"Mr Speaker, I thank you for giving me the chance to speak in this debate on the Civil Aviation Bill. For many of my constituents in Putney, particularly those who live in Thamesfield, East Putney and Roehampton, the issue of aircraft and specifically aircraft noise is one of great, and I should say growing concern.
"Can I make it clear from the outset that I am not against aviation, or Heathrow. I fully understand the importance of the aviation industry to the UK, and the opportunities it gives so many of us to travel. I also fully recognise that Heathrow is very important to the local economy in terms of the employment it provides.
"My concerns as Member of Parliament for Putney, and hence my worries about aspects of this Bill are primarily related to its potential impact on night flights, which already have a severe impact on many of my constituents. I know other honourable members have similar concerns.
"This Bill proposes a fundamental change in the way in which aircraft noise from planes landing at airports such as Heathrow, will be managed. At present, in the case of night flights - and by that I mean those flights landing at airports such as Heathrow between 11.30pm and 6.30am - noise is controlled in two ways, first by a noise quota system which measures the estimated total noise created, and second by the absolute number of movements overhead. At present, there are 16 flights landing at Heathrow between 11.30pm and 6.30am every day, with the majority landing from 4.30am in the morning. These planes fly directly overhead my constituency, and indeed, over my own home.
"However, rather than strengthening them, this Civil Aviation Bill proposes to take away one of the two controls over aircraft noise currently in place.
Clause Two of the Bill gives the Secretary of State power to change the current night noise regime and to remove the movements limit element of it all together, relying instead on just the noise quota measure.
"I recognise that the Air Transport White paper did say that the government was intending to introduce legislation to make this change, but such a change is strongly opposed by myself, my constituents, by the London Borough of Wandsworth and many other Boroughs and interests around Heathrow.
"I am sure that the Department for Transport will explain that the justification for this is that removing the movements limit will provide an effective incentive for airlines to use less noisy aircraft. I understand that. But less noisy aircraft are still noisy and wake people up. I find it very hard indeed to understand the logic of a policy that suggests that a less noisy aircraft is somehow, miraculously, not noisy at all! And this policy could enable airlines to increase the number of night flights, possibly significantly so, when our whole objective must be to limit the number of night flights.
"Regarding the one noise control that will remain in place, I will come back to other aspects of the noise quota system that demonstrate just what a discredited system it is.
"I would also take this opportunity to point out that this Bill does not give any indication as to when such a power to remove the movements limit might be used by the Secretary of State, and under what criteria he might judge it appropriate to use these powers. Given that the Bill proposes to introduce these powers, I can only assume that there is an intention to use them, which can only mean that we have more planes flying overhead than at present.
"Just as worryingly, the Secretary of State will be aware that his Department issued, only on the 10th of June, the second stage of consultation on Night Flights into Heathrow - just a day after the Civil Aviation Bill which was published on the 9th June.
"The Department of Transport is taking both documents forward simultaneously. My constituents might have expected that these two documents would have some consistency between them. They do not. The Night Flights Consultation document makes no mention whatsoever of the Civil Aviation Bill's proposals, and shows the existing regime of a mix of movement limits and quota limits continuing, at least until 2012.
Therefore, the Civil Aviation Bill is wholly inconsistent with the tone and apparent objective of the Night Flights consultation.
"Of course, I cannot talk about the government's strategy - and I use that term loosely - on civil aviation without referring to the previous White Paper on "The Future of Air Transport". This document said that it was the government's intention, and I quote "to bear down" on aircraft noise. It said that the Department for Transport's basic aim was to "limit, and where possible, reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise". But the proposal from that same government on night flights in the Night Flights Consultation Document is a 10% increase in planes landing during the night period. It proposes that my constituents bear a night flights regime that sees an increase from 2,550 movements in the current winter season to 2,820 by 2011/12, and a similar increase in summer flights.
"That, Mr Speaker, is bad enough, but this Civil Aviation Bill proposes to give the Secretary of State the power to take away any need for movement limits whatsoever. My constituents will left with a noise control system which at any point, unspecified as to when and why, the Secretary of State could change to rely solely on the quota count system. This is a system itself which is arguably fundamentally flawed and which leads me on to my next concern regarding this bill.
"We are used to fine words from this government, but as ever, there is little concrete behind them. The Department for Transport may say it wants to "bear down" on aircraft noise, but it places confidence in a quota count system that is based on estimated noise and not actual noise. How can we possibly justify, let alone explain to our constituents, a system for monitoring aircraft noise that is based on estimates of the noise level an aircraft makes rather than the actual noise that an aircraft makes. This is surely absurd.
"Mr Speaker, to explain why the quota count system using estimated noise is so discredited, research by the London Borough of Wandsworth showed that the level of night noise at Heathrow is understated by 74% due to the mis-classification of louder Quota Count 4 and Quota Count 8 747-400 aircraft landing at Heathrow between 4am and 6am, classed as quieter Quota Count 2 levels. These planes which have been so badly mis-classified make up 80% of the current night flights into Heathrow over Putney.
"I look to the Minister to give this House an assurance that her Department will now take steps to move to a noise monitoring system based on actual not estimated noise.
"The issues do not end there. We do not just need to measure actual noise more effectively, having done that we must also define what level of actual noise constitutes "excessive".
"The London Borough of Wandsworth, which has campaigned tirelessly for a reduction in night noise, has repeatedly asked for definition of excessive noise but to date has not been given one.
"This issue has been pointed out to the government not just by other honourable members of this house but also by the Inspector carrying out the Terminal 5 Inquiry.
"The Inspector said that he, and I quote from his Terminal 5 report "had some difficulty in establishing current government policy towards aircraft noise". He went on to say in his report "I find it very hard to understand how the policy can be implemented fairly and openly in the absence of a measure of definition of what is an excessive noise level". I agree.
"But the issues do not end there. We do not even have up to date information regarding how aircraft noise affects people and their health - short and long term.
"The last large scale social study of the impact of night noise on people was carried out in 1985 - 20 years ago - the Aircraft Noise Index Study.
Surely it is time for an updated review. I believe the Sleep Disturbance Study of 1993 was debated in this house, and heavily criticized at the time of its publication and failed to look adequately at the experience of residents on the ground.
"Indeed there has been no study that I am aware of, that has examined the impact of night flights or aircraft noise on people such as my constituents in Putney. I am not aware that there are any permanent noise sensors monitoring aircraft noise in my constituency, but they are badly needed. If they are there, the data is certainly not being made publicly available. It only takes one noisy plane to wake someone up.
"Mr Speaker, given the government's reluctance, I have done my own search for facts and data instead of estimates. I have only found one piece of research that looked at actual noise created by aircraft landing at Heathrow and passing over Putney though even that did not examine the impact of that noise on my constituents. That report was carried out in 1999 by the then DETR, the innovatively titled "Noise from Arriving Aircraft" Report. It did look at the maximum noise levels experienced in a number of locations, including one noise sensor in Putney. For the Boeing 747 - and again, may I remind the House that 80% of our night flights are Boeing 747s, the maximum decibels created by a 747 were up to 80db. No aircraft monitored carrying over 100 passengers was recorded at less than 65 decibels.
"However, this 80 decibel noise level can be contrasted with World Health Organisation guidelines as to what noise will prohibit a good night's sleep.
They say, and I quote, "for good sleep, sound level should not exceed 30decibels for continuous background noise, and individual noise events exceeding 45decibels should be avoided."
"Whilst I fully understand that the WHO levels are in fact for internal noise levels, the average home will only provide about a 15 decibel reduction by way of sound insulation when one wishes to have a window open, even slightly, by way of ventilation.
"Mr Speaker, in the only piece of evidence we do have, it seems my constituents have to put up with noise far in excess of that which the World Health Organisation believes is the maximum to have a good night's sleep.
The WHO has stated that there can be significant health impacts from disturbed sleep - in the short term there is an increased risk of accidents.
Additionally, blood pressure and stress hormones can be affected. In the longer term, the World Health Organisation area, says that persistently disturbed sleep can lead to cardiovascular problems, worsened cognitive performance and immune system problems.
"I would urge the Minister to carefully study, and indeed, to take a lead from the World Health Organisation guidelines, which would suggest that night time noise is already excessive in the context of my constituents not having their sleep disturbed.
"I also look to the Minister to give this House an assurance that her Department will also undertake its own full study of what determines "excessive" noise and make its policy known to the house at long last.
"Mr Speaker, even the government's own former aviation minister, Chris Mullin, seems to support my position. In an article in the Evening Standard, dated 14 January, 2003 he said, and I quote "Although nowadays the industry pays lip service to the notion of sustainability, its demands are essentially unchanged. It wants more of everything - airports, runways, terminals. The industry is not even prepared to negotiate seriously on such relatively resolvable problems as the 16 night flights which daily disrupt the sleep of several hundred thousand Londoners and are a source of continual complaint. During my time as aviation Minister I had difficulty persuading representatives of the offending airlines even to sit around a table with MPs whose constituents are affected, let alone contemplate the slightest change to their night flight schedules."
"I hope the latest aviation Minister will have more success!! And he ended his article by saying that any further concessions to the industry should be conditional upon an end to night flights. This will not happen often, but I find myself in agreement with a former Labour minister!
"In summary Mr Speaker, This Bill represented an opportunity to bring actual noise fully into the Department's decision making. That opportunity has been missed. This Bill represented an opportunity to finally define what our government believes is "excessive" noise. Again, that opportunity has been missed.
"I believe it is incumbent on a government making such major proposals related to aircraft noise, affecting hundreds of thousands of people, including my constituents in Putney, to base those proposals on hard evidence that is not only accurate, but up to date. That evidence is absent from this Civil Aviation Bill.
"This Bill proposes not to tackle the issue of aircraft noise and the resultant health impacts, but to do the exact opposite and remove a fundamental check on worsening aircraft noise that has been in place for a number of years. This Bill gives the Secretary of State power to lessen controls on noise created by aircraft, and thereby opens the doors for aircraft operators to have as many planes landing during the night time as they wish. The bill implies that quieter aircraft are less disruptive than noisier aircraft and therefore there is no more need for a movements limit, but the World Health Organisation evidence suggests that all planes carrying 100 or more passengers will wake up residents beneath the flight path as those planes land.
"It is time that the government initiated a large scale study not only of actual noise experienced by people such as my own constituents in Putney, but also of the impact that noise has on sleep disturbance. This bill emphasises the lack of balance in this government's aviation policy - placing the economic interests of airlines and airport operators over the livelihoods of people who each night suffer the consequences of night noise from aircraft. The Department has placed much store on the need to balance the social impact of night noise with its economic benefits. Let us find out what those economic benefits truly are. It is time we had a proper study into the economic value of night flights before any move is made to put this legislation into effect. I will listen to the Minister's response with great interest and I hope that, as a minimum, she will be able to assure me that these studies will be undertaken as a pre-condition of the legislation being implemented. On the specific issue of night noise at least it is time the interests of local communities were at last placed on an equal footing with the interests of the industry. It is long past the time that the balance was found.
"Mr Speaker, the best decisions are based on facts and data. In this Bill they are badly needed, but are nevertheless missing. Before increased powers are conferred to the Secretary via this Civil Aviation Bill, I look to the Minister to give the house assurances on actual noise monitoring, the definition of excessive noise and a full review of the economic case for night flights as a matter of necessity. To not do so is to a dangerous path on which to progress."
June 28, 2005