Flights had become more concentrated although this was denied.

We had just finished our sanctuary – a loft extension – but with aircraft noise now flooding in, had to gut it and fit high density acoustic insulation and boarding, using the last of our savings. But noise still leaked through air vents, trickle vents, soffits, and velux ventilation flaps, and no-one – I’ll spare blushes, and mention no names here – cared a jot (I really wanted to use the ‘f’ word here).

Efforts to resolve were blocked or discredited suggesting that perhaps I was imagining things. This was particularly nasty as I had been so ill a decade earlier that, yes, this was a feature of the illness.

The fact was aircraft were disproportionately impacting our home when there was a 3 km prescribed zone to disperse the impact. I had to borrow to pay for an independent report to confirm what I had already said. Again this was stonewalled, and my genuine sense of alienation grew (for someone who had struggled to stay well this was particularly cruel).

Talk of airport expansion and the possible prospect of more noise seriously raised my anxiety levels, and I knew from past experience that anxiety and worrying over intractable problems only sent me round in an endless loop, causing me to worry more. I tried CBT, and a range of other interventions, nothing made a difference.  The large air craft in close proximity to our roof spoke volumes, and the lack of control over the situation only made matters worse.

In addition, plans to ‘simplify’ the way airspace is used by 2020 has seen the move towards concentrated flight paths, and the compression of noise. Noise is corralled, affecting a minority among communities particularly badly, where aircraft are flying at low altitudes. Blight, ill health and injustice are bequeathed so the rest of society can flourish and benefit from their misery. Is this really the right thing to do?


The overflown are more vulnerable now than at any other time in aviation history. The widespread deployment, particularly of low altitude, concentrated flight paths, will create unprecedented health risks and create noise ghettos. This is the new Apartheid, creating an underclass, with no rights, and no protection. Democracy will have turned its back on them, and will have turned back the clock.

It sticks in the throat, therefore, that in a week a convicted sex offender is invoking his Human Rights to avoid deportation, the overflown have absolutely no Human Rights. Yes, that’s correct. Zilch!  And to make matters worse aviation noise is exempted from the suite of environmental noise protection laws which apply in any other area of public life. Such provision is offensive, abusive and simply wrong.

The obsession with aviation growth, and its seeming inevitability, is seeing the compression of existing noise footprints to make them smaller. Coupled with the PR of quieter aircraft one might think one followed the other. Not so. In fact, as many aircraft are lower within the compressed contour zones, and there are more of them, then the experience for the overflown in many cases is much worse. The proximity of aircraft to rooftops also leaves a ‘psychological footprint’, long after the noise has gone – a palpable sense of personal space violation. Remember if one is within 60metres of HS2 then one automatically receives full statutory blight compensation, whereas the same doesn’t apply to blight from flight paths. Words genuinely fail me here. Is anybody listening? Does anyone care?

One also needs to recognise that noise monitoring, ineffective and non-independent as it is, averages noise. People don’t hear or experience averages, they hear and observe events – one after another, which invariably trigger a physiological response as the heart beat and blood pressure increases, and mind races. So not just noise, including loudness and pitch, but vibration, number, frequency and proximity to private space and one’s home, affect one’s overall experience.

The pin point precision and direction of aircraft at low altitude over the same property time and time again, at perhaps 60-90 second intervals, is impressive from an operational efficiency perspective, but dangerous to health and well-being. Hot spots in the flight paths network need to be reviewed at a micro level, and measures taken to ensure that occupiers, especially those vulnerable to aviation noise, and those with known pre-existing health conditions, are treated fairly and decently. At the moment they are treated no better than the weekly garbage. They’re disposable.

The delay in establishing an Independent Noise Ombudsman to provide some much needed protection and redress for the noise afflicted is unacceptable, and any material changes to existing flight paths in the past two years – and some arguably have been ‘snuck in’ – and, those going forward, should be captured within the enabling provisions. This might then protect those from air space modernisation, or airports implementing changes that are detrimental to sections of communities, but which otherwise might not be covered by any mitigation or redress arrangements (in other words the perpetrators could weasel out of their responsibilities, again).

The Government, proponents of airport expansion, and airports should live up to their Corporate Social Responsibilities, and seriously invest in mitigation and compensation for schemes for those affected. The amounts presently offered, as a whole, are derisory.

People expect, and are entitled to ‘quiet enjoyment’ of their home, whether they own or rent it. It should be a place of retreat from the hurly burly and somewhere they should feel safe. If there is a problem they have legal redress to resolve it. With the overflown this doesn’t apply. Yet we know aviation noise affects physical and almost certainly mental health, and we do little or nothing about it. We collude with the grim reaper by doing nothing. How do you think this makes those screwed by this discriminatory system feel? How do you think this affects their physical and mental health?

Why then does the World Health Organisation recommend that external sound levels should be kept below an average level of 30dB(A) in the bedroom, or a maximum of 45dB(A) for a single event? It’s because health and wellbeing can be affected by external disturbance, and sleep can be disturbed. This is why airports should be mandated to provide ‘world class’ schemes to ensure that bedrooms and living rooms especially are protected to achieve this benchmark, and that each installation is independently audited to ensure compliance.

Mental Health is still misunderstood and ignorance has created a society where too many fail to appreciate how devastating depression or other forms of mental illness can be, or the blatant inequality that people endure on a daily basis. Those stuck under imposed concentrated low altitude flight paths, for example, have the double whammy of the inequality of aviation noise, as well as the inequality of mental illness to try and survive (an unenviable burden).  It is about time this dualism was acknowledged, so that we can move on and find appropriate solutions.

Concentrated low altitude flight paths, coupled with weak governance and control systems, place some of the most vulnerable in our communities at risk of being pushed over the edge- to become just another statistic. There are no Human Rights, there is no equality, nor justice for them, just pain, loss, ill health and most likely an earlier death than the spectators outside the ghetto walls, looking in mostly indifferently.

If once in a life time airspace changes have, and will be made, as the aviation industry have announced, they will inevitably have ‘once’ in a lifetime’ consequences. Lives will be turned upside down so others benefit. As a society it is, therefore, only right that we understand and redress this.

Presently some areas receive a break from aircraft noise and respite is seen as a significant benefit, and indeed it is. If, as it may, displace and disperse more noise on others in due course, then this too should be managed sensitively and fairly. It should also be borne in mind that some people newly affected by noise, or affected by more noise, may not be able to tolerate the new dose. In such cases the benefit of a respite break will be of no use to them. Again such cases need to be considered and appropriate solutions found.

I’m reminded that a sign of a civilised society is not only how well it looks after its people, but how well it looks after the vulnerable and weak. Mental Health and aircraft have come a long way in the past 50 years, but they are uneasy bedfellows. More work needs to be done to appreciate that good mental health should be a universal entitlement, as should access to justice and equality for the concentrated overflown.

I have struggled writing this blog because it has been painful to admit the truth, and revisit old memories. I also worry that nothing will change, leading to an inevitable ‘car crash’, hence this blog. However, I do hope that many who read this text will discuss and raise the issue from a Human Rights, Mental Health, or Justice perspective.  After all how many people will have to die from bad Government policy and bystanders’ indifference, before good people do something?

Please help, if you can.

Thank you.

Chocksaway, on behalf of a wider family of noise and health affected overflown

It will amaze you the number of places affected by Heathrow and/or City planes

You’ll be relieved to hear that I don’t intend to publish a regular weekly blog on what I have been doing! 

But it struck me that my activities this week are a perfect illustration of how the planes from Heathrow and City aircraft are impacting on a much wider area than many people think.

It is 42 miles from Greenwich to Reading.  It is also 42 miles from Edinburgh to Glasgow.

The equivalent of the entire area from Edinburgh on the east coast of Scotland to Glasgow on the west coast is impacted by aircraft from Heathrow and/or London City.  And that is probably an underestimate.

My week illustrated it.

Monday was due to start at 7.20am with an interview on Radio Berkshire to talk about Heathrow’s Adobe huts in school playgrounds.  Except news of David Bowie’s death had just come in….so it took preference.

The rest of the day was office-based (Stockwell, 17 miles from Heathrow, around 28 planes an hour) dealing with emails, correspondence, preparing HACAN East evidence for the forthcoming Public Inquiry on London City’s expansion plans and putting the finishing touches to a conference on flight paths we are helping to organise at the end of the month.

In the evening to Harmondsworth and the monthly meeting of SHE (Stop Heathrow Expansion), which represents the people in the Heathrow Villages.  Meetings where passions can run high.  Understandably.  There are the people who will lose their homes and community if a 3rd runway goes ahead.  Not home until nearly midnight.

Tuesday, a big day.  Starts with Radio Berkshire at 7.20am (even David Bowie can only die once!).  A morning transport meeting at London Bridge before moving on to the House of Commons for the launch of the report of Noise and Health we commissioned from the Aviation Environment Committee at 2pm.  Very pleased with the launch.  60 people there including a number of MPs and peers, key decision-makers in Government and the aviation industry, leading acousticians and as well as campaigners.  Superbly chaired by Tania Mathias MP.

The evening to Stratford to chair the management committee meeting of HACAN East.  Every person who tries to trivialize the impact airports can have on communities should have been at this meeting.  There were two key items on the agenda:  the forthcoming public inquiry into City Airport’s expansion plans and the decision of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to allow the airport to concentrate its flight paths.  The latter in particular could change people’s lives forever including people sitting round the table.  These were deeply serious issues we were dealing with.

Wednesday morning was taken up with following up on Tuesday’s activities:  the media coverage of the launch; setting up meetings with MPs and peers who attended the launch;  and discussions with lawyers on possible challenges to the CAA’s decision on  City Airport’s flight paths.

And lots of emails to catch up on.  I’ve written before that most of HACAN’s emails come from South East London.  Another one today, a new complainant:

“It iUIis quite unreal in Brockley as not many other people here seem to talk about it . but as our garden backs on to a large open area of railway, allotments and forest we have a lot of sky. sometimes there are 2 planes behind each other and we see them coming from all directions to align for the runway above us. official figures i got from Heathrow say its 650 planes a day so that is 1 every minute !!   it is indeed relentless and the situation has rendered us really stressed.”

The evening took me to a cold and wet Hammersmith for a meeting with West London Friends of the Earth.   Good meeting looking at the role local FOE groups can play in the wider coalition against the 3rd runway we have set up.  Next week the coalition has an important meeting discussing its activities for the coming months.

It always interests me how different groups bring different things to the coalition.  On Monday in Harmondsworth the focus was community destruction.  In Stratford there was deep concern about noise.  At the FOE meeting noise was hardly mentioned, with being the emphasis on air pollution and climate change.  The trick for the coalition is to combine these very different perspectives.

Thursday saw more work on the HACAN East evidence to the forthcoming Public Inquiry.  And also work on promotional material we are putting together for use over the next few months.   In the afternoon I met with National FOE to talk through how airports could feature in their activities around the Mayoral Election in May.

In the evening I was either saying ‘good afternoon’ or ‘good morning’, via Skype,  to a couple of  people in America hired by the airports to assess their flight path changes.  The assessment has been prompted by the soaring number of complaints the airports received following their decision to concentrate flight paths.  They were interested in Heathrow’s approach and in particular its decision to commission work on practical ways of introducing respite.  I expect to hear more about that at the Heathrow Noise Forum next week.

Friday morning saw me in Brockley to assist a young noise expert who is looking to assemble a noise-cancelling device.  We were taking readings of the existing noise.  Arriving at Brockley Station, I was reminded just how intrusive aircraft noise is in the area.  There is some dispute about how long it has been this bad, but no dispute that it is bad.  This is the sort of area where respite could be a life-saver.

In the afternoon I was at Mile End in East London to take photos of a campaigner for some of the promotional material we are putting together.  It was good fun.  But on my way back I spotted what I think prompted this blog.  I regret not being quick enough to take a photo of it but just above Mile End Station was a Heathrow plane coming into land about 1,000 ft above a London City plane taking off.  And that scene is repeated time and again in the areas on a daily basis whenever the west wind is blowing…about 70% of the year.  Don’t tell people in Mile End they shouldn’t have moved close to an airport!  They simply didn’t!

Monday I’ll be up early for Radio Gloucester at 7.30am and then straight to Willesden Magistrates Court for the start of the trial of the 13 Plane Stupid activists who occupied the Heathrow Runway.

But, take heart, I won’t be blogging about next week or any other week! This is a one-off!     

“When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes duty”

This blog was first posted on the the HACAN east website –  “When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes duty”. It describes how the CAA has allowed London City Airport to concentrate all its flight paths without any meaningful consultation with residents.  The contrast with Heathrow’s approach couldn’t be more stark.  Heathrow is financing a year-long study into how respite can be meaningfully introduced.  It is even possible that London City’s plans may undermine Heathrow’s efforts.

by John Stewart

“When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes duty”

These words were thought to have first been uttered by the American President Thomas Jefferson. And they have been used by many people since.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that they apply to London City Airport’s plans, just given the green light by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), to concentrate its flight paths over selected communities across London. To, in effect, create noise ghettos. Beginning 4th February.

HACAN East is speaking with lawyers to find a way of challenging the decision.

Most days Bow, Leyton, Leytonstone, Wanstead, Redbridge, Barkingside and Collier Row will get all the departures from the airport. Thamesmead will be badly hit by arrivals. All these areas will be hit about 70% of the time in a typical year: the days a west wind is blowing.

When the wind comes from the east all the departures will go over Barking Riverside, Dagenham and Hornchurch. And all the arrivals will go over Sidcup, New Eltham, Mottingham, Catford, Forest Hill, Dulwich Village, Herne Hill, Brixton, Stockwell and Vauxhall.

Although these changed flight paths are due to come in on February 4th, most of the communities that will be affected have not been told about them.

The information is hidden away: (page 26 indistinct map for South London and p27 for Thamesmead).

And in 24 for Dagenham and page 26 for Leyton and Leytonstone).

In 2014 London City carried out the most minimalist of consultations. It put a technical document on its website (telling virtually nobody it was there it was there) and informed its supine Consultative Committee who discussed the matter in closed session and whose website was down during the ‘consultation’ period.

London City argued that it did all it was required to do as set out in the guidelines of the CAA which is charged with overseeing the process. It based its argument on its belief that this was not a significant change.

We beg to differ. Areas in North East London will get 30% more aircraft overhead than they do now. And South London will be transformed. At present planes from London City do not present a big problem to most people in South London (outside Thamesmead). This is partly because they are less noisy than the Heathrow planes but mainly because they are dispersed across a wide area.

All this will dramatically change for South London. All the aircraft will be concentrated over selected areas. These areas will get all the City planes when the east wind blows, the very days they currently enjoy much welcome relief from the continuous stream of Heathrow aircraft they get during westerlies.

And, just before Christmas, the Civil Aviation Authority agreed with London City Airport that this was not a significant change! It published a press release announcing its decision in late November: but its full reasoning wasn’t made available until the 22nd December:

The CAA was already in deep trouble over the way it oversaw changes at Gatwick and elsewhere. A report (commissioned by the CAA) from the consultants Helios slated it: The independent report slammed the CAA over the way it had conducted the consultation about flight paths at airports across the UK. It branded the consultation as lacking transparency and criticised the CAA for being judge and jury.

The report came out in early December, just ten days after the CAA announced that it would allow London City Airport to concentrate its flight paths. When I met with the Civil Aviation Authority’s CEO Andrew Haines, a decent and thoughtful man, I asked him why they hadn’t waited until they had seen the Helios Report before deciding on the flight paths for London City and other airports. He believed they might have run into legal difficulties if they had done so.

But the CAA’s endorsement of London City’s flight path plans and the consultation which preceded it shows much its processes need a complete overhaul.

The Civil Aviation Authority:

  • Endorsed a 30% increase in flight numbers as not significant
  • Allowed concentration in South London when dispersal was presenting few problems
  • Took no account of the joint impact of London City and Heathrow aircraft, now or in the future
  • Ignored the numbers of people – running into tens of thousands, maybeover 100,000 – affected by the changes
  • Has not informed communities of the changes less than a month before they are due to begin

I’ve known the CAA well over the years and it does do good work – sound research into noise and safety for example. But its supervision of flight path changes is not fit for purpose.

The hope of the local communities had been that it would challenge City Airport. London City has over the years managed to alienate local communities, local authorities, the Mayor of London and many of the area’s councillors and GLA members. Some of my friends in West London may criticise Heathrow. And Heathrow has made mistakes. But, in recent years, Heathrow has poured a lot of money into studies on effective respite, into assessing changes in flight paths and their impacts on communities and into trials of steeper descent approaches.

London City, by contrast, couldn’t even been bothered to tell communities that they will soon be living under concentrated flight paths. We expected nothing more from the airport. We were, though, expecting more from the CAA.

The CAA has let us down badly. It has concurred in a process that is riddled with injustice. It has allowed certain areas to be turned into noise ghettos…when that didn’t need to happen. Where’s the justice in that?

It is inconceivable that tens of thousands of people will accept this. As Thomas Jefferson might have said, “When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes duty.”


Heathrow impacts areas way beyond West London

I’ve written about this before, but it is worth saying it again.  Heathrow is not just a West London problem. Or just a Windsor problem.  Its impact is felt over 25 miles from the airport. 

Kate Hoey, the Vauxhall MP, emphasized it again in the House of Commons this week (14/12/15) during questions to the Transport Secretary when she said:

“The Secretary of State is a very honourable gentleman, particularly as he is my constituent. I am sure that deep down he is not particularly happy today. In his statement, he talked about the best possible outcome for local residents. Does he accept that my Vauxhall constituents may not be considered as local residents to Heathrow, but that it is crucial that their views are taken into consideration?”

This video, commissioned by HACAN, illustrates the impact of aircraft noise on Vauxhall, about 17 miles from Heathrow:

A study HACAN commissioned from the independent noise consultants Bureau Veritas in 2008 found that in Kennington Park, close to the Oval Cricket Ground, “aircraft noise dominated the local environment.”  In a separate study HACAN found that during certain periods of the day over 40 planes an hour fly over the Oval.

It is important to stress the extent of the noise problem to counter the accusation heard again in recent days following the Government’s decision to postpone a decision on expansion that it is a handful of ‘West London Nimbys’ who are damaging the national interest by holding up a third runway.

“As I sit and write this, I am simply go-smacked at the level of noise that is happening right outside my home right now is actually legal.  The sky is resounding with the thunder of constant aircraft noise.  My kids have definitely taken longer to wind down than usual this evening before bed and I have been agitated and unable to concentrate on much because of the extremely annoying whine and roar of airplanes!!”

An email sent to HACAN in August.  From Hounslow, Windsor or even Vauxhall?  Try Walthamstow, deep into North East London. 

Of course, it is not true that everybody in Walthamstow is disturbed by the noise.  Just as there are people in Hounslow, Windsor and Vauxhall who are not bothered by it.

But my point is that there are people far the airport seriously impacted by it. A lot of them.  HACAN gets more emails from South East London than from any other area.

Most of these people are not captured by the noise statistics or their opinions sought in opinion polls..  They live outside the official noise contours, even the more realistic ones used by the European Commission.

If they were polled, I’m pretty certain the big demand would be for respite: a predicable break from the noise.  It is the constant refrain in email after email which HACAN receives, week after week.  Heathrow Airport has now recognized the problem and has commissioned research to look at practical ways of introducing respite.  It is a year’s research.  But respite can’t come soon enough for so many people in vast swathes of London and the Home Counties.

A response to Kate Andrews pitiful article describing the Heathrow villagers as ‘bananas’


By John Stewart

This is the first time ever I’ve had to tell myself to ‘my mind language’ even before I write a word of my blog.  But the article by Kate Andrews in Friday’s Daily Telegraph made me so angry that, had I written this blog straight after reading it, even Donald Trump might have thought it distasteful.

Two days later I am still angry but it is mixed with pity for Kate Andrews who seemed to lack any empathy with people who homes and communities are under threat by a third runway at Heathrow.

Here’s her piece in the Telegraph.  Best to look at it before you read more of this blog:

Nobody involved on Thursday night would defend aggressive behaviour. But picture the situation they were placed in.  Channel 4 had come down to their pub – the 11th century Five Bells – in Harmondsworth to get their reaction live on air to the announcement about the 3rd runway as it was being made.  This announcement was not just of passing interest to them.  It could determine their very future.  It could mean their homes were saved or….they faced eviction.

With good reason this is a community living on the edge.  These are angry people who feel bitterly betrayed.  They believed David Cameron in 2009 when he promised. ‘No ifs, no buts, no third runway.’  Many of them had been Conservative voters all their lives.  They are not professional protesters.  They are ‘the hard working British families’ that every Government likes to talk about.

Did you get any sense of that from Kate Andrews’ article?  More to the point, did she grasp any of that in her brief visit to the pub?  She seems to have had no sense of the situation these villages find themselves in.  She almost admits her bewilderment and lack of understanding when she writes,

“I’m not sure what went so horribly wrong last night. Was it my talking about economic benefits of something that affects people personally? Was it the drive to make “good television”? Was it being in a pub?”

But then, instead of exploring that further she says:

“My suspicion is that whatever went wrong has something to do with the culture of the anti-runway campaigners.”

A generalization, if ever there was one, without a shred of evidence to back it up.

Her deep lack of understanding of the impact of Heathrow was again shown up in perhaps her most revealing phrase:

“many of the billions generated by the airport expansion should be directed towards local communities, giving residents a cash top-up for the inconvenience of noise pollution.”

“INCONVENENIENCE”.  Noise pollution is just an “INCONVENIENCE”!  At that stage I would have been shouting at her.  Daily, I get emails from people whose lives have been turned upside down by the noise.  And some of them live over 20 miles from the airport. They are not inconvenienced by the noise but deeply, deeply disturbed by it.

I can’t help but think what happened on Thursday was that a strong supporter of the third runway came face to face with the human consequences of building it, probably for the first time, and was out of her depth.  That’s the real message of her article.  It makes me angry she wrote it using the words which she did.  It makes me sad she doesn’t understand what she did.

One of the women who Kate Andrews says shouted at her went home that evening, distraught as a result of the events.  She wept bitterly for two hours.  She had just lost her husband, her life-long partner.  She could face the prospect of losing her home of over 40 years as well.  Who’s the real victim here, Ms Andrews?



It’s not just all about Zac


by John Stewart

Much of the business community has responded with predicable outrage at the decision to postpone a decision on new runways.  Although it might be being overdone for effect, it’s understandable. Following the Airport Commission’s backing for of a third runway in in July, Heathrow and its business backers had every reason to feel they had it in the bag.  Now they are being asked to play six months of extra time.

The Government has been accused of playing politics; of postponing the decision until after May’s Mayoral elections in order to stop the Conservative mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, from resigning his Parliamentary seat i the middle of the Mayoral campaign.

Zac Goldsmith has played a blinder in his opposition to a third runway but it would be a mistake to see this decision as all about Zac.  The Government has understood the real problems with a third runway at Heathrow and, given those difficulties, it has understood it needs to keep alive the option of an extended runway at Heathrow (as proposed by Heathrow Hub) and of a second runway at Gatwick.  The Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was very clear on this point on the Today programme this morning.

The last Labour Government tied and failed to build a 3rd runway at Heathrow.  The obstacles are enormous:

  • Pollution levels that could exceed the EU legal limits
  • 250,000 more planes a year over the capital city that already experiences more aircraft noise than any other place in Europe
  • The demolition of almost 800 homes
  • The need to put part of the M25 in a tunnel
  • A cost to the taxpayer of the associated road and rail infrastructure that could run into billions

These are big, big concerns.  With or without a Mayoral election looming, they would justify more time being spent in the long grass to get them right.