Night noise regulation should be evidence-based, argues AEF
The Government’s proposals on night noise should aim to deliver health-based long term objectives for limiting community exposure to excessive noise, argues AEF in its response to a consultation on noise regulation at the dominant London airports.Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted are the only airports at which the Government imposes noise controls, which are reviewed on a five-yearly basis. At other airports, noise is controlled only through planning conditions and agreements or voluntary action.
Despite the emphasis in this and other Government consultations on the importance of respondents’ quoting and submitting good evidence for their views, there is little apparent evidence-base for the current system of controls and permissions. But rather than proposing a system for delivering health-based noise limits, the consultation proposes adjustments apparently selected for causing the least possible cost or inconvenience to airports and airlines.
In our consultation response, AEF calls for:
- A commitment to achieving, over a reasonable period, the recommendations of the World Health Organization for protecting communities from the risks associated with excessive environmental noise
- Acknowledgement that people’s sensitivity to aircraft noise has increased over time
- Aligning the night noise ‘quota’ period with the standard 8 hour definition of night (the current period in which quota count controls operate is only 6.5 hours)
- Tightening up of the ‘dispensation’ rules whereby an average of 275 aircraft movements per year at Heathrow are exempted from all night noise rules on the basis of scheduling delays; communities should not, we argue, have to pay the price for Heathrow’s commercial decision to operate at close to maximum capacity. (These dispensations are in addition to any that may triggered by emergencies such as low visibility, or sanctioned by Government due to exceptional circumstances such as the volcanic ash crisis.)
Research commissioned by DfT from the CAA notes that in addition to causing disturbance and annoyance, exposure to aircraft noise can increase people’s risk of heart disease, strokes and dementia.
This long and technical consultation, which focussed on high level principles and methodologies, will be followed later this year by a second document making specific proposals for amendments to the current regime at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, and is likely to include consideration of introducing ‘easterly preference’ at Heathrow between 23:30 and 06:00, whereby most arriving aircraft would come in from the west of London (which is less heavily populated). No aircraft are currently scheduled to take off from Heathrow during this period, but often do so in cases of delay.