HC Deb 10 March 1965 vol 708 cc413-9
The Minister of Aviation (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

With permission, I will make a statement about the Government's proposals for alleviating the disturbance from aircraft noise.

After reviewing the measures currently being taken, we have come to the conclusion that some further assistance should be offered to residents in the vicinity of Heathrow. The volume of traffic, particularly jet traffic, at Heathrow is far greater than at any other aerodrome in this country and is bound to increase. We have, therefore, decided to accept the principle of the recommendation, made in the report of Sir Alan Wilson's Committee on Noise, about the soundproofing of rooms in private dwellings.

Grants of 50 per cent. subject to a maximum of £100, of the cost of soundproofing up to three rooms will be made available to householders in a defined area round Heathrow for work carried out with prior approval and to an approved design. The work must be completed by 31st December, 1970, when the scheme will come to an end. These grants will be payable in respect of soundproofing of existing private dwellings and those completed by 1st January, 1966, and will be confined to owners or residents in the defined areas on that date.

The area will comprise the Staines and Stanwell wards in Staines Urban District; Langley ward in the Borough of Slough; the parishes of Horton, Datchet and Wraysbury and part of the parish of Iver in Eton rural district; East Bedfont, Feltham North, Hounslow West, Hounslow Central, Hounslow South, Hounslow Heath, Cranford, Heston West, Heston East, Spring Grove and Isleworth South wards in the London Borough of Hounslow; and South ward and part of Hayes ward in the London Borough of Hillingdon. The area will be subject to review in the light of any changes in ward or parish boundaries before 1st January, 1966.

The Government consider that the cost of these grants should fall on those whose activities cause the disturbance, or those who benefit from such activities. We intend, therefore, to introduce an Amendment to the Airports Authority Bill at present before Parliament to enable these grants to be paid by the British Airports Authority under a detailed scheme which will be published by Statutory Instrument. It will be for the Authority to determine whether, and, if so, how, their revenues need to be increased to meet the cost of these grants. Local authorities around Heathrow will be asked to help the Airports Authority in administering the scheme.

The Government accept the view of the Wilson Committee that the amount of aircraft noise around Heathrow is unique in this country, and that a similar arrangement for the payment of grants in respect of the soundproofing of private dwellings is not required in the vicinity of any other airport.

Mr. Maude

It is gratifying to see the Government attempting to carry out at least some of the Prime Minister's election pledges, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this proposal raises two rather difficult problems? First, there is the question of cost. He did not tell us how much this would cost by way of grant, in all. Is he aware that the charges at London Airport are already the highest in the world, and that if this proposal is to result in the charge there being substantially raised we may find ourselves losing business to other terminals?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how the Amendment to the Bill is likely to work out from the point of view of enabling those whose areas are omitted from the Schedule to raise the question? If this proposal is introduced in another place, and then comes back to us in a Bill which has already left the House of Commons, the Amendment must be either phrased in general terms, to prevent the Bill becoming a hybrid Measure, or the Minister will have to reintroduce it into this House.

Finally, many hon. Members will wish to debate the question of the areas chosen for the allocation of grant. How can this be achieved?

Mr. Jenkins

On the question of this proposal fulfilling the indications of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, what my right hon. Friend said was that we would deal with this problem sympathetically and energetically. We have done so. We have accepted the Report of Sir Alan Wilson's Committee, which the previous Government rejected.

On the question of cost, on what we would regard as a realistic estimate—namely, that 40 per cent. of householders will choose to participate in the scheme—the cost will be £2½ million, and the annual cost of this to the Airports Authority will be £220,000. We regard that as manageable.

As for the method of procedure, we would propose to introduce a general Amendment in the Lords, which can be raised when the Bill comes back here, and to introduce the detailed scheme, including the areas interested, by Statutory Instrument.

Mr. Hunter

My right hon. Friend has already shown sympathy for the residents around London Airport by reducing the number of night flights, which the previous Government also refused to do. His statement today confirms the sympathy of the Government for those residents who suffer through aircraft noise, especially at night. I shall be grateful if my right hon. Friend will give sympathetic consideration to the case of old or sick people who are unable to make any financial contribution towards the soundproofing of their dwellings.

Mr. Jenkins

I am aware of the great interest which my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) has taken in this difficult question. He had a Question down on this subject today. I will consider sympathetically the point that he has raised, but the Government accept the recommendation of Sir Alan Wilson's Committee that it is desirable that although we should proceed by means of a substantial contribution the householder should also make a contribution.

Mr. A. Royle

Is the Minister aware that his decision will please the people living round London Airport? I congratulate his Parliamentary Secretary on the hard work that I know he has done on this problem, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has completely ignored the sufferings of the people who live under the glide path into London Airport?

As his Department is well aware, and has admitted on many occasions, people living in Richmond and Barnes are suffering severely. Will he extend his present arrangements to cover the soundproofing of houses throughout the area of Barnes and Richmond?

Mr. Jenkins

I am very glad that the hon. Member for Richmond (Mr. A. Royle) mentioned the Parliamentary Secretary, who has paid particular attention to this problem. I believe that the solution that I have announced will go a good way towards alleviating the problem for those living within the 55 Noise Number Index contour. That was the area picked out by the Wilson Committee. I hope that I will not be pressed to extend the area, because if that were done we would quickly get into a position in which we could not do anything without doing everything—and that is a recipe for doing nothing.

Mr. Rankin

I agree completely with my right hon. Friend that the totality of noise at London Airport is greater than at any other airport in Britain, but would he agree that the intensity of noise from a jet is just as great at Prestwick Airport as at London? In view of the fact that considerable discomfort is caused to householders as Prestwick and Troon because of jet noise, will my right hon. Friend say whether he would keep the position of Prestwick in mind in view of its expected development there so that, if necessary, something may be done to help the residents?

Mr. Jenkins

Having had the pleasure yesterday of visiting Prestwick Airport I have had strong representations made to me to increase the number of jet movements into and out of Prestwick, which I am considering very sympathetically. I must say to the House that however sympathetically I consider them I do not think it likely that in the near future the problem there will approach that at London Airport.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the implementation of this proposal in the Wilson Committee's Report will bring great relief to those in the southern villages of South Bucks which he has mentioned, as in many other areas? Will he also bear in mind that this will not solve their problem, but will alleviate only one aspect of it? Will he please carry on most energetically in his Department the excellent work which I know has been carried on there for many years in tackling this problem at its source, and in all its aspects?

Mr. Jenkins

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his question. We do not regard this important practical advance as having solved the problem of aircraft noise. We shall continue to endeavour to deal with it, so far as possible, at source.

Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question about areas? This is a difficult problem. I know that he has to draw the line somewhere. He properly mentioned Slough and Datchet. May I ask for what reason Windsor has been excluded, as it is as close as the others and the noise is just as great?

Mr. Jenkins

It was excluded because it was outside the 55 N.N.I. chosen by the Wilson Committee, which went into this matter very thoroughly and reported that this was the best practical limit to set.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he has not included part of the Borough of Twickenham? Is this a punishment to the hon. Member for Twickenham for "needling" the Prime Minister on this very point after the last election? Will the Minister bear in mind that the wards at Whitton and Heathfield, particularly, are very near to the airport, and are just as much affected as those of Hounslow, Cranford, and others?

Mr. Jenkins

I was, of course, very much aware that in bringing forward any scheme of this sort I should be bound to open myself to "needling" not only from the hon. Member, but many other hon. Members, about the problem on the margins. None the less, I thought it worth while to go ahead with the scheme by sticking to the delimitation brought forward by the Committee.

Mr. Marten

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that soundproofing is one part of the problem and that the other part of the problem for the householder is air conditioning? Will it be possible to spend the grant on air conditioning?

Are the Government prepared to devote some resources to dealing with the fundamental source of the noise, by quietening jets?

Mr. Jenkins

I dealt with the latter part of the question in my reply to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), when I assured the House that we do not regard this as solving the problem, but as a means of alleviation.

On the question of air conditioning I understand that a ventilating unit is part of the soundproofing scheme which we expect to be used.

Mr. David Price

May I ask a question about a procedural point? Under the arrangements about which the right hon. Gentleman has told the House there will not be an opportunity for hon. Members to put questions or discuss the districts included or excluded from the plan, if it comes up in the form of a Statutory Instrument which is not amenable to amendment. Will the Minister take this into consideration and provide an opportunity, if the House wishes, to amend the list of parishes?

Mr. Jenkins

No, Sir. In the Bill a general Amendment will be laid. I think that it would be inappropriate in the Bill to deal only with London Airport and not the other three airports whose noise generation was lower than the 55 N.N.I. of London Airport which is dealt with under the Bill. Details of the scheme will be brought forward by Statutory Instrument and no doubt matters about the limits could be raised.

Mr. Ogden

Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that no matter what he does he will not completely satisfy the House? Will he comment on the time limit of 1970, bearing in mind that those who purchase property in the area after that time may be at a financial disadvantage if the property purchased has not been developed in this way?

Mr. Jenkins

I should certainly beat in mind that anything I, or any other Minister do, is not likely entirely to satisfy the House.

On the point made about the period till 1970, I would expect by that stage that a prospective purchaser buying property in the area would do so with his eyes—or should I say his ears—open, and, to that extent, would know what he was doing. I should expect a certain amount of price differential to develop between houses which had been soundproofed under the scheme and houses which had not.

Mr. A. Royle

In view of the refusal of the Minister to extend the limit to Richmond and Barnes, I wish to give notice that I shall endeavour to raise the matter on the Adjournment.