Guernsey Airport Development

July 26th, 2010 by Stephen Fell

I write in response to Deputy Flouquet’s letter published on Friday, 23 July. This indeed marks a shift in the approach taken by the Public Services Department (PSD) in the past and no doubt reflects the fact that they have engaged a local PR firm to “manage” their public image. Heaven knows they need it, but is it really proper use of public funds?

Deputy Flouquet cites as reasons not to extend the runway to the east “…. the associated significant disruption and environmental impact that such a major engineering project would entail, this is not justified at the present time.” If this is true of the east, surely it is equally so in the west?

In the same week as PSD embark on a charm offensive, it is ironic that Flybe choose to announce that they will be flying their new Embraer 175 jet aircraft into the Island from next Spring. This clearly demonstrates that a properly maintained runway of the current length and position is adequate for our needs without any starter strips or extensions to the west.

Deputy Flouquet’s attempts to paint Deputy De Lisle as an ill-informed individual who does not understand the complexities of the work required at the airport are ridiculous. As with the incinerator, it is PSD that ignores the alternatives that could avoid the need for destroying our countryside. The Minister is misleading you when he says the EMAS arrestor system will not be available.

Finally, I would like to focus on the noise issue – all the more important now that Flybe have announced an increased frequency of Gatwick flights. The noise models used represent analysis of current airport activity, not the resumption of jet services with an increased frequency.

As the Minister said, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) included a limited number of noise monitoring exercises to the west of the airport. However, given the limited nature of the exercise, it is difficult to believe that this could represent a true base line noise study. Moreover, without data available for previous years, there is no opportunity to establish whether or not the airport is a better neighbour today than it was previously. Perhaps if the data is available it will be exhibited alongside the project details.

It should be noted that the issue of noise pollution affects all of those islanders who live within the approach cones of either runway. This amounts to thousands of residents of St Martin’s, Forest, St Andrew’s, St Saviour’s, South St Peter Port, St Pierre-du-Bois and Torteval as well as the populations of Sark, Herm and Jethou.

The recent exercise has reportedly been undertaken to EU standards and reflects average noise levels. However, it ignores the true picture, which is that peak noise levels are actually at dangerous levels, sometimes exceeding 100 decibels in the case of a Boeing 737. The recent announcement by Flybe of their intention to purchase the E 175 jet will see noise levels of at least 98db. Those living from Fort George in the east to Rocquaine in the west will experience a deterioration in the enjoyment of their homes and gardens, particularly in the summer.

Normal background noise levels are generally accepted to be around 40 decibels. A jet aircraft taking off is 140 decibels. A person exposed to 85 decibels for 8 hours can expect to suffer from hearing loss. However, the time required to do permanent damage to a human near at 110 decibels is a mere 1 minute and 29 seconds. 140 decibels is capable of inflicting permanent damage to the inner ear immediately. Hearing loss is irreversible and permanent. (Information sourced from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).

In preparing their proposals PSD have failed to take account of this element of noise pollution (peak noise) or the impact upon those island residents currently already bearing the brunt of current activity. No consultation has taken place on this matter and no mitigating measures were put forward to alleviate this problem. Such measures as increasing the glide slope angle to improve safety and restore the height above ground to today’s level, sound proofing for householders and businesses, establishment of a legally binding noise benchmark, a proper regulatory framework to secure compensation from airline operators that breach benchmark limits and a Noise Action Plan. (A continuous programme of noise assessment with a requirement for year-on-year noise reductions).

The Minister has suggested that there is an imperceptible impact upon communities surrounding the airport in the event that Option C is finally approved. Jet aircraft flying lower on approach 40% of the time (technically a minority but hardly insignificant) will see a measurable difference and it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

A great deal of effort has been expended by PSD trying to portray the proposed works as “essential maintenance”, when in fact the development swallows up 13 acres of agricultural land and will see the perimeter extended virtually to St Peter’s village.

If there was a way to get what we need without destroying our landscape at a similar cost or lower, at a time when we have a fiscal deficit, is it not incumbent upon our government to fully explore such an option?

Join us on Facebook if you are one of those Islanders similarly concerned about the plans to lay waste to another 13 acres of irreplaceable agricultural land bank.

Stephen Fell

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