The government has denied that a final decision on a new runway in the southeast of England may be pushed back again after plans for an aviation watchdog to control noise were unveiled.
The Department for Transport is preparing to start a consultation on proposals to set up a regulator that would monitor aircraft noise and rule on changes to flight paths.
Ministers said that the watchdog had been established to address fears that noise had become a “major environmental concern” around airports.
Critics said that the consultation, to begin this year, could be used as an excuse to impose a further delay on a new runway near London, the Times reported at the weekend.
However, a Department for Transport spokesman said that a noise regulator would have “no bearing” on the runway decision, and insisted that a ruling was still due in the summer.
Heathrow and Gatwick are competing to win the right for an additional runway with an original decision due last December delayed until the summer after the Airports Commission led by Sir Howard Davies backed a third runway at the west London hub.
The decision was delayed pending further analysis of the effect that more aircraft would have on air quality and noise. About 700,000 people are affected by noise around Heathrow, more than any other airport in Europe.
However, shadow transport minister Richard Burden said that the noise watchdog should be created “as soon as possible”, adding: “It begs the question what on earth they have been doing since Sir Howard Davies completed his report on airport expansion last July?
“Even worse would be if the government used this consultation as a pretext for dodging a decision on airport expansion this summer. The government must end the uncertainty and blight for local residents, business and the country.”
Gatwick chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said: “Action on airport expansion is long overdue and this consultation should not be allowed to delay a final decision.”
The establishment of an independent aviation noise authority was a recommendation in the commission’s report which said that it should be given a “statutory right” over flight paths and other operating procedures.
Speaking in the Commons last week, transport minister Andrew Jones backed the creation of the noise watchdog, saying that the consultation was expected to be completed this year. Research has shown that stress related to aircraft noise could lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke and impaired performance at school.
Jones said that the government wanted to see growth in aviation.
“It is good for the economy, bringing investment and employment to the UK and wider benefits to society and individuals, including around travel for leisure and visiting friends and family,” he said.
“It is imperative, however, that this be balanced against the costs to the local environment that more flights bring, noise being the prime example.
“It is vital that those affected by the changes can trust the information provided by those wanting the changes and making the decisions. The airports commission’s proposal for a new noise body might well help with that.”
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