HC Deb 22 July 1953 vol 518 cc379-83
The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

I rise, Sir, with your permission and with that of the House, to make a statement about Gatwick Airport.

It is now a year since I announced the Government's intention to develop Gatwick as the southern alternate to London Airport. During this time I have heard the views of the various local authorities and of the Crawley Development Corporation, and further consideration has been given at the request of the Railway Executive to the siting of the runways near the very busy stretch of the electrified London—Brighton line, which forms the eastern boundary of the aerodrome.

The Government have now reviewed the project as a whole, and for reasons which are set out in a White Paper to be published this evening I must re-affirm the Government's intention to proceed with the development of Gatwick. However, our plans have been modified in the light of the discussions which have taken place. Both runways have been shifted westwards by about half a mile, and the southern runway becomes the first to be built, the northern runway being built later if the traffic requires. The line of both runways has been swung 5 degrees counter-clockwise.

These changes render unnecessary the expensive westerly diversion of the London—Brighton road. It is now proposed to divert the road along the eastern boundary of the airport immediately to the west of the railway, so combining access to the terminal buildings and the airport with local access to the railway station. Moreover, as such access is required in any event the proposed diversion of the road will not prejudice the ultimate construction of the Brighton radial road eastward of the main railway line.

The new layout has several advantages over its predecessor, and Her Majesty's Government are convinced that the thought we have given to the project in the past 12 months has been well worth while. The alterations in the plans will, of course, be discussed with the appropriate local authorities and the Crawley Development Corporation, and a public local inquiry will be held into the details.

Finally, I have an announcement to make about the development of Prestwick. I have on more than one occasion re-affirmed the Government's determination that Prestwick shall continue to be Britain's second international airport and their intention to carry out the further developments there as soon as economic conditions permit. I am now glad to announce that the construction of a new subsidiary runway at Prestwick will be started next year. This runway, together with a new control tower, should be completed in 1956, and Prestwick will then be suitable for all existing types of civil aircraft in all wind conditions.

Mr. Beswick

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he has now found the answer to this complicated problem of a southern alternate to London Airport which satisfies the air operators, the railway interests, the town planners and the local residents, he and his advisers will deserve the congratulations of the House?

When does he expect to make a start on the Gatwick scheme; and to what extent can the local inquiry recommend changes in the plan as now stated? Can the Minister give us the terms of reference of that local inquiry? Also, will the Minister give an undertaking that when the civil operators quit Northolt he, as Minister of Civil Aviation, will resist any attempt on the part of either the British or the American military authorities to use Northolt for large-scale military operations in peacetime?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his kind preliminary words; and his own support of this project over many years is well known. I hope it is true that we shall have found a solution which will have eliminated or at any rate minimised some of the difficulties of the original scheme. I cannot say when we shall start work but obviously we must await the public local inquiry, which will be into the details of the scheme. The hon. Member asked me about the terms of reference. These are not yet decided, but of course Her Majesty's Government have satisfied themselves on two points of policy—first, that there must be an alternate; second, that the alternate should be at Gatwick—so the inquiry is bound to be limited to hearing and reporting representations as to the effect of the proposal on local interests. From experience, I would say that many of these inquiries have yielded useful, helpful results.

As to Northolt, it is proposed to surrender the airport for civil flying, we hope between 1955 and 1956, when it will revert to the Air Force, who have assured us that any flying there will be subordinate to the civil needs of London Airport.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Can my right hon. Friend say at this stage what is the revised estimate for the new Gatwick scheme, and what economies have been effected as a result of this revision?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

We have made some economies. I think it is true to say that the first stage of the scheme, which may be all that will be necessary—time alone will show—will be about £6 million.

Mr. Rankin

May I thank the Minister for the announcement which he has just made about Prestwick Airport? May I ask him if he will assure us that there will be no conflict between Gatwick and Prestwick, but that Prestwick will still remain the international airport for Great Britain second only to London Airport, not only in name but also in fact?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I can certainly assure the hon. Member on that. These airports are for different purposes.

Sir G. Touche

Can the Minister say how many houses are likely to be demolished in this hitherto charming residential area, and whether any compensation will be given to other residents whose homes will be made extremely uncomfortable?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I regret that any development of this kind is bound to involve individual hardship, but, based on our estimates, in the case of the southern runway, which is the first to be built, about 50 or 60 houses will have to be demolished. As to compensation, we are bound by the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919, and it would be unwise for me to make any general comment.

Mr. Woodburn

As there have been several plans regarding the readjustment of the runways at Prestwick, will the White Paper give particulars of which plan has been adopted in respect of Prestwick? Will that require revision of the road plans or any serious alterations to the original scheme?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The White Paper is limited to the problem of the London airports. I shall seek an early opportunity to convey to the House further details about the Prestwick proposal.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Does my right hon. Friend think it will be possible to make a statement before the House rises on the further development of Prestwick? Will he be able to inform us what the cost will be of these new extensions, and will it be possible to speed them up a little, as the date he gave for the conclusion of this work seems to be rather deferred?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I will certainly consider how best I can give further information.

Sir T. Moore

On a point of order. As Prestwick is in my constituency——

Mr. Speaker

A number of hon. Members are interested in this matter.

Sir T. Moore rose——

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. and gallant Member will only have a little patience I might call him.

Mr. Usborne

May I ask the Minister of Transport whether the money which his Department is proposing to spend on straightening the road at Gatwick will prejudice the allocation of the sum which we want for the Digbeth and Deritend scheme?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I can assure the hon. Member that it has nothing to do with that at all.

Mr. Speaker

Sir Thomas Moore.

Mr. J. Hudson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I take it, as you have acceded to the request of the hon. and gallant Gentleman because his constituency is concerned, that as my constituency has Northolt on the edge of it you will hear a supplementary question from me first?

Mr. Speaker

The answer to the hon. Member's query is in the negative.

Sir T. Moore

I trust, Sir, you will accept my apology for being premature but, as perhaps you are aware, Prestwick is very near to my interest—and my heart. I would ask my right hon. Friend if he will accept the grateful thanks of the people of Scotland for implementing the promise he made a year ago.