Government must restrict the building of new homes within airport noise contours, say UK airport operators
(photo: Heathrow Airport)
Wed 24 Sept 2014 – A lack of consistency between national aviation policy and planning policy has led to 5,700 new homes being built or given planning permission within the noise contours of the UK’s 18 biggest airports during the past three years, finds a new report from the UK Airport Operators Association (AOA). A well-intentioned policy to streamline the planning process on building much-needed new homes has allowed property developers to encroach into areas where aircraft noise can be of annoyance to residents, says the AOA. It calls on government to reintroduce national planning guidance about how local authorities should interpret noise contours and align airports with local development needs. The AOA report, ‘Sustainable Airports’, demonstrates how UK airports are reducing their carbon emissions and managing noise, and the trade body urges the government to provide more support in both areas.
“This report is an important contribution to the debate around whether our sector can successfully expand without increasing its carbon and noise impacts,” said AOA Chief Executive Darren Caplan. “It demonstrates that our country’s airports, which are so crucial to the wellbeing of the UK, can grow sustainably, even more so if given proper policy support.”
Using research carried out by the UK aviation industry’s Sustainable Aviation initiative, the report says the total area of the government’s 57 Leq noise contour – where the highest levels of aircraft noise are experienced – at six major UK airports shrunk from 409.6 sq-km in 1998 to 225.6 sq-km in 2010, a decrease of nearly 45%. However, says the AOA, airports alone cannot reduce the number of people living within those areas.
The acute need for housing in the UK, coupled with the removal of guidance about aircraft noise in the government’s overhaul of planning policy, means that some local authorities are allowing developers to build new homes and other noise-sensitive buildings closer to airports, the AOA points out. It adds there is little evidence the 5,761 new homes have adequate noise insulation or that people moving in to them will be told beforehand they are in an airport’s noise contour.
“Government policy asks airports to limit and reduce the number of people inside noise contours – it should not then enable developers to introduce thousands of new households into these contours,” it says.
Although airports only account for a small proportion of aviation’s carbon emissions, they can play a role in reducing the emissions under their direct control through their business operations and using their influence to help deliver reductions in other parts of the aviation industry, says the report. It finds the cumulative carbon footprint of the UK’s 18 biggest airports has shrunk by almost 3% since 2010, while passenger numbers have increased by 5%. The AOA points to three key areas carbon reductions are being made by airports: improving transport surface access, more energy efficient buildings and business practice, and providing cleaner on-site energy to aircraft.
To help the aviation sector achieve greater carbon reductions, the AOA urges government to support the development of sustainable aviation fuels by providing an incentive framework to stimulate investment, R&D and commercialisation, and to press for an international agreement on a global carbon trading scheme. It also suggests UK airports that have not already done so, should commit to a scheme to reduce as well as monitor their carbon emissions, such as the ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation Stage 2: Reduction.
“The report shows that airports are keeping to their side of the bargain, investing and innovating to reduce their carbon footprints, and working through industry coalitions to reduce noise,” said Caplan. “We now need to see a partnership approach with government to take sustainable airport development to the next level. We urge ministers to step up to the plate and do their bit to deliver supportive policy.”
Responding to the report, Cait Hewitt, Deputy Director of the Aviation Environment Federation, said: “AOA blames government and local authorities for approving housing in areas affected by aircraft noise. But with the aviation industry regularly claiming that aircraft noise is falling, and authorities having to deal with real housing pressures, this is probably hard to avoid. At both Heathrow and Gatwick, local authorities were led to believe by the Coalition government back in 2010 that South-East airport expansion was off the agenda, and their housing plans are bound to reflect this.”