Councils urge Davies to order new noise study

Published: 6 September 2013

Councils opposed to Heathrow expansion have called on the Airports Commission to order a new study of attitudes to aircraft noise.

Without an updated study the councils fear the Commission will be limited to basing recommendations on sites for new airport capacity on surveys carried out more than 30 years ago.

The 2M Group has also republished the ANASE study into attitudes to aircraft noise which was rejected by the last Government. ANASE, which reported in 2007, showed that the official method for measuring community annoyance did not take account of rising numbers of aircraft.

The councils say that, while adopting the ANASE findings would provide the commission with a more robust benchmark, the real answer is to order a brand new study that properly reflects current attitudes.

Wandsworth leader Ravi Govindia said:

"The problem with the noise measure produced by the original 1980s study is that it does not bear any relation to real-life experience.

"It is difficult for a measure to command public confidence when it effectively tells people living in places like Barnes, Fulham, Putney, Ealing, Chelsea, Stockwell and Windsor that they are not affected by noise because they live outside the 57 decibel (dB) area around Heathrow.

"Our own evidence as local councils responding every day to complaints on aircraft noise suggests that the true number affected by Heathrow operations is around 1m - four times the figure implied by the 57dB contour."

Hillingdon leader Ray Puddifoot said:

"It shouldn't be down to the local authorities to resurrect the ANASE findings. It is astonishing that neither the last Government nor the present one has done this.

"We took the decision to invite the ANASE team to address the concerns expressed about their work at the time. This is the first time they have been given this opportunity.

"We believe the updated study is an important body of evidence which we are happy to make available to the Davies Commission."

Hounslow deputy leader Colin Ellar said:

"The issue of night flights also needs to be looked at when considering noise nuisance. If Heathrow is to continue as the UK's major hub airport then this is an issue that must be addressed once and for all.

"Experience from abroad shows that other airports close to major cities have to accept night curfews - we urge the commission to ensure that the cost of introducing a night curfew at Heathrow is included as part of the decision making process for where any additional capacity can be provided."

Today's noise averaging system (Leq) was introduced following the ANIS study in 1982 - more than 30 years ago.

While this new metric gave greater weight to the noise energy produced by individual aircraft at source, it has failed to give adequate weight to a near doubling of noise episodes at Heathrow during the standardised 16-hour period. As a result complaints from residents grew while the contour itself was shrinking. You can download a chart showing the how the contour has shrunk between 1974 and 2011.

A map has been produced that clearly shows the vast difference between the 57dB contour and what 2M say is the more accurate and relevant measure of noise nuisance - 55dB.

The Airports Commission, which is chaired by Sir Howard Davies, examines the need for additional UK airport capacity and recommends to Government how this can be met. In their evidence to the Commission the councils call for:

             A new social survey of community attitudes to aircraft noise that can provide a rational basis for assessments on future capacity

             A new noise threshold for the area around Heathrow that gives sufficient weight to the numbers of movements and noise episodes experienced in any one hour

             A review of compensation arrangements for communities affected in line with a new threshold

The 2M response, which is available to download, is supported by Hounslow, Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth, Windsor and Maidenhead, Southwark, Brent, Hammersmith and Fulham, Merton and South Bucks.

The closing date for the Commission's consultation on aviation noise is September 6.


Notes to editors

The 2M Group is an all-party alliance of local authorities concerned about the environmental impact of Heathrow operations on their communities.

The republished ANASE study demonstrates that:

  • The findings of the Government-commissioned 2005 ANASE study are more robust than the previous ANIS study of 1982. However, Government policy continues to be based on the older study.
  • The ANASE findings are more up-to-date, reflecting the views of communities around 20 UK airports in 2005/6, whilst the research still being used to inform Government policy obtained the views of residents in 1982, more than 30 years ago, when aircraft sound levels and numbers were very different to today.
  • The ANASE findings are consistent with non survey-based sources of reported community annoyance (e.g. complaints by the public to Government and aviation authorities) and corroborate these vocal indications that significant proportions of some communities outside 57 LAeq - such as areas in and around Eton & Windsor, East Sheen, Barnes and Putney - report that they find aircraft noise to be annoying.
  • The ANASE findings are consistent with the current known situation across Europe - whilst the research still used by UK Government may be consistent with the European situation of 30 years ago.
  • The ANASE research findings provide evidence of the ratio between aircraft numbers and average sound levels that best reflects community annoyance, which is consistent with historical UK evidence (in particular, the Wilson Committee adoption of the Noise and Number Index).
  • In contrast, the single piece of research that suggests community annoyance is more influenced by changes in aircraft sound levels than changes to aircraft numbers, ANIS, was biased in the way it asked residents to think only of the noisiest aircraft situation (with no mention of numbers of aircraft) when considering their annoyance with aircraft noise. From a purely research evidence perspective, it is surprising that UK policy-makers continue to base their understanding of numbers of people affected by aircraft noise on out-of-date, biased, non-independently-reviewed research - especially when there is available much more up-to-date evidence of UK residents' views on aircraft noise that is consistent with all other recent and substantive pieces of research in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. The consequence is that policy-makers continue to presume that 'the onset of significant annoyance' is 57 LAeq and that communities below this noise exposure threshold are relatively unaffected by aircraft noise - despite the fact that many such residents say that they are.