Dr Tania Mathias calling for a Bill in Parliament to make aircraft noise a statutory nuisance
In the 1920s aviation was a nascent, struggling industry, and governments gave it a lot of support to get going. One of the benefits it got was in the Air Navigation Act 1920, which provided the basis of the UK’s aviation noise regulation regime, by exempting aviation from nuisance sanctions, in order to stimulate the new industry. This was reaffirmed in the Civil Aviation Act 1982, which says citizens have no recourse against aircraft noise nuisance: “No action shall lie in respect of trespass or in respect of nuisance, by reason only of the flight of an aircraft over any property at a height above the ground ….”. Unlike almost any other noise nuisance source, there is nothing anyone can do about aircraft noise that disturbs them. Now Dr Tania Mathias, MP for Twickenham, has called for a Bill in Parliament to make aircraft noise a statutory nuisance. She has put down: “That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend Part 3 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to make noise caused by aircraft a statutory nuisance, and for connected purposes.” Tania says an average food blender makes a noise of about 80 decibels, and plane noise in homes in Twickenham can be up to 83 decibels. It is an unacceptable anachronism that while the noise nuisance from model aircraft is recognised in law, the noise of real planes is not. She believes we need the law to provide a means of making it better when noise goes beyond what is reasonable or safe.
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Noise nuisance from aviation outside the law
Civil Aviation Act 1982
Liability of aircraft in respect of trespass, nuisance and surface damage.
(1) “No action shall lie in respect of trespass or in respect of nuisance, by reason only of the flight of an aircraft over any property at a height above the ground which, having regard to wind, weather and all the circumstances of the case is reasonable, or the ordinary incidents of such flight, so long as the provisions of any Air Navigation Order and of any orders under section 62 above have been duly complied with and there has been no breach of section 81 below.”
Statutory Nuisance (Aircraft Noise)
– in the House of Commons at 1:07 pm on 29th November 2016.
I beg to move,
When I talk about noise caused by aircraft, I am not talking about the level of noise that some Members of this House would have heard this morning walking over Westminster Bridge. If they were walking over the bridge and saw and heard an aircraft, doubtless they would have been able to hear the busker also on the bridge and their companion’s conversation. I am not talking about that level of noise. I am talking about the level of noise that would have prevented Members from hearing the busker on the bridge and their companion’s conversation. That is the level of noise experienced by residents in my constituency—and by residents in other constituencies judging by the cross-party support that I have for this Bill.
Such is the level of noise that residents are unable to hear the television in their own living rooms when aircraft go over. They cannot hear the radio or have a conversation when aircraft go over. Indeed, I have residents who are unable to go to sleep at 11 o’clock at night when aircraft operate at this level of noise. I also have residents contacting me at—yes—4.30 in the morning because they have been woken up by aircraft making this level of noise. Babies cry and pet animals even show fear.
Official data from the airport near my constituency—it is called Heathrow airport—put the noise level at 83 dB. A food mixer operates at around 80 dB and an electric drill at 95 dB. That is why this level of aircraft noise should be considered a statutory nuisance. There are playgrounds in some schools in Greater London where, to try to alleviate some of the medical problems that come from this level of aircraft noise, the children go into what are called “adobe” huts.
If Members look at part 3 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, they will find a list of statutory nuisances—they have to be a nuisance or prejudicial to health—which include fumes, smells, dust, artificial light and model aircraft. If Members then look at Government websites about noise from model aircraft, they will find that it is considered a nuisance, especially if it takes place outside the hours of 9am and 7pm on a weekday and 10am and 7pm on a Sunday. Residents in my constituency are experiencing aircraft noise—not model aircraft noise—within and outside of those times. Aircraft noise is not only a nuisance, but prejudicial to health.
Since the 1990 Act, we have compiled more medical evidence. I am sure that Members are aware of many of the studies on aircraft noise and health. There is the well-known RANCH study— road traffic and aircraft noise exposure and children’s cognition and health: exposure-effect relationships and combined effects—which looked at 2,844 children around Heathrow, Amsterdam and Madrid. It found that children’s memory and reading comprehension is affected by aircraft noise—there is a linear relationship.
Members might also be aware of the HYENA study—Hypertension and Exposure to Noise under Airports —which looked at 6,000 people between the ages of 45 and 70 and found a relationship between hypertension and aircraft noise. Just a few years ago, The BMJ reported an American retrospective study of 6 million people over the age of 65 that showed a relationship between hospital admissions for blood pressure and cardiovascular problems such as ischaemic heart disease and heart attacks, and, yes, aircraft noise.
Now that we have evidence, we also need better monitoring, more data and more meaningful penalties so that if aircraft noise becomes a statutory nuisance we have best practice. The Secretary of State for Transport admits already that some planes flying over my constituency fly lower than others and there are records of the so-called quieter aeroplanes reaching 83 dB levels around homes and school playgrounds.
I am asking through this Bill for us to update the 1990 Act. The World Health Organisation gives levels for noise that is considered to be moderate and severe; Members will notice that they are well below the levels encountered by my residents. We have the medical evidence. Many of us have evidence from our residents that this is causing a serious nuisance, so I suggest that we amend part 3 of the Act to take notice of medical and nuisance problems caused by noise from aircraft.
Question put and agreed to.
That Dr Tania Mathias, Tom Tugendhat, Andy Slaughter, Sir Alan Haselhurst, Jim Shannon, Ruth Cadbury, Dame Caroline Spelman, John Cryer, Caroline Lucas, Adam Afriyie, Paul Scully and William Wragg present the Bill.
Dr Tania Mathias accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 20 January 2017 and to be printed (Bill 101).
Law protects us from noise of model aircraft, but not the real thing
By Tania Mathias (MP for Twickenham)
29.11.2016 (The Times)
Is noise from aircraft a nuisance?
Your first reaction is that it’s probably not. We’ve all been sitting in the office and heard a plane fly over for a few seconds, or glanceD up when a flight goes overhead when we’re out on a walk, but it’s not really that annoying.
But what about when the noise is so loud that it shakes the windows of your house, or means you can’t hear what someone in the same room or saying to you, or keeps you awake at night?
That, sadly, is the reality for far too many people who live under airport flightpaths, who are disturbed every day by plane noise that is not just a nuisance, but a serious health problem.
To put this in context, your average food blender makes a noise of about 80 decibels, and data from Heathrow shows that some flights go over houses in my constituency at a volume of up to 83 decibels. Imagine that blender being turned on every thirty seconds, including late at night and early in the morning, and you’ll have some idea of the “nuisance” that many people face.
Evidence shows that regular aircraft noise over 50 decibels can be medically harmful. Studies have highlighted its impact on the cognitive development of children, and the cardiovascular health of older people, not to mention the damage it can do in terms of sleep deprivation and mental health.
It’s easy to class those who complain about plane noise and airport expansion as nimbys, but this is a huge and dangerous back yard. Yes, many of my constituents moved to the area knowing that they would be living under flight paths, but they do not deserve medically dangerous levels of noise; a serious and growing problem that more flights would only exacerbate.
The law recognises various other nuisances, from smells and lights to dust and fumes – it even includes noise from model aircraft – but it specifically excludes noise from commercial flights.
By including aircraft noise above a reasonable level in the provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, parliament would provide the hundreds of thousands of people affected by this problem across the country with a proper form of redress. Instead of receiving insubstantial replies and no action in response to their complaints to airports, those affected might finally see some meaningful change as councils could require airports causing sustained “nuisance” noise to change their flight paths or altitudes.
This is not about stopping airlines or airports from going about their business, but it is about asking the government and the law to provide a means of making it better when noise goes beyond what is reasonable or safe. I hope that the MPs will heed this call today and back my bill.
Dr Tania Mathias is Conservative MP for Twickenham
The Air Navigation Act 1920 provided the basis of the UK’s aviation noise regulation regime, by exempting aviation from nuisance sanctions, in order to stimulate the nascent industry.
This principle was reaffirmed in the Civil Aviation Act 1982, which nonetheless set out a number of provisions for controlling noise at larger airports through a process of “designation”, which has only been applied to date to Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. By their Section 78 designation, the Transport Secretary is responsible for regulating take-off and landing noise at these airports.
In practice, noise restrictions at designated airports have been implemented through restrictions on departing aircraft noise, controls on night flying and (at Heathrow and Gatwick, under Section 79) housing noise insulation schemes.
At other airports, the successive governments have continued to favour local resolution. Councils’ main instrument in this regard is the Section 106 Obligation, a condition that can be placed on planning permission. These Obligations can limit movement numbers, operating hours and the types of permitted aircraft. Voluntary agreements can also be reached. London City Airport and Luton Airport, for example, have agreed maximum noise exposure contours, which must not be exceeded.
… and there is lots more at