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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the amendment is imprecise, and it gives the impression that such matters are of no consequence. I said on Report that I could not recall an important meeting of BALPA—or outside the confines of the meeting—when this issue has not arisen. I speak as president of the pilots' union, whose members are deeply concerned about people who live under flight paths. To convey an impression that the situation is otherwise is completely false. Of course, it is impossible when discussions are conducted in a hostile way to make opinions heard, which I know from experience as an aviation Minister long ago. When it is possible for people to get together and discuss the problem of noise, progress is often made—and made voluntarily. I entirely agree with the views that have just been expressed. That situation prevails at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, and it is idle to pretend otherwise.

The Government must—as I know my noble friend does—give credence to the people who are affected by noise disturbance. But I do not think that this amendment points the way forward. I want real progress to be made soon. It will be achieved only by constant discussion between those who are affected—those living around the airport, those who live under the flight path and those who work at the airport. They must all be considered.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friends Lord Berkeley and Lord Bradshaw have pursued the issue with considerable tenacity throughout the passage of the Bill. I could not agree more with the point made by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. The imprint of aircraft noise on people who live close to airports is a serious and important issue. That is why the Government address it with full seriousness and have measures in place.

We are all agreed that action has to be taken to minimise noise and to reduce the impact of noise on households by measures referred to in the amendment
 
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but which I maintain are already substantially in place. My noble friend Lord Smith emphasised that the two airports of which he has considerable experience already have these measures in place. So have London Heathrow and London Gatwick; and Stansted will follow suit.

The community buildings noise insulation scheme, in existence at Heathrow, meets all the standards that the Government have set. That is also true of Gatwick. Compliance is therefore already in place. "Compliance" is almost the wrong word because the airports have taken initiatives. They will need to take additional measures if noise increases. While we recognise that the growing frequency of flights occasions problems, the situation will also be mitigated by the improved quality of the aircraft and the reduction in noise from modern aircraft.

I emphasise that airports have that consideration very much in mind. Why? It is because airports are in the business of ensuring that aircraft land there regularly, are competitive with other airports and work in an environment of broad support and approval. They will not achieve that if communities near airports stress to government that life is utterly intolerable because airports have no concept of their responsibility for the environment of those who live adjacent to airports. Airports act in their own interests when they produce such insulation schemes.

It is not that I am not at one with my noble friends Lord Bradshaw and Lord Berkeley, who have so strongly pursued these issues, and with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, on the Opposition Front Bench. I am greatly supported by the comments of my noble friends Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Smith. We all recognise that aircraft noise needs to be tackled. Those who suffer because their homes are close to flight paths need forms of assistance.

Previously, my noble friend Lord Berkeley raised the point that the 69 dBA Leq threshold in The Future of Air Transport White Paper, for operators of larger airports to offer households assistance with the costs of relocating, was very different from the World Health Organisation's recommended noise level of 30 dBA Leq in bedrooms at night. I am sorry to be technical, but these things have technical designations and it will be recognised that what is said at this late stage of the Bill can be interpreted as definitive on the Government's position.

It may be helpful if I attempt to clarify this complex technical issue. The 69 dBA Leq measurement applies to a 16-hour day, from 7 am to 11 pm, and is measured out of doors. The latest World Health Organisation guideline of 30 dBA Leq relates to night noise indoors—specifically, in bedrooms—and applies to an eight-hour night, from 11 pm to 7 am. They are two entirely different measurements and ought not to be confused, because we will lead ourselves astray if we do not concentrate accurately on the issues.

The latest World Health Organisation guideline value of 30 dBA Leq represents a level above which sleep disturbance may, depending on the nature and distribution of noise events, begin to be experienced or
 
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reported by some people who sleep with their windows open. Of course, as I have indicated, I fully appreciate that the issue of sleep disturbance will concern everyone who lives close to our busiest airports. Previous research has suggested that the incidence of sleep disturbance is especially associated with the loudest noise events and, in particular, those which produce more than a 90 dBA sound exposure level, which is a different sound measurement from Leq. It expresses the level of a noise event as if all its energy were concentrated evenly in one second. It therefore accounts for the duration of the sound as well as its intensity. A plot connecting points of equal sound exposure level from the departure, approach, or an envelope of the two, from a particular type of aircraft is known as the noise footprint.

The night noise insulation criterion that the Government have proposed as part of the consultation on night flying restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted relates to the 90 dBA sound exposure level footprint of the noisiest aircraft currently operating at each airport. Some other airports already offer night noise insulation schemes using criteria based on a SEL footprint, as do the two airports mentioned by my noble friend Lord Smith.

Furthermore, the published advice in the Government's planning policy guidance note 24, "Planning and Noise", which has applied since 1994, takes full account of the previous World Health Organisation guideline of 35—now down to 32—night-time Leq, although the research basis for that was somewhat tenuous, as the World Health Organisation recognised at the time. Planning policy guidance note 24 advises that an outdoors night-time aircraft noise level of 48 dB Leq, eight-hour night, should be taken into account for considering new dwellings near existing noise sources; and 57 dB Leq, eight-hour night, as the level at which noise insulation should be a condition of planning permission. The voluntary noise insulation schemes at Stansted, which have had government approval, have taken account of the 57 dB Leq night contour, as well as single event night noise footprints—although the latter have had greater effect on the overall scheme boundary.

I assure the House that the Government are committed to taking account of the latest World Health Organisation guideline values, and will do so over the 30-year time horizon of the White Paper. It is worth emphasising, however, that the World Health Organisation guideline values on aircraft noise were recommended as long-term targets for improving health, and the values are very low. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve them in the short to medium term without draconian measures; but that is not what the World Health Organisation proposed. We also support its conclusions for regular reviews and revisions to the guidelines as new scientific evidence emerges.

We have not specified the achievement of BS8233 in setting out the circumstances in which we expect airport operators voluntarily to provide noise insulation. However, it should not be assumed that airport operators will therefore be unaware of those
 
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standards or that they will not seek to achieve them in providing noise insulation. As I emphasised in my opening remarks, there is no gain for airports by cutting corners. Providing insulation is, of course, expensive—it runs to thousands of pounds per home. But it will be in the airport operator's own interest to ensure that the insulation it provides is effective, so that the owners of the buildings that receive it are satisfied with it. BS8233 is referenced in the Government's planning policy guidance note 24 which set outs guidance for local authorities in England on the use of their planning powers to minimise the adverse impact of noise, including requiring noise insulation as a condition of planning permission.

5.15 pm

I apologise for the technical nature of this response, but we are talking about measurement and meeting standards, and I want to reassure the House that the Government are serious about meeting those standards. I re-emphasise that in The Future of Air Transport we made it clear that, if necessary, the Government would use their powers under Sections 79 to 80 of the 1982 Act to ensure that airport operators provide noise insulation to an appropriate standard on the basis of the White Paper criteria. I am confident that the powers we enjoy are sufficient to allow us to impose a duty on any airport operator that did not follow the minimum criteria for noise insulation that we set out in the White Paper. The Future of Air Transport also restated the Government's policy that if there is evidence that a major noise problem at a non-designated airport is not being dealt with adequately through local controls, the Government will consider further designations for the purposes of Section 78 of the 1982 Act and will therefore bring such airports within the framework of the requirements.

I do not think that I could be any clearer, although noble Lords may think I have not tried. These are difficult technical issues, but I want to emphasise this point. Although it would certainly not be a decision that we would take lightly, the Government would indeed intervene if the circumstances warranted such action, and we had the powers to do so. As I have sought to emphasise to noble Lords, particularly noble Lords who have spoken positively to this amendment, the key airports are already compliant because it is in their interest to be so. Therefore, on the basis of the assurances that airports take this matter seriously and are providing the insulation and that the Government could act if necessary to enforce compliance with our requirements, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.


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