Public inquiry starts scrutinising proposals which could seriously affect 18,000 residents.
Residents affected by aircraft noise from George Best Belfast City Airport have described the airport’s plans to potentially treble the number of jet flights from the terminal as “intolerable”.
Under the plans, which are to be considered at a public inquiry which gets underway in Belfast this morning [10am, Monday 18th May], the airport’s own figures show that the annual number of jet flights could treble from the current level of 14,000 to 43,000 if the proposals are implemented, significantly altering the current mix of aircraft types operating at the terminal.
The airport’s own figures reveal that up to 18,000 residents could be affected at a noise level which the UK government says causes significant annoyance; the projected impact is far higher than the noise footprint of major airports such as Gatwick and Stansted, where around 3,700 and 1,900 people respectively are affected at the same level.
An independent survey of 423 residents who live close to the airport’s flight path, commissioned by Belfast City Airport Watch, reveals the extent to which noise is already disrupting their lives:
- 38% of respondents described the noise of planes, while they were at home, as “very high”, compared to just 4% who described traffic noise in similar terms
- 1 in 5 respondents said planes disrupted their sleep “very often” or “quite often”
- 1 in 4 respondents with young children said their children’s sleep was disrupted “very often” or “quite often”
Dr Liz Fawcett, Chair of the Belfast City Airport Watch Steering Group, said the airport’s plans were unacceptable:
“We have robust evidence that many residents and their children already suffer disrupted sleep, higher stress and poorer quality of life, due to existing levels of aircraft noise.
“It’s quite intolerable for the airport to heap further misery on residents in the pursuit of higher profits when we already have an international airport sitting in a green field site with spare capacity just up the road.”
One family whose lives have already been badly affected by aircraft noise are the Driscoll family who live in Kinnegar.
Clea and John Driscoll and their sons, Tom (5) and Bobby (7) live in an enviable location close to Belfast Lough. But the pretty exterior of their blue-painted house belies a grim fact; their home is right under the flight path.
“When we first moved here, more than 10 years ago, the planes weren’t such an issue,” recalls Clea.
“But things soon got worse and, when our sons were small, the noise really disrupted their sleep.
“Now, we’ve swapped bedrooms with them, and it’s my husband and me who get woken up.
“But what really irks us is the fact that you have to keep the windows and doors shut if you don’t want to be blasted with noise; that’s very frustrating in the summer especially.”
Over in east Belfast, another affected resident is pensioner Elizabeth Bennett (74) who lives in Sydenham. She says the aircraft noise has raised her stress levels and has had a negative impact on her health:
“I’ve lived in my house for 40 years, before the airport even started, and the noise just seems to get worse and worse,” she said.
“Although I’m retired, there’s no chance of a lie-in, because the planes start at 6.30 in the morning.
“You can’t escape from the constant drone of the planes; my health has definitely suffered and I find it very hard to relax properly in my own home.
“I dread to think what it’s going to be like if these proposals are allowed.”
Another resident who suffers from the noise is Dominica McGowan who lives and works as a psychotherapist in the Ballynafeigh area of south Belfast. She says aircraft noise disrupts her work and interferes with her grandchildren’s sleep when they come to stay with her:
“The noise is so bad that I sometimes have to suspend sessions with my clients until a plane has passed – that’s very disruptive for my clients, some with significant mental health problems, and makes it difficult for me to provide the quality of care I would like to.
“And my young grandchildren can find the noise of the planes quite frightening; they often come to stay with me, but the noise disrupts their sleep which then in turn affects their mood and ability to concentrate the next day.
“I love living in Ballynafeigh which has a really vibrant community – but there’s a real risk that the quality of life in this area will be destroyed if aircraft noise gets significantly worse.”
A total of 1,308 objections were received by the Department of the Environment after the airport’s application was first made in 2012.
The public inquiry which is examining the airport’s proposals is being held by the Planning Appeals Commission at Park House, Great Victoria Street in Belfast.
The Commission has produced a timetable which envisages four days of hearings from Monday 18th May to Thursday, 21st May.
Belfast City Airport Watch will be giving evidence on Wednesday, 20th May. Among the witnesses which it will be calling is a renowned expert on the health impact of aircraft noise, Professor Eberhard Greiser, who has acted as lead investigator for a number of studies examining the links between environmental noise and public health, commissioned by the German Federal Environmental Agency. He has reviewed the likely effects of the airport’s proposals on health and children’s education.