HC Deb 22 December 1965 vol 722 cc2174-87

2.59 p.m.

Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)

There is strong and growing local resentment against the increasing noise from jet aircraft, especially those at night, operating from Gatwick Airport. I have received a steady stream of letters from tired, worried people complaining of nights broken by this shattering noise. My sympathies are with them. Every council, from the parish to the county, has protested.

We all realise that we must accept that jet air travel and night flights will increase greatly over the next few years. It has been said that most people are against night jet flights until they themselves want to get cheap fares to have their holidays abroad. What we must do is to learn to control the unacceptable side effects of this new and popular mobility. This will involve action at three levels, international, national and local.

Last summer, because of protests in that region, there was a major switch of night flights from Heathrow to Gatwick. These were included in this year's total of 900 night movements at Gatwick between 11.30 in the evening and six the next morning. Next spring, more night flights are to be switched to Gatwick and the total may well approach half the Heathrow limit which the Minister of Aviation has now fixed at 3,500 night flights for the year.

No long-term solution to control noise at its source—that is, in the jet engines—is yet in prospect. I should like the Minister to consider whether the total annual effort in research into the reduction of jet engine noise, estimated at about £500,000, is enough.

We welcome the initiative taken by Sir Anthony Millward, head of B.E.A., in requiring that any future planes supplied to B.E.A. shall be quieter. Let B.U.A. and other lines please follow suit.

Another long-term solution, of course, would be to establish for London a new international airport which would allow the approach and take-off routes to be over the sea, and to concentrate night jet flights at such an airport. This is the long-term solution which petitioners from the area of Gatwick will be seeking. Perhaps the Minister will say how far this possibility has been examined.

However, apart from such radical solutions, there are important paliative measures which can be taken. At Heathrow B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. have achieved good results in control of the noise of jet aircraft on the ground by the use of "Cullum" mufflers which diffuse the noise and project it upwards. I know that such apparatus is expensive. However, under Section 41 of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949, the Minister is our protector from aircraft noise, and I ask him to ensure that the most modern and effective mufflers are used by the airlines operating at Gatwick.

The Minister has, as I have said, a special responsibility for controlling noise at the airports to an acceptable level. For the public is debarred by law from suing airlines and airport authorities in connection with noise from aircraft.

I know that the Minister is trying to secure international agreement for acceptable noise levels at London's airports. On 17th May, in answer to my Question, the Parliamentary Secretary said: Night jet movements at Gatwick will, in due course, have to be controlled, as they are at Heathrow, but I do not think any such action is called for at present."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1965; Vol. 712, c. 173.] The situation, as I hope the Minister will recognise, has somewhat changed. In view of the increase of night jet flights last summer and the prospect of greatly increased numbers next summer and after, I ask the Minister for an undertaking that he will now set in train the work required for imposing controls at Gatwick next summer; for arranging for silent periods during the night, if that is practicable; and for reviewing air traffic control arrangements to ensure that permitted routes and rates of climb and the location of stacking areas are designed to cause the least possible disturbance to the people living in the region affected.

We have every confidence in the determination of the management and staff at Gatwick Airport to do all in their power to protect residents of the region from avoidable noise. They have been most helpful in the discussions which we have had with them. We know also that the pilots have a good record for compliance with the conditions laid down in the interests of noise abatement in the area. We ask them, within their overriding responsibility for the safety of their aircraft, to do all in their power to help the community with this problem.

There are two other measures which I would like the Minister to take to help those seriously affected by noise from Gatwick. The first is to make grants for protecting houses—double windows and that sort of measure—just as he does for those who are badly affected by Heathrow. Secondly, I ask him to secure a reduction of rates in those areas where the peace of living has been grossly invaded by aircraft noise and a reimbursement of local authorities by the Exchequer.

There are many other matters which will be covered by hon. Members from neighbouring constituencies who wish to speak. I hope that the Minister will be able to outline some of the steps which he is taking to control this growing disturbance of the peace. In the Gatwick area public resentment is increasing. The Minister has a duty, as I know he recognises, to safeguard the public in this and other areas which are suffering from this peace-shattering din.

3.7 p.m.

Sir John Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)

Although Gatwick lies in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair), I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary realises that other constituencies, including my own, are particularly affected. Both the way in and the way out lie over my constituency and privately I wager my hon. Friend that on the whole I have more constituents affected than he has. We have common ground in seeking to do everything which can be done to mitigate the noise from Gatwick. In addition, perhaps I can say that I live within four miles of Gatwick and I therefore have some knowledge of what is involved.

Of the four hon. Members on this side of the House whose constituencies are affected, I am the only one who remembers when the original project to enlarge Gatwick was made. The then Minister of Transport, now Lord Boyd of Merton, addressed a meeting of protesting and very angry residents. At that time the project was that Gatwick should be developed as an alternative to Heathrow when fog prevailed and there was no question at that time of its becoming a great international airport, rivalling Heathrow in size, traffic and noise. We can all understand the grievance of the old residents who have seen their amenities destroyed and their way of life so drastically changed. I am sometimes astonished at the moderation of view expressed.

I had few complaints about Gatwick until the advent of the VC.10, but there is now a considerable variety of complaints from those who are directly affected. Everyone who is affected is particularly anxious that there should be a diminution of the number of night flights and we hope to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary what he can do in that direction. I very much welcome the cooperative attitude of the management of the airport. May I also thank the Parliamentary Secretary for dealing with some of the very angry letters which I have had to send on to him? I am also very proud of the fact that Mr. Peter Masefield is a constituent of mine, who lives very near to Gatwick and has, therefore, some idea of the problem.

The point I want to raise today is to do with the Gatwick Airport Consultative Committee. This Committee has done a very good job, and anything I have to say is in no way a reflection upon its members. I ought to point out that not all of them are directly affected by Gatwick and cannot speak with the same personal experience of those involved. One member lives at Brighton, another at Godalming and another at Egham. It is generally felt in the neighbourhood that the Committee should be more local and serve as a forum for the day-to-day complaints, grievances and opinions of the local inhabitants when there are transgressions of the normal traffic routes.

There is also some very uneven representation. For example, there are two representatives from Charlwood Parish Council, in which Gatwick lies, but there are none from the parish councils of Burstow, Horne, Felbridge and Lingfield, all directly in the flight path. I would like to suggest that the terms of reference of the Committee need revising. The fourth term of reference reads: To stimulate the interests of the local population in the achievements of the airport". I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that my constituents need no stimulants. What they need are sedatives, because of the troubles caused by the aircraft. I suggest that this term of reference should be amended as follows: To consider the effects on the amenities of the local population. Finally, I would like to echo the pleas and the arguments of my hon. Friend in support of a silent period during the summer nights and for an extension of facilities for the protection against noise which has been given to residents in the area near to London Airport. I have put in double windows in the direction most affected and there has been an immense relief from the noise. Not everyone can afford to do this, and I hope that we shall have some help in that direction. We all realise that this is an appalling problem, and some suffering has unfortunately to be exacted for the common good. We look, and I know that we do not look in vain, to the Parliamentary Secretary for some thoughts and indications of the way in which his Department seek to mitigate this nuisance.

3.15 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

I would not like this opportunity to pass without congratulating the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) for raising this subject and upon the manner in which he has approached it. During the last year I have been conducting a long-term correspondence with the Minister and his right hon. Friends on the subject of aircraft noise connected with Heathrow Airport. It may conceivably be that our efforts in that direction have contributed, in some degree, to the dispersal which has taken place. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's approach because he has recognised that if all of us approach this problem from the point of view of trying to get rid of noise from our own airports and dispersing it to other places, we shall not get very far.

The problem at Heathrow is acute in the extreme. There are 7,500 movements a month, which is a frightful amount. In July and August the frequency is in the region of ten an hour, day and night, and it begins to affect the nerves; people reach screaming point. For this reason we cannot, in our area, in any way mitigate our demand to get rid of the noise. Even though there has been some dispersal, it is still a fact that the frequency of aircraft travel is increasing so much that over Putney it is still going to rise by at least 10 per cent. per annum in spite of the dispersal which has taken place. This is something which we look at with very great disquiet. The only quarrel which I have with the hon. Gentleman is that he talked about the creation of an international airport on the coast as a long-term solution. I believe that it not to be looked at in that light. It is becoming a matter of such urgency we should look at this, not as a short-term solution, but as a mid-term solution.

We should not permit aircraft coming in from other countries, and continents, to cross over our country in order to dispose of their passengers. We shall have to recognise that there has to be some final means of transport provided from the airport. I believe that it is being suggested at the Stansted inquiry that Foulness might become a suitable airport on the coast. One thing which we must forbid is the use of jet aircraft on internal routes. I understand that British European Airways has set its face against the use of jet aircraft internally but I also understand that other operators are contemplating this. Once this happens life would be utterly impossible. Jet aircraft used internationally are bad enough, but if they were used internally the situation would be intolerable. The time saved by the use of jet aircraft on internal routes is so small as to be hardly worth while. If any of the airline operators was to decide to use such planes on internal routes, the consequence would be that other competitors would follow suit, purely for prestige reasons. The effect of this upon the citizens as a whole would be disastrous.

The project of an international airport on the coast is being considered, but it will take some considerable time before it could be put into effect. In the meanwhile one must say that in terms of the greatest nuisance to the greatest number, Heathrow scores over the others. The very large population living under the Heathrow glide path means that the number of people subjected to this nuisance is very much greater than the number of people subjected to it anywhere else. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind my saying that I think the argument with which he began his speech, that the problem was international, national and local is right. It cannot be solved by dispersal of noise from one place to another.

3.20 p.m.

Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) for raising this subject. The disturbance caused by aircraft noise in my constituency in Horsham, and in Crawley, is already intolerable and it appears likely to get much worse. I shall not burden the House with the number of complaints I have received. I need only say that my experience of living outside Horsham, and south of Crawley, in the Summer Recess was such that I can testify to the accuracy of even the most alarming accounts of the harm caused by this noise.

Crawley is on the borders of Gatwick and Horsham which is some miles from it, lies beneath one of the busiest trunk routes in the United Kingdom serving both Heathrow and Gatwick. I wrote to the Minister in October and received his reply dated 25th October, in which he said that he was carrying out an urgent examination of possible means of reducing aircraft noise. He added that it was not yet clear whether it was practicable to insist on reduced power settings over Horsham but that there were other possible steps which might be taken. That was two months ago. I therefore hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say whether a decision has been reached on the possibility of the reduction of power settings and, if not, to tell me what are the practical problems involved.

At the moment, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows, Horsham catches it both ways—from Heathrow and Gatwick—and the case for exceptional measures is very strong indeed. Unless something is done soon the lives of my constituents in Crawley and Horsham will become more and more intolerable. With all the extra diversions from Heathrow to Gatwick and the rapidly increasing level of traffic generally, it is incredible that nothing has been done to impose a limit of 102 perceived noise decibels, as is the case at Heathrow. The prospects are for further technical innovations. Short haul operators are already thinking in terms of a jet bus carrying 200 passengers, not to mention the Super VC 10. To power these aircraft 28,000 pounds of thrust will be required, about 10,000 pounds more than for the present Boeing 707. The noise likely to be caused by these aircraft is past all contemplation.

Something must be done to stop this situation getting out of hand. I concede that there is much to be said for improving standards of speed and comfort for airline passengers, but not, as is the case now, at the expense of the suffering of millions of people on the ground.

I was glad to see the comments of Mr. Milward, Chairman of B.E.A., in The Times of 19th October. He said: In their specifications for their new ultra short-haul jet aircraft, the air bus, they have stated that it must have a noise level of 90 p.n.d., about that of the Vanguard. This would mean a 10 per cent. reduction. It would be of the greatest assistance if the Ministry would support this or a lower level for aircraft operators in London at the proposed international conference on aircraft noise planned, I understand, for early next year.

Meanwhile, the Minister should prescribe a silent period during the night at Gatwick during which both incoming and outgoing aircraft should be prohibited except for emergency landings. He should allow disturbance allowances to be paid to residents by the Exchequer. He should fine those airline companies which break the regulations concerning height. Above all, he must treat this whole matter as one of urgency which can no longer be left as it is in the face of a great and growing nuisance.

3.24 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)

I, too, would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) on raising this matter. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to understand very clearly that the people who write in and make complaints, as people in my constituency have done, are not cranks. Indeed, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) is a constituent of mine and he suffers visitations from these planes almost daily as he lives close to the Ashdown Forest. However, he, like many others, realises that aircraft noise is a growing burden and nuisance.

Recently, a deputation of councillors from East Grinstead went to Gatwick. They were received very well and were most courteously treated, and they have had undertakings from the airport authorities that they will look into some of their complaints—for example, to try to prevent trainer aircraft from flying low over the town of East Grinstead; to institute radar checks on commercial flights coming into Gatwick; and to discover to what extent they are flying low, as some of them appear to be. They are supposed to come in at 2,000 ft. East Grinstead is 500 ft. above sea level. Therefore, aircraft fly over East Grinstead at about 1,500 ft. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will ensure that these checks are properly carried out.

I associate myself with the remarks which have been made about grants to help people to insulate houses and the possibility of having a silent period during the evening. There is one point which needs emphasising. Those of us who live in towns are accustomed to the background roar of traffic, and, although an aeroplane can be a confounded nuisance, it does not intrude itself on the aural senses as much as it does in rural areas. This is why there has been such a very strong reaction to the development about Gatwick. The aircraft using Gatwick fly over rural areas, and if we are to preserve that which is worth preserving in our countryside surely we should not, as we move close to the year 2,000, allow its serenity to be utterly destroyed.

The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) spoke about a mid-term solution and the possibility of having an airport near the coast. This is a matter which demands investigation now in the hope that in a few years it will be possible to choose a suitable site.

My constituents can be pardoned for their cynical reaction to a certain advertisement. I know that B.O.A.C. does not fly its aircraft in and out of Gatwick, but one of its advertisements is typical of those which are carried in the Press in this jet age. It states: B.O.A.C. cares about going places quietly", and there is a photograph of a V.C.10. We are told that the B.O.A.C. VC.10 is triumphantly swift, silent and serene. Its powerful Rolls Royce engines are at the back so all the noise gets left behind you". That produces a big horse laugh among my constituents when the jets take off from Gatwick. We are invited to join the B.O.A.C. VC.10 quietly going places". I am sure that many of my constituents would be very happy to join so that they were not left behind with the noise.

3.28 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation (Mr. John Stone-house)

The hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) has performed a valuable service in bringing this subject before the House for debate. I know that he and his hon. Friends are very concerned, on behalf of their constituents, about the amount of aircraft noise being produced at Gatwick. But, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, it is to be expected that the number of night jet flights will increase in years to come. It is only to be expected that as our airlines buy new aircraft they will want to put them to economic use, and that involves flying them at night as well as during the day. To relieve the congestion and the far more intensive noise problem at Heathrow we must expect that more of these flights will be transferred from Heathrow to Gatwick in the years to come. We hope to have the co-operation of the airlines in doing just that.

Therefore, I am afraid that I must acknowledge that the point which the hon. Member for Dorking made about the increase of night jet flights was absolutely correct and that in that respect I will not give him and his constituents very much comfort this afternoon. However, as he is aware, my right hon. Friend and my Department are very anxious indeed to minimise the disturbance caused by noise. It was for this reason that we took reserve powers in the Airports Authority Act to enable the Minister to control the noise. We have also enabled householders living around Heathrow to have soundproofing grants which will be paid by the British Airports Authority.

It is too early to suggest that these grants should be paid to householders round Gatwick, although I note the suggestion made in the debate. The noise problem at Gatwick is not nearly as serious as it is at Heathrow. If and when it reaches those proportions we will consider allowing the householders' soundproofing grant system to apply there as well.

It is true that air travel at Gatwick has been increasing in the last few years. This is something which we want to encourage because Gatwick is a very important investment. About £10 million is invested in it, and it is only proper that we should expect as a community a return on this investment. Gatwick has been showing a loss of about £l million a year and we hope that the transfer of more lines to Gatwick will help to eliminate this loss in years to come. This increased traffic will, however, mean more noise and I am afraid that a large increase in jet movements will be effected during the next few years.

We do, of course, respect the views of the local population around Gatwick Airport and we value the work of the consultative committee to which the right hon. Member for Reigate (Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan) referred. We will certainly consider the points made by the right hon. Gentleman about the terms of reference of the committee. My right hon. Friend is receiving a deputation from the committee next month and he will be considering several proposals which it is making, one of which is the suggestion, which has been raised in the debate today, that there should be a silent period during the night. I do not want to anticipate the points that might be raised by the deputation on that occasion and I hope that the House will understand if I do not give a decision on this question of a silent period during the night.

As to existing controls, all aircraft are required when both landing and taking off to follow routes which avoid as far as possible flying over the built-up parts of the country. We also persuade them to avoid flying unnecessarily low. In addition, jet aircraft taking off from Gatwick are required to use a climb-out procedure designed to keep disturbance to a minimum. We are now introducing noise monitoring arrangements at Gatwick. In themselves, these do not improve the position but they will enable us to have the facts on which to impose noise controls in the future. Although we cannot compare the situation at Gatwick to that at Heathrow, we are using the experience that we have already obtained at Heathrow to improve the possibilities of control at Gatwick.

I should like to refer to the important question of controlling noise on the ground. We are anxious that the airlines, particularly British United Airways, which is using jets at Gatwick, should use the most efficient mufflers to avoid producing too much noise on the ground. I am glad to say that B.U.A. has generally complied with the requirements that we have set down, but some modifications have been required for the mufflers which the company has been using for the B.A.C.111. Unfortunately, although we expected an improvement in this equipment by the end of this year, we have been set back considerably by the recent rains and it may be that this improvement will be delayed by two or three weeks. We are, however, hoping that there will be a considerable increase in the efficiency of this equipment which is used by B.U.A. at Gatwick.

Sir G. Sinclair

Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that the most modern mufflers are installed at Gatwick? My information is that B.U.A. is not doing this.

Mr. Stonehouse

We are hoping that the modifications which are being used for the improvement of this equipment will be as efficient as anything else in use, particularly at Heathrow.

The hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) raised the question of the serious noise problem around and about his constituency. We recognise his special problem and I am glad to be able to tell him that on 3rd January we are instituting a new experiment. The air traffic control procedures will be changed so that aircraft departing from Gatwick will now be directed to avoid Horsham. This also applies to aircraft coming over East Grinstead, where a similar control will be exercised. This is an experiment and no guarantees can be given that we can be in a position to adopt it over a long-term period. We will be calling for a report of these trials.

Mr. Hordern

Will that measure alone be taken, or can the hon. Gentleman say whether his other suggestion about power ratios will also be taken into account?

Mr. Stonehouse

That is still being considered.

Gatwick is one of the important London airports and it would clearly be wrong if the night movements were confined to Heathrow. At Heathrow, a limit of 3,500 movements between April and October during the hours from 11.30 p.m. to 6 a.m. has been imposed. Night jet movement at Gatwick last summer numbered about 900. We expect this number to be considerably increased at Gatwick in the summer of 1966. As I have said earlier, I cannot anticipate the result of the deputation which wil be received by the Minister in regard to the suggestion about a silent period during the night.

I fully recognise the importance of this subject to the constituents of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), who have contributed to this debate. As the hon. Member for Dorking said, this is an international problem. If we are to have a real solution to it, there must be action on an international scale. We must persuade the aircraft and aero-engine manufacturers to do their utmost to reduce noise at the source. My right hon. Friend and I are very hopeful that the international conference which is being called during the next few months will enable us to move some way in the direction of obtaining international co-operation to this end.

A few weeks ago, I was in the United States attending an airport convention and I was interested to realise that even in the United States, a country which has suffered from much more noise than most European States and where airline operation is in some ways more intensive than it is here, people are beginning to protest vigorously against aircraft noise and the airport authorities are beginning to do something about it. We were able on that occasion to exchange many useful ideas with them and we hope that the international conference to which I have referred will enable that co-operation to be continued still further.

I should like, in conclusion, to refer to a report which appears in the Evening Standard today concerning the activities of a member of the airport consultative committee at Gatwick which indicates that certain illegal action is being considered to draw attention to the problem at Gatwick.

I very much deprecate—as I am sure the House deprecates—such proposed illegal steps. They will not make any real contribution to the solution of the problem, and we hope that anyone who may be considering such steps will have second thoughts about them.