Speaking in a number of interventions in a Parliamentary debate on changes to flightpaths into Luton airport, Jonathan Djanogly raises concerns that ambient noise levels considered to be acceptable are based on levels in urban areas and consequently are inherently prejudicial to rural people and communities and called for this to be changed.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and Cambridgeshire neighbour on securing this debate, which is very important to many of those in both our constituencies, especially in the villages surrounding St Neots, and in my case in Great Gransden and Abbotsley in particular. My hon. Friend is making a very good case on noise levels, with which I totally agree—namely, that acceptable ambient noise levels are based on levels in urban areas, and are therefore inherently prejudicial to rural people. Does he not agree that this should be changed?
I thank my hon. Friend for that insightful intervention and I fully agree; I was going to make exactly the same point, but he beat me to it.
The people who chose to live in South Cambridgeshire did so because of the quiet rural life. They moved there for this reason and chose to bring their children up there for this reason. Very few, if any, ever foresaw the radical change that flightpaths could have on the area. It must have been quite a shock to hear that first plane soar noisily overhead.
Of course, there was a consultation beforehand, conducted by Luton airport and NATS. That consultation lasted five months and received over 2,000 responses. However, it took place in unusual circumstances, due to the ravages of covid. Engagement was virtual rather than the usual town hall meetings, and many people seemed unaware that the consultation was going on.
Since society has rebounded to some sense of normality, it is easy to forget the extraordinary times that prevailed during the pandemic. Air travel was down 90% on its pre-covid peak at certain points and people’s concern over flightpaths were crowded out by their more immediate health concerns about the pandemic. It is not for me to judge the adequacy of the consultation, although others may have their views, but I can say that I am disappointed that, as a key stakeholder, South Cambridgeshire District Council was not engaged more during the process. For many residents, the idea of planes above 5,000 feet sounded quite abstract and distant and of little consequence to their daily lives, but in reality they can often see the logos on each plane as it flies past, and the disruptive noise has permeated their daily lives.
My hon. Friend is very kind to allow me to intervene again. He makes an important point, and this unintelligible consultation has worked only to the benefit of those in the flying industry who understood it. When we secured an increase of height for flying above the stack over my constituency, from 8,000 to 9,000 feet, there was no intimation at that point that planes would fly so low coming out of that stack and so quickly, to the prejudice of our constituents. Does he agree that the consultation should be rerun and the whole system should be revised?
The idea of rerunning the consultation is very interesting; I had not thought of it but will do so, as it sounds like a good idea.
The Minister mentions that after the initial consultation the height of the stack was increased. What we have been discussing is what happens after the airplanes come out of the stack. What no one realises and what was not in the consultation—a lot of clever people have been looking at the consultation, which is, frankly, unintelligible—is that the planes very quickly come out of the stack and descend. Why can the planes not stay at stack level until a much later time and then come down, thus not disturbing as many rural people?
I am about to refer to the airspace modernisation changes, which touch on the impact of lower and deeper climbs. If that does not address my hon. Friend’s point, I will happily meet him and take other points he may feel need to be made. There are wider airspace modernisation changes that also impact on this field, but I am happy to meet him if he does not feel reassured by what I say.
If the noise policy changes are made, as my hon. Friend says they will be, will they be retrospective?
I do not wish to make policy on the hoof from the Dispatch Box, but I am willing to meet all three of my hon. Friends to discuss the point from which this should apply. Perhaps we can have that discussion, and I will accept any feedback that they wish to give me.