‘Cut the plane noise’ – Campaigners demand a stop to a third Heathrow runway

South London’s most populated boroughs are being subjected to too much noise from aircraft, a report by City Hall says.

A survey by the Greater London Authority found planes were flying too low over Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham – and that a third runway at Heathrow would make that worse.

The tightly-packed homes south of the capital bear the brunt of aircraft noise, the report by the GLA’s environment committee adds.

Campaigners are now demanding plans for a third runway be stopped in their tracks – and that airplanes are made to fly higher over South London as they come in to land.

The GLA’s flightpath review says its “most urgent” recommendation is to oppose the expansion of Heathrow because of the impact of the increased numbers of flights would have on Londoners.

The report cites guidelines by the World Health Organisation that frequent exposure to noise above 45 decibels damages health.

But the threshold set in the Government’s guidelines is 54 decibels. The committee also proposes drastic improvements to airspace in London, which means up to 2.2 million Londoners will be impacted by the plans, and up to 747,300 people impacted by noise from London City Airport.

Flight paths should also be less concentrated and more evenly dispersed away from those which are badly hit by both hubs, the GLA says.

Altitude of planes should also be increased, to cut noise on the ground in densely populated boroughs of London such as Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham.

Activists from Reclaim the Power and Plane Stupid block a mock runway on College Green outside the Houses of Parliament, London.

The review report said: “Flights approaching over South London routinely descend to around 610m (about 2,000 ft) altitude at least 22km (14 miles) from London City Airport, and keep that altitude until beginning final descent around 6km from the airport.

“The aircraft therefore overfly densely-populated areas of London (including, in the case presented to us, Catford, Forest Hill, Herne Hill, Stockwell, Kennington and Southwark, in the boroughs of Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth, along a track of around 16km.

“Heathrow flight paths especially affect west and south London. Noise meter readings of up to 70–75 decibels from individual flights have been reported from outside homes in these areas.

A continuous descent approach could greatly relieve the low altitude over the majority of this approach. Flight path management must also take account of ground elevation.

“Low-level flight paths should avoid high ground. Minimum flight path altitudes should be set and rigorously observed. We heard of flights tracked at up to 120m (400ft) lower than the normal altitude, including before 7am.

“The review of flight paths should therefore maximise the use of continuous descent and ascent, aim to keep the remaining low-level approaches away from high ground, and ensure that minimum altitudes are observed.”

Rob Barnstone, co-ordinator of the No 3rd Runway Coalition, the leading campaign organisation opposing plans for more noise and other emissions from Heathrow Airport, said: “We welcome the most urgent recommendation of this report being to cancel the third runway.

“London is set to be severely impacted by plans to expand Heathrow, in an already outdated airspace which leaves so many vast swathes of Londoners’ lives, in some cases many, many miles from Heathrow, blighted by noise from planes.

“The sensible recommendations in this report should be implemented by the aviation authorities at the very earliest opportunity.”

Jackie Clark, chairwoman of Stop Heathrow Expansion, which represents communities closest to Heathrow Airport, said: “A third runway means a new flight path, subjecting yet more people to the effects of aircraft noise exposure as well as more dirty air.

“The health and well-being of people that are impacted most by Heathrow both now and in the future is paramount.

“If the Government and Heathrow were serious about the exposure to these impacts it subjects us to, then they would extend the night time flight ban to the recommended eight hours.

Will they consider that?” A DfT spokesman said: “Expansion at Heathrow is a critical programme which will provide a boost to the economy, increase our international links and create tens of thousands of new jobs.

The Government has made clear that it believes a new northwest runway at Heathrow is the best scheme to deliver the economic and connectivity benefits this country needs.”

A Heathrow spokeswoman said: “We are reassured that concerns outlined in this report are currently being examined as part of our plans and ongoing consultation with local communities.

“We are already consulting with the public on the best ways to modernise the airspace around Heathrow while at the same time, developing plans for expansion that treat local communities fairly.

With expansion, we will be able to guarantee predictable periods of respite for all of our local communities – something that cannot be achieved today – and will introduce a scheduled night flight ban, set to be one of world’s strictest.

With these measures in place, as well as a £700m noise insulation scheme for local residents, we will be able to limit and, where possible, reduce the effects of noise on health and quality of life.”

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