Flightpath protesters march in London

CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans to re-route aircraft over their peaceful villages have marched through London today to protest against the proposals.

Russell Claydon

VILLAGERS who fear proposals to re-route aircraft over parts of rural Suffolk will shatter their idyllic communities have taken their fight to London.

Campaigners marked the final day of public consultation over the proposed flight path changes with a rousing demonstration outside the headquarters of air traffic bosses.

They brandished banners and placards declaring “scream for silence” and “stack over the sea not me”.

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And they called for a U-turn on the controversial aircraft stacking proposals, which they fear would result in one plane every two minutes flying overhead, destroying their tranquil communities.

Save Our Silence, an action group setup to fight the plans, led around 50 protestors from Suffolk to join an event organised by national lobbying group Flightwatch on London's South Bank today.

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NATS - formerly the National Air Traffic Service - outlined in February proposals to move a stacking area for planes heading into Stansted away from Sudbury to an area affecting 32 villages, including picture postcard Lavenham.

It argued that circling planes over rural areas would affect less people - but campaigners say the lack of background noise in their quiet villages compared to urban areas would make the aircraft a major noise nuisance.

As the protestors marched over Waterloo Bridge to the offices of NATS, they called for the organisation to redraw the plans so aircraft would instead stack over the North Sea.

Frances Bee, one of the founders of the Save Our Silence group, refused to rule out legal action unless NATS reviewed the plans.

“We will want to see what happens as a result of the consultation process,” she said. “They say they are listening and we want to see if they are.

“We can then see what issues may form the basis of a judicial review.”

She added: “However, we think we have put forward such a strong case that they (NATS) must go back to the drawing board.”

She criticised NATS officials for their policy of not attending any public meetings during the consultation and warned that, should the proposals go ahead, it was almost inevitable that property prices in previously sought after areas of Suffolk would fall.

Lyn Gurling, chairman of Lavenham Parish Council, said she was delighted with how the protest went but said they had to resort to it because the consultation had been “flawed”.

Jacquie Williams, who lives in a thatched cottage in Brent Eleigh, said she never thought she would have to attend a protest.

She said: “Coming up to London today and hearing the noise and traffic makes you realise how we do need quiet areas in the country and that is another reason we should not have the planes circling around and destroying the quiet and peaceful nature of the countryside.”

MPs from the region also joined the march yesterday, with Richard Spring, MP for West Suffolk reiterating that the proposed stack over part of Newmarket could bring the horse racing industry, which employs 7,000 people, to its knees.

He said: “I do not want to see this industry destroyed. The French and Irish know what is going on and they are bidding for their business. It is not only human beings that would suffer.”

David Ruffley Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, said: “I think the Suffolk countryside is under attack.

“First we have the slashing of rural Post Offices and now we have the peace, calm and tranquillity of parts of Suffolk being destroyed by noise pollution if this goes ahead.”

Joe Viva, a resident from Thorpe Morieux, walked over the bridge displayed a banner saying “Stack over the sea not over me”.

He said: “We have absolutely no noise whatsoever at the moment and this is going to be so intrusive. It is really going to change our lives.”

Kevin Briscoe, a spokesperson for NATS, said after the protest: “We are listening to them. It is a consultation and the protestors that have come to London today feel strongly and we welcome their input.”

But he said of the policy to move stacks from urban to rural areas: “It is not a matter of whether we agree with it. They are the guidelines.”

He added they were making the process as “transparent as possible”.

The protest passed off peacefully with the Suffolk group, also joined by people who would be affected by the proposals in Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, ending the march outside the Civil Aviation Authority's offices - who are expected to give the final decision on the plans in the autumn.

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