Night flight councils lose High Court battle
Three councils have lost their High Court claim that the government did not deal
with the intrusive effects of aircraft noise at Heathrow at night.
London’s Richmond and Wandsworth councils, and Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire,
had challenged ministers’ pronouncements on noise levels.
They wanted judges to overrule decisions on which type of plane, and how many,
could land before 0600 BST.
But the High Court said the issues had been dealt with three years ago.
Mr Justice Sullivan said it was an “abuse” of the court process for the councils
to launch a “root and branch attack” in relation to the same issues rather than
address the compensatory measures – such as sound insulation of houses – put forward
by the Department for Transport (DfT).
The judge heard that the Boeing 747-400 RR – the main type of aircraft used by
airlines during the night quota period at Heathrow – had been wrongly classified
at too low a noise level.
The councils argued that by not acting on the discrepancy, the government had
failed in its duty to protect residents from excessive noise at night.
The judge said the Transport Secretary had acted on expert advice on noise levels.
That advice was open to dispute, but he was not “setting off on some frolic of
He also said the government had remedied the situation with a later consultation
document aimed at mitigating the effects of night noise.
‘Fight goes on’
Reclassification would have forced airlines to substitute quieter aircraft or
withdraw early morning services.
There are about 16 early morning arrivals each day between 0430 and 0600.
Wandsworth Council’s leader, Edward Lister, said the ruling emphasised “the current
night-flight arrangements are designed for the benefit of the airlines”.
“It’s not clever to have drafted an important environmental policy in such a
way that no-one can understand it.
“By not being explicit in its aims the government leaves the clear impression
that looking after residents’ interests comes a very poor second.”
His counterpart in Richmond, Serge Lourie, added: “All the councils will be stepping
up their call for a complete ban on night flights.”
The court challenge was supported by Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and
Fulham, Hounslow and Hillingdon councils and the Greater London Authority.
All the councils are members of the 2M Group, which opposes Heathrow expansion.
see also the Richmond Borough Council press release:
Plea to Government after High Court noise ruling
23.5.2008 (Richmond Council press release)
A plea to the Government to clarify its attitude on aircraft noise was made by
Richmond Council after the High Court ruled today that the Transport Secretary
was under no obligation to improve conditions for residents woken up by early
morning arrivals at Heathrow.
Mr Justice Sullivan said that while the Government had a policy of bearing down
on night noise this did not necessarily mean that it had to make things better.
He added that the policy was, therefore, "vacuous."
to properly address concerns over the misclassification of aircraft arriving at
Heathrow before 6am.
Half the planes in this early morning period had been placed in the wrong noise
category, the Councils contended. If they had been correctly classified they
would not have been able to fly.
The Government argued that because the night flights scheme pooled noise data
over the three London airports it did not have to take specific action on what
was a Heathrow problem.
The local authorities argued that actual noise levels for all the early morning
arrivals breached the limit of 87 decibels set for departures. They argued that
if the Government’s aim was to protect residents from excessive noise, it should
have acted on this discrepancy.
Leader of Richmond Council,
"Residents will be astonished to learn that, provided the numbers stack up at
Gatwick and Stansted, Ministers do not have to do anything about night-noise at
"It will be difficult now for residents to have any confidence that Ministers
will make a proper assessment of the environmental impact of Heathrow expansion.
"All the Councils will now step up their call for a complete ban on night-flights.
This is our ultimate goal – to end this continuing noise misery for our residents."
On average there are around 16 early morning arrivals each day at Heathrow between
4.30am and 6am.
Eight of these are ranked in a QC2 category when subsequent noise tests showed
they should have been in a higher band (QC4) for which there is a scheduling ban
at this time of night.
All the authorities are members of the 2M Group, which campaigns against Heathrow
expansion and fights to protect the quality of life of residents in their local
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