The air industry regulator’s former chief scientist has called on the Government to commission a new study into the effects of aircraft noise on residents around Heathrow Airport.

Anti-expansion campaigners and local councils, including Wandsworth, said the call - which has also been supported by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson - could be used as part of a in a legal challenge against the Government’s planned expansion.

Professor Peter Brooker - who worked as chief scientist at the Civil Aviation Authority from 1991 to 1998 - said the Government’s position on the aircraft noise was "illogical".

A new study was necessary because previous reports were either inconclusive or outdated, he said, and vital for the Government to regain the public's trust for a controversial policy that will affect generations.

The Department for Transport (DfT) dismissed the call and maintained current noise data figures were robust enough for expansion to proceed.

In its 2003 Aviation White Paper the Government pledged a third runway would only go ahead if it resulted in "no net increase" to the size of the area around Heathrow affected by 57 decibels of aircraft noise - the level deemed to mark "the onset of significant community annoyance".

That level was set by a noise data study in the 1980s, but a more recent study suggested the level was closer to 50 decibels.

But while the DfT conceded people were affected by aircraft noise at a lower level, it proceeded with expansion plans based on the 57 decibel limit, the Prof said.

"The DfT’s position is illogical. It seems ridiculous not to investigate, where one has a suspicion of a case [for lowering the noise nuisance limit], rather than leave it where it is," he said.

"If we are looking at expanding airports we need to paint an accurate picture of noise disturbance. A new report would confirm if there is a major problem with the Government's policy."

Prof Brooker was project leader for the Aircraft Noise Index Study (ANIS), published in 1985, which concluded noise became a "nuisance" for people at 57 decibels.

To coincide with the 2003 Aviation White Paper pledge around the 57 decibel question the Government commissioned a new noise survey, Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England (Anase), in 2001, which was to build on ANIS and cement the case for expansion.

Prof Brooker was asked to be on the steering group but left after two meetings, citing a disagreement with the project’s methodology.

Three years late - and, at a cost of £1.78m and nearly two-and-a-half times over budget - Anase revealed people were affected by noise at about 50 decibels but didn't state a level for that annoyance, leading to the report being rubbished by a Commons peer review group.

In its 2007 public consultation, Adding Capacity at Heathrow, the DfT conceded Anase showed: "It is highly probable that annoyance with a particular level of aircraft noise is higher than found when the last aviation noise study (ANIS) was carried out in the 1980s, although it is still open to question by how much, and why."

Given the confusion, critics argued for the need for further investigation.

"That’s a call that still needs addressing," Prof Brooker said. "We need to do something if we are to take the lives of people around Heathrow seriously.

"The noise study we are basing expansion policy on ANIS, which is more than 25 years old."

John Stewart, chairman of anti-expansion group HACAN, said Prof Brooker’s comments added weight to claims the Government undermined the White Paper by conceding more people are affected by noise than previously thought in its public consultation.

He said: "The professor’s comments back our view. When the Government is implicitly accepting the 57 decibel level is probably too high, the basis for the White Paper is totally undermined."

In April 2M, a collection of 23 authorities with a combined population of 5m people, launched an application for a judicial review of the Government's policy.

Speaking for the group, Edward Lister, leader of Wandsworth Council, said: "In its consultation the DfT accepted there was more noise nuisance caused by aircraft but have not acted on that advice.

"Ministers have constantly said there should be up-to-date noise data and there is not. This could be an element we will produce in our legal challenge."

John Stewart, chairman of anti-expansion group HACAN, said: "When the Government is implicitly accepting the 57 decibel level is probably too high, the basis for the White Paper is totally undermined."

A spokesman for Boris Johnson, said the Mayor "shared the view" the 57 decibel noise cap was outdated.

He said: "The Mayor believes it is insanity to continue to expand a major international airport . . . which would not only increase noise levels for those living near the airport but for hundreds of thousands of Londoners who would be living under new flight paths.

"[The Mayor]strongly support a new rigorous, independent study into the effects of noise around Heathrow."

A DfT spokesman said: "The Anase study never suggested an alternative to the 57 decibel limit, and the consultation document explained the research 'did not give us the robust figures on which it would be safe to change policy'.

"The Secretary of State also noted that sensitivity analysis demonstrated that even if the decibel contour were adopted as the critical test instead of 57 decibel, the size of the contour for the third runway would be no larger than it was in 2002.

"On this basis, the Secretary of State was satisfied that the test specified in the Air Transport White Paper remained appropriate and the analysis of noise impacts at Heathrow set out in the consultation document was robust."

Despite massive opposition Transport Minister Geoff Hoon announced in January the Government was pressing ahead with its Heathrow expansion plans, which include a third runway and other measures to increase capacity at the airport - from 480,000 to 702,000 flights (into and out of the airport) annually by 2030 - and the demolition of the town of Sipson.

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