Residents who are opposing Edinburgh Airport’s proposed flight path changes fear that the plan could become permanent and create a blight on their lives, as the trial run ends today.
Helena and Nick Paul’s cosy home is in the heart of a rural idyll on the border of Falkirk and West Lothian. Blackness is the sort of place where people who want to get away from the rush and grime of urban Central Belt life choose to live. Yet since June their peace and quiet has been shattered by the decision of Edinburgh Airport to launch a trial of a new flight path which sees planes roaring over their heads from around 6am every day until after 10pm.
“It’s just been horrific”, says Helena. “We knew nothing about this trial until the planes started flying overhead. There was no warning – nothing.
“It took us years to find this house, the perfect place for us, and now our lives are shattered. We live 12 miles from the airport, there’s no way we would ever have thought we’d be under a flight path. We’re considering moving.”
The couple – and thousands of others – are caught in the middle of a political and economic storm which pits expansion and growth of the airport against quality of life.
The trial, which ends today two months early after a mass of complaints, was launched by the airport in an attempt to get planes off the ground every minute at peak times, rather than every two minutes.
According to the airport, all airlines want to get going at the same time, especially in the morning, and its single runway is congested – creating a headache for air traffic control, passengers, and an emissions problem. The airport’s solution was to add a new path out over West Lothian, called TUTUR. This would see planes fly adjacent to the A899 – but crucially over farmland – before turning towards the Forth once past residential areas. The only people the airport thought might be affected were those living in the small West Lothian village of Ochiltree.
Instead thousands of people in Broxburn, Uphall, Dechmont, Philpstoun, Blackness and Linlithgow have reported planes over their homes, low and loud – some reaching 90 decibels – waking them in the early hours of the morning and still flying late into the night. “It was one of those things where you wondered if it was just you who was noticing it,” says Nick, whose home has become a campaign centre, with fellow SEAT (Stop Edinburgh Airspace Trial) members popping in and out for updates.
“Then you’d speak to neighbours and realise they were feeling the same things, then a Facebook group started which showed just how many areas were affected and so a campaign against the trial grew.
“The noise has been appalling. I think the airport thought nobody, or hardly anybody, lived here, so we didn’t matter.
“We are not Nimbys though, we wouldn’t wish this on anyone, we’re fighting for the quality of everyone’s lives now and in the years to come.”
So far the Pauls alone have written more than 700 e-mails of complaint to the airport, logging the flights over their home, which the airport says should not be there if pilots were sticking to the new route.
Thousands more have been sent due to the campaigning of SEAT, so much so that temporary staff had to be drafted in to deal with replying to them all.
Politicians have also become involved. Despite the airport’s claims to have alerted community councils, local authorities, MSPs and MPs to the trial – more than the Civil Aviation Authority recommends for a trial – most denied knowledge until they were inundated with complaints. Labour MSP Neil Findlay raised the issue in Holyrood, lambasting the airport for its lack of consultation and claiming that the trial was part of a plan by the airport owners, Global Infrastructure Partners, to make it more attractive for sale. His motion won the support of Lothians Green and Tory MSPs.
Meanwhile, SNP MP Hannah Bardell and Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop also responded to constituents, launching their own survey and raising the issue as an Early Day Motion in Westminster. That survey showed that the vast majority of the 2000 who responded had been badly affected by noise.
After an intervention by Transport Minister Derek Mackay, airport chief executive Gordon Dewar told a packed public meeting that the trial would end two months early though he described the route as “the least worst option”.
In his letter to campaigners Mr Dewar states: “We cannot grow without impacting residents but we are working hard to keep that number as low as possible. Armed with the results of the trial – data as opposed to anecdotes – we can then work with these residents on mitigation and compensation where appropriate. We intend to consult on this route in early 2016 and will be back in touch with the details of that consultation.”
Campaigners are in no doubt that they still have a fight on their hands to stop the flight path becoming permanent.
“There are days when I count 68 flights over my home, starting before 6am and continuing until nearly midnight,” Helena says. “This morning I was woken at 3.48am and 3.57am. That is not anecdotal, it’s fact. Who could possibly be expected to endure such torment?”
On course for busiest ever year
A spokesperson for Edinburgh Airport said: “To examine only the number of movements – without factoring in peak times, size of aircrafts, congested taxiways, increasing demand and the ever growing number of passengers – as a measure of how busy any airport and the airspace around it is a gross over-simplification which can lead to a false perspective.
“The fact is that Edinburgh Airport – which is now the busiest airport in Scotland – is on course for our busiest year ever with roughly more than two million more passengers than we handled in 2007.”