European court agrees to hear plea by residents wanting night flight ban

Campaigners calling for an end to night flights at Heathrow took a step forward yesterday when the European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear their case.

Eight residents living near the west London airport are claiming the flights breach the European Convention on Human Rights by violating their "right to private life" and respect for their homes.

In a one-day hearing yesterday, judges at the Strasbourg court ruled the case was admissible.

Their verdict is expected in four months and if they back the campaigners, the Government will have to consider cutting or banning night flights at Heathrow.

The case was brought by members of the Heathrow Association for Control of Aircraft Noise ClearSkies group, which is being supported by Wandsworth Council, south London, and local authorities in the Heathrow area after their own battle against night flights failed in the House of Lords.

The Wandsworth Council leader, Edward Lister, described the judges' decision as a breakthrough. "The ruling will force the Government to rethink its whole approach to night flights. Until now, this has been a one-sided battle, with ministers lining up on the side of the airlines," he said.

"Today's decision means that for the first time the concerns of people whose nightly sleep is interrupted by these unnecessary flights will be taken seriously."

Mr Lister added: "Ministers should not wait to be told what to do by the court. They should order an immediate review of the current night flights regime. The sooner these are phased out the better."

About 15 flights arrive at Heathrow between 11.30pm and 6am and the Government has argued they are vital to the British economy.

Mr Lister said few people believed that rescheduling the flights would be a serious threat to the airport's viability.

John Stewart, one of the residents who attended the hearing, said: "What the judges seem to be saying is that there is a lot of substance to our claim. Our legal team is quite upbeat about it."

A spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions said: "We believe we have a strong case but we must wait for the court's judgment."

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