Oral evidence to the Transport Select Committee on Heathrow noise


Thought for the day

6th May 2009

So, just who is monitoring noise?

At a recent meeting of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee some thought-provoking
comments emerged about the monitoring of noise levels around the UK’s airports.
In response to a question from Sir Peter Soulsby MP (Labour, Leicester South)
on whether noise pollution should be part of the Environment Agency’s remit on
Heathrow, Lord Smith (Chair of the Environment Agency) agreed that it would make
sense in order to establish a joined-up approach. But then he said that the Agency
has no experience of carrying out noise pollution assessment, and that such assessment
is not part of its core expertise. So, who is monitoring the levels of noise pollution
at Heathrow? Who has the necessary expertise as part of their core competencies?

At a global level the World Health Organisation has carried out some work of
noise levels around airports and, of course, the UK Department of Transport has
carried out its own assessments, including the 2007 ANASE report. Yet it is rather
strange – considering the targets established in the Climate Change Act 2008 –
that the body responsible for our environment has no remit regarding noise pollution.
Perhaps TransportInfo is worrying unnecessarily, and perhaps the increased size
and remit of Passenger Focus (which will be assuming the powers of the Air Transport
Users Council) will mean it has a role to play. Also, this issue could be left
to local authorities to sort out, or maybe it will be up to the residents and
communities most affected by noise pollution to monitor levels for themselves?

Have your say

21 May 2009 10:50posted by Jon Mitchell

How many people are aware of the Environmental Noise Regulations 2006? Under
the Regulations BAA now has a legal obligation to prepare Noise Action Plans for
each airport, issue them for public consultation (by 1st July) and an obligation
to take the results of the public consultation into account. BAA has yet to publish
details of the consultation process (due to be complete by November), but if noise
bothers you, suggest you get engaged!


21 May 2009 08:57posted by Christian Ball

I wrote recently to The Environment Agency and they said that they were not responsible
to monitor pollution or noise from Heathrow and I should try my local council
– makes me feel really protected – no doubt the idea is that BA or BAA should
police themselves – as they do at the moment with very little transparency and
absolutely no motivation to act……..






Wednesday 6 May 2009


Q100 Sir Peter Soulsby: In general the Environment Agency’s remit does not run to noise, but you have
been given a very specific role for the future with regard to Heathrow. Would
it not make sense to have noise as part of that specific remit for Heathrow?

Lord Smith of Finsbury: We have not been given the task of monitoring and regulating
noise in relation to Heathrow and that, I think, is largely because we simply
do not do it anywhere.

Mr Leinster: It is not a core area of our expertise.

Q101 Sir Peter Soulsby: I realise it is not a core area of your expertise and not part of your general
remit. I just wonder whether, given the specific role you have been given skeleton
argument to Heathrow, it might not be more joined up to have that specific responsibility?

Lord Smith of Finsbury: Air pollution is something that we do and that we do
a lot of in terms of monitoring, regulating, permitting, and so forth, therefore
it is something we can bring a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge to bear
in undertaking. I think in relation to noise we would be much more acting as novices
and I am not sure that is the best way to approach what will be a serious issue
in relation to aircraft use at Heathrow.

Sir Peter Soulsby: Thank you.

Q102 Graham Stringer: I was surprised at the answer you gave before about the breakdown between oxides
of nitrogen coming from ground transport and cars and from aviation. Is that a
figure which is agreed with the aviation industry?

Mr Leinster: The figures from the studies which were carried out on behalf of
the Department for Transport are where we got our information from and those show
that somewhere between 30 – 45% comes from airport operations, about 30% comes
from traffic and about 30% comes from a regional background level. Those are generally
accepted figures in the vicinity of Heathrow.

Q103 Graham Stringer: Because three or four years ago there was a lot of controversy, was there not,
about the monitoring and the actual figures being used, controversy about where
the measurements were actually taking place? Is that all resolved now? Are all
the parties content that the measurement is fair and objective and as good as
it can be?

Mr Leinster: As I tried to allude to earlier, this is going to be one of the
key tasks in the role going forward, to get agreement as to that attribution,
to be very clear that all parties agree what type of monitoring should be carried
out, where that monitoring should be carried out and how you do the analysis,
because unless we can get agreement between all parties as to that then this whole
thing will flounder.

Q104 Graham Stringer: So that agreement is not there yet?

Mr Leinster: I am not sure at what stage it is.

Q105 Graham Stringer: It is very important and absolutely vital.

Mr Leinster: Yes, it is. We can find out more and let you know.

Q106 Graham Stringer: That would be helpful.

Lord Smith of Finsbury: I think the point you made is that as we get to the crucial
role of undertaking the monitoring of the limits for a third runway at Heathrow
getting common agreement that the monitoring sites we are using, the type of monitoring
we are undertaking, the assumptions upon which all of that is based, getting agreement
across the airport operators, the aircraft operators, our scientists, their scientists
and the Department for Transport, getting agreement before we start actually doing
the monitoring is going to be absolutely crucial.

Graham Stringer: Yes. Thank you.

Q107 Chairman: In the context of the answer you gave me about the assurance you had that you
will get the powers you need, do you feel that as an agency you have or will have
sufficient powers to deliver what you want to see?

Lord Smith of Finsbury: We have confidence that we will have the powers because
we have been given a very explicit assurance from the Secretary of State that
that will indeed be the case. If we were trying to undertake it with our current
raft of powers we might be stretched.

Chairman: Thank you very much for coming and answering our questions.
(which also contains interesting discussion on the future of aviation and carbon