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Draft Noise Action Plans published

9th July, 2009

The first draft airport Noise Action Plans have been published.The EU Noise Directive 2002 (END) requires all EU Member States to produce noise action plans for large towns, for the busiest roads and railways, and for major airports.

DEFRA is the government department responsible for the plans in the UK. It has given responsibility for drawing up the noise action plans for many of the airports, including Heathrow and Gatwick, to the airport operators themselves.

To enable airport operators to produce Action Plans, DEFRA produced guidance. (See ‘Guidance for Airport Operators to produce airport noise action plans’.)

Having seen the DEFRA guidance, we concluded “there is, in practice, no firm requirement anywhere to actually reduce noise or to prevent it increasing.”

The timetable for airport operators to produce noise action plans is as follows (latest dates):
1st July 09: Formal Consultation on draft noise action plan commences;
21st Oct 09: Formal Consultation ends;
30th Nov 09: Draft Noise Action Plan and accompanying summary is sent to the Secretary of State for Transport and copied to DEFRA

As at 7th July, we have heard of only 4 airports which have met the first deadline. They are Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted and Birmingham. (There may be others – if so, please tell us).

The draft actions plans for Gatwick and Heathrow have been analysed by the respective campaign groups. Their views on the draft plans mirrors what AEF said about the DEFRA guidance. In particular, they say:

* No estimate of the effect of proposed actions

* No evidence that the plan will reduce noise levels

* Any targets, actions and results to be set and monitored by the airport, ie no independent scrutiny. (Quote from one observer: “putting the fox in charge of henhouse”)

*No action to protect sensitive areas, eg national parks

* Many of the ‘actions’ are just a recital of the current policies or action or are about communication. That is, not new actions to reduce noise.

An interesting and important development is the introduction of a new measure of noise. Instead of the 57dB Leq (Loudness equivalent) day noise contour used by the government and airport operators, the EU now requires a measure called Lden (Loudness – day, evening, night) with a threshold of 55dB.

This takes the noise levels during the day, evening and night and averages them over a 24- hour period. But, crucially, the evening and night noise levels are weighted by adding 5dB and 10dB respectively to reflect the greater nuisance of noise at those times. More information.

The relationship between daytime Leq and Lden depends on the pattern of operations at the airport concerned. But in general, using a criterion of 55dB Lden shows that more people are ‘affected’ by noise than by using the 57dB Leq criterion.

All groups and individuals concerned about aircraft noise are being urged to respond to the draft action plan of their local airport. The more people that do this, the more pressure there will be on airport operators, regulators and government to actually do something about aircraft noise.