Richmond may have the highest life expectancy in the country (and high affluence) but health still damaged by aircraft noise

Research came out a few days ago, both from Imperial College and from researchers in the USA, to say that living with aircraft noise appears to cause an increase of up to 20% in stroke, heart and circulatory disease. In a blog, John Stewart looks at the retort from backers of expansion at Heathrow that one borough that is partly overflown – Richmond – has recently come out top in figures for the longest “healthy life expectancy” (HLE) for the country. “Back Heathrow” may try to imply this fact questions the medical data on exposure to noise. In reality, as has been know for many years, Richmond is one of the most affluent boroughs in London; it has 13 of the richest wards in London; its population in 2001 was 91% White, 9% BME; it has very low  deprivation; high employment and high educational standards.  ie. it is a very affluent borough, with consequent high levels of health. As John’s blog indicates, that does not in any way discredit the high quality research done by Imperial College. Only part of the borough is directly under the approach flight paths from the east, and the impact of aircraft noise may be well masked by the overall very high health – and privilege – of the borough’s population.


A Third Runway will be the death of you


The news last week that deaths from stroke, heart and circulatory disease are up to 20% higher in areas under the Heathrow with high levels of aircraft noise than in places with the least noise is startling.  But is it true?

Dramatic findings, but true?

Within hours of the release of the report, “Back Heathrow” (, the Heathrow Airport funded body promoting the expansion of the airport, had countered by pointing out that just days earlier researchers had found that Richmond – right under the flight path – was the healthiest place in Britain.  An ONS survey showed that men in Richmond could expect to enjoy 70 years of healthy living (women 72).  Wokingham, Surrey and Windsor – all places affected by aircraft noise – also featured high up in the list.

Both pieces of research were carried out by credible researchers.  Can they be reconciled?  I believe they can.

Firstly, and most importantly, the researchers were looking at different things: it is quite possible to live in Richmond, Wokingham or Windsor and both expect to have 70 healthy years of life and have a 20% greater chance of dying of a stress-related illness.

High-quality research

And, secondly, the standing of the Heathrow flight path researchers – Imperial College – and the quality of their carefully-caveated research, covering 3.5 million people, makes the findings hugely important –

This is why it was extensively covered in the media.  So far, Governments have ignored all similar research which has shown a consistent link between aircraft noise – indeed noise generally – stress and ill-health.  They didn’t deny the findings but presumably felt that some ill-health and early deaths was a price worth paying for the economic benefits aviation brought.

Influence Airports Commission?

It is too early to say whether this new research with its dramatic findings will suffer the same fate.  What is certainly does do, though, is raise the stakes, particularly at this time when the Airports Commission is considering expansion of airports in London and the South East.

Writing in the Independent the day after the research was released, Simon Calder argued, “48 hours ago a correlation between airport proximity and the risk of heart attacks or strokes was not in the public domain. Now that it is, the spectrum of harm from airports has extended from nuisance to a serious public health threat”

No wonder “Back Heathrow” was so quick to tweet its rebuttal.


The ONS Survey is 

Healthy Life Expectancy at birth for Upper Tier Local Authorities:
England 2009-11



The reason why Richmond has a very high life expectancy, and not obviously affected by aircraft noise impacts on health, can be seen from the map.  Only a small area of the borough is under the arrival flight paths, from the east. (For around 70% of the year, planes come in to land at Heathrow from the east). The position of the Heathrow runways can be seen on the map below (in red), as can the borough boundaries.

Richmond in relation to Heathrow


Some details from the 2001 Census of Richmond show:

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames

richmond logo

Richmond map


Size: 57.41 km2

Population: 172,335 (48.4% male/51.6% female)*

Population Density: 30 people per hectare; the 5thleast populated of all boroughs*

Age Breakdown: 7.2% 75+, 74% 16-74, 18.8% under 16*

Ethnicity Breakdown: 91% White, 9% BME*

Religion: 65.8% Christian, 19.5% no religion, 14.7% other*

Education: 41 primary schools, 8 secondary schools,
two non-mainstream schools+

Employment: 68% employment rate* #

*National Census 2001 +Richmond Council
#National Average 2001: 60.6%




Information from the Borough Profile for the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames


  • Richmond has 13 of the richest wards but not a single ward in the bottom 10%.
  • House prices in the borough are considerably higher than the London average. The average price of a property in Richmond from Jan – March 2006 was £421,715 compared to £306,663 for Greater London.



The Index of Multiple Deprivation 2004 (IMD 2004) examines communities at a Super Output Area level. No areas within the borough are in either the top 10% or top 25% most deprived areas in the country. In fact, 24 areas (21% of those in the borough) were in the 10% least deprived areas in the country. 68 (60% of those in the borough) were amongst the 25% least deprived areas in the country. Although not deprived in a national sense, some areas in the borough are relatively deprived compared to others and pockets of deprivation do occur.


Richmond is one of the least ethnically diverse boroughs in London, with a non-white population similar to the average for England & Wales. Just over 9% of the borough’s
population is made up of non-white minority ethnic groups, the largest of which is Indian –

Standards achieved in National Curriculum Key Stage 2 tests taken by 11-year-old pupils in the borough’s primary schools are well above the national averages. In 2002:
• 84% of pupils achieved Level 4 or above in English (national averages of 75%);
• 83% in mathematics (73%); and
• 94% in science (86%),



Overall, the population in Richmond upon Thames is healthier than the national average, with the exception of breast cancer rates which are significantly above rates for neighbouring boroughs. The trend for most diseases is that instances are falling, with most improvement in the higher socio-economic areas. The life expectation from birth of the Borough’s residents is 77.9 years for men and 82.2 years for women. These are higher than the London average.

Each year, between 15% and 17% of deaths locally occur among people aged less than 65
years, many of which are potentially avoidable. Almost a third of deaths each year occur
among people aged less than 75 years. The majority of deaths in the borough are caused by circulatory diseases (35%), cancer (24%) and respiratory diseases (20%)

The borough has the lowest age standardised mortality rates for men (683 per 100,000)
women (489 per 100,000) and persons, i.e. both men and women, (573 per 100,000) of its
neighbouring boroughs. It has the fourth lowest rate in Greater London.

The 2001 Census data shows that 12.4% of the borough’s population has a limiting long term illness, health problem or disability which limited their daily activities or the work they could do (includes problems that are due to old age). 5.25% of the working age population are permanently sick or disabled. The England & Wales average for long term limiting illness is 18.2% and 13.6% for permanently sick or disabled respectively.

More information on the Health of the borough can be found at:



The life expectancy map of England: How people in Richmond upon Thames live healthily on average 18 years longer than those in Manchester

  • Men and women in Richmond upon Thames have healthy life expectancy (HLE) of 70.3 years and 72.1 years respectively, according to ONS
  • Lowest HLE was in Manchester for men, at 55 years, and Tower Hamlets for women at 54.1 years
  • In every local authority analysed, life expectancy was longer for women than for men


19 September 2013 (Daily Mail)

Startling differences in how long people can expect to lead healthy lives in the North of England compared to the South have been exposed for the first time.

Residents of the wealthiest southern parts of the country can expect to stay well and active for as much as 18 years longer than the nation’s poorest, yesterday’s official figures show.

But in the North and deprived parts of London, illness and disability start much earlier. At worst, in the North East, people can expect health problems to restrict their lives five years before pension age.

The Office for National Statistics figures are the first published estimates for healthy life expectancy – the age people are likely to reach before ill health seriously affects their quality of life.

They show that an affluent borough in south-west London is the fittest part of the country.

In green, suburban Richmond upon Thames, newborn girls and boys are likely to live beyond 70 without suffering life-limiting illnesses.

Healthy life expectancy for babies born there now is 70.3 years for men, and 72.1 years for women.

At the other end of the healthy living spectrum are Manchester, for men, and Tower Hamlets, for women.

Healthy life expectancy is an estimate of how many years a person might live in a 'healthy' stateThe London borough of Richmond upon Thames has the highest healthy life expectancy (HLE) in England, according to the Office of National Statistics. Whereas life expectancy is an estimate of how many years a person might be expected to live, healthy life expectancy is an estimate of how many years they might live in a ‘healthy’ state

In Manchester men will typically find their health failing after 55, while in Tower Hamlets, a short distance across London from Richmond, the estimates say ill health for women begins at 54.1 years of age.

The findings are based on the Annual Population Survey, a state survey that questions more than 250,000 people, in the years 2009 to 2011.

The questionnaire asked whether people’s general health was very good, good, fair, bad or very bad, and whether they had any long-standing disabilities that limited day-to-day activities.

‘These glaring health inequalities must be tackled urgently, particularly as the Government is contemplating further increases to the state pension age’
– Michelle Mitchell, charity director-general at Age UK 

The ONS cautioned that the estimates do not give a definitive picture of the health people can expect as they age, partly because mortality and health continue to change, and partly because of the impact of migration.

However the findings undoubtedly reveal large regional differences.

The report said: ‘The pattern across regions shows a prominent North-South divide: healthy life expectancy in the South East, South West and the East of England was significantly higher than the England average.

‘The West Midlands, North West, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber were significantly lower.’

The report added that healthy life expectancy for men and women in the East Midlands, West Midlands, London, Yorkshire and the Humber, North East and North West was well below 65, which is the state pension age for men now and for women from 2018.

It added: ‘Those living in the southern regions enjoy not only longer life expectancies but also greater proportions of their longer lives in a favourable health state compared with their counterparts living in the north.’

The ONS said the area with the highest gender inequality in life expectancy was Blackpool (above), where women could expect to live an extra 6.2 years
Dr John Middleton, of the Faculty of Public Health, a professional body, said: ‘These figures are an important part of a bigger picture of data that tells us why some people live longer than others.‘We know healthy life expectancy is determined by our chances  of being in a job, living in decent housing and having an adequate income.‘Clearly having a healthy lifestyle makes a big difference, but so does being in employment.‘There are also variations within towns and cities. Parts of Manchester will have better results than others, and there may well be places near Richmond where people do not fare as well as these figures suggest.’

In every area, both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy were longer for women than for men. The smallest gap was in Rutland, where women are expected to live just 1.9 years longer than men.


The borough of Richmond Upon Thames contains a number of affluent ‘villages’ including Kew, Barnes and Hampton – and more than a third of it is open green space.

Unemployment in the borough currently stands at 4 per cent, one of the lowest in Britain.

According to the latest census figures, Richmond upon Thames is one of the least ethnically diverse boroughs in London, with a non-white population of 14 per cent. 

It is also ranked as having the highest quality natural environment in London.

By contrast, the ONS said, the biggest difference between men and women was Blackpool, where women could expect to live an extra 6.2 years.

Michelle Mitchell, director general of charity Age UK, spoke out against plans to raise the state pension age, warning that in future most people will not be able to enjoy any of their retirement while still healthy.

State pension ages for both men and women will begin to go up to 66 after 2020 – and will rise to 68 in the 2040s.

Miss Mitchell said: ‘These figures reveal the huge variations in the health of older people across England. It is further evidence that wealthier parts of the country have significantly more older people in good health than poorer areas.

‘These glaring health inequalities must be tackled urgently, particularly as the Government is contemplating further increases to the state pension age.

‘Otherwise the situation could easily arise where the average person in many areas will not enjoy any retirement in good health.’

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘These figures highlight that we must continue to work to narrow the gap in health inequalities because everyone should have the same opportunity to lead a healthy life, no matter where they live or who they are.

‘Local councils have received ring-fenced budgets to help local people get healthier and to reduce health inequalities.’