Flight path groups write to Heathrow to express concerns about ineffectual Community Noise Forum

Communities around London have written to Heathrow challenging the airport’s engagement with local communities and demanding a range of measures to mitigate the damaging effects of aviation noise on health. The letter is signed by 7 groups which are members of Heathrow’s Community Noise Forum (CNF), that was set up earlier this year in response to a record number of noise complaints.  The letter brands the operation of the CNF as “a talking shop and essentially a PR exercise for Heathrow to claim community consultation while taking minimal action” and that “noise from Heathrow has become intolerable”.  Given the seriousness of the issues, and the stated intention of the DfT to increase the intensity of the use of airspace over the next few years, the groups also call for a fully independent and comprehensive inquiry to investigate the adverse health impacts of aviation on residential communities. They outline immediate measures that the airport should take to minimise the impacts. These include: reversing changes to flight paths, which have become lower and more concentrated; a permanent ban on night flights starting in 2017; restrictions on the noisiest types of aircraft in the early morning and late in the evening – and other changes. 
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Communities demand that Heathrow take responsibility for damaging health effects of aircraft noise

19.10.2015  (Joint flight paths groups – Heathrow, Gatwick, London City airport, Stansted)

Communities around London have today written to Heathrow Airport challenging the Airport’s engagement with local communities and demanding a range of measures to mitigate the damaging effects of aviation noise on health.

The letter is signed by seven groups who are members of Heathrow’s Community Noise Forum (CNF), which was set up earlier this year in response to a record number of noise complaints.  It brands the operation of the CNF as “a talking shop and essentially a PR exercise for Heathrow to claim community consultation while taking minimal action” and that “noise from Heathrow has become intolerable”.

The groups call for a comprehensive and fully independent investigation into the adverse health and educational effects of Heathrow and outline immediate measures that the airport should take to minimise these including:

– a reversal of changes to flight paths, which have become lower and more concentrated;

– a permanent ban on night flights starting in 2017 and an immediate review of scheduling so that no flights depart after a 11.00pm watershed or before 7.00am in the morning;

– restrictions on the noisiest types of aircraft in the early morning and late in the evening;

– initiatives to prevent known health impacts of aviation noise including high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and mental illness;

– truly independent research to determine the degree to which the airport has negatively impacted on the quality of life in local communities;

– a comprehensive insulation scheme for homes and schools experiencing noise above World Health Organisation guidelines; and

– funding for additional learning/reading support in schools.

The proposed measures are in response to the publication of a report by the Airports Commission in July (issued as an addendum to their final report) which has been largely ignored by Heathrow and Government, but which documented the serious effects of aviation noise on health including much higher risks of heart attack and strokes as well as negative impacts on children’s reading and memory.

A spokesperson for the community groups said:

“The plan we have presented today outlines a number of immediate measures that Heathrow should take to mitigate the health and child development impacts of aviation noise, but the airport and the U.K. Government need to do more to reduce noise in general. The recent VW scandal demonstrates that public health should not be put at risk to support the profits of big business and the aviation industry is no exception”.

‘Given the seriousness of the issues raised and the stated intention of the Department for Transport  to increase the intensity of the use of airspace over the next few years, the groups also call for an independent inquiry to investigate the impacts of aviation on residential communities.’


Background

  1. The Heathrow Community Noise Forum was set up by Heathrow in March 2015 in response to a huge increase in noise complaints from local residents. It includes representatives from 12 local authorities around Heathrow. http://www.heathrow.com/noise/making-heathrow-quieter/our-noise-strategy/working-with-local-communities/community-noise-forum
  1. The seven community groups that signed the letter to John Holland-Kaye include groups from Lightwater, Bagshot, Windlesham (Surrey), Ealing, Richings Park (Buckinghamshire), Englefield Green (Surrey), Ascot (Berkshire), Teddington (Middlesex) and Harmondsworth and Sipson (Hillingdon).
  1. The report Aircraft noise effects on health was published by the Airports Commission on 1 July 2015. A copy of the report can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/446311/noise-aircraft-noise-effects-on-health.pdf
  1. Complaints figures provided by Heathrow Airport show that :
  • In 2012, a total of 17,655 complaints were received. 3,240 complaints were received in the first six months of the year.
  • In 2013, 18,717 complaints were received.
  • In 2014, 44,682 complaints were received.
  • For the first six months of 2015, 52,728 complaints were received which equates to an annual figure of 106,056.

 

Complaints have increased by 1,627% when you compare the first six months of 2015 with the same period in 2012.


 

Letter from community groups to John Holland-Kaye, Chief Executive of London Heathrow

19.10.2015

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Mr John Holland-Kaye
Chief Executive
Heathrow Airport Ltd
The Compass Centre
Nelson Road
Hounslow
Middlesex
TW6 2GW

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19 October 2015

Dear Mr Holland-Kaye,

HEATHROW COMMUNITY NOISE FORUM

The Community Noise Forum (CNF) was formed in March 2015, following a huge rise in noise complaints. Much of its focus to date has been to obtain data to explain the experience of various local communities, for whom, noise from Heathrow’s flight paths has become intolerable. However, there has been widespread scepticism amongst CNF members about the repeated claims by Heathrow, NATS and the CAA that they do not know what is behind this increase in noise.

Heathrow refers to its Noise Action Plan at every available opportunity but progress against this is measured using highly selective data and contested bases of measurement (which conceal the true impacts) to support the message that Heathrow wants to portray. CNF members have been outraged by Heathrow’s claims that its Noise Action Plan and its case for expansion have been developed in consultation with residents. The recent press release issued by Heathrow concerning the 2014 noise analysis (which was never discussed with the CNF) claiming that its noise impact has reduced, was yet another example of a failure to meaningfully engage with communities with the inevitable result that people do not trust what Heathrow says.

We appreciate that it will not be possible to eradicate aircraft noise completely from the airport’s operations, but for Heathrow and the CAA to have any credibility there needs to be: 1) a public acknowledgement that the noise problem has got significantly worse, not better, as is evidenced by the 1600% increase in noise complaints over the past three years and the establishment of many new community groups; 2) a determination to explain the causes; and 3) an action plan to return conditions to an acceptable level.

While Heathrow may do its utmost to dismiss the current level of over 100,000 complaints a year as insignificant, the airport and the government cannot continue to ignore widely accepted evidence of the impact of aviation noise on health.

The report “Aircraft noise effects on health” published by the Airports Commission on 1 July, pointed to very worrying evidence about the impact that a third runway will have, but also raises questions about the harmful effects on health and education that Heathrow is already causing. Arising from this, the communities around the airport believe it is essential that there should be a fully independent inquiry to investigate these issues.

The current VW scandal demonstrates that public health should not be put at risk by commercial practices which support the profits of big business. As communities suffering the harmful effects of Heathrow, in addition to a fully independent and impartial investigation, we demand that an action plan is put in place by the airport as a matter of urgency to minimise these impacts. We have outlined below a number of measures that should be taken, which are informed by the findings of the Airports Commission’s health report.

ISSUE ACTION COMMENTS
Aircraft noise exposure is associated with increases in risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke as well cardiovascular hospital admissions and mortality. While this risk is considered to be moderate, it is important if a large population is exposed to aircraft noise.

 

Heathrow should work with local councils and NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups to agree a plan to prioritise minimisation of noise over residential communities, having regard to the latest WHO advice and guidance. This should include a reversal of changes to flight paths, which have become lower and more concentrated.

 

While the first priority must be noise minimisation, for those living very near the airport where an impact is inevitable, a programme of investment will be required to support prevention of conditions such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke and mental illness. There should also be funding for an enhanced home insulation scheme and compensation packages for all communities experiencing noise above WHO recommended levels.

We believe that up to date WHO guidance (together with a much greater emphasis on individual noise events) should be used rather than the current Heathrow and CAA practice of using average noise contours across the year, which masks the noise impacts.

 

There is no recent research or evidence supporting the current metrics and thresholds, whilst WHO guidance is referred to by Dr Charlotte Clark, author of the report “Aircraft noise effects on health” when assessing the point at which aviation noise can be damaging.

Night time noise is associated with sleep disturbance and changes in sleep structure. Exposure outside of the typical 2300 to 0700 night time noise metric can also impact on health and sleep quality, particularly for children and the physically-ill. There needs to be a permanent ban on all flights between the hours of 2300 and 0700 to be implemented no later than 2017.

 

In addition, there should be an immediate review of the airport’s scheduling so that current persistent failures to prevent flights departing after the evening watershed stop with immediate effect.

 

Finally, there should be restrictions imposed on the noisiest types of aircraft departing in the very early morning, late in the evening and into the night.

 

We do not accept that this can only be achieved with a third runway. To not act now would be inexcusable in the face of clear health evidence on the impact of loss of sleep.
Based on current evidence, aircraft noise is associated with decreased quality of life.

 

A comprehensive and independent public investigation should be commissioned to understand the degree to which Heathrow operations have negatively impacted on the quality of life in local communities. Given Heathrow will not be able to eradicate aircraft noise completely, it should take all practical measures to minimise its noise footprint with immediate effect and agree with local councils how it will invest in measures to increase the quality of life in local communities.
Many studies have found effects of aircraft noise exposure at school or home on children’s reading comprehension or memory skills, pointing to a link between increased noise exposure and decreased reading performance. The development of cognitive skills such as reading and memory is important, not only in terms of education but also subsequent life chances and adult heath. Heathrow should confirm how many schools currently experiencing noise in excess of the WHO recommended levels have not been insulated. Funding should be identified to insulate all remaining schools over a reasonable time period (to be agreed).

 

In advance of this, Heathrow should agree with local councils funding for additional learning/reading support in all affected schools until they are insulated.

 

 

We hope Heathrow is willing to engage with communities on the issues outlined above. Without this co-operation, we fear it will confirm many members’ views that the CNF is little more than a talking shop and essentially a PR exercise for Heathrow to claim community consultation while taking minimal action.  Community representatives who attend the meetings do so to protect the public’s health and wellbeing and expect Heathrow to fully appreciate the urgent need to reduce noise.  For any trust to exist between local communities and the aviation industry, we ask Heathrow, NATS, the CAA and the Department for Transport to address our concerns without further delay.

This letter has been copied to all interested parties.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

AIRCRAFT NOISE 3 VILLAGES (LIGHTWATER, BAGSHOT & WINDLESHAM)

EALING AIRCRAFT NOISE ACTION GROUP

ENGLEFIELD GREEN ACTION GROUP

HARMONDSWORTH AND SIPSON RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION

PLANE DAFT – ASCOT

RICHINGS PARK RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION

TEDDINGTON ACTION GROUP

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More about the Heathrow Community Noise Forum

Background

The Heathrow Community Noise Forum was set up in 2015 and is made up of representatives from 12 local authorities around Heathrow, NATS, BA, DfT, CAA and Heathrow.

Heathrow set up the forum in response to local concerns regarding future changes to airspace as a result of the Government’s Future Airspace Strategy.

Aims

The aims of the Forum are to:

  • keep community representatives and local authority stakeholders informed and seek their input in preparing for and consulting on future airspace modernisation as part of the Government’s Future Airspace Strategy;
  • improve understanding of members on Heathrow’s operations and airspace issues;
  • seek input from members to inform the communications approach to trials and public consultations regarding potential airspace changes;
  • build trust in the data through members involvement in the independent verification of the data and analysis of data.

Terms of Reference

See the Forum’s Terms of Reference

Public gallery

There is a public gallery at each of the meetings which members of the public are welcome to come and observe. As there are only a limited number of spaces in the gallery, we would ask if you would like to attend, to pre-register with us by emailingnoise@heathrow.com with ‘Community Noise Forum attendance’ in the subject heading.

Meeting schedule

The next scheduled meeting are listed below:

  • Thursday 5 November 2015, 2pm-5pm, Heathrow Academy
  • Monday 25 January 2016, 1pm-4pm, Heathrow Academy
  • Wednesday 23 March 2016, 1pm-4pm, Heathrow Academy
  • Wednesday 18 May 2016, 1pm-4pm, Heathrow Academy
  • Wednesday 6 July 2016, 1pm-4pm, Heathrow Academy
  • Wednesday 21 September 2016, 1pm-4pm, Heathrow Academy
  • Wednesday 23 November 2016, 1pm-4pm, Heathrow Academy

Meeting notes and presentations

The meeting notes and presentations from each of the previos meetings can be found here.

http://www.heathrow.com/noise/making-heathrow-quieter/our-noise-strategy/working-with-local-communities/community-noise-forum

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Meeting papers for the two most recent meetings:

Noise modelling (2.5MB PDF)

Meeting 4 –     8 July 2015

Meeting notes

8 July 2015 (316KB PDF)

Presentations

CAA – Airspace regulation (4MB PDF)

Heathrow – A380 introduction (502KB PDF)

BA – Take-off profiles (630KB PDF)

CAA – A380 noise levels (315KB PDF)

Heathrow – Steeper approach trial (1MB PDF)

Meeting 5 –     14 September 2015

Meeting notes

14 September 2015 (298KB PDF)

Presentations

NLR – Data verification (1MB PDF)

Initial data analysis (6MB PDF)

Noise impacts – trial reports (2MB PDF)

Teddington and Twickenham data analysis (13MB PDF)