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“Intolerable”: Aircraft noise to be addressed by overdue agreement

By Spencer Fowler Steen

Local residents have been disturbed by noise from helicopters and aircraft flying over the City of Melbourne for years, but an overdue agreement with flight operators could soon help keep the peace.

It comes amid ongoing complaints from Docklands and West Melbourne residents regarding increased operations at a new helipad at the recently-completed Victoria Police headquarters at the corner of Spencer and LaTrobe streets.

In 2016, the council agreed to develop a Fly Neighbourly Agreement (FNA) with helicopter companies in an effort to reduce the impact of aircraft noise on residents.

The FNA committed to a process whereby council would review the agreement each year with a range of residents and stakeholders, including aircraft operators, Airservice Australia, and Parks Victoria.

But these commitments were not fulfilled, and residents in the municipality continue to endure “intolerable health impacts” from non-essential flights.

At a Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting in February this year, it was found that the FNA had been quietly removed from the City of Melbourne website on the basis that it was an “expired document” following enquiries from the East Melbourne Group (EMG) in 2020.

In response to a public question to councillors in September 2020, a council officer-prepared statement notified the public that the FNA had become “largely dormant for two years”.

“Residents have continued to experience intolerable health impacts from non-essential flights since the abandonment of the Fly Neighbourly Agreement, with complaints to council and councillors continuing,” Cr Rohan Leppert wrote in his notice of motion.

“Helicopters hovering in place above a residence for extended periods, during a joy flight over the sporting precinct that takes in neighbouring residential areas, is the most common example of a flight pattern with harmful health effects for those on the ground.”

EMG president Ian Mitchell said that the East Melbourne community “suffers from hundreds of uncontrolled small planes and helicopters” every day.

“On some days there are flights every two to three minutes. Many planes and helicopters do multiple circuits over our homes,” Mr Mitchell said.

“This is one of the most densely populated parts of Melbourne with hospitals and a population which has many sick and elderly people.”

“This has serious impacts on the health of people and their ability to enjoy using their homes and gardens.”

Sarah Wallace, a West Melbourne resident, recently voiced her concern regarding noise from helicopters on the Planning Alerts website.

“Residents have been enduring an increasing level of afterhours noise caused by the operation of Police helicopters around the sky above 313 Spencer St, West Melbourne,” she said.

While pointing out that residents were not “anti-police”, Ms Wallace said they had an “inalienable right” to rest, sleep, rest and rejuvenate after work, highlighting that the night-time noise from helicopters was impacting their mental and physical health.

A City of Melbourne spokesperson told Docklands News that the council was continuing to explore options for a Fly Neighbourly Agreement with local operators.

“While the council does not have regulatory control over aircraft flight within the municipality, we will continue to play a role to educate and seek voluntary commitments from flight operators,” the spokesperson said.

Docklands News understands the agreement would seek to ensure that helicopters do not excessively hover and fly below 100 metres.

The agreement would also not seek to influence flights by emergency and essential flight operators.

However, Docklands News understands ongoing lockdowns and restrictions have limited and impacted discussions between council and local operators •

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