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Statutory Nuisance (Aircraft Noise)

Volume 617: debated on Tuesday 29 November 2016

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend Part 3 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to make noise caused by aircraft a statutory nuisance; and for connected purposes.

When I talk about noise caused by aircraft, I am not talking about the level of noise that some Members of this House would have heard this morning walking over Westminster Bridge. If they were walking over the bridge and saw and heard an aircraft, doubtless they would have been able to hear the busker also on the bridge and their companion’s conversation. I am not talking about that level of noise. I am talking about the level of noise that would have prevented Members from hearing the busker on the bridge and their companion’s conversation. That is the level of noise experienced by residents in my constituency—and by residents in other constituencies judging by the cross-party support that I have for this Bill.

Such is the level of noise that residents are unable to hear the television in their own living rooms when aircraft go over. They cannot hear the radio or have a conversation when aircraft go over. Indeed, I have residents who are unable to go to sleep at 11 o’clock at night when aircraft operate at this level of noise. I also have residents contacting me at—yes—4.30 in the morning because they have been woken up by aircraft making this level of noise. Babies cry and pet animals even show fear.

Official data from the airport near my constituency—it is called Heathrow airport—put the noise level at 83 dB. A food mixer operates at around 80 dB and an electric drill at 95 dB. That is why this level of aircraft noise should be considered a statutory nuisance. There are playgrounds in some schools in Greater London where, to try to alleviate some of the medical problems that come from this level of aircraft noise, the children go into what are called “adobe” huts.

If Members look at part 3 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, they will find a list of statutory nuisances—they have to be a nuisance or prejudicial to health—which include fumes, smells, dust, artificial light and model aircraft. If Members then look at Government websites about noise from model aircraft, they will find that it is considered a nuisance, especially if it takes place outside the hours of 9am and 7pm on a weekday and 10am and 7pm on a Sunday. Residents in my constituency are experiencing aircraft noise—not model aircraft noise—within and outside of those times. Aircraft noise is not only a nuisance, but prejudicial to health.

Since the 1990 Act, we have compiled more medical evidence. I am sure that Members are aware of many of the studies on aircraft noise and health. There is the well-known RANCH study—road traffic and aircraft noise exposure and children’s cognition and health: exposure-effect relationships and combined effects—which looked at 2,844 children around Heathrow, Amsterdam and Madrid. It found that children’s memory and reading comprehension is affected by aircraft noise—there is a linear relationship.

Members might also be aware of the HYENA study—hypertension and exposure to noise under airports —which looked at 6,000 people between the ages of 45 and 70 and found a relationship between hypertension and aircraft noise. Just a few years ago, The BMJ reported an American retrospective study of 6 million people over the age of 65 that showed a relationship between hospital admissions for blood pressure and cardiovascular problems such as ischaemic heart disease and heart attacks, and, yes, aircraft noise.

Now that we have evidence, we also need better monitoring, more data and more meaningful penalties, so that if aircraft noise becomes a statutory nuisance we have best practice. The Secretary of State for Transport admits already that some planes flying over my constituency fly lower than others and there are records of the so-called quieter aeroplanes reaching 83 dB levels around homes and school playgrounds.

I am asking through this Bill for us to update the 1990 Act. The World Health Organisation gives levels for noise that is considered to be moderate and severe; Members will notice that they are well below the levels encountered by my residents. We have the medical evidence. Many of us have evidence from our residents that this is causing a serious nuisance, so I suggest that we amend part 3 of the Act to take notice of medical and nuisance problems caused by noise from aircraft.

Question put and agreed to.


That Dr Tania Mathias, Tom Tugendhat, Andy Slaughter, Sir Alan Haselhurst, Jim Shannon, Ruth Cadbury, Dame Caroline Spelman, John Cryer, Caroline Lucas, Adam Afriyie, Paul Scully and William Wragg present the Bill.

Dr Tania Mathias accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 20 January 2017 and to be printed (Bill 101).