UK Government Wide Open to Legal Challenge on Aircraft Noise

The subject of aircraft noise was discussed on Radio Four ’s Today programme yesterday morning[i]. It follows on from a number of high profile newspaper reports on the issue such as in The Times recently as we await results of the London Airspace Consultation on aeroplane route changes, which is due to be published in around three weeks.[iii] Recent developments cast doubt over the validity of the Davies Commission before it even reports on the Heathrow/Gatwick extra runway question in 2015, and many commentators believe the UK Government is open to legal challenge on its aviation noise policy.

The Radio Four item centred on Gatwick Airport Ltd’s (GAL) offer to pay £1000 per year towards Council Tax as compensation to those households newly affected by noise from their aircraft, which is an estimated 4000 people (see GACC latest ‘a small bribe’)[iv]. The money offer largely arises from reactions to the current noise ‘respite’ scheme, which has seen areas like ours experiencing slightly less aircraft noise while other areas such as Wareham in Sussex being newly overflown without warning (see GACC site on Facebook for reaction summary e.g.

The GAL representative followed the line that fewer people would be affected by aircraft noise in the future while at the same time pitching the oddball idea that a second runway would be better at Gatwick rather than Heathrow because Gatwick is ‘blessed’ with better transport links. His polished performance could not gloss over the fact that Gatwick is already offering sweeteners to residents with the potentially devastating and highly controversial route changes in London airspace still to be announced: there is a rough edged sense of desperation emanating from speakers in the aviation industry lately.

What exactly is going on?

One possible reason behind the ‘greenwash’ of promises about less noise and the public deal hedging by the aviation PR machine right now could be the way medical research is coming thick and fast establishing direct links between aircraft noise and ill health whether affected residents are consciously aware of being exposed to potentially dangerous noise levels or not e.g.

The recent Times article highlighted another related reason. It reviewed research that shows the actual number of people disturbed by Heathrow aeroplane noise is ‘almost four times the number claimed by the Government.’ To be clear, this research also has implications for us here in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells experiencing noise from Gatwick arrivals because it concluded that the current method of measuring noise from aeroplanes in the UK is outdated and “biased” in favour of the airlines.

Anyone who has complained about aircraft noise will already know this.

[ii] The Times ‘Heathrow really annoys 3 million’ 24/02/2004

[iv] Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign website

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