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Government must restrict ‘unacceptable’ number of Gatwick night flights and protect suffering west Kent communities, KCC warns

PUBLISHED: 10:15 13 March 2017 | UPDATED: 14:09 13 March 2017

View from above of the runway and terminals at Gatwick Airport

View from above of the runway and terminals at Gatwick Airport

Amanda Lewis

The council’s environment and transport cabinet committee is today discussing its response to a Department for Transport consultation

The number of night flights at Gatwick airport must be reduced to protect communities in west Kent, councillors are warning.

A report was this week discussed by Kent County Council’s environment and transport cabinet committee, which outlines the local authority’s response to a government consultation on night flights, which ended last month.

The consultation was launched with the government’s “regime” on limits expiring in October.

In that document, the Department for Transport sets a new environmental objective to “encourage the use of quieter aircraft to limit or reduce the number of people significantly affected by aircraft noise at night, while maintaining the existing benefits of night flights.”

For Gatwick, the DfT proposes to retain the existing limit of flights arriving or departing between 11.30pm and 6am - currently 3,250 in winter and 11,200 in summer - and reduce the amount of noise energy that can be produced over the same period.

However, council chiefs insist this plan doesn’t do enough to help the affected constituencies of Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge and Malling.

The report states: “The current number of permitted night flights is unacceptable and the DfT should reduce the night movement limit at Gatwick to at least a level that is comparable with Heathrow”.

It adds that night-time disturbance can cause next day tiredness and fatigue, while there is also growing research into the effects of night-time aircraft noise on the educational attainment of children,

cardiovascular health and psychological well-being.

There are some exceptions that allow some aircraft to fly without counting towards the movement or noise quota limits, for example humanitarian aid flights, and qt Gatwick this represented 474 flights in summer 2016.

The airport’s noise quota is proposed to be reduced by 17 per cent in winter and 21 per cent in summer under the government’s plans but KCC is demanding a greater reduction, while encouraging the use of quieter aircraft.

“The consultation response agrees with the general objective to reduce the number of people significantly affected by aircraft noise,” the report adds.

“But we strongly urge the DfT to go further in their ambitions so that a true reduction is felt by the affected communities rather than a continuation of the intolerable situation at present.”

At County Hall on Monday, Ukip councillor Mike Baldock said: “I don’t think we should be supporting any increase in the use of night flights.

“I don’t personally see that there’s an economic argument for the extension of any of these airports in the south east.

“We should be looking at promoting a greater expansion of airports in the north of the country so that one day perhaps this Northern Powerhouse might happen.

“People in the south east suffer quite enough from these three airports and of course. those of us on the north coast, from the airport in Essex [London Southeast Airport], which keeps flying over our areas.”

However, fellow Ukip councillor Brian MacDowall defended the importance of air travel to the economy, and praised the work that had already been done to minimise disruption.

He said: “Is it realistic to ask Gatwick to reduce its flights to a level comparable with Heathrow?

“Gatwick relies heavily on tourist flights - there’s been an increase all over the world in the amount of people flying and the trade that has generated has been fantastic.

“So is it not somewhat parochial of Kent to expect such a vast reduction?”

Cllr MacDowall also pointed out that the decibel count had been reduced from 55db to 48db, and that improvements in technology were resulting in quieter planes across the region.

Leading the discussion was the council’s cabinet member for environment and transport, Conservative councillor, Matthew Balfour.

He told the meeting: “It’s not our job, because we are not national government, to make some of these decisions, but it is our job to represent the views of the people of Kent.

“If you happen to live, say, in Edenbridge or Hever, you will find that constantly through the summer when you want to have your windows open because it’s hot, there is a drone of an airplane every x number of seconds.

“Surely we should be saying ‘no’ - the people that we represent need to be properly defended from what is really awful intrusion.

“That is the policy this authority should be taking because we represent those people and we should be representing their best interests.”

Cllr Balfour added that KCC had previously been “hugely instrumental” in getting Easyjet and Airbus to make changes to some of its aircraft which produced an “appalling whining noise”.

He added: “We do things, we are influential, and we need to stick up for our people.”

Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat has raised the issue in the House of Commons on a number of occasions.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said he was well aware of the problem and was seeking “innovative ways” to minimise the impact on communities.

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