Children’s education will suffer say teaching union and residents
A teaching union has joined local residents in expressing alarm at proposals submitted by George Best Belfast City Airport which would significantly raise permissible noise levels at 21 schools.
A total of 21 schools – 19 in Belfast and two in Holywood – have been identified as schools which would be impacted in an application which the airport has made to the Department of the Environment to increase the permitted noise thresholds in its planning agreement.
The schools include two top grammar schools, a private prep school, eleven primary schools, an infants’ school and four nursery schools. Four of the primary schools also have nursery classes attached.
Under the proposals, all 21 schools would potentially be subjected to aircraft noise at a level above that recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Nine schools would potentially experience aircraft noise at a level which the UK government regards as serious.
Up to 46,000 people in Belfast and north Down would also be affected at levels well above those recommended by WHO, according to the airport’s submission.
The airport is proposing a massive increase in permissible noise levels which would undoubtedly have a really negative impact on the education of thousands of children, and on the health and quality of life of tens of thousands of residents.
Under these proposals, the City Airport could become one of the noisiest in the UK, in terms of its effect on schools and the local population.
There is a robust body of research which shows that high levels of aircraft noise impact negatively on children’s education and on people’s health.
We hope the Environment Minister will reject the airport’s application which we regard as utterly unacceptable.
The teaching union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), has joined BCAW in expressing concern about the proposals.
Mark Langhammer, Northern Ireland Director of the ATL, said:
“We are very concerned at the potential impact of these proposals, given the evidence which exists on the detrimental effect on children’s education of aircraft noise.
“We would not want to see any drive for airport expansion take place at the expense of children’s education.
“Many of the schools identified by the airport are in areas which suffer from social deprivation.
“Their pupils are already at an educational disadvantage due to their backgrounds – they don’t need the further handicap of excessive aircraft noise.”
A comprehensive review of research on the impact of aircraft noise on children’s learning, carried out by the Civil Aviation Authority in 2010, concluded:
“..there is evidence to suggest that chronic aircraft noise has a deleterious effect on memory, sustained attention, reading comprehension and reading ability”.
In a survey of local schools in Belfast and north Down carried out by BCAW in 2008, 12 schools reported that aircraft noise adversely affected pupils’ concentration.
One child who has experienced the problems first hand is 13-year old Cillian Burns from Ballynafeigh in south Belfast.
He previously attended a primary school which is on the airport’s list of potentially affected schools and says teaching at the school was already disrupted by aircraft noise.
“At my previous school, when a loud plane went over, the teacher had to stop talking because they couldn’t be heard,” he said. “And that got really distracting at times.
“The noise can also be annoying when I’m trying to do my homework. I certainly wouldn’t want the level of noise to get any worse.”
The Department of the Environment is currently carrying out a public consultation into the airport’s proposals. It has also said it intends to hold a formal Examination in Public into the application.
If you are troubled by the airport’s noise, we would urge you to make a submission to the DOE’s public consultation, which you can do on their website: http://apps2.planningni.gov.uk/PlanningBCA/