Fight for Suffolk's peace

IF Suffolk is to keep its peace and tranquillity, aviation bosses need to take firm and positive action - to limit the number of planes, ensure flightpaths are carefully positioned, and protect the county's special character.

IF Suffolk is to keep its peace and tranquillity, aviation bosses need to take firm and positive action - to limit the number of planes, ensure flightpaths are carefully positioned, and protect the county's special character. Most of all they must listen to the people who live here. In day three of our special Air Fair series RICHARD CORNWELL reports on why we're stepping up our fight for Suffolk's tranquillity.

THERE is no democracy in the skies.

If the road builders wanted to construct a new dual carriageway slap bang through Suffolk's most beautiful countryside, there would not only be outrage, there would be a public inquiry.

People affected by four lanes of fast-moving traffic would all be allowed to have their say on the impact on their homes, their communities and their landscape.

Their voices would be listened to by an independent inquiry inspector - and he would make a fair decision based on the evidence.

But when it came to creating a motorway of the sky across a huge sweep of our tranquil and beautiful county - a busy flightpath for hundreds of jet planes every day - very few people were allowed to have a say.

Most Read

And even those who did get the opportunity did not make the most of it - because they did not have the expertise to understand the complex issues involved or know what the changes proposed five years ago would mean.

Our councils were consulted and most of them have admitted it was too complicated a matter for them to get involved in.

Shamefully, and sadly, they trusted in NATS, the experts, and since then the amount of air traffic on certain routes has increased dramatically, leaving communities bombarded by aircraft noise, incessant at peak flight times.

That is why the Evening Star is today pledging to step up its fight for fairness in the skies - and to keep fighting on this vital issue.

We are calling on residents and organisations in Suffolk to join us in this battle to protect our peace and quiet.

Many people may say they are not affected by aircraft noise. Just wait until ten years down the line when Stansted is operating to its new capacity and a double of the air traffic we now experience is not far away.

Yes, this noise is going to get a lot worse if we let it.

Then it will be too late to complain.

The fight for the future is now.

Some of our councils - particularly the county council - have since taken the issue of planes much more seriously, but not all of them are representing the residents fully on the matter of airspace and must be called to account.

Our MPs have joined the battle and are doing a sterling job - and we urge them to keep it up.

Changes in the air effect those living below just as much as changes on the ground affect our daily lives.

Not only must our councils join the Air Fair fight, but we demand to see action from those with real power over the alterations being drawn up to flightpaths.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) needs to stand up and be counted and tell NATS that its routes must avoid communities at all costs.

Planes must be channelled into airspace away from towns and villages, up and down rivers and roads, over open sweeps of countryside where few people are living.

The air minister Paul Clark must also listen to what people are saying - about how their environment is being ruined by noise from jets, their fears over pollution, concern over contrails blotting out the blue sky, worries that planes will get more and more because of government policy, and lower and noisier.

We will continue to challenge NATS every step of the way - and we urge the CAA to get a grip on what is happening.

We also urge you - the people of Suffolk - to have a say on these flightpaths before it is too late.

We are delivering a leaflet to hundreds of homes in the most affected areas warning people about the future and seeking views.

Now is the time to make your opinions known - before flightpaths are re-drawn, Stansted and Heathrow expands, and hundreds more planes a day are coming over our homes and gardens.

Whatever your thoughts on air transport, our stance is not anti-air travel but we should all beware - Air Fair this ain't.

ONE of the crucial unanswered questions is who decides to send a plane on a particular flightpath.

Is it at the air controller's whim?

Has someone decided deliberately to target the skies over Felixstowe?

Why can the jets not be moved north just a tiny fraction to take them over open countryside where no-one lives rather than a town and villages inhabited by 30,000 people?

The Evening Star has suggested an idea called “spread the load” - moving the planes which fly over Felixstowe slightly north or south on alternative weekends to give residents a break from the incessant jet noise.

NATS says because the area has some of the most crowded airspace in the world, such an idea would be “impractical”.

It says it cannot provide an alternative for every flightpath - we are not taking about every flightpath, only the busiest over the biggest communities.

I am a dedicated country walker and while I love to enjoy the peace and quiet of the county's field paths and tracks, walking north of Felixstowe is a distinct puzzle.

On a Saturday morning, down on the marshes below Falkenham, the skies are big and empty. Hardly a plane flies over - the handful which do are 30,000 ft up, silently letting out their thin contrails, overflying the UK from continent to continent.

Look south back across Felixstowe and there are planes every two minutes, most of them between 8,000 ft and 15,000 ft, and they can clearly be seen - just a mile and a half away - streaming over the resort.

So why are these airliners not flying over the unpopulated countryside just a fraction north on the same flightpath line, disturbing virtually no-one?

The sending of them on the route over Felixstowe and the Trimleys is clearly against CAA advice on NATS' own admission.

“CAA guidance suggests routes are directed over countryside rather than centres of population where it is safe and practical to do so,” said NATS.

So why is the company not doing that?

I have stood frustrated behind the air traffic controllers working at NATS, and watched as they sent planes directly over Felixstowe for no good reason.

Three planes on the same flight corridor going west to east, while two others flew in at different angles above or below them on different flightpaths which cross the resort.

I wanted to tap the controller on the shoulder and say, “Hey, why are you sending them right over Felixstowe and not those huge swathes of nothingness to the north, or down the Thames estuary.”

Nothing on the map indicated the population living below that concentration of jets.

A flightpath exists, therefore planes can be sent along it.

Astonishingly, rather than spreading out the planes across a flightpath - which can be many miles wide - NATS is told by the CAA to keep most of the planes on the same route. That is why they fly with pin-point accuracy, like a laser beam, along the same routes day after day.

“Current CAA guidance for designing routes is for aircraft to be concentrated near the centre of those routes to ensure that the fewest number of people are affected by aircraft noise, albeit those that are affected have the noise for more of the time,” said NATS.

But once again this conflicts with their claim that moving the planes to give people peace and quiet is impractical.

All they need to do is to concentrate the jets near the outside of the route one weekend, and then concentrate them on the centre the next.

The main problem seems to be an obstinacy on the part of NATS and the CAA to help people on the ground - or even to recognise the impact of constant airliners above on people living on the ground.

OUR CAMPAIGN: How to get involved

The Evening Star's Air Fair campaign is not against air travel - what we are against is all the planes being dumped over one area.

What we are calling for is a fair share, for flightpaths to be redesigned to cut the numbers of aircraft going over towns and villages, or on certain corridors - not every flightpath - to have a system where the jets' routes can be moved slightly on a timetable to create quiet times for people to enjoy.

More than 1,200 planes currently cross Suffolk every day and the number is set to grow hugely - possibly double - in the next two decades, bringing more noise, pollution, and blotting out the sun with their contrails, and the fear flights will get lower.

Now is the time to stand up and join our campaign to ensure that Suffolk's peace and tranquillity is not ruined further.

We want to hear your views on the aircraft going over our county.

How is it affecting your family? Is the noise from jets driving you mad? Do you think the authorities have taken the public's views over air traffic over Suffolk into account?

Should the number of planes be cut and flightpaths changed - and what are your views about what the future will be like if air travel doubles?

Do you think “spread the load” to get quiet weekends is a good idea?

We are also preparing a leaflet on the issue and this will be distributed widely in the Felixstowe area because we need to be ready to respond to the further changes planned to airspace due to be announced this autumn.

Let us have your views now - write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter