Grounded

A CONTROVERSIAL plan to alter flight paths over Comet country that would have seen planes flying low over the north of Stevenage and the east of Hitchin is to be revised after a public outcry. The National Air Traffic Service (NATS), which manages Britai

A CONTROVERSIAL plan to alter flight paths over Comet country that would have seen planes flying low over the north of Stevenage and the east of Hitchin is to be revised after a public outcry.

The National Air Traffic Service (NATS), which manages Britain's airspace, released plans last year to redirect flights across the South East, including flights in and out of Luton. But after opposition from residents, local authorities and MPs across the region they have gone back to the drawing board.

During a consultation period last year, opponents including Stevenage and Hitchin residents, Hitchin and Harpenden MP Peter Lilley, Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) and Herts County Council, argued the changes would make life a misery for those living in the north of Stevenage and east of Hitchin.

Despite NATS' stated aim of avoiding densely populated areas, the plan would have seen aircraft flying below 4,000 feet over the Stevenage neighbourhoods of Great Ashby, St Nicholas and the Old Town, including three schools and Lister Hospital, or affecting the east of Hitchin, depending on wind direction.


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This may now change as plans are reconsidered. But NATS is keeping its cards close to its chest while it works out a new set of proposals.

Ian Hall, NATS director of operations, said: "In some areas we hope to present an alternative route for consideration, to allow a degree of choice for those in the area affected.

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"Many people were concerned that the original proposal was a done deal and that NATS would not listen to objections. This second consultation demonstrates we did listen, we have taken note and where possible options will be included for consideration.

"However we are also very clear that doing nothing is not an option and that the number of options available to us is extremely limited in this airspace, which is some of the most complex and congested in the world."

John Gardner, SBC portfolio holder for environment and regeneration, said: "We had concerns about the original proposal which were raised through the consultation process. We await NATS revised proposal to see how far it goes in addressing those concerns."

Peter Lilley said "It is a welcome opportunity to reassess the impact of flight paths on the people who live below them."

North Herts District Council also welcomed the opportunity to have another look at the issue.

A spokesman for NATS said the second set of proposals will be opened up to consultation some time after July, pending tests for safety, efficiency and social impact.

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