By Andy Tong

TAKE OFF Passenger numbers at Gatwick have increased by 22 per cent in five years

CAMPAIGNERS have greeted the passionate debate about aircraft noise pollution set up by Tom Tugendhat in the House of Commons as a much-needed step in the right direction.

The Conservative MP for Tonbridge & Malling led a fierce attack on the Department for Transport in Parliament last week, calling on them to do more to reduce the noise caused by planes using Gatwick airport.

Mr Tugendhat lamented the plight of his ‘constituents in Tonbridge, Edenbridge and surrounding villages who have been plagued by aircraft noise for a number of years’.

Martin Barraud of Gatwick Obviously Not! (GON) attended the debate in the gallery and the Penshurst action group was name-checked by the MP.

‘I’m concerned that as Gatwick grows, not enough is being done to reduce noise’

Mr Barraud said: “You’ve got these MPs all singing as one. I thought there was tremendous strength of feeling among them.

“Our chagrin is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone making the airports change. Why is it that people like me have to make the Government do the right thing?

“It shouldn’t come down to community groups to enforce the law,” he added. “We need to have a change at the top to have any real change.”

Irene Fairbairn of Tunbridge Wells Anti-Aircraft Noise Group (TWAANG) said: “This is a very important national as well as local issue.

“Tom Tugendhat is courageously calling Government to account on behalf of his heavily overflown constituency. His arguments were well made and it is encouraging to see that his views were well supported by other local MPs.”

Mr Tugendhat pointed out that while there was a lack of action at the highest levels, the amount of traffic into the Sussex hub was increasing, and nothing was being done to keep the noise at existing levels, let alone reduce it.

Afterwards he said: “For five years we have had to endure constant noise and this is harming the economic prosperity and environmental sustainability of
our area.

“I’m particularly concerned that as Gatwick grows, not enough is being done to reduce noise, despite this being the clear aim of the government policy.”

‘The Department of Transport needs to take its role as a noise regulator more seriously’

The protest movement has been infuriated by a letter they received from Baroness Sugg, the minister in charge of aviation, last month that said community groups should be responsible for putting pressure on the airport.

She was referring to a body called the Noise Management Board (NMB), consisting of stakeholders from all sides including the airport’s chiefs, Government representatives and councillors as well as protest groups.

Baroness Sugg wrote: “The Government believes that the existing channels of dialogue between communities and the airport continue to provide a credible means of developing actions to tackle noise.”

Mr Tugendhat was critical of the way that the NMB had been identified as the ‘place to discuss these matters’. “Passing the issue to the Noise Management Board for its consideration is being used as a reason not to enforce policy, which is a great shame,” he said.

He stressed that the debate had become critical because it was the Government’s stated policy ‘not to endorse any increase in the number of people significantly affected by aircraft noise’ – and that it was failing in that regard.

He said: “Civil Aviation Authority data demonstrates that it is not being followed. Since the policy was introduced and the flight paths were altered radically in 2013, Gatwick has increased its flight numbers by 12 per cent and its passenger numbers by 22 per cent, but the number of people significantly affected has not reduced. In fact, it has risen every year.”

He was referring to the changes made to Gatwick’s flight paths five years ago that resulted in a concentration of flights along fewer routes. This was supposed to reduce the overall number of people affected by aircraft noise but instead massively increased its impact.

Mr Tugendhat said the aviation policy framework had been to ‘incentivise’ airports to reduce noise but added: “It seems that Gatwick airport’s compliance with the aviation policy framework is largely optional.”

He summarised: “Three issues clearly arise from the motion. The first is that more needs to be done to ensure the aviation policy framework is enforced in full; the second is that the industry needs to do much more to reduce noise; and the third and final one is that the Department for Transport needs to take its role as a noise regulator more seriously.”

Mr Tugendhat signed off by paying tribute to GON, who ‘have done an awful lot to ensure that their requests are not only appropriate and reasonable, but well-argued and practical to implement’.

Pilots must stick to the angles

Sir Nicholas Soames, MP for Mid-Sussex, pointed out that planes were becoming quieter and claimed further noise reduction ‘requires only a tweak, not major change, and the absolute enforcement of discipline in terms of the pilots’ – regarding angles at which they begin their continuous descent to the runway.

Long-haul means bigger planes

Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel and South Downs, said that even if newer planes were designed to be less noisy, the increase in traffic at Gatwick was in long-haul flights, ‘which are a relatively new development and mean much bigger planes’.

Birthday party was final straw

Tom Tugendhat mentioned one incident which had hardened his resolve in pursuing the Department for Transport: “I remember David Wetz, who lives in Chiddingstone, telling me last summer that he was unable to enjoy his -daughter’s birthday celebration properly outside because normal conversation simply was not possible in the garden. That is a disgrace.

“It is not a matter of nimbyism. It is about people wanting to live a normal life without having a motorway built over their heads.”