Noise action plans submitted by UK airports dismissed as a sham by environmental campaigners
Noise map of London's Heathrow Airport (source: Defra)
Wed 17 Feb 2010 – A report by campaign group the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) concludes that Noise Action Plans (NAPs) submitted by all 22 UK airports affected by UK and EU legislation on environmental noise will fail to tackle impacts on local communities. AEF says that the minimum requirements of the EU Environmental Noise Directive (END) – which was passed in 2002 (2002/49/EC) and enacted in the UK in 2006 – have not been met by the NAPs submitted to the relevant authorities in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The legislation is designed to help protect communities against excessive noise from airports, railways, roads and built-up areas.
It requires the drawing up of noise maps as well as the adoption of noise action plans based on the noise mapping results. AEF carried out a review of the UK airports affected to establish how these plans contributed to the aims of END and assessed using the forecast impact on the noise contours defined in the directive (55dBLden and 50dBLnight) compared with the base year of 2006, as defined by the UK regulations enforcing the directive.
According to the report, none of the 19 airports in England and Northern Ireland have based their NAPs on the 2006 baseline, and none offer outcomes based on the END noise contours. Only five airports offer forecasts or limits expressed in noise contours and these all exceed the 2006 baseline noise levels. The AEF says that all 19 NAPs allow, or actively plan, increases in aircraft noise.
AEF says that while the three Scottish airports have taken steps towards meeting the objectives of END, “the English and Northern Ireland airports would appear to have collectively failed to accept the spirit of the Directive, and have in fact subverted its aims and objectives. Even the Scottish airports rely on the use of a 57dBLAeq contour rather than the specified 55bDLden and 50bDLnight contours.”
Commenting on the report, AEF Deputy Director Cait Weston said: “We weren’t expecting great things from the NAPs. The demands made by the regulation are pretty flimsy. There’s no standard set for what noise is unacceptable – unless there are restrictions imposed by the planning authority or by the Government, airports can decide that for themselves. And airports will also be in charge of monitoring the effectiveness of their actions. So they can pretty much say what they like in these plans.
“What surprised us was the extent to which airports have failed even to comply with the weak demands of the EU’s legislation. Airports had to make noise maps, for example, and base their action plans on the maps. But most have just repeated whatever actions they were taking before producing the maps. At Heathrow, the noise maps produced under the EU law show 725,500 people in the affected area, but the actions the airport has proposed to deal with noise relate to the 57 Decibel contour, which covers only 258,500 people. It’s a massive difference.”
AEF called on the Secretary of State for the environment to reject the plans submitted by the English airports for approval.
Responding to the criticism, a spokesperson for BAA Heathrow said: “The Noise Action Plan was open to a 16-week consultation, following which the draft was amended and has been submitted to the Government. We look forward to their feedback and working with AEF and other stakeholders in continuing to improve our approach. We have an extensive range of noise management measures in place at Heathrow and did so prior to this process.
“We are always open to improvement, however, and have suggested over 30 new actions in the revised plan, including the introduction of an independent noise auditor.”
A spokesperson for London Stansted Airport – also owned by BAA – maintained the airport had developed and consulted upon its draft Noise Action Plan in line with the EU directive.
“In light of the feedback we received from the hundreds of responses from our extensive 16-week public consultation, we reviewed our actions and have detailed a wide range of new initiatives, which include tougher penalties for airlines that persistently fly off track and tighter timescales for change,” he said.
“Our plan was to show in one document all the measures that the airport will either continue with, or adopt, over the next five years in order to help better manage aircraft noise in the community.
“For over a decade, Stansted has been at the forefront of pro-actively monitoring and tacking noise issues in the community. We’ve also worked hard to successfully reduce the impact of aircraft noise as we’ve developed and grown the airport, and today we have one of the most modern aircraft fleets of any UK airport. We have a very proud record of what it has been able to achieve to date and our draft noise action plan builds upon that sound foundation and recognizes that complacency is not an option.”
AEF said tolerance levels to aircraft noise have decreased and point to the results of a seven-year study into aircraft noise and annoyance, which found that even though individual aircraft have become quieter, people are more annoyed by aircraft noise now than they were in the 1980s, when the previous study was conducted (see story).
According to a study commissioned by Germany’s Federal Environment Agency (see article in Time magazine), men who are exposed to jet noise have a 69% higher risk of being hospitalized for cardiovascular disease. Women living under flight paths fare even worse, logging a 93% higher rate of hospitalization with cardiovascular problems, compared with their counterparts in quiet residential areas. The study found that women who are exposed to jet noise of about 60 decibels during the day are 172% more likely to suffer a stroke.