HC Deb 12 May 1967 vol 746 cc1867-75

11.4 a.m.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Douglas Jay)

The Government, after very careful consideration, have decided that Stansted, Essex, should be developed as the third London airport.

The inspector who conducted the Public Inquiry into this question did not feel able to recommend either that Stansted should be developed or that other sites were more suitable for this purpose. He suggested that the matter needed further study. The Government have, therefore, carried out a very thorough re-examination, and are satisfied not only that a third airport for London will unquestionably be required in the mid-1970s but that Stansted, though by no means ideal, is clearly the best site for it.

This re-examination has, necessarily, taken some time. While we regret this, I am sure it is right that in a matter of this importance a decision should not be taken without the most thorough and careful study.

Together with the inspector's Report, a White Paper has today been presented to the House. This examines the need for a third London airport, and the various alternative sites which have been proposed, and sets out fully the Government's reasons for their decision in favour of Stansted. A Special Development Order, under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, authorising the British Airports Authority to develop Stansted as a major London airport, will shortly be laid before the House. I shall discuss with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House whether, if the House so wishes, a debate can be held at which both the Special Development Order and the White Paper could be considered.

Mr. R. Carr

I assure the President of the Board of Trade that we on this side fully accept that there must be adequate airport facilities in this country to allow Britain to participate to the full in the extraordinarily rapid-growing business of air transport. But, having said that, we shall, as he will understand, wish to consider carefully the White Paper and the arguments in it before expressing any view on his recommendation. At this stage, I have three questions to put.

First, what was the nature of the thorough examination which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned? Was it just an examination of London's airport problems, or was it an examination of the whole national policy for airport development in this country, which we believe is required?

Second, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that everything possible will be done, whether the airport is at Stansted or anywhere else, to reduce the undoubted menace and social impact of these necessary but nevertheless unpleasant concomitants of the modern age?

Third, while we welcome what the right hon. Gentleman says about the possibility of a debate, we wish him to know that we consider that proper discussion of this matter will be necessary.

Mr. Jay

I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the need for a major airport in the developing conditions of civil aviation. As to the examination which we carried out, we decided to investigate thoroughly all the alternative possible sites for an airport serving, broadly, London and the southeast of England, because examination of the facts showed that, whatever else was done in the rest of the country, some such airport was necessary. We examined these alternatives from the point of view of safety, of noise, of convenience, of transport, of air traffic control, and also of defence, which is directly concerned with the air traffic control aspects of the problem. The matter has been examined by all the relevant Departments, so that we can confidently say that we have looked at all the considerations and examined all practical sites.

As to the social impact, I agree that a modern airport has great effects in matters of noise, housing and many other issues of that kind. The right hon. Gentleman will see from the White Paper that these have already been pretty exhaustively considered, and, from the point of view of noise, the nuisance which may be caused at Stansted will be far less than at Heathrow and not far different from what it would have been with the other alternatives. We shall do our best to minimise it.

I would myself welcome a debate, though formally it is for my right hon. Friend and for consultation through the usual channels to decide if and when it is held.

Mr. Kirk

This decision will be received with deep resentment and bitterness in my constituency and in North Essex generally. People are not convinced that it is necessary, and they feel that the weight of informed opinion is against it. However, this is a matter for debate, and at this stage I put two questions to the right hon. Gentleman.

First, what plans has the right hon. Gentleman for compensation for those many people in the area, tenant farmers in particular, who will lose their whole livelihood? Second, is he considering any restrictions on the development of this airport in the future?

Mr. Jay

I realise that there will be regret in the neighbourhood, but I am afraid that it is inescapable that, wherever a major airport is placed, there will be disturbance to some of those who live and work in the neighbourhood. The compensation will be arranged through the normal procedure of compulsory purchase which will be necessary in this case. I believe that the hon. Gentleman's last question was about a debate——

Mr. Kirk

It was about any possible restrictions on future development of the airport.

Mr. Jay

In the first instance, the purpose will be to build an airport of two runways. One of the advantages of Stansted is that eventually, but much later, extension will be possible there, though it would be more difficult elsewhere. But up until about 1974 the proposal is to develop a major airport with two main runways.

Mr. Newens

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the depths of dismay which will be felt by many of the residents of West Essex, particularly the people who live in Harlow New Town in my constituency? Is he aware of the stupidity and short-sightedness of siting London's third airport in this area where so many other projects are in view which will use up undeveloped ground, and will he assure the House that the matter will still be thoroughly reconsidered?

Mr. Jay

I think that when my hon. Friend has studied the White Paper he will change his mind, because he will see that from all points of view this is undoubtedly the best alternative, though I do not pretend for a moment that it may not cause local disturbance. We have examined this very thoroughly, and that is why we have taken 9 or 10 months over it. I must tell my hon. Friend honestly that I do not think that further examination would bring further facts to light.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Although we have not yet had time fully to study the White Paper, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we cannot accept that this is the best site from all points of view? Is he aware that the anguish which has been expressed on behalf of their constituents by hon. Members on both sides of the House is also fully shared in my part of Essex? I have two specific points. First, if this plan goes through, is the further development of the airport correlated with the construction of the M11? Secondly, could we have some idea of the timing?

Mr. Jay

Yes, Sir. The development of the airport will be correlated with the development of the M11, and a link will of course be necessary to enable the road traffic to connect with the M11. As I said, the immediate plan for development will be up to the year 1974. Any eventual development would probably come a good deal later. I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to accept the plan before he has studied the White Paper. That is precisely why we are publishing it now so that it can be thoroughly examined before any debate.

Mr. Boston

Does my right hon. Friend accept that Stansted was inevitable if the speediest possible relief were to be given to meet urgent needs? I think also that this will undoubtedly bring a great deal of relief to thousands of people in East Kent, and particularly on the Isle of Sheppey. Could my right hon. Friend say whether this also now means that we shall have time for a thorough look at the very much longer-term airport-siting policy, including further examination of imaginative schemes like the Goodwins and Foulness mud flats?

Mr. Jay

We certainly mean to continue examining these further long-term aspects. What my hon. Friend says shows that wherever the airport was placed there would naturally and understandably have been local objections.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Would the right hon. Gentleman accept that, whatever the technical considerations involved, and whatever advantages may accrue from this, it raises great human problems in the context of the well-being of those who live nearby? Would he give two undertakings on behalf of the Government? First, will he undertake that in the siting of the runways and the subsequent layout, conduct and operation of the airport everything will be done to reduce to an inescapable minimum the impact of noise on the residents of Bishop's Stortford, Sawbridgeworth and the villages adjacent thereto? Secondly, could he now put into operation as a matter of urgency the suggestion that I made as long ago as January, 1966, to amend the law on compensation so as to give compensation, where the law now provides none, for depreciation in the value of houses and properties due to the construction of airports and major motorways?

Mr. Jay

I shall certainly consider the latter point in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is more directly responsible. I certainly give the other assurance for which the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked that we shall do everything possible to minimise disturbance caused. Probably rather fewer people will be directly affected by noise here than in quite a number of the alternatives, and the total noise effect as it is now conventionally measured will not be more than about one-twentieth of that at Heathrow. We are also, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, tackling the noise problem in other ways, for instance, by certification of future aircraft. I fully agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that noise must be kept to the minimum.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am trying to call those hon. Members with constituency interests.

Mr. Atkinson

Will my right hon. Friend say why it was necessary to consult the N.A.T.O. authorities about the siting of the airport? Does he think it right that the military authorities, particularly the Defence Department, should have over-ruled the civil planning authorities when the earlier discussions took place about the site?

Mr. Jay

It is not correct that the military authorities, whoever my hon. Friend means, over-ruled the civil authorities. I naturally consulted in great detail my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, because there is a very large number of military flights weekly, and indeed daily, in this country as well as civil flights, and a very intricate pattern of air traffic control is involved. It would have been extremely foolish to take this decision without allowing for those considerations. The pattern of military airfields in this country, for which the previous Government were really more responsible than the present Government, has to a great extent limited our choice.

Mr. Atkinson

What about N.A.T.O.?

Mr. Jay

Any consultations with N.A.T.O. will naturally have been conducted by my right hon. Friend rather than myself.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Aside from the irretrievable loss to farming and the countryside, is not this a classic example of putting the convenience of aeroplanes before the well-being of people and sacrificing the long-term interests of the nation to a short-term palliative to the Airports Authority? How can it possibly be justified to have three separate airports for London each on completely different sites and at long distances from it? How can that make sense in the 1970s and 1980s?

Mr. Jay

Paris, Moscow and New York are all doing the same thing, and they, apparently, consider that it makes sense there. I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a conflict of interests here between civil aviation and those who live in the neighbourhood of an airport, but I do not agree with him that this is sacrificing the long term to the short term. The fact is that if this nation is to hold the same place in civil aviation in the future, which is highly important from the point of view of earning and saving foreign exchange, as we have held with shipping in the past, we must undoubtedly have as good a modern, developed set of airports as our major competitors, and that we are determined to have.

Mr. Ford

Would my right hon. Friend accept my assurance, as a former member of the Essex county planning authority, that many people in Essex will welcome his statement, which some of us consider to be long overdue, as providing a new dynamic in that area? Would he also agree that the statement is not before time as B.E.A., B.O.A.C. and the Airports Authority require it in order to complete the vitally needed planning for future years?

Mr. Jay

I am very glad that my statement is welcomed even by some people in Essex. I also agree with my hon. Friend that it was absolutely essential to take this decision now. All sorts of delays would have been caused if we had waited any longer.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that for the convenience of passengers, many of whom want to change to different airlines—being in transit—for the efficiency of the airlines, and for the burden on the taxpayer, the smaller the number of airports which serve a great metropolis like London the better? Is he satisfied that enough money is being spent not on concrete and forming a new centre of annoyance and noise but on more sophisticated navigational aids and air traffic control procedures which would allow us to compress the traffic of existing airports and thus make better use of them? The right hon. Gentleman will know that the load carried by New York and Chicago Airports is already more than double that carried by Heathrow and Gatwick.

Mr. Jay

Yes, we intend to use all the devices to which the hon. Gentleman has referred and on which I know he is very expert. I agree that the fewer major airports there are the better, but the fact is that Heathrow and Gatwick cannot be extended beyond certain limits, to which we intend to extend them before Stansted is brought fully into use. Apart from them, it is essential to have a third airport. Several other major cities in the world have been forced to the same conclusion.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

It is very simple for those of us with constituencies in the west of London to welcome this unreservedly on the basis that any form of relief is to be welcomed. But on further consideration, after we have read the Report, it may be that we shall come to the conclusion that, while this relief is to be welcomed, there is no long-term answer to the problem except tackling the problem of aircraft noise. If my right hon. Friend agrees with that statement, will he read the Amendment that I am proposing to my Aircraft Noise Bill——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I suspected that that was coming.

Mr. Jay

I shall await my hon. Friend's conclusions with interest. I assure him that I read all his statements on this subject that I have time for.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

The right hon. Gentleman has said that the fewer airports we have in the London area the better. We are now up to three. He mentioned at the same time that the Government were examining long-term projects. We have been in the era of air transport for 20-odd years since the war. Could he tell us whether the Government have clear views as to what the long-term projects are before we find that we are discussing the fourth and fifth airports?

Mr. Jay

Stansted, with the long-term extensions, should meet the needs of civil aviation in London and the South-East well into the 'eighties. The subsequent problem therefore does not arise until 1980. We are already examining it, but there is plenty of time to reach the right conclusions.

Mr. Rankin

Now that we are to have three airports in the London area, has my right hon. Friend given any thought to rationalisation of air traffic whereby transcontinental services would be concentrated at Stansted and European and internal services would be allocated between Gatwick and Heathrow?

Mr. Jay

It is not as simple as that. Many people wish to interchange between long-distance and internal services. However, one of the benefits of taking the decision is that the best solution to this complex problem can be worked out by the airlines and the British Airports Authority.

Mr. Lipton

Why are the Government still concentrating on this piecemeal, patchwork solution to London's airport problems? The 'eighties will soon be with us. Is it not creating a situation in which London will be pretty well deluged with a criss-cross pattern of air flights, as a result of which the whole of London will be subject to noise and inconvenience and all the troubles that arise therefrom?

Mr. Jay

I note that my hon. Friend always looks a long way ahead. We do our best to keep up with him. We have examined this not just in a patchwork spirit. We took a number of months over it in order to examine all the possible alternatives which might contribute to the solution. I think that was right. The next stage is to examine the longer term in the same way.

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