John Prescott's transport white paper commits the new government to supporting new controls but gives no date for their enactment. So environmental groups are mobilising MPs to urge the government to introduce the new laws as soon as possible.
Aircraft noise already affects hundreds of thousands of people in the UK, yet aircraft movements are set to increase dramatically as the aviation industry seeks to accommodate the predicted doubling of passengers in the next 15-20 years. These predictions suggest that the London airports alone will need to find capacity for an extra 100 million passengers per year by 2015, as many as currently use Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted combined. Regional air traffic is forecast to grow by an extra 79 million passengers per year over the same period - the equivalent to five times the current passenger throughput at Manchester Airport.
Recent work by the World Health Organisation (WHO) says increased noise can lead to:
. increased cardiovascular problems and stress related illness, and
. a reduced ability to concentrate and lower child learning rates.
When considering noise as part of an airport expansion proposal, regard is only given to annoyance and fails to take into account these wider health and social effects.
Most noise problems are dealt with by environmental health officers but they have no powers to deal with aircraft noise. Therefore, when relations between communities and airports deteriorate, local people do not always know where to turn.
The campaign also aims to encourage the government to introduce a clear and sustainable strategy for tackling noise, which incorporates the results of recent studies on health, and to define criteria for maximum noise limits at individual airports.
A spokesperson, on behalf of the five groups, said:
'For too long aircraft noise has brought misery to hundreds of thousands of people. Yet new laws to protect communities near airports have been shelved again and again. With the number of flights from Britain's airports set to rise dramatically, now is the time for the government to update the law and give people living near airports some peace and quiet.'
1. The campaign was launched by the Airports' Policy Consortium, Aviation Environment Federation, Friends of the Earth, the Council for the Protection of Rural England and Transport 2000.
2. The Conservative government consulted on the Control of Aircraft Noise in August 1991. In its decision in March 1993, it said: 'There will also be a number of changes to legislation, which will be introduced when a suitable legislative opportunity is available ...The government proposes to introduce a general enabling power giving aerodromes explicit powers to prepare noise amelioration schemes and to penalise operators who do not comply with them....The government also proposes to repeal sections 5 and 78-80 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 and replace them with a new power of designation. The new power will give the secretary of state discretion to compel an aerodrome to prepare a noise amelioration scheme...The aerodrome will be required to consult locally about the scheme and to seek agreement to it from a 'lead' local authority' ...Lead local authorities will be given powers to act against the operator of a designated aerodrome who does not take steps to ensure that an agreed scheme is being operated effectively' [paras 7-12].
'Aerodrome' is used in legal terms to mean all airports and airfields.
3. In 'A New Deal for Transport: better for everyone', the government says: 'We propose to take powers to enable airports to enforce mitigation measures, for example by taking action against non-compliant airlines, and to enable local authorities to enforce noise mitigation agreements' [4.221].
4. Aviation forecasts continue to apply the 'predict and provide' methodology which has now been discredited in its application to road planning. The organisations behind this campaign believe that this approach should not continue and that a National Aviation Policy - promised by the new government in its transport white paper - is urgently required to ensure the industry develops in a way which is compatible with sustainable objectives.
5. On Christmas morning in 1996, Heathrow had 40 landings between the hours of 4:00 am and 7:00 am. In 1997 the total number of aircraft movements at the UK's 60 reporting airports represented one noise event every ten seconds, 24 hours a day. This number is forecast to double within the next 20 years or so.