Environmental Audit Committee says Government must ensure a 3-runway Heathrow is genuinely no noisier than with 2 runways
The Environmental Audit Committee report looked at noise, as one of the issues that need to be revolved, if the Government wants to approve a Heathrow runway. The EAC says the current metrics that average noise are inadequate. They do not account for peak noise events, and may “ignore a swathe of people who are overflown infrequently but loudly.” “These metrics need to be measured against international standards such as WHO recommendations and inform a change in Government policy on aviation noise.” A new Independent Aviation Noise Authority will “need a more up to date understanding of people’s attitudes to noise if it is to be credible. One of the first tasks of such a body should be to undertake a survey of people’s attitudes to aviation noise.” The EAC says the government has to show “whether an expanded Heathrow would be noisier or less noisy than a two runway Heathrow at the same point in time.” On night flights the EAC says: “The Government should publish a plan, including a series of binding milestones, to deliver the proposed ban as part of any announcement to proceed with expansion at Heathrow…” And even if there is no 3rd runway, an Independent Aviation Noise Authority and a Community Engagement Board should be set up, to address the rock-bottom level of trust local people have in the airport.
Environmental Audit Committee report
1 December 2015
The report’s Conclusions and recommendations
5 Conclusion (Page 26)
89. The Government should not approve Heathrow expansion until Heathrow ltd. can demonstrate that it accepts and will comply with the Airports Commission conditions, including a night flight ban, that it is committed to covering the costs of surface transport improvements; that it is possible to reconcile Heathrow expansion with legal air pollution limits, and that an expanded Heathrow would be less noisy than a two runway Heathrow. In each case – climate change, air quality and noise – it needs to set out concrete proposals for mitigation alongside clear responsibilities and milestones against which performance can be measured. It should report regularly to Parliament, through this Committee and others, on progress. The Government should not avoid or defer these issues. To do so would increase the risks of the project: delay through legal challenge, unquantifiable costs resulting from unclear responsibilities, economic risks through constraint of other sectors to meet increased aviation emissions and longterm costs to public health from the impact of air pollution and noise.
Looking at just the section on Heathrow and noise
1. The Government has said it will set “a clear direction” on airport expansion by the end of the year. If the Government is minded to go ahead with the Commission’s recommendation, it is likely that this will be followed by a further period of consultation. The Government should use this period to address the recommendations in our report, before making a final decision on whether to go ahead with the scheme and seek the approval of Parliament through a National Policy Statement or Hybrid Bill. (Paragraph 4)
17. The Commission highlighted the inadequacy of relying purely on averages when
measuring the impact of noise on communities. People living close to Heathrow do
not experience noise from flights into and out of the airport as a constant decibel
level throughout the day or night. So, although the measurement of average noise
experienced provides a helpful snapshot of noise over a short period, and a useful
historical comparison, it does not reflect a range of variables such as the type, height
or engine power of an aircraft. Nor does it account for peak noise events. And, if it
lacks detail, it may also ignore a swathe of people who are overflown infrequently but
loudly. The Government, when assessing the noise impact of an expanded Heathrow,
should do so against a full range of metrics and not just average noise experienced.
These metrics need to be measured against international standards such as World
Health Organisation recommendations and inform a change in Government policy
on aviation noise. (Paragraph 67)
18. The Commission recommended the establishment of an Independent Aviation Noise
Authority. This body will need a more up to date understanding of people’s attitudes to
noise if it is to be credible. One of the first tasks of such a body should be to undertake a
survey of people’s attitudes to aviation noise. The results of this survey should underpin
both its own work and future Government policy on managing noise. In particular,
they should form part of a piece of work to develop a set of metrics to assess noise
impact. (Paragraph 73)
19. For residents around Heathrow, noise is a major part of their day to day lives.
Understandably, they are deeply concerned about the impact of an expanded airport.
The Government needs to demonstrate that, in assessing the case for expansion, it has
based its decision on whether an expanded Heathrow would be noisier or less noisy
than a two runway Heathrow at the same point in time – taking into account respite
and the need for predicable relief from overflying. (Paragraph 81)
20. The Commission’s recommended ban on night flights was a key part of the package
proposed by the Commission. The Government should publish a plan, including a
series of binding milestones, to deliver the proposed ban as part of any announcement
to proceed with expansion at Heathrow as recommended by the Commission.
21. Levels of trust between Heathrow and the local community are an historical
and enduring issue which has impaired effective community engagement. If the
Government decides in favour of expansion it should put in place a framework to
ensure that mitigating measures are introduced promptly. The Airports Commission
also recommended the establishment of two bodies – an Independent Aviation Noise
Authority and a Community Engagement Board – to address this. As part of the efforts
to restore trust and effective community engagement, these should be introduced in
the next year, even if the Government decides against Heathrow expansion. One of
the first pieces of work for the Community Engagement Board should be to establish
the extent to which commitments made at the time of Terminal 5 have been met.
Full report at