Dear Reader – this one’s a cracker! Grab yourself a cup of tea, or a pint of gin, snuggle down and enjoy…
I am a resident of Ramsgate. I live directly in the approach flight-path for Manston within three miles of the runway threshold. I would like to register my objection to Infratil’s suggestion that they should be allowed conduct night-flights.
Since the airport was privatised I have been disturbed by night-flying on a number of occasions. I have used the airport’s complaints system but this has only ever resulted in my receiving a letter from the airport telling me that the flight concerned was operating safely.
Thanet District Council is fully aware that night-flights arriving at and departing from Manston wake me from my sleep. I contacted the Council on three occasions last year to complain about being woken. On one of those occasions Laura Sandys contacted the Council on my behalf. Thanet District Council failed to answer the questions I asked in my correspondence and, consequently, I have requested that the matter be the subject of a formal complaint. The questions which Thanet District Council has failed to answer are listed below:
- Could Thanet District Council explain why they have constructed a Section 106 Agreement which permits disruptive activity of this sort to take place without penalty?
- Could Thanet District Council explain how it decided that aircraft of quota count 4 and below could use the airport at night without penalty? In particular, could the council explain what studies it conducted to estimate the degree of sleep disturbance which would be caused by such activities?
- Could Thanet District Council explain why they have not attempted to persuade the airport operators to enter into negotiations with the aim of redrafting the Section 106 Agreement? In particular, could the Council explain why it has repeatedly issued planning consents to the airport operator, over a protracted period of time, without even asking that they enter into negotiations?
Objection Number 1
Thanet District Council is fully aware that night-flights are waking me from my sleep. They have been informed about this on a number of occasions but have been unable, or unwilling, to explain what steps they have taken to estimate the degree of sleep disturbance caused to local residents. They have not explained why they signed a document which specifically permits this activity to take place and they have not explained why they have repeatedly failed to use the planning powers available to them to control this activity.
The airport complaints system has been altered unilaterally by Infratil to make it less accessible to local residents in order to discourage local people from complaining and to reduce the numbers of complaints. In the past, complaints could be made by E-mail, telephone or regular mail. Under Infratil’s new regime, complaints can only be made via the airport’s web-site and the section where complaints need to be made is labelled only as “Contact Us”.
When Wiggins was running the airport, the Airport Consultative Committee was told that specific information was required to properly investigate complaints. A complaints form was devised to help people record specific information about the incident. It would seem that Infratil does not require specific information to investigate complaints. The complaints form no longer exists and the “Contact Us” section of their web-site contains no specific instructions about making complaints. When a complaint about noise is made, the airport operator responds using a standard letter which states that the aircraft concerned was operating safely. There is no indication that they investigate the noise level produced by that aircraft.
When Infratil purchased the airport the noise-monitoring system was dismantled. The noise monitor which had been located on Clarendon School, and gave noise data pertaining to Ramsgate, was removed. It was never replaced. Noise data for Ramsgate is now provided from a monitor which is incorrectly and inappropriately located in the garden of an airport employee. The noise monitor for St. Nicholas is also incorrectly sited and fails to give meaningful data about the noise levels to the West of the airport. There are insufficient noise monitors in place to properly monitor noise levels from aircraft using the airport. Aircraft can vary their flight paths to avoid directly overflying the monitors, resulting in inconsistent readings for identical aircraft.
Best practice dictates that you should have at least 2 noise monitors at either end of the runway, arranged in a ‘gate’ to ensure that the actual noise level from an aircraft can be better estimated. There have been persistent problems with establishing the whereabouts of the mobile noise monitor and obtaining any data from it.
Objection number 2
The systems in place for monitoring noise levels, and the degree of disturbance to local people, are wholly inadequate and are not fit for purpose. It is not possible for Thanet District Council to obtain accurate data about the actual noise levels being experienced by residents. The complaints system does not collect the information which would be required to properly investigate noise complaints and no complaints about noise are investigated. The Council should not be authorising night-flights if it has no means of monitoring the noise levels or the effects on local people.
An Environmental Impact Assessment has never been performed on Manston. The requirement to perform an EIA is set out in a European Union Directive (Directive 85/337/EEC).1 The legislation was brought under the umbrella of the UK legal system via the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations, 1999.2
The EIA regulations list a category of development (Schedule 2), which require EIA if they are likely to have significant effects on the environment. To assist in judging whether effects are likely to be “significant” the legislation provides some specific thresholds. For airfields, the threshold stipulated is extension of the runway or if the area of works exceeds 1 hectare (approximately 2.5 acres). Any work which has been authorised since privatization will be subject to these regulations.
Since being privatized TDC has allowed the airfield to expand by granting a series of separate planning applications for development of the airfield. I have evidence of, at least, 16 separate planning applications, totalling over 21.7 hectares. These include four separate applications which individually exceeded the 1 hectare threshold. In each case, TDC has argued that EIA was not required because the development was not likely to have a “significant” environmental impact. In direct contravention of the legislation, which is designed and intended to prevent piecemeal development, TDC has failed to consider the cumulative impact of development.
Objection number 3
A full Environmental Impact Assessment is required for Manston and no further expansion, including the introduction of scheduled night-flights, can be considered until this has been done.
When the airport was privatised, two local residents won a Judicial Review into the way TDC had dealt with the planning issues. TDC won the case, and subsequent appeal, on the substantive issue of whether Lawful Development Certificates were required to specify the nature and scale of activity which could be permitted at the airport. I was present both in the High Court and Appeal court.
TDC’s barrister was asked to explain to the judge how the airport could be controlled if details of the nature and scale of use were not to be included on the certificates. He responded firstly, by conceding that TDC no longer believed that the airport had permitted development rights. He then assured the judge that any significant change in the nature or scale of use would be subject to planning permission. By way of example he cited the introduction of night-flights as an example of the kind of activity which would trigger a requirement for planning permission.
Objection number 4
Thanet District Council told a judge that it would demand a planning application if night-flights were introduced to Manston. This promise was instrumental in winning the case. If TDC now decides that it isn’t going to ask for a planning application TDC will be in contempt of court and there will be grounds for a fresh Judicial Review. The Lawful Development Certificates only recognise the existence of an airport. They do not confer any right to expand the airport beyond the levels of activity which were taking place when they were issued, and TDC is obliged to consider whether the proposals being put forward constitute intensification amounting to a change in the scale or nature of use. The Council has not considered this issue.
I have direct and incontrovertible proof that regular scheduled night-flights were not occurring when the certificates were issued and were not taking place in the years immediately prior to privatisation. In fact, there was a legal agreement in place signed by officers of the Council, which specifically prohibited night-flights, scheduled or not. This is a change in the nature of use of the airport which requires planning permission and TDC should tell Infratil that a planning application is required.
Since being privatised, local residents have been bombarded with ludicrous projections of the number of jobs which Manston would create. Estimates made at the time of privatisation suggested that by now, there would now be 10,000 people working there. It is self-evident that neither TDC nor the airport operator has any credibility when it comes to estimating employment figures. Both have routinely, massively over-estimated the economic impact of the airport. We can have no confidence that the proposed night-flights will be of any significant economic benefit to the area.
We are often told that Thanet is an area of high unemployment. However, a large majority of those available for work are in work and are earning money which feeds into the local economy. There are two working adults in my household. If we are forced to move away from the area by night-flights this will have a negative economic impact. If other working adults and businesses were to leave the area for the same reason the economic impact could be damaging to the town. In other words, the introduction of night-flights could produce a negative economic impact on the area. Thanet District Council has not made an estimate of the numbers of working people who might leave the area to get away from the noise. Without this information, it is impossible to conclude that these flights will be of any benefit whatsoever.
Objection number 5
The economic benefits of night-flights have not been properly defined and there is a risk that the introduction of night-flights will have a negative economic impact. Unless the economic benefits can be defined with more certainty it would be foolish to allow night-flights to go ahead. It may be appropriate and necessary to conduct a financial risk assessment to assess the best and worst case scenarios.