HC Deb 10 June 1936 vol 313 cc323-34

The Secretary of State may require the owner of any building or structure within one mile of an aerodrome and whose summit is more than fifty feet above the mean level of such aerodrome and the plans for the erection of which shall have been approved by the local authority after those for the aerodrome, to exhibit during such hours as he shall prescribe adequate warning lights to indicate to airmen the presence of such building or structure.—[Mr. Simmonds.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.33 p.m.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

It deals with the illumination of obstacles around aerodromes. In the past year night flying has been increasing in this country, and it has been found that there are certain serious obstacles to the safety of flying at night. We do not submit that this Clause covers all that is required, but we have endeavoured as far as possible to cover the future. If the Committee passes this Clause it will mean that after an aerodrome has been provided by a local authority and licensed by the Air Ministry any building erected within a mile from the extremities of that aerodrome would, if the Secretary of State felt it desirable, have to carry a light if that structure were higher than 50 feet above the mean level of the aerodrome, and that light would be maintained during such hours as the Secretary of State would direct at the expense of the owner of that structure.

We submit that this would be a fair charge on the owners of these high structures placed near a landing ground, which in the future will be the communal land- ing ground of those who legitimately travel by air. We feel that the time has come when it is reasonable for this Committee to say that if any person is minded to erect a high structure within this narrow distance of an aerodrome, it is legitimate that, if the Secretary of State deems it right, he should also be required to illuminate it. That is desirable for the sake not only of those who are flying, but also of those who may live in the vicinity of the structure. [An HON. MEMBER: "And in it!"] I am not troubling so much about those who live in it as about those who live around it, because if an aircraft flies into a high structure, it will probably come down into some other building and set it on fire.

I mentioned that this is possibly a narrow Clause. There is the vast problem of illuminating those buildings which are at the moment above this height and within a mile of the aerodrome, but we understand that this matter has engaged the attention of the Air Ministry for some three years past and that still they have not found a solution, and we hesitate to tackle a problem which is clearly so formidable; but if my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State should be able to tell us that he could, on the Report stage, introduce a new Clause which would both provide at the public expense, where he so directs, for the illumination of those high buildings near aerodromes that exist to-day, as well as make provision for new buildings which might be erected, I feel sure that my hon. Friends and myself would be much indebted to him.

9.38 p.m.


I do not want to raise any controversial issue, but I am seriously concerned about this Clause if it is to be accepted without redrafting or without some serious consideration. As I understand the Clause, only those buildings which are erected subsequent to the opening of a new aerodrome will be governed by its provisions. May I suggest that in that case there is the danger of misleading the aircraft itself? If you have some structures with lights on and other structures without them, the tendency may be to avoid those with lights on, and the aircraft may run the danger of colliding with a structure that is in darkness. I suggest, therefore, that the Clause requires consideration.

9.39 p.m.


I oppose this new Clause. I would not necessarily be opposed to the principle of illumination if it were brought forward in some other form, but in this form I think it must he opposed. I know an aerodrome in North Devon which has some rising ground immediately behind it. No doubt it would be very convenient for that aerodrome if it could get lights placed on the top of that rising ground, which is more than 50 feet high, and if a man put up a two-storey building on top of that ground he might be required at his own cost to put a light on top of it. The radius of a mile is very wide. We hope that aerodromes will be established as near as possible outside the growing fringes of existing towns, and a mile will very likely take you right into the centre of the town or city outside which an aerodrome is to be established. The height of 50 feet is not a great height. A five-storey building with a chimney on top of it easily comes to 50 feet, quite apart from any question of a rise in the ground, and really, is the owner or builder of some new building suddenly to find himself burdened with the cost of putting up and maintaining an adequate warning light?

Very often aerodromes are established out in the country where there is no electrical or gas power, and if a man desires to build a factory there or to put up a high building, is he to be responsible for bringing electricity to his site, at very great cost to himself, or for establishing some oil-burning lamp? It seems to me that if structures round aerodromes are to be illuminated, it should be done by the aerodrome authorities, and that the burden should not be put upon private individuals who may want to develop their land by putting upon it a five-storey house.

9.42 p.m.


As one of those responsible for this Clause, may I deal with the very helpful suggestion put by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague). What seemed to worry the hon. Member was that a new building might be lighted, but that there might be some old building which would cause an obstruction. May I draw his attention to the wording of the Clause and point out to him that the governing words, are permissive? It says that "the Secretary of State may require," and so on.


May I draw the lion. and learned Member's attention to the words later in the Clause: approved by the local authority after those for the aerodrome"? That is the point.


The first point that I am suggesting to the hon. Member is that the whole Clause is permissive and depends on the Secretary of State exercising his power. If he exercises his power, then, of course, it applies, and only to those buildings, but that gives the Secretary of State the opportunity of judging whether he will apply the Clause, and in considering whether or not he will apply it he would consider the danger referred to by the hon. Member. There are, as nobody knows better than the hon. Member, municipal aerodromes where at the present moment this danger does not appear but in our submission this Clause would be a, very helpful and inexpensive adjunct to the other proposals in the Bill. I confess that I cannot see the same reasonableness in the objection put forward by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland). The hon. Member seems to think that if buildings of a considerable size are put up within a mile of an aerodrome it is a serious disadvantage to require lights to be put on them. I would ask the hon. Member to consider what percentage it would add to the cost of a new building which was more than 50 feet high to start with—


A person could not, under this new Clause, build a two-storey cottage on top of a 30-foot rise within a mile of an aerodrome.


That is possible, although it is at the moment difficult to envisage that possibility in any aerodrome that springs to my mind. No doubt the hon. Member has one in his mind.




Even accepting the hon. Member's suggestion of one possibility, I still think that it is not a great addition to ask people to make as their contribution to the assistance of flying when they are putting up new buildings. In view of the encouragement that is being given to local authorities and others to put up new aerodromes and of the tremendous expenditure that is being incurred, not for this year but for the next 20 years, on the erection of aerodromes, I suggest that the contribution for which we are asking in this new Clause is only a very slight and proper assistance which aviation is entitled to ask.

9.48 p.m.


I also put my name to this new Clause, but I am not at all sure that it is an entirely desirable Clause in the way in which it is drafted. Nevertheless the intention which we wish to put forward is clear. One could go on arguing for a long time from the particular to the general, taking specific instances such as the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) did, and arguing the merits or demerits of the wording of the Clause, but that will not get the Committee very far. I think that it would satisfy the Members who have put down this Clause if the Government could give some indication that they accept the principle of illuminating buildings which are in proximity to aerodromes and dangerous to flying. We have the example of the gasometer next door to Heston Airport, which is a menace to flying and concerning which there have been questions in the House. I do not wish to be gloomy, but I prophesy that, unless something is done very soon, we shall run the grave risk of an accident. We wish to prevent a repetition of this sort of thing being erected round new aerodromes. If the Under-Secretary would indicate that the Government accept in principle the objective of this new Clause but that because of administrative difficulties they cannot accept it in its present form and will endeavour to interpret it in a way more satisfactory to the Government, I am sure that my hon. Friends whose names are attached to the Clause will consider that their aim is fulfilled.

9.50 p.m.


I can readily give the promise for which my hon. and gallant Friend has asked, and the assurance that we do accept in principle the intention of this new Clause. With the rapid development of air transport it is very necessary in the interest of safety to provide that obstructions in the neighbourhood of aerodromes should be illuminated. This particular Clause is not quite the best way of dealing with an admitted problem, which has been occupying our attention for a long time. The objection of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) was a most pertinent one. If you are to light new buildings what about the old buildings? That is one of the many facets of difficulty in this problem. I cannot accept this Clause but I will undertake to do my best to consider the matter and if possible to bring forward something that might be a solution of this problem on the Report stage.

Apart from buildings, there are other obstructions such as the gasometer at Heston. My hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) has frequently tackled me on this particular subject. I am happy to say, however, that the technical problems to which I referred when the question was last raised have now been solved, but there are certain legal difficulties that are now holding us up though I am hopeful that an early solution of these will be found.


Will my right hon. Friend in the new Clause which he proposes cover those structures which are at present in existence or which were erected before the aerodromes? That is an equally important problem.


I hope that the Under-Secretary will think a good deal before he brings forward anything that will carry out the intention of this Clause. The foundation of aerodromes near houses is considered by the ordinary householder as the most appalling nuisance and an affliction, because of the noise, which cannot possibly be escaped, and to have the liability put upon not only new buildings but existing buildings, as this Clause proposes, because an aerodrome has been put within a mile of the buildings, is carrying things a little far from the point of view of the ordinary subject of the Crown. I hope, therefore, that there will be a good deal of thought before the Government legislate on these lines.

9.53 p.m.


I hope that the Minister will not find himself able to agree to the principle of this Clause. The liability for illuminating areas within a mile of an aerodrome should be met by the aerodrome itself and not by the private citizen. The result of this infliction, if it became law, would be that within a mile of many aerodromes all the land would be neutralised, for owners would not accept the permanent liability of illuminating the buildings which, independently of the aerodrome, might have been erected. The area within a mile of an aerodrome is such a large area that the obligation would create both injustice and hardship on a very large number of residents. Aerodromes are supposed to exist for the convenience of the general public, and if they cannot maintain themselves financially, which we suppose they cannot, it is clearly a liability of the taxpayers to assist them, but that individual citizens should be penalised simply because they happen to be residing within a mile of the aerodrome would be a great hardship. I hope the Minister will reconsider the position.

9.56 p.m.


I welcome the assurance which the Minister has given that the Government propose to accept the principle of this Clause, but I sincerely hope they will not adopt the figure of 50 feet which is mentioned in it. If they do it will mean that the whole of their magnificent aerodrome at Croydon will have to be covered with lights, because that particular aerodrome has a great dip in it, and the difference in level between the highest point and the lowest point is more than 50 feet. Further, I do press the Minister for a more definite and specific assurance about the large gasholder at Heston. For six years, in season and out of season, I have been trying in this House to get a light put on that gas-holder. Again and again I have been put off by evasive answers from the Ministry. Two months ago we got an assurance that the matter was going to be seriously tackled, and that we should have a light there almost at once. Now we are told that the technical difficulties have been overcome, but the Minister did not say what those technical difficulties were. I was in charge of the erection of that monstrosity, I regret to say—


I think a reference to the question of a light on that gas-holder at Heston is permissible, but whether this Clause is accepted or rejected does not concern the erection of that gas-holder.


I hope I may ask for a definite assurance that. before we reach the Report stage there will be a light on that gas-holder.

9.58 p.m.


I hope the Under-Secretary will think seriously before committing himself to granting what is asked for in this Clause, and will consult with the municipal authorities. Some municipalities have large hospitals in the vicinity of existing aerodromes, and if they are to lie asked to light up those buildings, and other buildings belonging to them which are in the neighbourhood, it will be a serious matter for them. The right hon. Gentleman ought also to consider whether the instructions should be given to those who are engaged on the planning of new areas and who are responsible for approving applications for buildings to be erected there.

9.59 p.m.


I feel there has been a certain amount of misunderstanding in the minds of hon. Members opposite, in that they have suggested that the owners of existing buildings above 50 feet in height and within a mile of an aerodrome are to be made liable for illuminating those buildings. We have made no such proposals. My hon. Friends who are associated with me in proposing this Clause feel definitely that that is an obligation to be put either upon the Government or upon the owner of the aerodrome. What we are anxious about is the future, because we do not want the very unsatisfactory Situation which has grown up in the past few years to be perpetuated. In view of the assurance which my right hon. Friend has given us that he will go carefully into this matter, I would beg leave of the Committee to withdraw the Clause.




If the right hon. Gentleman speaks, the Clause cannot be withdrawn.

10.1 p.m.


I shall not detain the Committee. All I wish to do is to ask the right hon. Gentleman not to be in too great a hurry to accept a Clause of this kind. He has committed himself to considering the question between now and the Report stage, but in view of the new difficulties which have been pointed out and the disadvantages which the owners of houses already in existence may suffer if they are compelled to light their houses—[Interruption.] Well, these are possibilities. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should consider the case of the owner of a house who may go away on holiday. Is he to be compelled to light that house during the time he is on holiday? The right hon. Gentleman should not be in too great a hurry to impose such a burden on the public.

10.2 p.m.


Before this Clause is either withdrawn or voted upon I think it would be useful to have some clarification of the principle which the Government have promised to consider. In view of the criticisms that the Government have not been ready enough to meet the views of their critics it would be churlish of us to complain of their attitude in promising to consider the principle involved in this new Clause, but what is the principle which they are going to consider? At least four principles are enunciated in the Clause. The first is that there should be lights on buildings of a certain elevation in comparison with the aerodrome. The second is that those lights should be paid for by the owners of those buildings. The third is that this obligation should not apply to buildings erected before the plans for the aerodrome were passed. The fourth is that it should only apply to buildings which are 50 feet or more above the mean level of the aerodrome. We shall find that some of these are false principles. The figure of 50 feet bears no relation to the danger which an obstacle may be to a machine about to land at an aerodrome. A building of 50 feet on the edge of an aerodrome may be a serious obstacle, but a mile away it may be no obstacle at all. Therefore, if the Government are going to accept a principle in which 50 feet is stipulated we find ourselves with a Clause which is ill-considered and likely to lead to much difficulty in, administration. I should like to be assured that the Government will not accept the principle of a site elevation, but that the tangent elevation from the aerodrome shall govern the height of buildings which must have lights upon them. Again, I should like a clear assurance that the owner of the building shall not be required to pay for the light. That is an obligation which should fall upon the aerodrome.

My third and last point is that the same regulation which applies to buildings put up after the plans for the aerodrome were passed shall apply to buildings which existed previously, because it is going to be small consolation to a pilot who flies into a house within a mile from an aerodrome to know that it was in existence before the aerodrome was established and therefore was not obliged to have a light on it. I should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman means when he says that he accepts the principle of the Clause. The only principle which is valid is that buildings which constitute a real danger to a pilot landing at an aerodrome should be required to have a light placed upon them, and that that light should be paid for by the aviation authorities.


Might I ask the hon. Gentleman if he will deal with the fifth principle which inevitably follows, that any requirement in respect of these lights is subject to the discretion of the Secretary of State, who will then be able to deal with all the problems involved?

10.6 p.m.


It is very seldom that I speak upon this subject but I want, as a supporter of the Government in power, to express my point of view against any proposal in the direction enunciated by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air. Every objection to it seems to have come from the Opposition, and it is the first time in my public career that I have known them to be the defenders of private property. If these aerodromes are erected and are a source of danger to the people who use them, surely those people ought to provide the protection. I can conceive of land, not more than half a mile from the aerodrome, happening to be 50 feet above the mean level of the aerodrome, being useless land for building purposes for the simple reason that it does happen to have an elevation of 50 feet above the mean level of the aerodrome. Is it right to penalise the owner of that land or property because someone has come along and erected an aerodrome in that particular place?

I thought it had always been the rule in the past that wherever anybody erected anything that was a public danger or that might lead to trouble in the future, it was up to those people to provide the danger signals and the illumination necessary to prevent disaster. If a municipality or an individual is wealthy enough to purchase or to erect an aerodrome, surely they might go forward and guard any property that might cause trouble in the future in the use of that aerodrome. I add my voice in order to say that there are Members on this side of the Committee who object to proposals for the Ministry which might easily develop, and that we hope they will be carefully considered with a view to alteration upon the Report stage. We object to people being penalised because they happen to own property, and to their having to go to considerable expense because an aerodrome has been erected in their midst.

10.8 p.m.


Every speech to which I have listened against the proposal has shown that I was very wise when I said that this was a very difficult problem and needed very grave consideration. It is obvious that I could not get up now and do what I was asked to do, which is completely to elucidate the position that will be set up. I was asked about three particular points. Without committing myself in any way, I would say only that the points appear to me a very likely course for us to adopt, and I would say at once that it would definitely be our policy that no charge should fall upon the owner of the property for putting up the illumination. It would certainly apply to buildings which had been erected before as much as to buildings which had been erected since the establishment of an aerodrome, according to the height and the danger that they constituted to aircraft. I think that the Committee would not expect me to add any more, and I would ask them to consider carefully the proposal before they reject it.

10.9 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman seems to consider that the Air Ministry has a right to go on to anybody's property and to erect any light which may be necessary to enable an aerodrome to work, but surely the position is that if anybody likes to have an aerodrome, they must lay out a sufficient area to make that aerodrome safe. There cannot, according to any ordinary principle, be any right to the Air Ministry to go upon private property and to put up bright lights which may interfere with the amenities of people, in order to safeguard an aerodrome. The remedy is to make the aerodrome big enough. I would not agree for a moment that the Ministry can go about and erect lights anywhere they like.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.