While lockdown was undoubtedly a horrible experience for us all, for residents in my constituency of Lewisham East, there was one unexpected benefit.
Lewisham East lies squarely in the flight paths of Heathrow and London City Airport, and the total shutdown of international travel provided a welcome respite from the scourge of ‘night flights’. Sleep improved.
For many, mental health also improved. Since becoming an MP, I have met with campaign groups and held a public meeting on this issue, alongside receiving regular emails from local residents struggling with chronic pain, depression, and other mental health conditions caused by the noise generated by low-flying aircraft.
One constituent even reported feeling suicidal, such is the impact noise pollution has had on their life.
Living under a flight path doesn’t only affect mental health; the World Health Organisation lists noise as the second largest environmental cause of health problems in general, linked to cardiovascular conditions and long-term damage to cognitive performance.
But despite a wealth of evidence, the UK has no regulations in place to limit aviation-based noise pollution or monitor its harms.
The pandemic has presented the Government with a critical opportunity to take action on aviation.
And with restrictions easing and flights becoming more frequent, this window is already narrowing.
If the Government fails to address noise pollution and emissions before the sector returns to full capacity, it risks burdening a new generation with hidden health problems – and it is constituencies like mine who will bear the brunt.
An historic lack of consultation has been central in creating this problem.
Because local residents were never invited to engage with air flight operators, they have never been taken into account when designing flight paths or setting regulations. They feel their concerns have been belittled and their health problems ignored.
At the very least, the Government must broker a full consultation between operators and residents. As I said when raising this issue in Parliament, they must work with airports to alter flight paths and keep noise disruption to a minimum.
The costs of noise pollution are also distributed unequally; studies have shown that flight paths are often imposed upon low-income or minority communities who cannot afford adequate insulation.
In my constituency, it is disproportionately poorer residents who suffer the worst effects. By refusing to tackle noise pollution, this Government is showing whose side it is on.
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