Heathrow Neighbors Lose Appeal at European Court of Human Rights

JULY 9, 2003

People living around Britain's busiest airport lost their legal challenge against night flights yesterday when the European Court of Human Rightsin Strasbourg ruled that aircraft noise did not violate their human rights. (See court decision.)

The court said the economic impact of halting night services at Heathrow far outweighed the rights of those suffering disrupted sleep. Eight members of the Heathrow Area Campaign Against Noise, Hacan ClearSkies, had won their case in Strasbourg last year. The Government appealed, arguing that an end to night flights would cause severe disruption to British airlines and give rival European airlines an unfair advantage.

But yesterday the European court offered some hope to the campaigners by ruling that the eight residents had been denied the right to an effective remedy because the British courts had not considered the individuals' rights under the Convention on Human Rights, which at the time had not been incorporated into domestic legislation. This, they said, constituted a "violation" of the convention and justified the court awarding them 35,000 for costs and expenses. The focus of the campaign is expected to switch from banning flights to pushing for tougher controls on aircraft noise and emissions.

John Stewart, chairman of Hacan, said yesterday: "The Government wants to extend the present night-time flying regulations for London airports until 2005. We will use that extra year to try to make our case in the UK courts."

Monica Robb, the group's vice-chairman, said: "This is a part victory for us. We have been told we should be able to sort this out in British courts. The fight goes on."

One resident near the Heathrow flightpath is the Labour MEP Robert Evans, who said: "As someone who has lived and worked under the flightpath to Heathrow all my life, I have a lot of sympathy with the residents that took this case. We have to find more integrated solutions than a ban on night flights, but it will take a subtle mix of legal and planning tools to find solutions flexible enough to fit the UK."

Baroness Ludford, a Liberal Democrat MEP representing London, said: "While I am disappointed for the residents who have to keep on their fight, this is also a big rebuff for a Government that has so much contempt for its citizens that it uses their money as taxpayers to deprive them of a decent night's sleep. The Government now has to deliver justice domestically in a context which has moved on, with EU law requiring reduction in aircraft noise and the Human Rights Act applying."

Tom Brake, a Liberal Democrat aviation spokesman, said: "This judgment appears to confirm that the British justice system has failed Heathrow residents. I welcome the fact that they intend to continue their campaign. We must not lose sight of the impact of aviation on communities and the environment at a time when the Government are proposing massive airport expansion."

Hounslow council vowed to continue to fight for a better quality of life for its residents. After yesterday's ruling, Ruth Cadbury, the councillor responsible for enhancing the environment, said: "Even though the Government's position hasn't been completely vindicated, the outcome is a real disappointment, as the ruling made it clear that, if due process had been followed through the UK courts, this matter could have been resolved years ago."

She added: "The process still isn't over yet, and our residents will continue to suffer from night-noise nuisance until this is resolved. We are also concerned that the proposed expansion of the airport will only exacerbate the situation, with a pressure to increase night flights and greater pressure to abandon measures to give some relief to local residents."

Source: The Independent (UK)