Sarah Olney (and other Lib Dems) on the problem of night flights

Sarah Olney was granted an adjournment debate yesterday, so took the opportunity to visit an issue that plagues her constituency – aircraft noise, especially at night. She was joined by her neighbouring MP, Munira Wilson, whose Twickenham constituency is affected even more. Christine Jardine and Wera Hobhouse also chipped in. Who knew so many Lib Dem constituencies had this problem?

You can read the full debate in Hansard, but here are some highlights.

Sarah Olney:

Night flights are the most intrusive form of aircraft noise and there is clear evidence that they harm both the physical and mental health of residents who live under flightpaths. This summer, the delays and chaos at Heathrow airport resulted in an increased number of flights landing through the night. For my constituents and for many others across west and south-west London, that disturbance resulted in countless sleepless nights.

This disturbance is completely avoidable. Night flights are by no means essential for airport operations. These flights can and should be moved and it is within the Government’s remit to ensure that that happens.

I therefore have two asks of the Department for Transport. My primary call is for a ban on scheduled flights at Heathrow airport between 11 pm and 6 am.  That is the only way we can be sure that residents will not continue to suffer from noise disruption. If the Government will not commit to that, they must commission a full independent analysis of the impact of night flights on the health of local communities, the environment and the UK economy to inform future policy development.

Munira Wilson:

My constituency of Twickenham is, of course, that bit closer to Heathrow and further along the flightpath, so I wholeheartedly welcome and support the two asks that she is making of the Minister today about trying to balance the economic benefits of night flights against the health risks and the distress that they cause to constituents. Does she agree that the Government could start by looking at extending the night-time restriction to 10 pm, from 11.30 pm, given the large number of frequent late-night departures that are blighting my constituents’ sleep?

Christine Jardine:

Night flights are a constant problem. I find my constituents constantly facing the problem of disturbed sleep—more so now that flights are increasing again post pandemic – which has both a physical and an emotional impact on them. Perhaps what we really need is some way of being able to control this, because the airports themselves at the moment cannot seem to control night flights.

Wera Hobhouse:

Many of my Bath constituents have expressed concerns about the increasing number of flights taking off from Bristol airport late at night. Does she not also agree that the climate emergency compels us to look at an overall reduction in flights, particularly internal short flights where rail is available as an alternative?

Richard Holden, Transport Minister:

We remain committed to revising our night flight dispensation guidance – perhaps the hon. Lady can also write to me about that after those meetings. This will be done following a review of the number of night flight dispensations made this summer, because it was higher. I would like to reassure the hon. Lady that all night flight dispensations granted by airport managers are subject to monitoring by the Department for Transport.

Exposure to aviation noise at night can impact on physical and mental wellbeing, as well as sleep disturbance. To better understand this, the Department has commissioned the aviation night noise effects study to examine the relationship between aviation noise and sleep disturbance and annoyance, and how this varies by different times of the night. The study is a collaboration between St George’s University of London, NatCen Social Research, Noise Consultants Ltd and the University of Pennsylvania. It is the first study of aviation noise effects on sleep disturbance in the UK for 30 years. The first stage of ANNE will involve a cross-section of 4,000 people who live near eight of the major UK airports, to assess the association between aircraft noise exposure at night and subjective assessments of sleep quality and annoyance.

The Government continue to strive to find the correct balance between the negative impacts of aviation and the positive economic benefits that night flights bring to the British economy, as can be seen from the fact that we are conducting this important study. The findings of the aviation night noise effects study and the consultation on the future night flight regime will be the next steps on that important journey. I hope that, going forward, that survey will also play into our consultation on night flights.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • George Thomas 10th Nov '22 - 8:15am

    Devolve Air Passenger Duty and split air travel between Cardiff and Bristol reducing number of flights from Bristol, increasing from Cardiff and tax heavily on internal flights where rail travel possible. Properly fund rail capacity in Wales and north of England to make “where rail travel possible” an actual possibility.

    I don’t know what to do for West London and Twickenham because I don’t know enough about the experience.

  • Brian Evans 10th Nov '22 - 8:40am

    What a civilised and potentially constructive exchange. Oh that more of parliamentary activity could be like this! … or am I being misled?

  • This is an important topic, but it is not just night time. I live near a busy road, and also across the river is Liverpool Airport. As you move away from the road the noise decreases, but the noise of aircraft flying over does not. Liverpool is not a busy airport, but I noticed the difference during lockdown, and before that the Icelandic volcano dust event.
    On a summer day when there are a lot of holiday flights it is not pleasant to sit in the garden.
    Of course there are many other sources of noise. We need to deal with them all, and if we link this with all the other measures to ensure good health, we will not need as many new hospitals.

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