Life under the flight path: The woman who has been battling Stansted Airport's expansion for decades
PUBLISHED: 09:30 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 11:26 26 July 2018
In Irene Jones's kitchen, a yellowing poster, protected behind a silver frame, reads: "Public Meeting organised by Broxted Parish Council at the Village Hall, to discuss the proposed development of Stansted Airport." The date of this meeting is August 26, 1964.
Irene, 76, who found the poster when clearing out a pig sty in her garden, says she hung it in her house because “it says I am still here and I am not going to accept what you are doing to me”.
Irene’s Broxted home is about 2.5 miles from Stansted Airport’s runway and directly under the flight path.
She has been battling the airport’s expansion for decades and, following an application in February to increase the passenger capacity from 35 million passengers per year to 43 million, she spoke to the Reporter about life under the flight path and why she chooses to stay.
Fig trees and asparagus plants populate Irene’s garden, which she and her husband, Keith, have nurtured for 41 years.
Irene said: “We wanted a place in the country where we could plant our own vegetables and keep chickens, we took a lot of trouble to find the land and we did all the building ourselves.
“At that time Stansted Airport had 2,500 throughput a year, and for us that wasn’t an issue. Cheap package holidays didn’t exist. We were quite happy to live with it. The occasional aircraft that went over us was quite interesting.”
However, over the years and as the airport’s passenger capacity increased, Irene says the noise level and the plane numbers have “slowly grown”.
Rooms in the house which were “often used” had secondary glazing installed to reduce the sounds, paid for by the airport, but this made Irene feel as if they were living in a “tomb”.
Speaking to Irene in her kitchen on a summer afternoon the planes fly regularly overhead and while noticeable, they do not disrupt our conversation.
However, she assures me that the noise is worse between 6.30 and 10am, and before she goes to sleep at night.
She said: “First thing in the morning and last thing at night when the planes are loudest is really difficult to live with. At the end of the day you’re tired and you have got more and more aircrafts flying over you.
“I have quite bad arthritis, which causes a lot of pain. Towards the end of the night I have perhaps fallen asleep through exhaustion and at 6.30am the planes start again. It is very difficult to be positive in the day when you feel uncomfortable with these noises going overhead.”
When I ask her why she does not move she says: “I am right on the cusp. We are able to do what we want here. We grow our own vegetables and fruit. My husband makes jams. That is what we treasure. At our age would we find something similar? If I moved away the airport would have won.”
While the application does not include plans to increase the limit on the total number of planes taking off and landing from 274,000 per year, Irene believes there will be more flights and adds “there’s going to be constant noise if the capacity goes up to 43 million [passengers per year]”.
However, according to a planning statement prepared for the airport’s application, the ‘next generation’ of aircrafts are quieter and have more seats, which will increase the passenger capacity of each flight.
To address concerns in the community about Stansted’s future growth, the airport has put forward a package of commitments as part of its planning application. These include no increase to the existing aircraft movements and noise footprint and a new sound insulation grant scheme offering grants to residents affected by aircraft noise.
Outside, as I watch Irene place raspberries in a basket, planes fly over every few minutes and I can see how the relentless noise would become draining and infuriating.
And, despite hundreds of objections to Stansted Airport’s expansion from action groups such as Stop Stansted Expansion, key businesses and organisations in the region including the University of Cambridge, Harlow Enterprise Zone and Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk and Chambers of Commerce have expressed support for Stansted as a key enabler of economic growth for East of England.
The last time Irene stepped foot on a plane was 1982.
She says: “I am not a hypocrite. I have flown three times in my life. I would not inflict the misery on other people.”