SoundScapeIssue 0244The aftermath of the campaign against the third runway at Heathrow is turning out to be as remarkable as the campaign itself. Ten years ago most people would have expected that teams of construction workers would now be building the third runway. It was, after all, the prize the all-powerful aviation industry wanted above all else: a new runway for the world's busiest international airport.It didn't happen. Last year the new coalition government scrapped all plans for Heathrow expansion. This was after an iconic campaign involving local residents, environmentalists, local authorities and politicians from all political parties. The campaigners went for broke, and achieved their impossible dream.Now that the dust has settled, something equally noteworthy is stirring. HACAN, the organisation which represents residents under the Heathrow fl ight paths and the group at the heart of the coalition opposing the third runway, is sitting down with BAA, the owner of Heathrow Airport, to talk the scrapping of the scheme for a third runway at Heathrow has had an unexpected benefi t: the chance for a real discussion with key organisations about the true noise impact of fl ight paths. John Stewart reportsPlane truthsabout ways of reducing noise for residents under the fl ight paths.These are not, however, just vague discussions; the two organisations are putting together fi rm proposals which they can present to the aviation minister Theresa Villiers. Two sides, once divided by the width of a runway, are now sitting down together.How has it come about? After Theresa Villiers had made it clear she would particularly welcome contributions to the Government's emerging aviation policy from unlikely allies, HACAN tentatively approached BAA to explore areas where there may be common ground. Two areas emerged: fl ight path policy; and improving the way noise annoyance is measured.Flight paths have become a big issue for many residents living over 20 miles from Heathrow. It is the result of changes made 15 years ago. In 1996, the joining point for planes landing at the airport was extended by several miles, without any consultation with residents. It meant that for tens of thousands of people living many miles from Heathrow aircraft noise became a problem for the fi rst time. As many as 40 planes an hour could be fl ying over their homes. For years after the change had taken place, the authorities were in denial. There was no public recognition of the annoyance and stress it had caused. As one resident said, "We didn't move to the noise; the noise moved to us and the authorities are pretending it never happened."As the years passed, the situation became even worse for some communities as aircraft became concentrated on ever-narrower corridors. Check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXf8o_khz8s&feature=player_embedded. For these people, a bad dream had become a ghastly nightmare. Noise ghettos had been created.HACAN began campaigning for relief for those residents in these ghettos. Last year we sensed an opportunity. The Civil Aviation Authority was taking a long hard look at airspace for the fi rst time in decades. We had useful meetings with
SoundScapeIssue 0245When you start talking you begin to relate to people on a personal, human level. You start to see that, though you are often coming from different places, you do share many of the same concernsthem. And then, newly-emboldened by our third runway success, we approached BAA. Our proposal was to fi nd ways in which the noise could be shared around more fairly so that the people in the noise ghettos could be provided with some relief. and some predictability. They wanted to know there would be days or even half-days when they could be guaranteed peace and quiet.We have agreed with BAA to do a joint piece of work to see how, in practice, this can be achieved. At the time of writing, the results are not available. We hope, though, they will form the basis of a joint proposal to the Government before the consultation on its new aviation policy closes at the end of September. Measuring and mapping fl ight-path noise The other area where we are working together concerns proposals to improve the way noise annoyance is measured and communicated. This sounds dreadfully dull - but bear with me! For years, residents have believed the way aircraft noise is measured misleads the public and politicians. The big problem is the averaging out of the noise over a period of months. That may be fi ne for noise on a motorway, where levels are pretty constant for the whole day. But aircraft noise is different: because the average includes the gaps between the planes and even the days of the year when there may be no planes at all because of wind direction, averaging out the noise does not fully capture the annoyance it causes.And there is another problem with the method used to measure aircraft noise. It places too much weight on the noise of each plane and not enough on the number of planes. Using this method means that four hours-worth of virtual non-stop noise from Boeing 757s at rate of one every two minutes is the same as one Concorde, followed by three hours and 58 minutes of relief. Clearly not an accurate refl ection of noise annoyance!HACAN is now working with BAA to look at other, more meaningful ways of measuring noise annoyance. Most people under a fl ight path simply want to know how many planes are likely to go over their homes and, roughly how noisy each of these planes will be. They then want that explained to them in an understandable way. HACAN and BAA are joining forces to come up with measurements and explanations which are more meaningful to residents.So, what lessons can we learn from this collaborative working? How and when can this sort of approach succeed? I think there are two key things that make it work. Firstly, there needs to be something in it for all sides. In this case, HACAN wanted to get some relief from the constant noise for residents in the noise ghettos, as well as an improved way of measuring noise which more accurately refl ects people's own experiences; for BAA, fewer noise problems reduces the number of complaints they get, and the provision of clear, understandable noise measurements and maps to residents improves their relationship with the local community. Secondly, there has to be some give and take. Both organisations know they will not get everything they want, but believe the exercise is worthwhile in order to make important gains.I think something else happens too when you start talking. You begin to relate to people on a personal, human level. You start to see that, though you are often coming from different places, you do share many of the same concerns. Of course, none of this would work if you traded your basic principles. But, as long as they stay intact, positive things can be achieved through dialogue and joint working.Would this have happened if we hadn't won the third runway campaign? If I'm honest, I think probably not. I can think back to meetings 15 years ago when Department for Transport offi cials felt they could dismiss the residents' complaints about aircraft noise by simply denying that fl ight paths had changed. I recall meeting a senior BAA person about the fl ight paths issue where it was clear she was simply going through the motions. The lessons of history are that it is only once campaign groups have won major battles that they can sit down with large corporations and do business as equals. The challenge for the campaign groups is to seize that opportunity when it arises.