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Heathrow in major noise insulation offer to homes

The long-running debate on the airport capacity of the south-east has had many angles, not least the potential problems faced by those living in areas closest to Heathrow Airport. For many, however, this is already a big issue.

In recognition of this, airport bosses have just offered extra noise insulation to 708 homes. Many thousands more will get help when the new runway is built. 

Over the past few years, the debate has focused on issues such as whether airport expansion was required at all, with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats against the idea in 2010 and Labour for it. While that dictated coalition policy, the Davies Commission - whose release was conveniently timed to occur after the 2015 election - concluded expansion was needed. 

Debates about economics and the environment were supplemented by those regarding location, with opponents of Heathrow expansion arguing for the alternative of an expanded Gatwick or, in the case of former London mayor Boris Johnson, an island in the Thames Estuary. A key reason these alternatives were advocated was because of the noise issue in west London under the flight path, as well as in the suburbs and villages around Heathrow.

With the final report recommending Heathrow and the government deciding to back the plan, the concerns of locals about noise pollution have increased further. An extra runway and the additional planes it will bring have already sparked protests and promises of legal action in bids to either prevent or at least delay the project. 

Offering insulation to reduce the noise pollution is Heathrow's primary response to concerns about noise, as well as some other offers such as funding for local environmental and social projects. 

The selection of the homes - on top of 474 that have already received such insulation - has been undertaken by an independent noise appraisal expert. It will take around four years to complete this work.

Noise insulation help is already available to residents of North Feltham, Bedfont, Cranford, Colnbrook, Harmondsworth and Stanwell North and the 708 new homes covered in the latest offer are included under existing considerations, based on a scheme set up in 2014 focused on three zones affected by the noise of overflying aircraft. Once the various hurdles are cleared to ensure the building of the new runway, around 160,000 more homes will have noise insulation added, at a cost of £700 million.

Discussing the help being provided after the 2014 assessment, Heathrow sustainability director Matt Gorman said: "Our noise insulation programmes are an essential part of our efforts to become a better, quieter neighbour.

"That is why - in addition to incentivising airlines to use the quietest planes and operate them as quietly as possible - we are reopening our quieter homes scheme.

"We look forward to working closely with the people and communities around us to help improve their quality of life."

Of course, for some this will still not be enough , as house prices will be impacted and those with strong environmentalist views will have wider reasons for opposing expansion.   

Nonetheless, Heathrow is clearly doing what it can in the circumstances, just as any airport will have to if planes overfly people's homes. That was part of the rationale behind Mr Johnson's 'Boris Island' plan, but that also drew some opposition in Kent. Ultimately, if there is to be a new runway at Heathrow, the importance of good insulation will be considerable, notwithstanding the positive impact the development of new technology such as quieter aircraft engines may have.