Flight path protest wins ground

PROPOSED flight paths which villagers feared would shatter the county's idyllic rural communities are to be revised after they met with fierce opposition from countryside campaigners.

Laurence Cawley

PROPOSED flight paths which villagers feared would shatter the county's idyllic rural communities are to be revised after they met with fierce opposition from countryside campaigners.

Although protest groups yesterday welcomed a decision by Nats - the group commissioned by the Government to look at holding patterns in the south east - to look at possible alternatives to its existing recommendations, they have vowed to continue their fight if a revised scheme does not quell their concerns.

Nats has not yet revealed what its revised scheme might involve or whether any alternatives will definitely be produced.

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Last year Nats recommended two new stacking loops for planes heading for Stansted - one an oval route over the countryside in the Newmarket area, the second a loop from Needham Market to Lavenham to Sproughton. The recommendations were fiercely criticised by MPs and residents from the affected areas.

Nats has now revealed it will be redrawing the “aircraft route map” for the area and consultation on the revised scheme is expected some time after July.

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Nats' Director of Operations Ian Hall said: “Many people were concerned that the original proposal was 'a done deal' and that Nats would not listen to objections. We have been similarly clear that this was a genuine consultation and that we would listen to the views expressed; this second consultation demonstrates that we did listen, we have taken note and where possible options will be included for consideration.

“However, we are also very clear that doing nothing is not an option - and that the number of options available to us is extremely limited in this airspace, which is some of the most complex and congested in the world.”

Frances Bee, of the Save Our Silence Action Group, said: “We are clearly pleased that they are revisiting their proposals though from our perspective we want them to go back to first principles. Yet we don't know at the moment just how far back they are going to go, whether they are going right back to those first principles or just fiddling around the edges.

“We are prepared for the next stage and the main message is that if they are not up to scratch we will continue to fight.”

West Suffolk MP Richard Spring said: “I am delighted that after a long fought campaign, Nats has now decided to look at alternative options for the possible change of flight paths that could severely affect so many of my constituents.

“I have met with Nats on several occasions, protested outside their Headquarters, and introduced a debate on the issue in the House of Commons.

“I have continued to argue that the original proposals cannot be allowed to happen on grounds of tranquillity for the county's residents both human and equine alike. It is excellent news that Nats have listened to these concerns. It was simply unacceptable that no alternative options were available, but a vigorous campaign has forced a change of mind.”

John Matthissen, a Green mid Suffolk district councillor who lives in Great Finborough and represents communities near Stowmarket, said planes could have been skirting along the edge of the village and neighbouring Buxhall.

He said: “The only thing that will please everybody is stacking them over the North Sea. If you move it ten miles in any direction you will find as many people who are upset. Really that is the only thing that will significantly reduce the level of public hostility.

“People were concerned overwhelmingly about noise. In the countryside people living here find noise much more intrusive than in towns, where there is a lot of noise from the roar of the traffic. But it's not great for people in villages or towns, and a better solution needs to be found.

“And I would also say that the second runway at Stansted is most unwelcome.”

Lyn Gurling, chairman of Lavenham Parish Council, said the village was “exceedingly grateful” to the Save Our Silence Action Group, lead by Frances Bee.

“If there is anything that would be helpful to alleviate the problems we would have had, then that would be very welcome.”

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