Dutch State acts unlawfully, prioritizing aviation over residents living around Amsterdam Schiphol

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In a ruling by the Rechtbank Den Haag (District Court of The Hague), it has been determined that the Dutch State fails to appropriately weigh the interests of residents, aviation, and the airport when making decisions regarding air traffic to and from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. The court found that the government consistently fails to adequately consider the interests of residents, which is deemed contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Additionally, the court ruled that existing regulations are inadequately enforced, leading to the State’s actions being deemed unlawful.

The court has ordered the government to enforce existing laws and regulations within twelve months. Furthermore, they must establish a form of practical and effective legal protection for all individuals suffering from severe noise disturbances or sleep disruption caused by air traffic to and from Schiphol Airport.

Background

According to data presented to the court, approximately 173,000 individuals experience severe noise disturbance, and 22,000 suffer from sleep disruption due to air traffic to and from Schiphol Airport. These findings underscore the detrimental effects of severe noise disturbance and sleep disruption on individuals’ well-being and health, infringing upon their right to an undisturbed private life as protected by the ECHR.

Dispute

The case centers around whether the government has adequately considered the interests of Schiphol Airport’s residents in formulating and enforcing regulations. The Right to Protection against Aircraft Nuisance Foundation (RBV) argues that the State sets excessively high noise tolerance thresholds in laws and regulations and fails to provide adequate legal protection to citizens. RBV seeks an end to this situation, including reducing the number of flights to and from Schiphol Airport, implementing stricter noise standards based on World Health Organization guidelines, and offering practical and effective legal protection to citizens.

The State contends that it is the legislature’s responsibility, not the judiciary’s, to strike a fair balance between the interests of residents, Schiphol Airport, airlines, airport employees, and Dutch society as a whole. The State also emphasizes the measures already taken to control noise levels, with additional measures in progress.

Role of the Court

The Rechtbank Den Haag acknowledges the complex and sometimes conflicting interests involved in formulating laws, regulations, and policies regarding Schiphol Airport. The court affirms the State’s broad discretion to weigh these interests and make political decisions. However, the court’s role is limited to assessing whether the State acts unlawfully in formulating laws, regulations, and their implementation.

Judgment

In its ruling, the court found the State’s actions to be unlawful. Since 2010, the existing legal framework for addressing noise disturbances around Schiphol Airport has been inadequately enforced. Policies implemented since then rely on incomplete data, failing to provide an accurate picture of noise pollution’s distribution and severity. Additionally, there is a lack of adequate and consistently enforced noise exposure standards for individuals affected by Schiphol Airport’s activities.

Furthermore, the court found that the State failed to properly execute the interests balancing required by the ECHR. The State consistently prioritized Schiphol Airport’s “hub function” and growth without adequately considering other interests protected by the ECHR.

The court has ordered the State to enforce existing laws and regulations within twelve months. Additionally, the State must establish accessible legal protection for all individuals suffering from severe noise disturbances and/or sleep disruption, including those residing outside the noise contours. The court refrains from imposing a penalty on the State, trusting in its commitment to comply with court orders.

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