South East London: A 'Noise Sewer'

A blog post by Dan Scorer

I recently responded to the Department for Transport consultation on future airspace policy, which gives some hope that a new approach is going to be taken in years ahead to managing flight paths, addressing the complete lack of transparency and failure to engage communities that has typified most experiences of Gatwick, Heathrow and City Airport over recent years.


There is no respite

Over the last 5 years, I've become very concerned about the unfairness within current policy around how flight paths are managed and have evolved across south east London. When I moved to my current house in Brockley in 2008 it was not significantly overflown at all. Since then City airport has hugely expanded and we have a highly concentrated flight path over us when City are on easterly operations. There was little consultation, and it is has caused uproar across areas impacted from Catford to Herne Hill and beyond. Equally, we are also now swamped with Heathrow arrivals joining the descent paths to both the north and south runways. There is no respite- arrivals use both approaches from 6am to past 11pm. That 28% of people across Europe affected by aircraft noise live under Heathrow's flight paths is a damning statistic that shows the need for drastic reform in relation to flight paths leading to an airport that was sited on the wrong side of London in relation to the prevailing winds, leading to the current situation where 750,000 people are affected by aircraft noise using a 55dB level.

New technology could be used for good, or bad

I believe that new new Precision Based Navigation (PBN technology) could be hugely damaging for the mental health and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people across London if it is misused to concentrate flight paths (as has happened with City Airport). South east London is already experiencing an unfair and disproportionate level of concentration both of Heathrow and City Airport (on easterly operations) flight paths. Approaches from Heathrow's stacks north and south of London to both the north and south runway descents all converge over Brockley and then onwards over Dulwich, Camberwell, Vauxhall. With the westerly bias operating at Heathrow, we then get both concentrated easterly operations City airport arrivals and Heathrow arrivals over us. This is an absurd situation where policy is not joined up. The westerly bias should end to allow for a fairer distribution of noise pollution between west and east London. Equally, south east London sees no respite at all, unlike West London. Arrivals crisscross south east London to both runway approaches from 6am to past 11pm. This is unfair and burdens south east London with a heavy load of aircraft noise, making it a 'noise sewer'.


A plane taking off from London City Airport

This level of intensity that I find strains my mental health

The new Precision Based Navigation system must be used to achieve an equitable distribution of the noise pollution created by Heathrow and City Airports. This means multiple approaches to the north and south runway descent paths at Heathrow and the ending of the concentration of City arrivals when on easterly operation. Personally, I would rather have a lower intensity of aircraft flying over throughout the day due to multiple approaches, than a period of respite with none/little, followed by 40+ planes an hour for 12 or more hours of the day, which is what we have to endure currently. It is this level of intensity that I find strains my mental health, due to the constant barrage of noise, whether the deep disturbance caused by the whale like A380s, or the annoyance of the high pitched whining of some smaller planes. Lower intensity, to me, would be a benefit.

The bottom line is that airports create economic benefits that are shared. But they also create air and noise pollution, which should be shared. Noise pollution in particular has to be evened out across the widest possible area to cause the lowest possible level of disturbance to any one particular area. Concentrating flight paths is unethical, damages the mental health of those blighted by 'noise sewers' and should be ruled out as an option.

With consultation on Heathrow's expansion and third runway flight paths due to start later this year, it could be the beginning of a process to distribute noise more fairly, or a disaster in the making that will make the lives of hundreds of thousands of people unbearable and blight swathes of London for decades to come.


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