17th November 2022
Member Letter – Update – November
There have not been any major airport developments or news stories of late, but it has been five months since our last newsletter and, as we approach the year-end, this seems an appropriate time to bring you up to date on a number of matters.
Cost of the 2021 Public Inquiry
You may well have seen reports in the local press about Uttlesford District Council (‘UDC’) having to pay Manchester Airports Group (‘MAG’) the staggering sum of £2.05m, as reimbursement for MAG’s costs for the 2021 Public Inquiry. In addition, UDC’s own Public Inquiry costs were close to £1.5m. Local council taxpayers will end up footing the overall bill of £3.5m for this sorry saga – entirely down to the unfathomable decision of UDC officers and their appointed barristers who announced, on the first day of the Public Inquiry, that MAG’s 43mppa planning application should be approved, despite the unanimous, cross-party decision of their own Planning Committee that it should be refused. It is small consolation that the three key officers involved are no longer with UDC.
Unsurprisingly, the Planning Inspectors concluded that UDC’s handling of the planning application amounted to “unreasonable behaviour” and ordered UDC to pay MAG’s costs. Significantly, there was no costs award against us because, although we had opposed MAG at every turn, we had presented our case in a coherent and consistent manner. Moreover, we were just as shocked by UDC’s approach to the Public Inquiry as were the Inspectors and MAG. Our own financial resources were almost entirely drained by the Inquiry, and we now have the task of rebuilding our reserves so that we are capable of providing effective opposition to any future airport threat that may arise. However, for the time being, we can now finally draw a line under the 2021 Public Inquiry.
As previously reported, as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, Stansted handled just 7.4m passengers in 2020 and 7.1m in 2021, compared to 28.2m in 2019. This year, passenger numbers have steadily recovered and have now settled at about 90% of pre-pandemic levels. We expect Stansted to handle about 23m passengers this year.
The future outlook is uncertain. Higher fuel prices will result in more expensive air travel whilst the cost-of-living crisis and higher domestic energy costs, grocery bills and mortgage repayments will dampen consumer demand. It seems unlikely that Stansted will handle 35mppa anytime soon – and this was the throughput permitted 15 years ago following the 2007 Public Inquiry. The permitted throughput of 43mppa which was granted following the 2021 Inquiry seems a very long way off.
Once again, world leaders are gathering in an attempt to reach agreement on tackling the climate change crisis. Last year’s COP-26 summit was held in Glasgow and the venue this year (COP-27) is Cairo. To date, there has been minimal progress on tackling aviation emissions and, despite claiming to be fully committed to ‘Net Zero’, the UK Government continues to resist meaningful measures to tackle growing aviation emissions.
The Climate Change Committee (‘CCC’) is the Government’s independent adviser, established under the Climate Change Act 2008. Thus, it is enshrined in UK law and reports to Parliament each year on progress towards reducing the UK’s carbon emissions and the further measures required if we are to achieve ‘Net Zero’ by 2050, which is a legally binding Government obligation.
On 29 June, the CCC reported to Parliament that credible Government plans exist for just two-fifths of the required emissions reductions. This is not in the least surprising if the example of aviation is anything to go by. In December 2020 the CCC recommended that there should be “no net expansion of UK airport capacity unless the sector is on track to sufficiently outperform its net emissions trajectory and can accommodate the additional demand.” The sector is nowhere near on track to reduce its emissions. However, the Government continues to positively support airport expansion projects all across the UK.
In a landmark ruling on 18 July, the High Court ruled that the Government’s Net Zero plan did not meet the Government’s obligations under the Climate Change Act and was therefore unlawful. This was long overdue recognition that the Government’s actions did not match its rhetoric on climate change. The Government initially applied for permission to appeal the ruling but has subsequently decided (on 13 October) to accept the High Court decision.
The House of Lords Environment Committee has recently added to pressure on the Government to introduce more meaningful policies to tackle carbon emissions. In a report published on 12 October the Committee concluded that the Government’s Net Zero plan had “too great a reliance on as yet undeveloped technologies” and that its approach to enabling behavioural change was “seriously inadequate”. The report called on ministers to do more to help people make changes that would cut emissions, including taking fewer flights.
These recent developments, as above, are a vindication of the arguments SSE and now SAW have been putting forward for many years in relation to aviation emissions. Perhaps we may at last begin to see meaningful action. However, we should not hold our breath for a breakthrough at COP-27.
As advised in our last newsletter, we made a decision to discontinue the Community Calendar after 20 years, but we suggested to The Hundred Parishes Society that they might like to step in and produce one. I’m pleased to say that they took up the challenge and a 2023 Hundred Parishes Calendar is now available from many of the shops who supported SSE and SAW over the years. The calendar continues the tradition of featuring excellent local photographs. You can find details of where to buy a copy at http://www.hundredparishes.org.uk/. Please support this if you can.
Noise Briefing Note
Last but not least, please find attached an informative briefing note prepared by our long-serving noise advisor Martin Peachey. We are very fortunate in being able to call upon Martin’s expertise.
With many thanks for your ongoing support.
Brian Ross, Chairman
Aircraft Noise – Summer 2022
This summer a number of people have asked SAW whether flight paths have been altered or whether aircraft are flying lower since they have experienced more noise. The answer is that flight paths haven’t changed nor are aircraft flying lower. What has happened is that we have experienced unusual weather patterns this summer and, since aircraft take off and land into wind, this affects the runway direction in use and hence the amount of noise annoyance and sleep disturbance experienced by local residents under flight paths in different locations around the airport. Normally the prevailing winds are south-westerlies, and the two runway directions are 04 (north easterly) and 22 (south westerly).
The long term 20-year average usage of runway 04 (north easterly) is 27% of the time and runway 22 (south westerly) is 73% of the time although this can vary from year to year and also over short periods. For instance, in 2008, runway 04 was only used 11% of the time (lowest usage in 20 years) and in 2014 it was used 46% of the time (highest usage in 20 years).
However, this summer the average monthly usage figures for the runway directions 04 (north-easterly) and 22 (south-westerly) were:
So except for May, the usage of runway 04 this summer has been relatively high and exceptionally so in April, August and September.
The other factor that affects perceived aircraft noise is atmospheric conditions such as humidity and inverse temperature gradients – again more pronounced this summer. These have the effect of holding noise down so the perceived level is higher. Additionally, the airport is now back to 90% of pre-pandemic levels so traffic levels have been increasing.
The result this summer has been a higher incidence of noise annoyance under the 04 flightpaths. Since aircraft are typically noisier on take-off than landing, coupled with the fact that departure routes are narrower swathes compared with arrival routes, people living under the 04 departure routes towards the east coast out to villages such as Stebbing through to Rayne and towards the west out to villages such as Henham through to Newport will have experienced more than the usual amount of noise. This is exacerbated by the much warmer weather this summer where people used their gardens more and kept bedroom windows open at night.