Wall of silence breaks down

COMMUNITY leaders are today preparing their responses to proposals to change the flightpaths of many of the 1,200 jet planes criss-crossing Suffolk daily.

COMMUNITY leaders are today preparing their responses to proposals to change the flightpaths of many of the 1,200 jet planes criss-crossing Suffolk daily.

NATS, which handles air traffic control, wants to create a new holding stack between north Ipswich and Stowmarket, which will mean more planes flying over Ipswich.

Officials though say it should mean less over the Felixstowe area, currently the Clapham Junction of the skies with 600 planes a day, and Sudbury will see a lot less planes in future with the holding stack near the town removed, and fewer planes will fly over the Dedham Vale to protect the area of outstanding natural beauty.

County, district and parish councils are being asked for their views on the proposals and officers are now reading through the 420-page consultation document.

Documents obtained by The Evening Star though show county officials have been meeting with NATS since 2006 to discuss the proposals, which were also outlined to district council officers that year.

The papers - minutes of meetings - were released following a Freedom of Information request and show county officials asked aviation bosses to consider a wide range of issues to prevent potential problems from increasing numbers of planes flying over Suffolk as they worked on the airspace change proposals.

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Some parts of the documents have been withheld from the public because they contain “exempt information”.

The council said there were a number of reasons for classifying the excerpts as exempt - including a worry that companies or individuals would be less likely in future to provide the council with commercially sensitive information if it would be published.

There was also a need for council officers to explore unhindered a range of options on an issue, including contentious ones, and if these views were published it could discourage free and frank discussion in the future, which would not be in the public interest.

The parts of the minutes which were released show county council officers have put forward their views in a forthright fashion.

This included a demand for the fullest consultation - which is now under way.

The minutes show the county officers are concerned about noise and loss of Suffolk's tranquil areas.

One idea explored was whether planes could be directed to fly along the paths of trunk roads so jet noise is disguised with traffic noise, and officers were keen to know the number, frequency and distribution of flights on set routes, and also the heights of aircraft.

NATS, which makes £80 million profit a year, said airspace is currently operating at capacity during peak times and changes are needed to ensure it is safe and minimise delays.

While the airspace changes would provide extra capacity, if Stansted or Heathrow build new runways there will be a need for further changes and to go through the process all over again.

Are you worried about increasing flights over Suffolk? Write to: Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

FASTFACTS: When there is no right to know . . .

There are 23 exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), including -

Court records or details of ongoing criminal investigations.

Personal information - individuals can request details of matters about themselves under the Data Protection Act.

Information prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs - though withholding the documents must be in the public interest.

Commercial interest - where information is a trade secret or could prejudice the commercial interests of a person or company.

Information which needs to be withheld now to avoid prejudicing proceedings but will be released later.

Health and safety - where release of information could endanger someone or pose a risk to public health.

If the information has been provided “in confidence” by another organisation.