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Harefield Gazette - - NEWS FEATURE -

WHO bet­ter to talk to to find out how peo­ple re­ally feel about the noise pro­duced by Heathrow Air­port than the man who lives closer to it than any­body else?

Harri Pa­tel lives in a mod­est end-of-ter­race sub­ur­ban house at num­ber 32 Myr­tle Av­enue – some 400 me­tres from the east end of Heathrow’s south­ern run­way – ba­si­cally as close as you can get with­out ac­tu­ally be­ing on it.

As I drive around the roads to his ad­dress, things don’t look promis­ing. The planes fill up my wind­screen, lit­er­ally scream­ing over­head and I’m al­most duck­ing as I’m driv­ing.

Then I turn into Myr­tle Av­enue, and it seems as if planes com­ing west­wards into land are al­most touch­ing the rooftops.

But I no­tice it’s quite a nice street. 1930s sub­ur­ban ter­raced houses run down to an un­ex­pect­edly green park area at the end, much like any other Metroland street.

Ex­cept of course that – look­ing into the dis­tance – you can see the yel­low poles of the run­way lights and the shark-like tail fins of wait­ing aero­planes parked up out­side the ter­mi­nal build­ings.

I wan­der over to the hud­dles of plane spot­ters gath­ered in the park as they are ev­ery day. They tell me they come from all over Eu­rope to spot the planes. On sunny days there are some­times a hun­dred of them – all ro­manc­ing in tak­ing snaps of the air­craft and not­ing down num­bers and de­tails. They all seem happy enough.

Then I knock on the house at the very end of the street and Harri an­swers the door.

The first thing that sur­prises me about him is that he looks to­tally re­laxed. A semire­tired for­mer paint man­u­fac­turer, Harri opens the door calmly and leans ca­su­ally against the door frame as I tell him why I’m there. He shrugs his shoul­ders as I ask him what it’s like liv­ing next to such a racket and looks thought­fully over his mous­tache.

“I’m not too wor­ried,” he re­sponds. “When I’m in­doors it doesn’t bother me, I can’t hear any­thing. The air­port did all the dou­ble glaz­ing and its up to stan­dard.”

There is a pause. A plane roars over­head, touch­ing down just me­tres away.

He con­tin­ues: “When they are tak­ing off in this di­rec­tion it’s nois­ier if you are out­side, but when you go in­side and close the win­dows it doesn’t mat­ter.”

He in­vites me into the house and he closes the kitchen win­dow. As he says, the noise is al­most com­pletely un­no­tice­able.

Ad­mit­tedly to­day the air­craft are land­ing over the house rather than tak­ing off. But even when he opens the win­dows the noise is not as deaf­en­ing as I might have ex­pected.

And for some­one who lives just a few hun­dred me­tres from the busiest air­port in Eu­rope, I can’t be­lieve how chilled Harri is and how nor­mal his life seems.

He has a nice con­ser­va­tory ex­ten­sion on the back of his house and a tidy gar­den. The win­dows are not black­ened with avi­a­tion fuel and the foun­da­tions of the house don’t shake.

His wife – who works at the air­port – calmly pre­pares food in the kitchen and he shows me his caged African grey par­rot Ziko who chat­ters away un­per­turbed – as if he was the only thing in the area with wings.

I ask Harri whether he thinks build­ing a third run­way is a good idea. He says he doesn’t think it will af­fect this side of the air­port too much. He does, how­ever, ex­press sym­pa­thy for the peo­ple of Sip­son on the north side who may have to move if the run­way gets built.

He ex­plains “It’s not OK for the peo­ple of Sip­son be­cause they don’t have a choice. They should have looked at this side of the air­port be­cause there are lots of fields around.”

Then Harri makes an even more re­mark­able rev­e­la­tion. He claims most res­i­dents in the street are more wor­ried about park­ing prob­lems caused by the con­stant in­flux of plane spot­ters than they are about the hun­dreds of planes fly­ing over­head.

“They park on the pave­ment and leave their cars all day. I even got a ticket once when I parked out­side my house, and it’s my house,” he grum­bles. Again I am taken aback. “Most of the peo­ple in the street have the same views as me be­cause many of them work at the air­port,” he says.

Then point­ing to the nearby park where some of the plane spot­ters are still wan­der­ing around, he says: “At night it’s re­ally spec­tac­u­lar. Peo­ple come to take pic­tures and it’s re­ally quite beau­ti­ful.”

I am al­most gob­s­macked. I thank him for his time and walk fur­ther down the street to speak to other res­i­dents ex­pect­ing them to tell me Harri is bit mad and liv­ing next to the air­port is a com­plete and ut­ter night­mare.

But no. A young woman a few doors down, who does not wish to be named, tells me: “I like it. When I go and visit rel­a­tives in Leeds or Le­ices­ter, I find it too quiet. You get used to the noise. It’s only when you’re in the gar­den that it’s bad.” “We are here by choice,” she adds. I ask her about the ex­pan­sion plans. She says: “I be­lieve there will be more noise and pol­lu­tion, but if it isn’t done here it has to be some­where else. It would be Gatwick which would be the same situation.

“It’s not fair that the peo­ple of Sip­son might have to move but if that’s the land re­quired then that’s it. They should get dou­ble the value for their prop­er­ties, though, so they can get through the situation.

“But I’ve lived here 13 years and a lot of peo­ple have lived here all their lives. I think it’s at arm’s length. In other ar­eas peo­ple have other prob­lems.”

A few doors on, Medge Dof­fay, who worked at the air­port be­fore re­tir­ing, tells me her fam­ily have lived at the ad­dress for 30 years and al­though it’s very noisy in the gar­den, you get used to it when the win­dows are closed. She says she thinks it will be too much if the air­port ex­pands but says her fam­ily would have to wait and see if things get worse if the third run­way is built. For now at least, home is home.

I watch a few more air­craft scream over­head. Then I drive away a lit­tle per­plexed. I didn’t find the avi­a­tion fuel-black­ened, apoc­a­lyp­tic night­mare, the ter­ri­fied, noise­tor­tured res­i­dents at the end of their teth­ers, or the com­plete sense of de­spon­dency and des­per­a­tion I was ex­pect­ing.

In­stead I found a sub­ur­ban street of re­al­is­tic home own­ers who are do­ing that very best of Bri­tish thing - keep­ing calm and car­ry­ing on.

My next stop will be Sip­son. I won­der if they will feel the same?

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