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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 19 November, 2019
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"The planes fly right over our houses now, it didn't used to be like this" - Living at the edge of Dublin Airport

Residents of St Margaret’s in Dublin have big concerns about a new runway at Dublin Airport.

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THE LOUD RUMBLING drone of a passing plane is a constant fixture of life on the otherwise quiet road of Newtown Cottages in north Dublin.

The road is situated in St Margaret’s, a rural area of Dublin between Swords and Finglas, and lies just at the end of Dublin Airport’s south runway (currently its only runway).

An elderly woman stands at her front garden on a sunny Wednesday morning and looks up to the sky as planes pass by every couple of minutes.

“They started at half past 4 this morning flying in against the wind, and then they turn around and they fly out,” she says.

It never stops.

Every day in Newtown Cottages is punctuated by flights – they rarely stop.

It is a feature of life the residents – many of whom have lived there for decades – have come to accept.

But as Dublin Airport swells in growth and business, and with building on a new north runway set to begin next year, the residents say life is becoming hard to manage.

In the nearby house of John Harris, at the end of a lane at the foot of the runway, residents of the area gather around a table to air their grievances.

newtown map The location of Newtown Cottages (at the edge of the Dublin Airport runway). Source: Google Maps

“You’re not able to sleep in the morning’s with the sound of the planes,” says John.

“We all have back gardens. But we can’t sit outside anymore because the planes are so frequent,” says another man, who doesn’t want to give his name.

“There doesn’t seem to be anyone looking after the residents,” says Pauline McGuinness, of the St Margaret’s and the Ward Residents group.

There’s all this talk of growth and what it means for the country but no one seems to be thinking about us.

Newtown road Newtown Cottages in St Margarets. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

The man who doesn’t want to give his name is visibly frustrated and upset.

“The planes fly right over our houses now, it didn’t used to be like this,” he says.

So who’s going to responsible for this rubbish?

New runway

DAA (the company that runs Dublin Airport – formerly the Dublin Airport Authority) announced in April that it was going ahead with the building of a new runway at the airport.

It is government policy to build a new runway at Dublin Airport.

DAA say the new runway would support 31,200 jobs and a further €2.2 billion of economy activity within its first two decades of operation.

The job was put out to tender this month and building is expected to begin next year.

The proposed north runway has a long and drawn out history, and has been a feature of the airport’s plans since the 1970s. Planning permission for the build was originally granted by Fingal County Council in August 2007.

download (10) The current runway (south) and proposed runway (north) at Dublin Airport. Source: DAA

However, it was put on hold due to a fall in passenger numbers going through the airport as a result of the economic downturn.

A record number of 25 million passengers passed through the airport last year, prompting DAA to put the new runway back on the agenda to deal with the increasing numbers.

TheJournal.ie spoke to some residents back in April after the announcement to see how they were feeling about the proposed plans.

The announcement was met with a guarded optimism from many residents living nearby - Dublin Airport is already a massive employer in the Fingal area and the runway would facilitate a big increase in short-term and long-term employment.

However, others were worried about increasing noise levels and frequency of flights and what they perceived as a lack of communication and consultation from DAA.

Dublin Airport story Source: TheJournal.ie

The most pressing and divisive of the issues surrounding the runway is that of the conditions attached to the original planning permission granted back in 2007.

Two of these conditions relate to nighttime flying at the airport, and are proving to be a sticking point for local residents and a pain for DAA.

Currently, there are no time restrictions to when flights can come in and out of Dublin Airport, but building the new runway under the current planning permission would change that.

The first condition would mean that a maximum of 65 “airport movements” (flights coming in and out of the airport) could take place between the hours of 11pm and 7am on either of the runways.

While the second condition is that the new runway can’t be used at all between the hours of 11pm and 7am (meaning that only the existing runway could be used).

“We have stated previously that two of these conditions are onerous and would severely reduce the future operational capacity of the airport at key periods,” chief executive of DAA Kevin Toland back in April.

download (9) Kevin Toland (File Photo 2014). Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

A spokesperson for Dublin Airport confirmed before that there are currently in the region of 99 movements between these hours, and that the restrictions in place would impact the growth of the airport, essentially cutting the number of flights that are allowed.

“Applying the two conditions to the new runway would be like building a new lane on the M50 but not using it during the busiest time of the day,” the spokesperson said.

“They have to keep those conditions”

In John Harris’ house in Newtown Cottages, however, residents are strongly opposed to getting rid of the conditions.

“I dread it, I absolutely dread it, they have to keep those conditions,” says Pauline McGuinness.

“As bad as the noise is at my house, I don’t know how [the rest of the group] live here, I truly don’t.

Planes already pass by every few minutes. Once they start using both runways [the planes] will never stop.

Local Sinn Féin county councillor Philip Lynam, who is also present at the meeting, said that building on the runway will not be able to begin unless all conditions of the planning permission are met.

“The biggest thing is about being more transparent about what’s going on to the people who are living here,” says Lynam.

People (From left to right) John Harris, Martha Davey, Michael Davey and Pauline McGuinness of the St Margaret's and Ward group and and Councillor Philip Lynam. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

He says that people understand a runway needs to be built, and that it will be great for jobs and the local economy, but that the conditions should remain to ensure a proper quality of life for the residents.

“Speaking for Sinn Féin and the majority of the councillors I know, we’ll be supporting the conditions to stay as is,” he says.

John Harris says that noise insulation on the windows isn’t enough to properly buffer the noise of the louder jets, and he is regularly awoken at night by the noise.

He has been living here for 33 years, but says the situation is only getting worse.

“From six o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock there are 30 flights,” he says.

At peak times you have a flight in or out every two minutes.

As the residents air their concerns, the shadows of overhead planes regularly pass over the table and the low rumbling of engines breaks up the conversation.
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While the issues they have are numerous, three key concerns come to the fore at the meeting. These are:

  1. That the two conditions of the planning permission remain
  2. That the DAA enters into meaningful dialogue with the residents
  3. That web-tracking is made available so people can check in real-time if flights are adhering to their proper flight path (and not flying too close to houses) and to be able to report them if they are not

DAA

In its response to a set of detailed questions from TheJournal.ie, DAA reiterated its commitment to getting rid of the two conditions attached to the planning permission.

“We are currently examining the various options available regarding the removal of these two onerous restrictions and we have committed to keeping our neighboring communities fully informed of this process,” a spokesperson said.

An independent third party will make the final decision in relation to this issue.

It also said it was communicating frequently with residents’ groups and that it was committed to keeping them fully aware of proceedings as the plans and construction of the runway begins.

Airport plant Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

“We are keeping residents in St Margaret’s fully informed of developments on the runway project,” the spokesperson.

They said numerous meetings had been held with residents and that they are kept informed of every development.

DAA has also written to 38 houses in the area that are eligible for a voluntary purchase scheme. These households are being offered 20% above the market rate for their homes, and if people don’t want to sell DAA say they will insulate their homes against the noise.

Residents of Newtown Cottages say that they don’t apply for the voluntary purchase scheme (the road is closer to the current south runway).

A spokesperson for DAA also said it had written to houses close to the airport that qualify for noise insulation:

“In recent weeks, we have written to the owners of more than 110 houses which will receive noise insulation paid for by daa,” the spokesperson said.

We have also held information sessions for residents to explain how the insulation system will work.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said in a statement that DAA had “statutory responsibility for the management, operation and development of Dublin Airport”.

“In line with this responsibility, it is a matter for DAA to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to facilitate the development of the airport and that there is sufficient capacity to meet existing and future demand.

The Department has no plans to establish an independent body to oversee the building of the runway.

Concerned residents 

Sitting around John Harris’ kitchen table, the St Margaret’s residents still feel their voices aren’t being heard.

The residents of Newtown Cottages are an ageing population, many of whom have lived in the area for decades.

New Sign Source: Cormac Fitzgerald/TheJournal.ie

There are few young families about, with locals saying that planning permission for new houses is rarely granted.

“I feel like they just want to get rid of us altogether,” says one man.

DAA maintains that it fosters a close relationship with people living near the airport.

The authority says it listens to their concerns and addresses them as best it can, while still keeping the growth of the airport and the national interest in mind.

But in John Harris’ house, people feel forgotten.

“The planning permission is there so we have to accept that the runway is going ahead,” says Pauline.

“But what they do need to do is put in proper procedures to look after the residents that are here.

The truth is, they’re just not nice neighbours.

Read: Some local residents aren’t too happy with Dublin Airport’s plans for a new runway

Read: Dublin Airport is getting a new runway at a cost of €320 million

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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