Over the past few years I have been approached by a number of people with environmental concerns on the subject of aircraft noise over Henley and the surrounding area. To this has now been added similar concerns to do with the new third runway at Heathrow. During this period I have organised two meetings in Henley with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), NATS and Heathrow for people to be able to put their questions directly to those actively involved in dealing with these issues. I have also visited the air traffic control centre on the south coast to see for myself how this is handled. The fact remains that aircraft have to land into the wind which means that, when the wind is an easterly, planes turn over Henley to line up to land at Heathrow. Although the predominant wind is from the West there have been significant periods when the wind has come from the east. About 70% of the time planes work on westerly operations which is less noticeable in our area. The increase of late in the number of days of flying on easterly operations can be found at https://www.heathrow.com/noise/heathrow-operations/wind-direction
The second important point to bear in mind is, as has been pointed out to me, that many people in the constituency, and particularly in Henley, make their living from aviation either by flying as air crew, by travelling themselves or by working in support functions in and around the airport. There is a balance to be struck.
In addition to the meetings I organised, I have raised the issue with Ministers, have asked questions in the House and also spoken in debates on the subject. The bottom line is that the CAA and NATS have begun work on a comprehensive review of how we use airspace around airports. Better use of airspace, better use of new technology including quieter and more environmentally efficient planes, and changes to the height at which aircraft are brought in to land will all have a major impact on the level of noise over the constituency and could provide considerably more respite. To this mix has been added a third runway at Heathrow.
The combination of these two projects holds out the real possibility that the system of stacking aircraft around London can virtually be abolished. This has enormous potential for decreasing pollution and making communities on the flight paths much quieter. That is why I was keen to ask the Secretary of State for Transport what the relation between these projects was during the Statement on the third runway.
In his Statement to the House of Commons, the Secretary of State said specifically that the new runway cannot go ahead without demonstrating that it can follow air quality guidelines. He also pointed out the strong mitigations which would exist and the way that noise pollution would be tackled which is comparable with some of the most generous packages in the world. He also pointed out the intention to deliver on a six and a half hour ban on night flights. The fact is that new planes are cleaner, greener and quieter than the ones they are replacing. All this is in the context of a significant community engagement programme.
It is clear what we should be doing. We should first aim to participate in the airspace review to ensure that our needs are fully taken into account. Second, we also need to be heard as the project for the new runway develops to ensure that mitigation factors affect Henley in a positive way. Both of these are processes I have already started including within the House of Commons by asking questions of the Secretary of State himself. Thirdly, we need to ensure that the list of communities covered by the community engagement programme includes us.