Airports (Aircraft Noise)

Orders of the Day — Civil Estimates and Supplementary Estimates, 1964–65 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st July 1964.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Finlay.]

11.23 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Skeffington Mr Arthur Skeffington , Hayes and Harlington

I must, first, apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary and to the Officers of the House for raising this matter at this very late hour and for the inconvenience which that causes. I can only console myself with the knowledge that the inconvenience which we are suffering here tonight in discussing the Wilson Report on Noise is a good deal less than that inconvenience suffered by my constituents, and those of other hon. Members with constituencies around London Airport, every night as a result of jet take-offs and landings.

Although this is not within the prerogative of the Parliamentary Secretary, I begin by expressing my view that it is disgraceful that a report so comprehensive as the Wilson Report, presented to Parliament more than 12 months ago, should not have been debated in the House, that in the last 12 months the Government have apparently not had time to consider a Report of this comprehensive nature.

It was produced by a most distinguished committee of highly technically qualified individuals, who spent a very long time in delving into all aspects of noise; and I find it astonishing that the Government has not thought it important enough to bring before the House by way of a full-scale debate. I must add that this omission was not the fault of back benchers, because about 15 of us, led by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), petitioned the Speaker in the hope that we might get the subject debated during either the Easter or Whitsun Adjournment day debates.

However, I hope in this short debate, to remedy to a small extent the omission by referring to those sections of the Wilson Report which deal with noise at airports, and at London Airport, in particular. To begin with, I challenge and absolutely refute the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation earlier this month when, talking of supersonic booms, he said: In my view, it is something which people will learn to live with… just as they have learned to live over the last 100 years with railways, motor cars, and jet aircraft."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 697, col. 1691, 2nd July, 1964.] My constituents, and hundreds of thousands of other persons who suffer nightly, at the worst possible time, do not accept that statement so far as they are concerned.

How serious is this interference and suffering? We have, as a result of the Wilson Report, now got the information available to help us challenge such statements. In paragraph 306, on page 76 of the Report, in a section headed "Actions Which Could be Taken at London (Heathrow) Airport", the Committee reported: We are agreed that the noise to which many people near London (Heathrow) Airport are subjected is more than they can reasonably be expected to tolerate". Strong words indeed. How many people are actually concerned we can find on page 216, which shows the distribution over noise levels of the total population, and what are termed "the seriously annoyed" in that population. Out of a total population of 1,400,000 adults living within a radius of 10 miles of the aerodrome, 378,000 are "seriously annoyed" by jet noise at night; and I would underline the fact that, previously, we have had to guess at the figure. I personally have put it at half a million. That could well be not far wrong, for a reason I will give later, but the figures given in the Report are based on a comprehensive, personal survey carried out by the Central Office of Information, whose investigators constructed a new index which defines the total noise exposure which causes annoyance, the Noise and Number Index. I cannot deal with this in detail because of the time available to me, but I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will know all about it.

The survey took into account the subjective nature of the recipients so that, so far as it is possible to get at the truth about severe disturbance by noise, we now know what is the position around London Airport. The only comment I make on that part of the Wilson Report is that the survey was carried out for it in September, 1961, which was a period when the big jet aircraft were only just beginning to land and take off at London Airport. This fact was referred to when hon. Members, including myself, debated this subject on 11th April, 1963. In 1960, a few Comet 4 jets were allowed to land, and the Financial Times in November of that year, reported that if the Minister got many more complaints about them he would not allow them to continue—but that only indicates how bad can be a forecast.

It was in 1961 that the trouble really began to grow, and a resolution was then sent to the Minister from the Airport Consultative Committee asking for a ban on all jet take-off flights between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

By 1962 during the season there were more than 3,000 movements, 1,500 landings and 1,500 take-offs. Next year, 1963, the number is under 4,800—take-offs and landings. This year more than 5,000 night jet flights have been permitted. The survey in September, 1961 was at the beginning of that disturbance, and it must be very much worse now because the number of movements is very much greater.

My first plea is that we should have a new systematic survey now, three years after the last one. We should have a new survey, scientifically conducted by the organisation which did it so fairly and so well before, so that we can know the present position. Even in 1961, at the period when jets had just been introduced, the report came to the conclusion that 370,000 people were being seriously annoyed. It is much worse now.

My second point is that the Minister's present levels of noise at the control points are still too high. They are 110 perceived noise decibels by day, and 102 by night. What does this mean? If we translate this into sound pressure levels, 102 perceived noise decibels at night, as defined by the noise report, measured on sound level meter with A weighting, are equal to 89 decibels—I use dBA to distinguish the two forms—and that is louder than the noise from an unmuffled pneumatic concrete breaker at 50 feet. This is shown in paragraph 411 of the Report as having a dBA rating of only 85.

The mathematics are such that the higher one goes, the greater the intensity by the square. The fact is that the Minister is allowing a noise level over people's houses, particularly near London, which is 59 per cent. louder than the noise of an unmuffled pneumatic concrete breaker at 50 feet. It is no wonder that people who live, not only immediately within the control points and who have the worst of the burden, but those within a radius of 10 miles, not only quarrel with the Minister's statement about getting used to jet noise, but believe that they are being subjected to an intolerable interference with their lives at night.

We—and when I say "we" I mean the residents' associations and many others who have studied the problem—believe that not only should there be a new survey, and that the Minister should look at the noise levels he now permits at night because they are far more than people should have to experience, but that there should be a new survey in which the control points, and the areas within the control points, are mapped on the sound maps.

It is curious that the Wilson Report, excellent as it is, leaves out from the noise and number contours down on the map an area in my constituency of Hayes and Harlington where there are about 1,500 houses. The noise and number contours are not marked for that area. I think that in the next survey we must have these contours marked throughout, because there are people who live within the control points and who are subject to a worse degree of noise than the average of 378,000 to which I have referred.

The noise maps at page 219 also leave out Sipson, Harmondsworth, Longford, Colnbrook and New Bedfont, all of which are hamlets or villages within the control points and where a number of people live. We know that as many as 22,000 people are living within the control points and having no protection because they are at the stage before the restrictions on engine power and noise come into operation.

I hope that the Ministry will consider seriously the recommendations put forward by the 14 residents' associations in the spring of this year. We have already said that we believe that the noise control levels permitted are too high especially at night. There is much to be said for their progressive reduction, over a period of time, as is mentioned in paragraph 645 of the Report. If the Ministry does not set a decrease in targets nothing will be done about this. We think that it should apply to landings as well as take-offs.

Something could still be done by imposing a ban on jet take-offs for a period during the night, when there would be some quiet for residents. The associations have asked for a ban from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. This may be too much to expect. I would settle for a shorter period, but at any rate there should be an opportunity for uninterrupted sleep for four or five hours. As Mr. Justice Veale said in the Halsey v. Esso Petroleum case, a man is entitled to be able to sleep undisturbed in his bed at night. The House took this right away from those people who live in houses near the airport, and that is why hon. Members who represent them must not be afraid of putting their case.

There is also the recurring problem of the smell from the fuel used by jet aircraft. That is outside the subject of this debate, but I mention it because it is an annoyance. I hope that the possibility of using cross-winds in take-offs will continue to be investigated by the Ministry. Many reasons have been given why this cannot be done, but I am unconvinced by them. When the wind is blowing away from a certain part of the Airport, if the runway near the houses can be used the noise has to travel across the whole width of the airport before it reaches any houses on the other side and so it causes far less disturbance to people living near the airport. I have been assured chat technically this can be done, and I hope that eventually it will.

I hope that the Minister will pay attention to paragraph 288 of the Report, which deals with new types of engine. We know that the new by-pass engine can produce the same power with half the noise, and this factor must be taken into account when we are settling the nuisance level, otherwise we shall be getting more and more power with the same degree of noise nuisance. What we want over a period is to get the noise level down below the present limit, which is equivalent to a concrete breaker at 50 feet coming over one's head. The VC10 is one of the noisiest aircraft at London Airport, having taken the place of the Caravelle, which was bad enough. This reinforces my point that the Minister's levels are much too high.

Even in the United States of America we find that only 33 out of every 100 flights are made by night. Comparatively few people fly at night—and it is usually not because they want to, but because it is cheaper. I do not believe that the commercial factors which are involved are such that some peace in the night cannot be arranged for my constituents and the constituents of other Members in the area. The way in which we handle noise problems is a reflection on the type of civilisation in which we live. Financial considerations must not be the only ones which are taken into account. I hope that this generation will not become known in the future as the generation that paid no respect to the sufferings of countless thousands of people living round London Airport, a considerable proportion of whom were there before the airport was constructed. The values of our civilisation are involved.

11.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

I am sure that the House was most interested in what was said by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) about his constituency aspect of the problem. No doubt my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will answer those technicalities in some detail.

But I hope that in his reply my hon. Friend will not lose sight of the fact that the Wilson Report on Noise was a most significant document, that this is a much wider subject and that the Government have great responsibility to the population for dealing with the problem of noise. The stress due to noise and other factors has a considerable effect on people's lives.

11.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Harris Mr Richard Harris , Heston and Isleworth

I support what was said by both the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) and the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke). In Heston and Isle-worth, the Wilson Report has, by and large, been a big disappointment. It was hoped that much more would follow from it than has, in fact, been the case. At this time of the year the noise of aeroplanes at night becomes particularly aggravating. People sleep with their windows open in the warm weather and not only the noise of aeroplanes flying, but the noise of engines being run up at night, becomes intolerable.

I do not suggest that the Minister has not done all that he can, but I feel that more needs to be done, with much greater control of the taking off and landing of aeroplanes as well as of the running up of engines at night. In particular, will my hon. Friend tell me which Government Department regards itself as being liable to read the Wilson Report and to take some action on it, because it seems that only the Ministry of Aviation does anything in this respect, and, therefore, very little has been done about the sound proofing of buildings, and not nearly enough for hospitals and schools.

I strongly support what the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said about a noise-free period at night. This is essential to people who live around the airport. I should be glad if the Minister would tell me whether there is any chance of Stansted Aerodrome being opened, because until the pressure can be relieved at London Airport the situation will not be ameliorated for the local people.

11.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

May I tell the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) how pleased I am that even at this late hour he has raised this subject. It is no inconvenience to me, and it is right that this subject should be raised in the House from time to time. It should be kept before Parliament and before the public. Apart from anything else, this is very much a constituency matter and the fact that he has raised it tonight is also a spur to those who are working so hard to try to reduce the noise of jets. We all realise that it is an extremely difficult problem to solve.

Noise worries many people. How many, it is difficult to assess. I take note of what the hon. Member said about having a fresh look at the numbers involved, and I am grateful for his suggestions. About this time last year I spent the night at London Airport in a small house practically at the end of the runway. I went up to my bedroom at midnight, did about an hour's work in bed on papers, went to sleep at 1 a.m. and slept through to 7.30 a.m. A reporter, who wanted to hear my reactions beforehand and again afterwards, slept in a similar room next door—this was a row of houses—with his windows open, exactly as I had, and he told me that he did not sleep a wink all night. This is a very simple example of how noise affects one person and not another. I had done a hard day's work—I am not suggesting that the reporter had not—and I slept very soundly, except once when the bed clothes fell off.

As I have said, many have come to live with this noise. Many to whom I have spoken have come to accept the noise around London Airport. That does not mean that others have not accepted it. Complaints must be one yardstick, and they have been declining. In 1960, we had 1,212 complaints and last year we had 545. It is also relevant—it may be unkind to say so—that properties in the vicinity of London Airport have maintained their value compared with houses in other areas.

What is being done about the problem? Paragraph 308 of the Wilson Report said that we should try to explain the facts about airport noise to residents, and in the Ministry of Aviation we have produced the pamphlet, "Quietening the Jet", which has been widely circulated to groups of people, and to local authorities and others who are concerned. In addition, we have a "Noise Caravan", which this spring and summer has been visiting the areas which suffer from noise, explaining to interested people what noise means, what we are trying to do to eliminate it and how they can sound proof their homes on a do-it-yourself basis.

On the question of numbers of night flights, as the hon. Gentleman said, in 1962 there were 3,000 movements permitted. In 1963, the figure was 4,800 and this year it was 5,500. It should be realised that the airlines asked for substantially more than these figures, but my right hon. Friend did not allow them to have all that they wanted.

The figure for this year was approved on condition that the increase of 700 over the figure for the previous year should be offset by a reduction of 700 movements by noisy piston engined aircraft. The overall effect is expected to be that the total amount of noise will not be greatly different in the summer of this year compared with that of 1963. About one-fifth of the movements are expected to occur in the last half-hour of the night period, which is getting some way towards one of the solutions which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington proposed.

The hon. Member also mentioned the level of noise at London Airport. He asked us to consider this matter again. I can tell him that we will be reviewing afresh at the end of this summer the recommendations made by the Wilson Committee about reducing the noise limits at Heathrow and the introduction of lower limits for those aircraft which can operate more quietly. He mentioned the by-pass engine, which is one of the developments into which we shall be looking. It is necessary to collect more data before we can form a properly considered view on these difficult questions. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that careful note has been taken of his suggestions.

I would like to make it clear that the pilots are already operating their aircraft as quietly as possible, and records show that the vast majority are operating at well below the maximum permitted noise levels. We shall continue to exercise close supervision over the number of night jet operations. The figures show that they are indeed obeying our regulation noise levels. For May, 1964, the latest date for which complete figures are available, in the day time, with 3,273 take-offs. 99·69 per cent. complied with the noise regulations. At night, with 268 take-offs, the compliance rate was 99·6 per cent., a very high observance figure indeed. In respect of height observance, of 610 monitored cases, the compliance figure was 99·7 per cent., a substantial figure indeed.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington referred to cross-winds. This is a complicated subject which I cannot develop now. I will write to him about it. He also mentioned the VC10. We are now discussing with B.O.A.C. and B.A.C. the question of fitting some silencers which, we hope, will, if it works out, reduce the noise, remembering that the VC10 noise is slightly different from the noise from other aircraft. It is, perhaps, because of this difference that the noise is drawn to the attention of people.

Also on the positive side, a great deal of effort is going into the subject of noise suppression at source. The Ministry, in its research establishments, and others, are engaged on this problem. This is all described at some length in the pamphlet "Quietening the Jet". Further improvements may come about from the development of the so-called plug nozzle system for the rear propulsive parts of new engine systems. The Ministry of Aviation National Gas Turbine Establishment is working energetically on this problem, in particular with a view to the possible application of the system to the Olympus 593 engines for the Concord.

Further work is being done on the problem of dipol noise—the technical term applied to the effect of noise radiation from surfaces adjoining jets. This is a new area which the National Gas Turbine Establishment is investigating with care. However, it would be wrong for me to hold out any hope at this stage of a dramatic break-through in the subject. Nor would it be right for me to speak in any detail of these developments because they are of great commercial significance and, therefore, commercial security is involved. All I can say is that both in Government establishments and in industry our efforts towards achieving quieter engines will in no way slacken and by patient and intelligent research work I hope that we may gradually achieve improvement.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington took me to task for my remarks on this subject of "learning to live with the sonic bang ", as it was then the subject of debate on 2nd July. He, like The Times and others, took my remarks completely out of context. The Times, pontifically, accused me of "complacency to a degree". I cannot imagine how anybody who read what I said on 2nd July could say that we had been complacent, because I said that we had done a tremendous amount of work on the sonic bang. It is going on all the time and we are considering with our French partners in the Concord project whether to do still more extensive tests to improve our knowledge of this phenomenon. But even before these tests were carried out people were inclined to jump to conclusions, and it was my view that they would learn to live with the jets.

I would draw the attention of hon. Members to what Sir Isaac Coffin, the hon. Member for Ilchester said in the House in 1826 on the occasion of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Bill: …Was the House aware of the smoke and the noise, the hiss and the whirl which locomotive engines, passing at the rate of ten or twelve miles an hour, would occasion? Neither the cattle ploughing in the fields or grazing in the meadows could behold them without dismay. Lease-holders and tenants, agriculturists, graziers and dairy-men would all be in arms. …It would be the greatest nuisance, the most complete disturbance of quiet and comfort in all parts of the Kingdom that the ingenuity of man could invent. That was the comment in the House of Commons on the new-fangled rail- ways which were coming in, but I said in the debate on 2nd July that people, to my mind, had come to live with them as I think that the great majority of people have learned to live with jet aircraft. But that does not imply to my mind that they like it any more than they like the noise of the railway engine or the motor car, nor that a minority have not learned to live with it.

Much as I should like to go on with the subject, I feel that I have said enough and if there are any questions outstanding I will answer them by letter to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington.

Photo of Mr Arthur Skeffington Mr Arthur Skeffington , Hayes and Harlington

On the subject of the railway engine, the sufferers did not have a Royal Commission or a Departmental Committee's report like the Wilson Report, which said that 378,000 of them were having to bear more disturbance and noise than was reasonable. Surely that is a vast difference. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the number of complaints. The Wilson Report says, in paragraph 220, that the number of complaints is no indication of the amount of disturbance. I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman's Department realises that 378,000 people were seriously annoyed. I hope, therefore, that he will not judge the degree of suffering purely by the number of complaints.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

I would not dream of doing that. I merely said that it is just one of the several yardsticks which we must use if we are to get a fair balance on the question.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Seven minutes to Twelve o'clock.