Aircraft noise has been a bane of many people's lives. An exemption from suing for most types of aircraft noise was introduced in 1920 - having been mooted in 1911, not long after the Wright brothers! People have become increasingly frustrated not being able to do anything about it.
Central government does attempt to control noise problems at London, Stansted and Gatwick, but at other airports there is often little or no regulation. Local authorities, which may have powers to act, are reluctant to do so.
We have many years' experience in aircraft noise work. It started with the Heathrow Terminal 5 public inquiry, when we were appointed to advise local authorities on the adequacy of the environmental statement submitted by the developers BAA plc.
In 1993 the government proposed a new scheme for night flying at Heathrow and the other London airports. We challenged that in a series of judicial reviews and the European Court of Human Rights. This litigation continues (2005) in the domestic courts.
We represented a consortium of interests opposed to government plans in its 2003 airports white paper for runway development at Heathrow, Stansted and Luton airports. Cases about Stansted and Luton were successful.
In 2003 we obtained a landmark ruling for owners of a house affected by military aircraft noise, which is not covered by the exemption for nuisance. The Ministry of Defence had to pay substantial damages. See Dennis.
We have been involved in numerous other cases relating to both large and small airports, where the common denominator is frustration with aircraft noise. For example, in relation to Lands End airport, a proposal for hard runways was shelved once the airports were told to do EIA.
In relation to compensation under the Land Compensation Act 1973 for new development at Plymouth City Airport, we intervened in a case which was about to be conceded by the government in favour of the airport, enabling residents to obtain compensation for helicopter operations.
Appearance at planning inquires has resulted in conditions designed to reduce noise impact. But there have been frustrations, most notably in relation to a runway extension at East Midlands Airport which was built without EIA and where the courts were unsympathetic to a late challenge, and a development at Coventry Airport where the courts, extraordinarily, found that it was not even arguable that reasons were required for a decision not to have EIA - despite European Court of Justice authority to the contrary.
The ECHR decision on night flights potentially has very wide implications for judicial review generally, in that the courts will have to be prepared to look more closely at the merits of disputes. In turn it will mean that decision makers of all types - in particular local authorities - will have to do their balancing exercises more carefully, with proper regard to human rights. The days of the purely "political" decision may be numbered.
An unusual fallout of airport problems was a decision relating to people protesting about Manchester Airport's second runway. We had nothing to do with that case, but the result of an attempt to evict people from trees that were to be cut down was confusion about the rules on eviction of trespassers engaged in peaceful protest. In a completely different case (Tugwell) relating to a housing development in Essex, we acted for a child who had been engaged in peaceful protest. The Court of Appeal agreed with us that developers who wanted to evict people had to have the right title to do this. This in effect means that owners who wish to benefit from developments cannot rely on developers to do their "dirty work".