CASE STUDY – TEDDINGTON, MIDDLESEX
Teddington is located in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames (LBRUT) and lies approx. 10km to the south east of Heathrow Airport. Whilst it has been situated under three of Heathrow’s six easterly departure routes since the 1960s, many people wanting to live in LBRUT have chosen to settle in Teddington because prior to 2014 it was renowned as being comparatively unaffected by aircraft noise compared to neighbouring areas of Richmond, Twickenham and St Margarets (which are badly affected by arrivals). This was a result of Teddington only being affected when Heathrow was on easterly operations (noted by the CAA as being 23% of the time across a 20-year average), the dispersed nature of the flight paths when there was overflight, the fact departing aircraft ascended quickly and a broadly equal split between departures to the NE and SE of the airport.
In the summer of 2014, Heathrow, the CAA and NATs embarked on a trial of concentrated flight paths over Teddington. Two of the three easterly departure routes were combined. No notice or consultation was given to local residents. The increase in noise caused uproar in the local community with 7,000 people signing a petition and the trials were stopped significantly earlier than planned. Heathrow later admitted that it did not notify the local community because “it did not think anyone would notice”.
Since the trials were officially stopped in November 2014, residents have complained that noise levels have continued to be greater than before the trial. Changes in the use of airspace have been denied by Transport Ministers, Department of Transport officials, the CAA, NATS and Heathrow Airport who have repeatedly stated that the airport’s operations have returned to their pre-trial patterns. Data recently provided by Heathrow Airport now shows that these assurances are false.
As a result of Teddington Action Group pressing for an explanation (as well as a return to pre-trial conditions) Heathrow commissioned two studies: the first tracking changes in flight paths over time and the second assessing noise conditions in the area based on noise monitors placed under two of the three easterly departure routes affecting the Teddington area between August 2015 and March 2016. Using actual noise measurements taken at the monitors as well as modelling based on historic flight track information, the studies have identified the changes that have occurred in the local noise environment across the five-year period between 2011/12 and 2015/16. The analysis that has been carried out confirms that:
- The number of flights over the Strawberry Hill monitor (situated under the centre of the DET NPR) has increased by 47% over five years.
- There has been a significant intensification in the use of the DET and CPT routes – by 22% and 29% respectively – as a result of air traffic being diverted from routes to the NE to the SE of the airport.
- Over the equivalent study period in the years 2011/12 and 2015/16, there has been increased usage of eastern routes compared to western NPRs; 24% previously against 31% currently. This intensification is not supported by information concerning changes in prevailing wind conditions. This gives cause to serious questions as to whether the application of ‘westerly preference’ (official airspace policy to protect densely populated areas to the east of the airport) has changed, notwithstanding that this should require ministerial approval.
- In addition to the above, flight tracks are shown to be significantly lower and substantially more concentrated than historic patterns. These changes, which result from the introduction of new flight programming technologies, appear to have been introduced mainly around the 2014 trial period.
- The most disruptive period is between 9 and 11 pm, when departures are most frequent, passing over every three to four minutes, typically generating 70-80 dB LAmax. It is during this late evening period when the largest, heaviest, lowest and loudest flights occur, with particular problems being caused by ‘new generation’ Airbus A380s, setting off fully laden for departures to the middle and far east. Contrary to DfT and CAA statements that this plane is quieter than the ones it is replacing, the measurements taken at the monitors show in fact that it is the loudest of all departing aircraft. (This is also completely at odds with the assumptions made by the Airports Commission around quieter planes).
- When the airport is on easterly operations, departures start again the next day at 6 am. This leaves the area experiencing 17 hours or more (there are invariably late running departures) of incessant noise way above WHO recommended levels, without any periods of respite (unlike those under the Westerly routes). This has a devastating effect on wellbeing and health with particular impacts on children, who are deprived of a full night’s sleep.
THE AVIATION POLICY FRAMEWORK – WHAT MUST CHANGE
Noise metrics – the current 57LAeq methodology which the DfT uses to measure aircraft noise is deeply flawed. The Teddington experience is a perfect example of its failings, as despite extreme noise levels when the airport is on easterly operations, the area continues to be excluded from the Noise Exposure Contours Maps published by the CAA as a result of the use of the 57 dB Laeq annual average metric. It was also completely omitted from the Study Area used by the Airports Commission, which assumed no noise impact to the area under any of the airport expansion scenarios.
It is completely disingenuous of the Government to advocate a metric which averages out the number of noise events, including days when an area is not overflown at all. In Teddington’s case, the net result is that it is classed as unaffected by aircraft noise, when patently this is not true. We need an honest and transparent method of measuring noise.
Concentrated flight paths – The Government must abandon this grossly unfair and persecutory policy. The 2014 flight path trials over Teddington are a warning of the widespread public outrage that will come if the DfT blindly continues to advocate concentration. Teddington’s experience since 2014 also provides clear evidence that the public does notice – and will not accept – any increases in aircraft noise. Our residents want things to return to “normal” e.g. pre-2014 – so concentrated flight paths with periods of respite is not the answer. Maximal dispersal and a fair and equitable distribution of noise is.
Aviation governance and regulation is inadequate – the false assurances that Teddington residents were given by the DfT, CAA, NATS and Heathrow Airport that things had returned to normal after the 2014 trials show the complete lack of regard with which overflown communities are treated by aviation bodies including the regulator.
- Heathrow’s own research has confirmed the DfT’s minimum requirements allow the lowest departure profiles of any European airport. This illustrates the lack of protection afforded by the DfT to communities in respect of aviation noise. Even then, these paltry standards are not enforced effectively by the DfT and CAA resulting in the increase in low-flying aircraft and resulting noise that we have seen in Teddington.
- After two years as members of the Heathrow Community Noise Forum, the airport has taken no action to improve noise over our area – because it knows that there is no one to hold it to account over noise. Which is why an independent noise regulator with powers to enforce legally binding noise targets is essential.
- The DfT has to date, developed its aviation policy in isolation – ignoring the adverse health, educational and environmental impacts of expansion and apparently failing to involve Government departments with responsibility for these areas. TAG wrote to the Department of Health in March 2016, which confirmed that Public Health England (PHE provides advice and input on noise related health matters on behalf of the DH) had not been consulted by the DfT on the Future Airspace Strategy.
The current definition of an airspace change is wrong – Compared to 2011, the Strawberry Hill ‘gate’ has seen around a 30% increase in the number of days it is overflown, together with a 22% increase in the number of flights, which are on average 300m lower and more concentrated. All of the changes set out in this case study have occurred without notification, consultation or consent. None one of these changes are considered to be an ‘airspace change’ as far as the CAA or DfT are concerned.
Communities should have access to a proper appeal mechanism – currently, communities have nowhere to turn for help with aviation noise issues. It is ludicrous for the Government to suggest that Judicial Review is a viable option for most residents. The combination of all of the issues outlined above means that the industry has a long way to go before communities can have any confidence that their interests will be properly considered – either by the DfT within the new policy framework or by the CAA as the industry regulator. Teddington’s experience shows clearly how those bodies have repeatedly failed us in recent years. This is why it is so vital that communities have access to a truly independent appeals process to balance their interests with that of the industry.
We would be happy to provide further information in relation to any of the issues covered within this paper. We sincerely hope that the Department for Transport’s forthcoming Aviation Policy Framework consultation will include clear proposals for ensuring that the experience in Teddington is not repeated in the future – and as importantly, give us hope that the changes we have seen can be reversed.