Cities to Take British Government to Court over Nighttime Flight Noise

OCTOBER 13, 2006

The Richmond council will press ahead with legal action against the Government for its failures to reduce air noise from night flights to Heathrow. As part of Richmond council's ongoing campaign to get a total ban on night flights, cabinet members agreed on Monday night that in partnership with Wandsworth borough, it will take the Government to the High Court.

Two years ago the neighboring boroughs took action against the Government over its 2004 public consultation on night flights.

The fresh legal action stems from what the council sees as weaknesses in the Transport Secretary's summer announcement about night flights. In June the Secretary of State for Transport, Douglas Alexander, announced a new night flights regime for London's three main airports, including Heathrow.

In a written statement to Parliament in June Mr. Alexander said: "I consider that for each airport the decision strikes the appropriate balance between the need to protect local communities from excessive noise and the benefits that services can bring to the national, regional and local economy."

The new restrictions, which will apply until October 2012, kept the six-and-a half hour night quota period as being from 11:30 pm to 6 am, and kept the average number of flights permitted to take-off and land during this period capped at 16 per night.

The council said the transport secretary has failed to hold to his promise that he would "bear down" on night-time noise and improve the night noise climate. The council said the Government's decision to keep night flight restrictions as they were instead of banning them all together was based on "shaky foundations".

The council will now seek a judicial review of the legality of the Secretary of State's June decision.

Council leader Serge Lourie said: "Night flights pose a massive environmental problem, both in terms of pollution and noise, and seriously affect the quality of life of residents in this and neighbouring boroughs.

"If successful, these new legal moves could mean the Government having to rethink and issue a revised decision over future restrictions on night flying." The announcement came in same week the Government postponed -- for the second time -- its consultation on plans to end runway alternation at Heathrow. The Department for Transport admitted ministers had not reached a decision on the consultation originally planned for March then rescheduled for October.

Runway alternation, the schedule for take-off and landings, gives the borough's residents living under the flight path half a day's break from air noise. In its 2003 aviation white paper, the Government said it wanted to end the practice and introduce mixed-mode where planes land on both of Heathrow's runways all day.