A psychologist who treats patients experiencing stress and anxiety with a dose of nature in Richmond Park says the expansion of Heathrow airport will be detrimental to mental health.
Heathrow will on Tuesday publish a consultation on its “master plan” for airport expansion, including environmental aspects of building a third runway.
Dr Alison Greenwood’s evidence comes days after research which showed a two-hour “dose” of nature a week significantly boosts health and wellbeing.
Greenwood said the potential negative effects of increased noise pollution from low-flying aircraft on mental wellbeing were of great concern in a country where one in four people suffered a mental health problem each year.
She said: “With over 91% of us living in urban environments, and studies showing a significant increase in anxiety and mood disorders among city dwellers, one might expect our government to be doing all it could to protect our valuable natural spaces.
“It seems irrational then that the government is allowing Heathrow, as part of its plans for the third runway, to propose routing for the first time 47 low-flying arrivals as well as between 17 and 47 extra departures every hour directly over Richmond Park, London’s largest open space, a national nature reserve and a site of special scientific interest.”
Greenwood said she treated patients with mental health problems who were referred to her by GPs, with doses of nature in the park. “The conclusion of hundreds of scientific studies comprehensively demonstrates the mental health benefits of exposure to nature,” she said.
According to the World Health Organization, environmental noise features among the top environmental risks to physical and mental health and wellbeing. The WHO guidelines recommend reducing noise levels produced by aircraft to below 45 decibels (dB). “Aircraft noise above this level is associated with adverse health effects,” it said.
Under the Heathrow expansion plans, hundreds of planes would produce noise levels of up to 80dB – nearly eight times the WHO guidelines – flying at 1,500 feet over the park.
Boris Johnson, the frontrunner to win the Conservative leadership, has suggested he would drop his longstanding opposition to a third runway at Heathrow if he becomes prime minister, according to the Times.
The former mayor of London, who told his constituents he would “lie down with you in front of those bulldozers and … stop the construction of that third runway,” refused to reassure campaigners against the runway earlier this week that he would cancel the scheme.
The park was established by Kings Charles I as a hunting ground in the 17th century and stretches more than 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres).
Sir David Attenborough, in a recent documentary on the park, said steps had to be taken to protect it against increased human activity.
Heathrow expansion plan involves large number of low planes over lovely, tranquil (now) Richmond Park