Gatwick goes on the noise offensive with compensation pledge to help win battle for a new London runway
Possible layout of a two-runway Gatwick Airport (image: GAL)
Thu 27 Mar 2014 – As competition hots up to persuade the UK government-appointed Airports Commission, and ultimately Parliament, on their own cases for building a new runway, London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports have stressed the importance of winning the aircraft noise debate. Believed to be the first airport in the world to make such an offer, Gatwick has committed to pay annual compensation of around £1,000 ($1,600) to local households most affected by aircraft noise should it receive approval for a new second runway. It has also released a supportive noise management report that benchmarks its approach with other leading UK and European airports. Heathrow, meanwhile, has pointed to a survey it commissioned from pollsters Populus that aircraft noise is only the seventh most important aspect of a London airport for Londoners.
Under the Gatwick compensation scheme, which would only come into effect if and when a second runway comes into operation, around 4,100 households situated within the 57 db(A) Leq noise contour would each receive an annual payment equivalent to the Band A Council Tax – the lowest band of property tax charged by the local authority. The compensation would not be paid to new residents choosing to relocate to the area once the runway is built.
“Expansion at Gatwick would, without doubt, deliver many upsides for our local community in terms of jobs and investment. But we must also recognise the negative noise impacts on local people from more flights,” said Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick Airport. “How we best compensate communities affected by major infrastructure projects is an issue facing a growing number of sectors – from aviation to energy.
“Environmental issues are at the centre of the debate about runway capacity in the South-East [of England] and noise reduction, mitigation and compensation are therefore at the heart of our expansion plans. This scheme will be a cornerstone of our planned package of measures for local residents.”
Earlier this year, Gatwick announced plans to offer hundreds of local homes up to £3,000 ($5,000) towards double glazing and loft insulation to mitigate aircraft noise, which will add 40% more homes to those covered already by the old scheme.
Last week, Gatwick published a report it had commissioned from aviation noise consultancy Noise Communications Solutions (NCS) that looked at the airport’s noise initiatives and benchmarked its approach to noise management against leading European airports including Heathrow, Stansted, Frankfurt and Schiphol.
Vicki Hughes, Managing Director of NCS, said the airport had implemented several innovative measures that would help ensure its position as an industry leader in the management of airport noise. Such measures include being the first UK airport to introduce Precision Navigation on all its departure routes which, claims Gatwick, allows aircraft to fly on more precise routes and therefore reduce the number of people impacted by noise.
“We take noise management very seriously and it is great that our approach has been independently validated by renowned noise experts,” commented Wingate. “However, even as we try to remove hundreds of thousands of people out of the flight path in line with government policy, we recognise that there will always be some communities affected by aircraft noise.”
As it steps up its case for expansion, the airport unveiled a new campaign this week, ‘Gatwick Obviously’, to promote the economic, connectivity and regenerative benefits of a second runway. The independent Airports Commission is due to recommend its solution to the London and South East England capacity debate after the next general election in May 2015. Subject to government approval and quick decision-making, Gatwick believes it can start construction of a new runway before the end of the next parliament in 2020, with the first flights taking off in 2025.
Next week, Gatwick is starting a six-week consultation with local residents and businesses over three options it is looking at for the proposed new runway. The airport’s own preferred option is a 1,045m runway south of the existing runway, with both being used for landings and take-offs. The airport will hold a series of 16 public exhibitions during the consultation period.
“The views of the local community are an essential element in shaping Gatwick’s second runway options,” said Wingate. “Therefore it is important we hear from as many people as possible through our consultation so that we can consider local opinions fully in our refined runway proposals.”
However, GACC (Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign), which includes local environmental groups and councillors and is fighting the runway proposal, said the consultation was a bogus exercise as it provided no provision for the public to vote against the runway. GACC Chairman Brendon Sewill said the outcome of the consultation was already pre-ordained, particularly over the three options. “Whichever option the public choose, the decision has already been taken,” he said. “And a vote for any option will be counted as a vote in favour of a new runway.”
GACC also criticises the more precise routes now being taken by aircraft departing the airport. “Concentrating flight paths may mean fewer people affected but at the cost of misery for those under the narrow flight path,” it said.
Sewill described the compensation payment offer as a “small bribe” and said the amount would be tiny compared to the loss of house values and the deterioration in the quality of life “of hundreds of thousands of people”.
Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport has published a report it commissioned from independent polling company Populus that shows aircraft noise was less important overall to a majority of Londoners compared to the economic benefits. The poll of just over 1,000 participants found noise ranked as only the seventh most important aspect of an airport, with only 8% ranking it the highest, and fewer than a quarter or respondents rated noise as among their top three issues.
Issues such as the number of destinations an airport flies to directly (35%), its proximity to central London (18%) and the economic benefits it delivers (10%) were all seen as more important considerations.
Commenting on the findings, Heathrow’s Chief Executive, Colin Matthews, said: “Noise is a vital issue for many people. This survey puts the spotlight on other aspects which are vitally important for Londoners when considering an airport.”