An Open Letter to Sir Robin Wales

Posted on November 2, 2013

After Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales publically mocked people affected by noise under the Heathrow flight paths when giving a speech in West London recently, HACAN chair John Stewart penned this open letter to him:

1st November 2013

Dear Sir Robin,

We haven’t met.  So I don’t know whether or not you have a sense of humour.  But residents under the Heathrow flight paths aren’t at all amused at the remarks you made when you addressed a recent conference on economic development in West London (

 “What is it with West London? You build an airport, generate thousands of jobs, grow an economy, then say – oh, it’s a bit noisy!”


I suspect that line got a laugh.  But it does betray a total lack of understanding of the way aircraft noise, caused by Heathrow, impacts on residents.  For so many people the noise is seriously disturbing.  For you to pass it off as ‘a bit noisy’ is like telling a starving person they are ‘a bit hungry’.  

Perhaps next time you are in West London, you can meet nine year-old Zoe, who wrote this letter to Heathrow Airport:

Dear Heathrow

I'm a 9 year old girl who can't get to sleep at night because you send planes every minute or two of the day over our house. I only fall asleep after 23:30 because they fly really low and they are very loud. I have problems focusing on my work at school and have a violin concert coming up next Wednesday. My mum has been in touch with you many times asking you not to be so cruel to us but you don't help us or care about our health. If you had children of your own you would understand. Why are you doing this to us? We have never been bad to you.

Zoe (aged 9) 

Zoe doesn’t live on top of Heathrow.  She lives with her mum in a small cottage beside the railway lands at Willesden Junction.

Or perhaps you'd like to pop in to have a coffee with Anna in Clapham.  You won’t miss the planes.  There can be over 40 an hour.

I would like to know when my area and my street in particular became a direct arrival path into Heathrow. I have lived in my flat for 5 years and until September 2012 had no disturbance from aircraft. Now I have no peace and am woken up constantly even with the double glazing I had fitted last November in frustration.  Many of my neighbors have lived in the area for 30 years or more and have never experienced so many planes coming from several directions. The planes are extremely noisy, and constant especially early morning starting at 4.30am.”

But you needn’t leave your own borough to meet people whose lives have been turned upside down by the noise.  Just stroll across from your fabulous new council offices to meet Rajneesh in Beckton:

I’ve lived in the area nearly all my life.  Even when London City Airport opened I had no noise problem.  It was only the quieter turbo-prop planes which used it.  But a combination of lots of noisy jets plus, now, Heathrow planes have left me desperate and desolate.”

You may also want to discuss with Rajneesh the remarks you reportedly made that the opposition to the expansion of City Airport just comes from people who moved into the area recently.

Unlike you, Sir Robin, Heathrow Airport, the Department for Transport and the Airports Commission understand that noise is the biggest obstacle to expansion at Heathrow.  They know that, according to the European Commission, over 725,000 residents are impacted by the noise; that is, 28% of all people affected by aircraft noise right across Europe.  Noise is the reason why the aviation industry is looking seriously at such measures as steeper descent approaches and improved mitigation schemes.

Your West London audience may have tittered at your remarks but it is they, above all, who understand what you said was patently and, if I may use the word, laughably, untrue.

We all support job creation and economic development.  And we understand why you caste envious eyes in the direction of West London.  You have been at Newham a long time; in fact you became leader in 1995 and them Mayor in 2002. 

Despite your well-intentioned efforts Newham remains one of the poorest boroughs in the country.  In 2000, it ranked as the 5th most deprived; in 2004, the 6th; in 2007, it slipped to the 2nd most deprived; rising to 8th in 2011.

You have given the huge Westfields development in Stratford planning permission (including 5,000 car-parking spaces); you have allowed City Airport to expand; you supported the controversial M11 Link Road in the 1990s; the Council has consistently supported new road-based river crossings.

You have brought noise to Newham; but not prosperity.  In your West London speech you jokingly (I think) said that you’d be delighted if Heathrow closed, and the airport moved east.  Heathrow is not going to close any time soon to rescue you.  You need to find your own solution for Newham.  You need to up your game, or move on….

If you do decide to retire to your native Ayrshire, I recommend the smart town of Troon.  It is probably even more prosperous than West London.  I know Prestwick Airport is nearby but it’s only ‘a bit noisy’.

Yours sincerely,

John Stewart