Residents in Molesey and Walton will recall the surge in flight noise from Heathrow last year. Working with local councillor Steve Bax, we secured the early suspension of that trial before Christmas, and officials from Heathrow and air traffic control addressed a full public meeting on 5 March, to hear local concerns.
There were two follow up actions. First, Heathrow took on board the very serious concerns raised about the impact on our quality of life. As a result, Heathrow set up a Community Noise Forum so that residents’ views could be fed into the ongoing design of flight trial paths. Councillor Steve Bax (Molesey East) serves as our local representative.
Second, I agreed to follow up with Heathrow on any further issues raised by residents which were not covered at the meeting on 5 March. I wrote on 26 March to Heathrow raising the three points that had been emailed or written into me by various constituents. I have now received a response from the relevant Director at Heathrow, Matt Gorman. Rather than paraphrase, I have set out the letter in full below.
In sum, this is clearly an issue Steve Bax and I will want to monitor with you very closely. However, we have made progress, not least in establishing a proper dialogue with Heathrow that I hope will ensure we resolve the outstanding concerns, and can deal with any new issues as they arise.
Dear Mr Raab,
Thank you for your letter following the meeting in East Molesey on 5th March, please accept my apologies for the delay in responding. Thank you for also taking the time to chair the meeting, my colleagues and I found it to very useful to hear about the issues being raised.
You raised three separate points in your letter on behalf of your constituents which I will answer in turn.
1) The modernisation of airspace is happening regardless of whether Heathrow expands or not. It is a Government plan to update the UK airspace, called the Future Airspace Strategy (FAS). It applies to Heathrow and all other airports within the UK. The plan is to modernise the UK skies by 2020.
Heathrow operates at full capacity and is legally capped at 480,000 flights per year and so cannot increase the number of flights using the airport, without Government permission. Regardless of whether Heathrow expands or not, the demand for flying is set to grow in the south East and in developing its Future Airspace Strategy, the Government has set out a number of objectives that will bring benefits to passengers, the environment and local communities. One of these is to ensure a more efficient airspace and manage future demand for flying.
2) At this stage we do not know what changes to flight paths may occur as a result of airspace modernisation. Now that the airspace trials are finished, aircraft have returned to using the pre-trial departure routes. Any changes to existing flight paths as a result of future airspace redesign will be subject to public consultation and ultimately it will be for the Government to approve these. I would like to assure residents that even with expansion, Heathrow’s noise footprint will shrink as aircraft continue to get quieter. The Airports Commission assessment of our plans confirms this. One of the opportunities of airspace modernisation will also be to explore opportunities for providing respite for people living under the departure routes, which is not possible at the moment.
3) While airlines are required to follow one of the six designated departure routes, the choice of which departure route and the sorts of aircraft that use these routes is a decision for the airline. There may therefore be variances regarding these two factors. Regarding height, there are a number of noise abatement procedures set down by the government that airlines have to adhere to, namely that they must be 1,000ft at 6.5km from Heathrow and must achieve a climb gradient of not less than 4%. The wind speed on the day and the type of aircraft (i.e. heavy versus light aircraft) are just some of the factors that may alter the height of aircraft on the day.
We are aware that some residents feel that aircraft are lower and through the Community Noise Forum we are working with members to carry out analysis that will show whether there has been a change of overall heights and flight patterns, and if so why.
Since the public meeting on the 5th March, we have hosted two Community Noise Forum meetings,
with the next one planned for May. Cllr Bax and Cllr Luxton are representatives for Elmbridge. I would like to assure you that we are eager to build trust in the information we provide to local communities and I hope you will agree that the establishment of the Community Noise Forum is a positive step towards this.
I will keep in touch with your office as we move through this process.
Sustainability & Environment Director,