Helen Martin: Health can’t rely on a wing and a prayer

New research has linked living close to an airport with heart problems. File picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

New research has linked living close to an airport with heart problems. File picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

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IF you live near Edinburgh Airport, or beneath the landing and take-off paths, this could be good, or bad, news, especially in the face of the airport’s expansion currently under consultation.

A team of medics and scientists presented findings at the EuroPRevent heart conference in France showing that living near an airport for three years or more can lead to a greater risk of high blood pressure and subsequent heart damage and attacks.

It’s not the pollution, it’s the noise. And it need be no greater than around 60 decibels – about the same as conversation levels in a busy restaurant. After three years, those exposed to the most noise from busy airports were almost 70 per cent more likely to have high blood pressure and show signs of significant damage to the aorta.

That could be a strong piece of ammunition in the fight against further expansion. But, as usual, the commercial argument will probably be victorious over “minor” concerns such as life and death.

Pollution, litter, non-biodegradable materials, loss of rain forests and carbon footprints are all high up the environmental agenda but for many decades the effect of noise pollution has been barely recognised.

We’re not talking going to a club once or twice a week where the music’s loud, one firework display – when you expect it – on Guy Fawkes night or Hogmanay, or planned outdoor music events that people choose to attend.

It’s the cumulative effect of unwanted noise inflicted on people day after day, month after month and year after year.

I wouldn’t mind betting that if the team examined loud unexpected noise and its effect, they might come to similar, but perhaps less drastic, conclusions.

Never a fan of the trams, even I have to admit they are at least quieter than buses. And we should be looking for quieter alternatives everywhere in society because man was not built to cope with constant and repetitive noise.

Whether it comes from shell fire, planes above, random fireworks, noisy neighbours, badly built houses with no noise insulation, or constant and irritating “background” music in shops, unwanted noise is at least annoying, at worst unhealthy and now, potentially lethal. Silence is golden. Just ask anyone who has gone on holiday only to find themselves next to an active construction site.

The noise abatement rules may control some elements of abuse by the public. But what if it’s something imposed by the council or the government? Extra runways perhaps? Long-running construction projects without warning or consultation? What if it’s something that could be laid at their door such as lack of rules and regulations on installing bare wood or hard tile flooring in flats? What chance do we have of restricting council-staged fireworks events?

Rent or buy a flat on Lothian Road, the High Street or the Grassmarket and you know you’ll be subject to screaming hens, roaring stags and city entertainment.

But changing or increasing flight paths so that previously peaceful neighbourhoods are now full of people wearing ear plugs is a different matter. Not only does it damage their hearts, it also reduces the value of their homes.

Noise pollution needs to be higher up the agenda, along with a process that allows public health to trump commercial interests.

Brainstorming no way to run a country

SUFFICIENT scrutiny of new laws before they are passed is now allegedly impossible for the Holyrood Parliament because they simply don’t have time.

The workload is too great and the place seems to be full of ideas but way short of people with the ability and hours to thoroughly examine the pros, the cons and how they might backfire. Named Persons spring to mind, along with minimum prices on alcohol, reformation of stamp duty . . . jings, no wonder so much of it goes wrong.

Any good idea can be scuppered by failure to properly think it through, especially if it is to be imposed on the public. But politicians by nature are in such a mad rush to make their mark they don’t want robust analysis and challenge, which was the whole point of the Scottish Parliament voting system designed to avoid an overall or massive majority, no matter of which party. It was an alternative to second chamber scrutiny.

Stream of consciousness brain-storming is not the best way to govern a country.

Don’t make it worse in these taxing times

SO now we have Chancellor Osborne threatening higher taxes if we leave the EU, and councils asking for more powers over local taxation so they can raise more dosh for extending trams or producing pamphlets about reducing refuse collection and other services they are supposed to provide.

When will the penny drop with these fantasists that we can’t afford more tax? We have been squeezed until our pips squeak. The only way the entire country can become more profitable is if the man in the street has more money in his pocket to spend on goods and services to boost the economy. A nation of over-taxed paupers doesn’t produce growth.

Ticked off by a debating point

STILL undecided, but I have to laugh when debaters praise the benefits of the EU’s working times directive . . . a maximum of an average 48 hours a week, 11 straight hours off in every 24, rest breaks compulsory in any shift over six hours etc.

Nice idea. Just a pity UK companies don’t comply.