Shattering the county's tranquility

SUFFOLK today echoes to the blare of noise. The A14 and A12 carry millions of cars and lorries a year, rail lines rumble with passenger and freight trains - and now noisy planes in our skies are on the increase.

By Richard Cornwell

SUFFOLK today echoes to the blare of noise. The A14 and A12 carry millions of cars and lorries a year, rail lines rumble with passenger and freight trains - and now noisy planes in our skies are on the increase. Today RICHARD CORNWELL and PAUL GEATER lament the peaceful county we have lost.

FOR decades, if not centuries, Suffolk has enjoyed a reputation for peace and tranquillity.

It has been a coastal haven far removed from the noise and pollution of our cities.

But as the county finds itself under some of the busiest flight paths in Europe that peace is being shattered - and if you are not disturbed by the planes flying overhead you will be by the traffic on our roads.

Of course Suffolk skies have frequently been home to planes, since the early days of the Second World War.

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Scores of airfields were hurriedly built for both the RAF and the USAF. Many of these continued to operate after the war as the allies remained alert to the threats posed by the Cold War.

However while the planes flew low over part of the county, the flying from these airbases was always intermittent. It was never unrelenting.

If you visit Thetford Forest today you might hear occasional jets from USAF Lakenheath or Mildenhall - but after a few seconds peace will return.

That was the situation faced by the east of the county when the USAF bases at Bentwaters and Woodbridge were active until the early 1990s.

A-10 tankbuster aircraft may have irritated people on the ground at times - but they never seemed to hang around for very long.

Now, though, the situation is very different.

Look up at the sky at any time of the day and you will see the contrails from jet planes.

On a fine day they start as fine lines in the early morning and by lunchtime will have expanded into a fine haze covering the sky.

The sound of the high-flying planes is not as loud as the low jets from Bentwaters used to be - but unlike them it is always with us.

If you sit in your garden on a fine summer's afternoon there is always a dull hum in the background. The peace of the county has not so much shattered as undermined by background noise.

It's not just the planes flying above - few communities are immune from the constant drone of traffic passing through or near them.

The A14 is increasingly busy and the other major roads in the county are also becoming noisier - shattering the peace of those who live near them.

With noise above and noise below, peaceful Suffolk is starting to appear increasingly like a mirage from a bygone age.

WHEN it comes to finding Britain's quietest places, you have to go deep into the national parks, the peaks and hills, and forests.

Up north on the whole is quieter when it comes to passenger planes because the busiest airports are in the south of England, but military jets love to roam wilder northern areas, honing their pilots' skills with low-level terrain flying.

Noisy Newcastle is the loudest place in the UK, according to a recent survey of 41 towns and cities - 100 times louder than tranquil Torquay at the bottom of the list. Ipswich came 30th.

But the survey by the Ear Institute at the University College London, and Widex, a hearing aid manufacturer, looked at traffic noise in rush hour periods, not taking into account the rumbling of planes by day and at night, when ambient noise levels are quieter.

Report author Professor Deepak Prasher said: “Noise pollution in our towns and cities is a growing problem and can have a serious long-term impact on our health and well-being.

“Noise not only annoys but also can raise our stress levels and associated hormone levels.

“It can disturb sleep and increase the risk of heart disease and if the noise is loud enough it can lead to permanent hearing impairment and tinnitus.”

Scientists and geographers have been carrying out “tranquility mapping” of the UK for the past 40 years. Look at a tranquillity map from the 1960s and huge swathes of the country are dark green indicating peaceful places to live and visit.

The 1990s map has changed dramatically with traditionally quiet places like Suffolk and Cornwall have gone from dark green to suddenly glowing white with noise activity.

Only Northumbria still sits predominantly as an undisturbed tranquil area.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said: “Places where people are more likely to feel tranquil need to be identified and protected. Being in tranquil places allows people to relax, to escape from the stresses and strains of everyday life and to 'recharge their batteries'.”

Low noise levels from cars and planes are a key factor in deciding tranquil areas, along with openness and naturalness of the landscape, and the presence of rivers or sea views.

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Organisers of Noise Action Week which runs from May 21-25, say noise complaints across the UK are at their highest ever levels.

The event gives councils, housing providers, mediation services and all involved in managing noise the opportunity to raise awareness of the impacts of excessive noise, promote practical solutions and services available to tackle noisemakers.

Do you think Suffolk is noisier than it used to be? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

See The Evening Star every day this week for a special feature on the growth of air traffic affecting Suffolk as part of our Air Fair campaign.

We will be looking at what our politicians think, the impact of extra noise, pollution, and on global warming, and what we can do as individuals to stop planes ruining our environment.

1 Newcastle

2 Birmingham

3 London

4 Darlington and Doncaster

29 Bury St Edmunds

30 Ipswich

Source: Ear Institute, University College London, survey

BACK in the 1960s when we all played football in the road, the sight of a jumbo jet flying over Ipswich was quite a rarity.

I remember as a child everyone standing stock still if someone spotted an aircraft in the sky, the hope of scoring a goal forgotten, plane stopped play in Alexandra Road.

Youngsters would gaze upwards and point in amazement as the aircraft went over, watching its plume of white contrail fanning out behind, marking its pathway to bright and hot places in exotic foreign lands.

It was an exciting sight.

None of us came from families able to afford to fly in the great silver bird - so seeing one overhead, 15,000 feet away, was as close as we were going to get.

By the late 1960s, Concorde was on everyone lips, and on the stamps stuck in our albums. A few school friends would start to tell of summer holidays on which they took a journey by plane.

But they were still a rare sight in our skies.

There were not more than a thousand going over Suffolk every day as now. Probably only a few dozen, if that. Stansted Airport didn't open until 1969, so any planes which did go over Ipswich were heading for mainly Heathrow and Gatwick.

But it wasn't just in the air where our society was quiet: traffic on the roads was only a tiny fraction of that today. Only one person in our street owned a car - and it wasn't us! Today when I visit my mother there are cars both sides of the street, many on the pavements, all the way down, and a fire engine would have great difficulty in an emergency.

There were few cars in town and crossing was never a problem, and the main roads were light on traffic and most of the A14 - or A45 as it was then - was not dual carriageway.

Our whole society has become noisier and under more pressure from activity on the roads, rails and in the air, and Suffolk is no longer the peaceful backwater offering escape from the hurly burly.

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