View from the street: Heathrow need to put the brakes on
PUBLISHED: 17:01 20 March 2019 | UPDATED: 17:01 20 March 2019
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Heathrow wants to expand its operations to fly over areas with little aviation activity at present, including over north west London.
Hampstead is 500 ft above sea level and, in Heathrow’s first phase of expansion, it may be exposed to flights at 2,500 to 3,500 ft with noise levels at more than 60 to 65 decibels (dB) above level of background noise in a busy office, from 6am every morning. Highgate may be in the same position.
Heathrow wants to send one flight every 2.5 minutes between 6am and 7am and one every 10 mins thereafter from 7am to 11.30pm. In the second phase of expansion with the third runway, there is potential for one flight every minute with most being above 65dB.
Aviation noise has environmental, health and educational impacts that are not well known outside of aviation circles and which are causes for concern for affected residents. That Heathrow is pushing ahead with expansion despite these impacts beggars belief.
Environmental concerns include that the air pollution (NOx/ PM10/PM2.5 particulates) around Heathrow is already at or above acceptable limits and London as a whole is close to being in breach of EU requirements for NOx pollution.
Sadiq Khan is introducing the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to bring London’s air closer in compliance with EU emissions requirements. A 50 per cent increase in flights over inner/outer London at low altitudes, emitting these particulates, will reduce our air quality.
Health concerns include the findings of two major medical reports that conclude high levels of aircraft noise cause increased risks of stroke, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease for both hospital admissions and mortality, disturbed sleep and sleep recuperation, hypertension, raised blood pressure during night sleeping periods, lower birth weight of babies, and raised blood pressure in children.
A 5dB increase in aircraft noise was associated with a greater increase in waist circumference of 1.5cm due to increased stress hormones which might contribute to central obesity. A 10dB increase in day-time or night-time aircraft noise was associated with a 28pc increase in anxiety medication use. With schools experiencing aircraft noise above 63dB, there are higher rates of hyperactivity symptoms for children.
While more studies need to be done on the health risks of aviation noise, the above is a cause for concern for residents accustomed to zero noise who are then subjected to noise above 65dB at least 40 times a day with the first expansion and then every minute with the third runway.
Education impacts include poorer reading, comprehension and memory skills for children at school and at home. A 5dB increase in aircraft noise can cause a two-month delay in reading age.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Community Noise Guidelines suggest the background sound pressure level in school classrooms should not exceed 35dB during teaching sessions to protect from speech intelligibility and information extraction. They also suggest playgrounds should not exceed 55dB during the recess period to protect from annoyance. With the planned noise levels of over 65dB for north west London, this will not be achievable for the 55 school sites in Hampstead with 12,500 children going to school here.
Heathrow hopes to mitigate with quieter planes, but they are not nearly quiet enough to reduce the terrifying impact on residents.
A report in 2009 required Heathrow expansion to be limited to 702,000 ATMs by 2050 (inc the third runway) but Heathrow wants to increase to 740,000 ATMs. The third runway should be denied and any plans for the expansion abandoned.
Perhaps the High Court in the current judicial review hearing will help to put the brakes on Heathrow’s ambitions.