Page last updated at 10:22 GMT, Thursday, 19 June 2008 11:22 UK

Protesters launch battle for the skies

By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

MPs are joining campaigners to protest against changes to flight paths which would move aircraft away from urban areas but would expose half a million people to plane noise for the first time. What lies behind the controversy?

Map showing part of new proposals for replacement aircraft holding areas in south-east England

An Englishman's home, it is said, is his castle. But what happens when that is threatened by invaders from the skies?

From next spring the flight paths around major airports in the south east of England are due to change, with alterations to the areas where aircraft are "stacked" in holding patterns while they await permission to land.

The National Air Traffic Services (Nats) says its plans would cut by 20% the number of people affected by noise from departing planes flying below 4,000ft (1,219m).

It would affect airports such as Heathrow, Stansted, Luton and London City, as well as smaller airfields such as Southend and RAF Northolt in north west London.

While it may mean relief for those in urban areas the downside is that half a million people in rural areas of south east England will notice a significant increase in plane noise.

I don't think it's fair to inflict the air traffic on people in rural areas
Tom Jackson, resident

The affected areas are Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and north-east Essex; the Chilterns and Luton; east Hertfordshire and west Essex; west and north-west London, and east London and south-east Essex.

Tom Jackson is a 42-year-old fishmonger who lives in the village of Chrishall, west of Saffron Walden, in Essex.

He says he rarely hears a plane over his house at present.

But according to the Nats website, his postcode area would be overflown by at least nine flight paths under the new plan, at heights ranging from 1,000ft and 7,000ft.

Tranquillity disrupted

Mr Jackson said: "If the new proposals go ahead there will be more noise, more disturbance for us.

"Everybody has a right to go out and garden on a Sunday and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet without planes flying overhead.

"The argument is that by changing flight paths and stacking areas, they will move congestion from those areas that are already busy. But I don't think it's fair to inflict the air traffic on people in rural areas.

"One of the reasons we chose to live where we live is for the rural aspect and the peace and quiet."

It's a grating, tearing sound and it's the repetition that's the problem
Dick Histed, resident

He said the government needed to discourage air travel and added: "We need to make air travel a necessity, not a luxury. People see trips to Paris for a 1 and they take them, instead of using the Eurostar. I'm concerned about the effect all this air travel has on the environment."

Dick Histed, 59, lives in a cottage in the village of Milden in Suffolk with his wife.

His house is currently under the route which leads to a holding stack nearby but he says the new proposals will see more passing air traffic overhead.

He said: "I was in my garden and 12 aeroplanes passed over in 15 minutes. Then none came over for the rest of the morning and afternoon.

"But the new plans will see a regular stream of aircraft. Nobody should think that we're saying these aircraft are deafening. They're not.

A passenger plane flying over houses
Low-flying planes are a common sight over some residential areas

"But compared to the quiet backdrop of the countryside they can be heard. It's a grating, tearing sound and it's the repetition that's the problem.

"It makes us frustrated. We've lived here for 20-odd years and this wasn't an issue up until 2004."

Stop Stansted Expansion is another of the groups that have sprung up in the South East in opposition to suggestions of increasing air travel in the region.

'Spectacularly mismanaged'

Their campaign director, Carol Barbone, said: "This consultation has been spectacularly mismanaged from the start.

"Nats must realise that by failing to respond fully and rapidly to the need for full disclosure of vital information underpinning the development of its consultation the door will be left wide open for legal challenge."

Nats also said all the comments gathered from the consultation process, which ends on Thursday, would be forwarded to the Civil Aviation Authority so it can make the final decision on the new airspace change proposals.

More than 3,000 people and organisations will be consulted by Nats, including MPs, local councils, green groups, airlines and businesses.

Air space consultation 'flawed'
20 Nov 07 |  England
MP argues against new air routes
19 Nov 07 |  England

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific