Fresh hope in plane noise battle?

COULD a tiny band of dedicated jet-noise protesters in a small Suffolk valley bring hope to thousands of others who are now suffering a similar nightmare?

Richard Cornwell

COULD a tiny band of dedicated jet-noise protesters in a small Suffolk valley bring hope to thousands of others who are now suffering a similar nightmare?

That was the question today after an Evening Star investigation found that the Dedham Factor could be having a noisy knock-on effect for our once quiet county.

RICHARD CORNWELL reports.

EVER since protesters in Constable Country made their voices heard over the racket of persistent planes above their peaceful idyll, other parts of Suffolk have seen their skies get louder.

Parts of Suffolk are now plagued with planes - and the situation will get worse in the next 20 years.

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The county is the gateway to the world as far as many flights from Stansted, Gatwick, Heathrow and London City airports are concerned - and hundreds of their passenger jets criss-cross its skies every day.

This situation has only taken off in the last five years when Suffolk's skies were transformed from moderately peaceful to take on a 35 per cent increase in air traffic due to flightpath changes without public consultation.

A key feature was the “Dedham Factor” with traffic moved from above the peaceful and beautiful Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to go instead over the Stour and Box valleys and over north Ipswich as well as Shotley and Felixstowe peninsulas.

The changes at Dedham may have pleased those connected with the AONB initially, but then led to fresh protests a year later when the area was still being bombarded with planes.

This time the Dedham Vale Society brought a case in the High Court headed by barrister Thomas Hill, a specialist in planning and environmental law, who lives at Bentley Manor, Bentley, near Ipswich.

The group said “dramatic and unexpected” changes to flight patterns had ruined the area's peace and tranquillity.

The accusation - which could now easily apply to large areas of Suffolk - was accepted by the High Court and the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS agreed there would be changes when alterations were made to airspace in the future.

Proposals are now on the table and currently being reviewed and it has been suggested that flights are not being sent over the Dedham Vale so readily any more.

However residents say they are still blighted by noise. One said: “We have periods where the noise of flights can be heard continuously one after the other.

“The level of noise is such that at times it can be heard over the sound of radio and TV indoors with the double glazed windows and doors shut, for example in winter.”

However, sources in the air industry have told the Evening Star that flights are now being diverted away from the vale following the legal action to get them to move the flightpaths, and sent instead over other parts of Suffolk.

Air traffic chiefs though have consistently denied that any changes to routes have been made.

They have said the changes will come in the latest round of flightpath alterations - which still begs the question: why are parts of Suffolk suffering so much air traffic which they didn't have before?

Tonight we are asking a fresh series of questions of air management company NATS to once again try to get to the bottom of this issue - why our county's tranquillity has been targeted.

There has to be a fairer way to deal with air traffic - no-one would want Constable Country to have it all, just as Felixstowe should not have it all. NATS needs to adopt more flexibility to work out flightpaths which spread the load more widely - or, as The Evening Star has suggested, uses different routes on different days.

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer said there was a precedent for this with Heathrow's runways being used in different directions on alternate weeks.

“What we want is a reasonable solution - one where we don't have the planes constantly over the same area,” he said.

“We need to share it out.

“For example, one set of flightpaths could be used on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and another flightpath on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, or Saturday and not Sunday one week and then change it back for the next.

“I think with the amount of air traffic we have to be reasonable and say planes will be overhead, but what we want is a fair system so that the same communities are not suffering all of these planes, all of the time.

“We will take a fair proportion but my constituents should not have it all.”

- Do you think spreading the flights would be fairer? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

QUESTIONS FOR NATS

1) What are the changes you (NATS) made in the last five years which led to a huge rise in air traffic over the Felixstowe peninsula? From being an “occasional flight” there are now often planes every 30 seconds or so at all times of the day, late at night, into the early hours and from dawn onwards.

2) Did you specifically look at the impact of air traffic on the Dedham Vale area and were there any reports on this and the subsequent move of air traffic - at the time of the last airspace changes - as a result?

3) Has air traffic been moved away from the Dedham Vale, Stour and Box valleys, as a result of the High Court case brought by residents since?

4) Why are you (NATS) directing all air traffic, in both directions and multi-level, over single locations such as The Trimleys and Felixstowe? Given the volume of planes and the fact they are travelling in both directions (and multi-level) that aircraft noise is often constant.

5) Please can you tell us the PRNAV co-ordinate that you use to direct traffic over the south Suffolk area.

6) Please can you tell us the destinations - and from which airports - of planes now flying over the Felixstowe and Ipswich areas.

7) Given that organisations like The Evening Star have suggested a sharing of the aircraft noise burden, particularly relevant in hitherto quiet counties like Suffolk, what progress have you made on giving areas quiet weeks when they can plan outdoor activities with a publicised schedule in mind?

8) Have you considered the Evening Star's “spread the load” idea of moving flightpaths a few degrees on different days to allow this to happen? Surely if planes can be directed straight over Felixstowe, then they can be directed on a path slightly north or south of the town over rural areas on occasions.

9) Given that the huge increase in air traffic arrived without public consultation, why haven't you moved to ease the noise burden immediately with a load share project that could be brought in now?

10) Are planes flying lower over Suffolk because they are going to nearby European locations and do not need to rise to higher and quieter altitudes?

11) Given that inter-continental traffic overflies Suffolk as well, are many of the planes being kept artificially low?

12) When do you expect to be able to tell the public of the changes to the current proposals for the airspace over Suffolk (TCN)?

13) When do you now expect these to be approved and come into operation?

14) One of the aims of the changes was said to be to reduce the number of people who live under flightpaths and suffer aircraft noise. How many people in Suffolk will suffer annoyance in the future under the proposals - how many less is that than before?

15) Now that Stansted has been given permission to use its current runway to its maximum capacity, is this extra traffic being taken into account in the new airspace proposals?

16) Will the third runway at Heathrow also be taken into account or, like the proposed second runway for Stansted, be the subject of further airspace changes in the future?

17) What is the maximum number of planes per day Suffolk's skies will be able to take?

18) Will planes have to fly lower in the future in order to accommodate all the flights being operated?

19) How will it be decided that an unsafe number of planes is using the skies - and who will make that decision?

20) Why have you removed from your website all the information and documents concerning the TCN consultation?

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