calling for the transport secretary to clarify the governments attitude
Council leaders have called on the transport secretary to clarify the government's attitude to aircraft noise after a court ruled that she was under no obligation to improve conditions for residents woken up by early morning arrivals at Heathrow.
Mr Justice Sullivan said that while the government had a policy of bearing down on night noise this did not necessarily mean that it had to make things better.
Wandsworth, Richmond and Windsor and Maidenhead councils claimed that the transport secretary had acted unlawfully in failing to properly address concerns over the misclassification of aircraft arriving at Heathrow before 6am.
Half the planes in this early morning period had been placed in the wrong noise category. If they had been correctly classified they would not have been able to fly.
The error affected the Boeing 747-400 RR which is the main type used by airlines during the night quota period at Heathrow.
The Government argued that because the night flights scheme pooled noise data over the three London airports it did not have to take specific action on what was a Heathrow problem.
The local authorities also argued that actual noise levels for all the early morning arrivals breached the limit of 87 decibels set for departures. If the Government's objective was to protect residents from excessive noise, it should have acted on this discrepancy.
Wandsworth Council leader Edward Lister pictured left said:
"The judge has exposed the emptiness of government policy on night noise. The objectives are so vague as to be meaningless.
"It's time for Ruth Kelly to stop hiding behind her lawyers. Today's ruling makes it clear that the current night flight arrangements are designed for the benefit of the airlines.
"It's not clever to have drafted an important environmental policy in such a way that no one can understand it. By not being explicit in its aims the Government leaves the clear impression that looking after residents' interests comes a very poor second."
Richmond upon Thames council leader Serge Lourie added:
"People in west London and Berkshire will be astonished to learn that, provided the numbers stack up at Gatwick and Stansted, ministers do not have to do anything about night noise at Heathrow.
"The Government's policy on night noise is not worth the paper it is written on. It will be difficult now for residents to have any confidence that ministers will make a proper assessment of the environmental impact of Heathrow expansion. All the councils will be stepping up their call for a complete ban on night flights."
On average there are around 16 early morning arrivals each day between 4.30am and 6am. Eight of these are ranked in a QC2 category when subsequent noise tests showed they should have been in a higher band (QC4) for which there is a scheduling ban at this time of day.
The application for judicial review was supported by Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hounslow, Lambeth and Hillingdon councils and the GLA. All the councils are members of the 2M Group which campaigns against Heathrow expansion. For more information visit www.2MGroup.org.uk
May 26, 2008