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The Government has been forced to review the impact of Heathrow airport expansion on local ethnic minority communities following a legal challenge from Hounslow Race Equality Council (Hounslow REC), represented by Friends of the Earth's Rights and Justice Centre.

The Government denied that changes in their proposals for expanding the airport were likely to result in a disproportionate noise burden on the large ethnic minority population in the area [1] - but was forced to rethink when Hounslow REC sought legal action and lodged judicial review proceedings at the High Court [2].

Hounslow REC argued that proposals to allow easterly departures off the northern runway over the heavily populated area of Cranford would cause noise pollution affecting mostly ethnic minority communities [3], and that work was needed to assess the effect of lowering planes on the southern flight path to the airport.

It called for comprehensive public consultation on both issues in line with race equality legislation - which states that public bodies must make sure their policies don't have a disproportionate impact on different ethnic groups.

The Government has now commissioned a thorough review, expected to include a full assessment of the race, gender and disability impacts of the Heathrow expansion proposals where necessary. Following the U-turn, Hounslow REC has dropped its legal case against the Government.

The Hounslow case follows widespread controversy over the environmental impact of Heathrow expansion. The Government has been widely criticised by campaign groups for exaggerating the economic benefits of expansion whilst downplaying the environmental impacts in its public consultation on expanding Heathrow [4].

Director of Hounslow REC Satvinder Buttar said: "It is Hounslow Race Equality Council's role to ensure that public bodies abide by their duties under the Race Relations Act. We were very disappointed by the Government's initial response to the serious issues we raised and are delighted that it has changed its position as a result of our actions.

"It is important that the Government considers all the impacts of its expansion proposals for Heathrow, including unequal impacts on the communities nearest the airport. We will be keeping a close eye on how the assessment is carried out."

Friends of the Earth lawyer Gita Parihar, who helped represent Hounslow REC in court, said: "We are pleased that the Government has recognised its duty to make a thorough assessment of the impact of Heathrow's expansion on local ethnic minority communities.

"People living under the flight path are entitled to know at an early stage if they will be facing a greater noise burden than others as a result of the expansion proposals, and to have their say in whether the proposals should go ahead."


[1] Under the Race Relations Act public authorities are required to make sure that their policies do not have a disproportionate impact on different ethnic groups. The law requires that these issues are considered as early as possible in policy-making.

[2] At an earlier stage the Government had originally acknowledged the possibility of differential environmental effects on ethnic minority communities in and around West London - see page 13 of the Department for Transport's Race Equality Scheme 2005-2008 ¬

It is not clear why the Government changed its position in its consultation document, which later led Hounslow REC to take legal action.

[3] The Cranford Agreement is a long-standing practice which aims to keep easterly departures off the northern runway over Cranford to a minimum. It is intended to protect the residents of Cranford from the high noise levels experienced on the ground from departing aircraft. In its plans to expand Heathrow airport, the Government was proposing to break this agreement, with serious consequences for nearby communities.

[4] `Heathrow expansion - its true costs' (PDF† ) a briefing by Friends of the Earth

[5] Hounslow Race Equality Council

Hounslow REC is a voluntary organisation and is one of a network of race equality councils nationally. Its objective is to promote equality of opportunity and good race relations. It provides information, advice and support for individuals and organisations in obtaining and promoting equality of opportunity and for people experiencing racial discrimination or harassment.

[6] Friends of the Earth's Rights & Justice Centre

Friends of the Earth's Rights & Justice Centre provides access to legal advice and representation to people wishing to use the law to protect their communities and the environment. The Centre operates a free legal advice line for members of the public on 0808 801 0405 (open between 6.30-8.30 pm on Wednesday and 11-2pm on Thursday).

Further information at

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