HC Deb 28 May 1971 vol 818 cc722-45

11.7 a.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for providing me with the opportunity to draw the attention of the Government to the anxieties of many thousands of people who will be affected by the decision to site the third London Airport at Foulness, to press for assurances in regard to the minimum safeguards that we consider necessary, and to ask for information about the method of consultation which they propose to use during the planning stage.

It should not be necessary for me to remind the Government that, since they rejected the Roskill Commission's recommendation of an inland and, incidentally, far less expensive site on environmental grounds, they have a clear duty to ensure that the people already living in South-East Essex and in North-East Kent, who will undoubtedly be affected adversely by aircraft noise, by the new access routes and by increased urbanisation, are disturbed to the minimum and that where such disturbance is unavoidable compensation is provided that is fair and seen to be so.

Indeed, when I recall the intensity of feeling expressed by many hon. Members as well as almost the whole of the national Press, about the impact of Roskill's recommendation on the people of Cublington and the villages in the Vale of Aylesbury, I feel entitled to ask the House to support me in ensuring that the Government translate this widespread concern for the environment into positive action as fair as my constituents are concerned. For they, too, are entitled to the protection of their environment and the quality of their lives. Moreover, decisions must not be long delayed if serious planning blight and all the hardship that that can cause to individuals is to be avoided.

In this I already have the valuable support of my hon. Friends the Members for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden), Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and Maldon (Mr. Brian Harrison). I am glad to see my hon. Friends the Members for Southend, East and Canterbury here in their places. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon would be here too but for the fact that Her Majesty is visiting his constituency today. He has asked me to say that he agrees wholly with the remarks that I am about to make.

Since the Foulness decision was taken I have been in close touch with the local authorities in South-East Essex, and we are, I am glad to say, in broad agreement about the safeguards that we require.

First, the airport site on the Maplin Sands which was considered and rejected by the Roskill Commission is not the one favoured by most of the local authorities which would prefer it to be further to the north-east. This is perfectly feasible and would have the effect of sharply reducing the impact of aircraft noise on hospitals, schools, and homes on both sides of the Thames Estuary. In any event, I must ask for an assurance that in no circumstances will any part of the runways be sited on Foulness Island itself.

Second, the main access routes to Foulness suggested to the Roskill Commission by the consultants to the Ministry of Transport and British Rail would slash through what will eventually be the heart of the new airport city. No doubt this was motivated by considerations of economy and speed of movement but it totally disregards the need to protect the environment and violates every principle of good planning. It would sterilise what ought to be the parks and amenity areas of a city which may have a population approaching a million by the end of the century. It would involve numerous crossing access routes if that population is not to be cut wholly in two. Above all, it would mean day and night noise and discomfort to all who have the misfortune to live along its flanks. I must make it plain that this is wholly unacceptable and will be strongly resisted.

Fortunately that point was well taken by Professor Buchanan in his Note of Dissent attached to the Roskill Report. In paragraph 48 he said that he saw: no good reason in principle why the airport roads should not pass north of whatever area is found to be needed for urbanisation in South Essex and in so doing mark the northern limit of development. Since there is already widespread apprehension on the part of property owners that this wise advice may not be heeded I ask my hon. Friend to make it plain that the access route will be to the north of the proposed urbanisation. In any event, it is essential that a statement on this is made as soon as possible to avoid any danger of planning blight.

The third safeguard concerns the kind of growth which may be foisted upon us. There are already over 300,000 people living in the relatively narrow South-East Essex peninsula, bounded by the Thames on the south and the Crouch on the north. Roskill estimated that when the third London airport reached full capacity it would employ 65,000 workers and the total additional population which could be expected would be in the region of 280,000. In short, our numbers will almost double with the development of the airport alone.

Here I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fundamental difference of view which has already appeared between the Essex County Council, as the planning authority, and the consortia which are eager to develop Foulness. While both the consortia and the County Council are agreed that a seaport should be built in addition to the airport, the former go much further and argue that heavy industry should be introduced, such as an ore treatment plant, a steelworks, oil refineries and the like, all at the eastern end of an narrow peninsula.

Clearly, if the developers were to have their way this would require still more population to be crammed into South-East Essex since a major communications problem would arise if the new workers were forced to live too far from their jobs. But overcrowding of this kind would inevitably worsen the amenities of the existing population, practically all of whom came to South-East Essex to escape from the noise, confusion and congestion of the big cities. Moreover, and this is an important consideration, such development would mean attracting additional workers from the heavy industrial areas of the Midlands and the North—a complete reversal of the sensible policies of regional development pursued under successive Governments.

Here again, Professor Buchanan saw the danger clearly. In paragraph 37 of his Note of Dissent he rejected development of this kind. In his view it was: an advantage of the Foulness site that its physical limitations would prevent an enormous growth that could prejudice the objectives which have been pursued for many years under the distribution of industry policy. I would put it more bluntly. The Government are under a duty to prevent overcrowding of a kind which could turn South-East Essex into an industrial slum by the end of the century. Today I ask for an explicit assurance from my hon. Friend that strict planning controls will be used from the outset to prevent this happening and that there will be a full public inquiry into whatever population densities are proposed.

Fourthly, so far too little attention has been paid, in my view, to the effect of any large-scale dredging of sands in the estuary, or alteration in the configuration of the coastline, upon tidal and surge behaviour in the Thames and the Crouch. It is easy for laymen to treat a matter of this kind lightly but in the terrible East Coast flood disaster of 1953 South-East Essex was the most severely affected area of all. Both Foulness and Canvey Islands were completely inundated. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East and I and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, who was not in the House at that time, remember vividly what that meant to our constituents at that time. We lost many lives. We in South-East Essex are, therefore, very sensitive on the question of protection from flooding.

It has even been suggested to me that once development on the Maplin Sands is under way the tidal flow in the Thames Estuary could be much more intense than that experienced in similar reclamation areas in Holland. We must insist that this question is fully investigated. In addition, the whole problem will have to be viewed in the light of any changes in tidal and surge behaviour which can be expected following the installation of the Thames Barrier. I must ask my hon. Friend for an assurance that before anyone is allowed to move a single ton of sand the Government—not those whose interests are to make money out of the development—will carry out a detailed study of the likely effects and the degree of protection against flooding that will be required, not only along the river banks but inland too, and then make their findings public.

Fifth, I come now to the most serious problem of all: the human problem. Once the airport starts to become operational in 1981, then living on Foulness Island will become impossible and a whole community will have to move. In practical terms, however, it will have to move well beforehand. This is bound to cause some distress and could cause serious hardship, the reason being that the islanders do not own their homes and farms; the Ministry of Defence is their landlord. Unless, therefore, special arrangements are made, compensation is likely to be inadequate and resettlement elsewhere difficult in the extreme.

This would certainly be the case with tenant farmers. The present basis for compensation is laid down in the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, and the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1968, and is an allowance of five years' rent at the current rate, of which four years, under the 1968 Act, is free of tax and is intended as an allowance for re-establishment elsewhere. Owing to the scarcity of farms to let, it is unlikely that any tenant farmer from Foulness could re-establish himself elsewhere unless he bought a farm, and that would, clearly, be out of the question on the basis of the compensation that the law at present provides. One way out of the difficulty would be to ensure that in the quite exceptional circumstances I have outlined the total compensation should be raised to 10 years' rent based on the existing rental value. I ask that this should be considered.

Then again, although small businessmen may claim in respect of the extinction of their businesses it is probable that on Foulness Island they have no long-term leases and their compensation would be limited even though they might lose their livelihood altogether. In the case of those engaged in cockle fishing and collecting whiteweed, their livelihood will be totally extinguished and there is no hope whatever of re-establishment elsewhere. Thought must be given to the best way of helping these people, and I hope to hear from my hon. Friend on that score.

As for other tenants, such as farm workers and pensioners, the local authority will undoubtedly provide alternative accommodation, and claims for the cost of removal would no doubt be met. But unless these people have had formal consent to the making of improvements to their homes, there is, I am advised, no legal basis for claims on that account.

I must emphasise that all these folk not only will be turned out of their homes and have their simple, rural way of life completely changed but will have to leave a place where their ancestors have lived for generations. Moreover, on present form there is no way of compensating them either for their increased rents they may have to pay for any accommodation offered to them or for any additional living expenses they may incur as a result of being uprooted from their island homes. For these people there must be an allowance—for the cost of re-establishment elsewhere in the case of businesses, and in the case of dwellings, for the value of any improvements they may have made.

For owner-occupiers on the mainland, westward from Foulness, there should be no difficulty when farms are acquired in their entirety for residential or industrial development. Here compensation would be paid at market rate and it should be possible for a farmer to compete on the open market for the purchase of another farm. On the other hand, an owner-occupier from whom a substantial amount of land is acquired for the purpose of road or rail construction is in a much less satisfactory situation.

There is no open commercial market for land taken for these purposes, and the compensation would normally be based on the agricultural value of the land acquired, plus a compensatory payment for the depreciation of the remainder of the land by reason of injurious affection or severance. Thus, compared with neighbours whose land is taken for urban development, a much lower scale of compensation, based only on the existing agricultural value, would be received by owners whose land is required only for road or rail construction. One can see at once the inequity of this situation in the peculiar circumstances that I have described and against a background of a development said to be in the national interest.

This is not the time or place to go into the need for amendment of the law on compensation. I would not be allowed to raise that matter in detail now. But I ask the Government to consider setting up an inquiry to ascertain in advance the best way of dealing with what will undoubtedly prove to be a difficult and unprecedented situation.

I turn now to the method which the Government will use to ensure that local interests are consulted from the outset, and also to the timetable they envisage. I suppose that it is almost certain that after 1st January, 1974, the whole of the area will come under the control of a single planning authority—the enlarged County of Essex—and that by that date the number of county district councils directly affected will have been sharply reduced. This is something I welcome since it should greatly facilitate development of the right kind.

But, unless I am very much mistaken, the broad strategic decisions about the location of the runways, the line of the access routes, and the places where new urban development will take place will have been made and the impact upon individual residents will have been assessed well before that date. Thus, in the crucial planning period immediately ahead the Government will have to deal with the existing local authorities. I should like to know exactly how my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State envisages the consultations will be conducted through the planning authorities and, I hope, the district councils, too.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry told the House on 26th April that the Foulness project: will present over the next decade a great opportunity for imaginative integrated development."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1971; Vol. 816, c. 36.] I agree. But whether that opportunity is developed to the best advantage will depend upon taking fully into account the considerations I have mentioned, in consulting at every stage not only the planning authorities but the county district councils as well, and in making sure that local amenity associations and public-spirited bodies such as the Action Committee against Foulness Airport are kept in the picture.

I would also expect to be consulted myself, which I am sure goes for my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East whose home is situated in the shadow of the proposed development, and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, both of whom have been vigorous champions of the interests of their constituents. I hope that everyone—Ministers and civil servants alike—will understand from the outset that a development of this kind is not an exercise on paper or a joy-ride for planners and developers but is concerned with, and should be designed for, human beings. I hope that I have made my point and that it will be taken.

Whether my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State can give all the detail which we require this morning remains to be seen, but I expect from him the fullest possible answer to my points at the earliest date. Since the Government have willed that the third London airport should, in the national interest, be established at Foulness, they must in all conscience ensure that those who are affected by that decision are treated with the utmost consideration and generosity.

11.27 a.m.

Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), within whose constituency Foulness is situated, naturally shows a fatherly interest in what is going on there. I show a grandfatherly interest in it because Foulness was in my constituency before it was in his. I am therefore as concerned as he is about this matter. I am grateful to him for deploying the case at some length because it saves me the necessity of troubling the House for too long. I support every word that he has said, and I am sure that he represents the view held by the great majority of people in the area. I sincerely hope that the most serious consideration will be given to his words.

I am particularly concerned because, as my hon. Friend pointed out, I live in the area over which the aeroplanes from the proposed airport will be flying. While the local people have apprehensions, they have no real idea of what is coming to them. In order to give them some idea, I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and suggested that perhaps a few Royal Air Force Phantoms could carry out simulated take-offs and landings over the proposed runway. With that engaging frankness for which my right hon. Friend is noted, he replied: Without dismissing the suggestion as impracticable, I do think that it would be dangerously misleading to those affected… I believe people would gain a better idea of an actual airport environment by visiting Heathrow or Gatwick. They could spend some time there perhaps in a spot located in relation to the airport similarly to their own homes in relation to Foulness". I believe that the people of Southend who take the trouble to visit Heathrow and Gatwick imagining that it will be quiet, peaceful and restful will have their illusions promptly and rapidly shattered.

For that reason, I support the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East for the siting of the runways as far to the north-east, on the Maplin Sands, as can be arranged. We do not want to hear excuses to the effect that this would cost a bit more. Expense has proved to be no obstacle in this exercise. The Roskill Commission took a long time going into the question of cost analysis and so on. All this splendid mathematical work has now been thrown out of the window. It has been decided that to put the runways near the coast will cost less trouble, never mind excuses about other costs.

Another question is that of the pollution which will occur. I do not know whether attention has been drawn to a recent statement by the Port of London Authority advising people not to bathe in the Thames in the area for which the authority is responsible. The area for which it is responsible runs from Teddington Lock to Foulness. I am quite sure that the P.L.A. did not mean anything of the kind. I think that what it really meant to say was that people should not bathe in certain stretches of the Thames between Teddington and Foulness. To put out a blanket statement like that is likely to give a false impression. I mention this only to ask the Minister whether consideration is being given to the possible further pollution of the Thames and the further pollution of other rivers in the area as a result of the building of the airport on this site and the bringing into the area of industrial enterprises and the possible construction of docks.

Has thought been given to the pollution which all that might conceivably cause, and to the destruction of the environment of the coastal resorts on both sides of the Thames, resorts which have proved such an admirable lung for the people of London, particularly in the East End of London, who have found these places useful for enjoying themselves without too much expense? I hope very much that consideration has been given to the environmental consequences in what is a comparatively narrow area, to the pollution that could possibly be caused by bringing into the area industrial undertakings which might further complicate the problem.

Finally, I say to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that I hope he will maintain the promise, which I am sure was given in all good faith by the Secretary of State, that it is his intention to maintain the closest possible consultation with those who are apprehensive as to what is to go on in the area. I am sure he realises that with the great, the vast undertaking which is envisaged in this creation of a third London airport, it is of the essence that he must take the resident population with him all the way along the line, having with them the maximum amount of consultation about what is proposed. So long as this is done it may be possible to play down some of the very real fears which undoubtedly exist, and which will continue and will grow if it is felt that local opinion is being ridden over roughshod, just as the Roskill Commission findings were thrown out of the window. We do not want the genuine fears and apprehensions of our constituents to be completely ignored in the formulation of the plans and the schemes. This may be a planners' delight, but it will seriously affect the lives and habits of the people in that part of the country.

11.33 a.m.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

Hon. Members have probably heard that I expressed myself as appalled when we learned of the decision to site the third London airport at Foulness. I should like to explain why I then said that I was appalled. I was appalled because the Roskill Commission had come out so strongly against the choice of this site; the British Airports Authority had come out so strongly against it; B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., the two nationalised airlines, equally said they were strongly against the siting of the airport at Foulness. They were against it on grounds of economic viability and on environmental grounds.

The people of Essex, represented so ably and strongly by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex South-East (Mr. Braine) and other hon. Members from Essex, also Kent County Council, and Members of Parliament for Kent, including my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), and the Sheppey Group, of which I am joint chairman—all these in Kent and Essex expressed grave concern at the pollution and the effect on the people living in the area, the effect on their everyday lives, the effect on their homes and on their work whether in factories or on farms.

Never at any time since I have been studying the whole problem of the third airport—and I have been looking at the problem for some four years now—have I in practice felt out and out opposition to the Foulness site should it be chosen, and I have repeatedly stated this, not only in the House but in public statements outside the House, and in broadcasts in which I have taken part on the radio and television. All I have sought to do in respect of the decision has been to protect the interests of my constituents and those other people living in North-East Kent, who number some 100,000, who will be adversely affected by aircraft flying from Foulness.

That is still my intention, and that is still the policy of the Sheppey Group, and it is the wish of all those people to whom I have been able to speak in my constiiuency and in Kent since the Government's decision was made known. They, too, expressed exactly the same concern as I did. They could not understand how this decision had been made because they felt that their point of view had not been heard and that they had been disregarded. I cannot stress too strongly just how deep this feeling is amongst the people living on the North-East Kent coast. They feel that because they are not in the main in the higher income brackets they have been regarded as having a slightly lower priority than the people living in the Vale of Aylesbury and around Cublington who were able to exercise a very strong campaign against an inland site there.

I merely make the point that they are very concerned, and they certainly hope that the Government will now look in their direction and take note of what the decision will mean to them if the airport is built at Foulness. There has been a growing strength of the membership and of the finance of the Sheppey Group since the Government's decision, albeit perhaps too late, but such is public opinion that it sometimes takes a long time to be aroused and to seek to fight from the last ditch. I want the views of these 100,000 people in North-East Kent to be taken into account by the Minister, and I want a real understanding by the Government of the effects which this airport will have on Kent.

I know that the Government cannot afford to overlook the problems they create as they build motorways and a new railway system as well as the airport itself. Of course, they have a great planning problem to consider; but they must not overlook the effect on the homes of the people there and all the disturbance to be caused by the building of roads and railways subsequently to be developed, and by the noise shadow from the great airport to be developed there.

Three weeks ago I travelled over Foulness. I stood on the sands, and on a clear day—and it was a clear day—the houses in North-East Kent could be distinctly seen. I was looking from the Maplin Sands across a distance of water of some 11 or 12 miles. It is significant that we are talking of an airport which will be the biggest in Britain, if not in Europe, and that the people now living11 or 12 miles away on the other side of the estuary in peace and pleasantness by the sea will be affected by that airport. They do not realise what life will be like in 10 years' time. We have to think about people being able to enjoy peace and quiet, and being able to work, whether at home, in the office, in the factory or in the field. We must also think of the children and the teachers in schools.

In a series of correspondence in The Times the Town Clerk of Windsor and many other residents of Windsor, which lies 12 miles from the runways at Heathrow, protested against the impossible situation during the day time when the flight paths from Heathrow were over Windsor. Children in schools could not hear their teachers, and it was impossible to enjoy life because of the noise of the thundering jets overhead.

We have here a great chance to show that we can combine economic progress with environmental progress. We have a chance to make a break-through in protecting our environment as we proceed with engineering, scientific and economic development. We have not thought about this sufficiently in the past, but here is our chance. I and the people whom I represent want to help the Government in this, and that is why the word which my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East used—"consultation"—is so important. If I and my two hon. Friends who have spoken this morning have done nothing else, I hope we have impressed on the Minister the need for consultation. I hope he will remember that his Department was created to protect our environment and it can only do so if it takes into account the personal problems of people.

This means full consultation with the Kent County Council, the Sheppey Group, local district councils and the Members of Parliament in the area of North-East Kent most concerned. I strongly support the suggestion made by my two colleagues this morning that the siting of the runways should be as far to the north-east as possible, so as to alleviate noise pollution in Kent.

I ask the Minister to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State for the Department of Trade and Industry that we should think also of the flight paths and the stacking areas. Can we be told as soon as possible about the planning of the stacking areas? I hope that the flight paths will be over the estuary and the sea, taking into account all the safety factors and the other air routes, including the defence air system. I have made a study of the stacking areas around Kennedy Airport in New York. They stretch many miles away from the airport, sometimes as far as 100 miles away. Some people in the South-East do not realise what may be their future lot with planes coming down to 5,000 feet and circling above—maybe 100 miles from Foulness. If stacking areas could be over the sea we should be much happier.

There should be a generous plan for compensation, grants towards double glazing, and further consideration of other help to mitigate against noise pollution. We in Kent will get no compensation by way of extra jobs. We get no economic fall-out from this great development. There are no contracts, no tourists, no extra spending. I and my hon. Friends representing Kent constituencies have written to the Secretary of State for the Environment suggesting an underwater tunnel between Kent and Essex. I will not now suggest where that tunnel should be, but it is probably much further down the estuary than Dartford Tunnel—perhaps from the Isle of Grain or the Gravesend area. Such a link would enable the people of North-East Kent to enjoy some of the benefits of this big development. It would enable workers to travel from North-East Kent, where there are about 10,000 to 11,000 out of work. It would be a compensation to feel that we were benefiting in some way from this development. A tunnel would also help to reduce the pressure of the massive development planning in this crowded area of South-East Essex, and also serve the docks.

I recently toured the city of Rotterdam and the dock area and talked afterwards with the Director of the Institute of Social Studies, who said that there was a great problem in Rotterdam. A great seaport complex had been developed, involving the reclamation of land from the sea, and a great petrochemical complex. The environmental problem was so great that people would not come to live in this modern city. A link under the estuary would also provide essential access to the new airport for people from the South-East, the South and West of England and enable them to bypass the great complex of London.

I recently suggested in a letter to The Times a method by which Britain could give a lead to the world in environmental protection. I hope my hon. Friend will pass on this suggestion to his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry. My suggestion is that much more consideration should be given to the development of quieter aircraft engines and to the development of reduced take-off and landing aircraft. In this way the environmental disaster which might arise from the airport at Foulness could be further mitigated. Let sufficient monetary resources and scientific studies be allocated to this. I believe that it can be done. Here again we could make a breakthrough in showing that airports need not be such a disaster as they are at present.

I have one final hobby-horse with which some hon. Member may know I am associated. I believe that we should not think of air travel only in terms of heavier-than-air aircraft. I believe that even before Foulness is built we should develop an airship again in this country to carry freight from the North of England and the Midlands, by-passing this great complex in the South-East, to the new growing industrial areas of Northern Europe. That is not a fantasy. There is a great future for such a project to make a contribution in combating the build-up of noise in the South-East.

11.50 a.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)

I am glad from this side of the House to contribute to the pleas made by hon. Gentlemen opposite. In the recent debate on the location of the airport and the Roskill Commission Report, I spent some time advocating that the airport should go to Foulness. Indeed, I advocated that it should be called Maplin, which is a pleasanter sound and geographically more appropriate. It is therefore with great pleasure that I strongly support the views put to the Minister by hon. Gentlemen opposite. They are right to put them forward since they seek not only to protect the interests of their constituents but to advocate good planning. Whatever Government is in power we all want to see good planning. The new Secretary of State for the unique Department of the Environment has stressed this point strongly, both at home and abroad. In this respect he is absolutely right.

I would slightly disagree with one point made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), who suggested that there was, perhaps, an upper-class movement in the Vale of Aylesbury which was able to bring great pressure to bear on the Government, and that this would not have been possible for the poor people in Kent and South-East Essex. I suggest that had the Roskill Commission, by some mischance, decided that the third London airport could best be located in the northern vale of Kent, between Maidstone and the area to the east, there would have been at least as strong an outcry from that area as there was from the residents in the Vale of Aylesbury. As one of a number of Members who were pro Foulness, I think I know a little bit about what was going on.

This debate is entitled "Safeguards for the People", and this strikes at the heart of what this House is all about. I suggest that the most important safeguards in this respect are not necessarily, physical in the first instance, They are at the heart of the planning process and the basis on which planning decisions are taken, particularly those made early on.

In my speech during the previous debate I tried to suggest to the Government certain ways in which, if Foulness was chosen, the bad environmental effects could be limited. I wish to reiterate those matters to some extent because they have not yet been taken up.

First, it was assumed in the Roskill Report that there would be a new city of x thousand people. I question this assumption most strongly. First, the number of people employed in the airport will depend on the nature of the traffic, which is controllable. Secondly, it will depend on the facilities which the airport companies or airlines place there, and this again will depend on how much repair work and extra facilities are involved. That factor again is controllable. Thirdly, it will depend on the amount of industry in the area directly concerned with aircraft, and finally with the indirect industries coming into the area. All these matters are controllable. As to whether there is a port, which may not employ many people, that again is a matter of planning control. Then there is the final bugbear, or threat, of a steelworks; and there are other regional considerations which are most important. It will probably be said that these things should be there because they are economically viable or will make the best use of capital. This is what I call trend planning, and I do not regard it as the right sort of planning, and will refer to this later.

I turn to communications. It has been said that a great deal of environmental pollution will occur through the new roads and railways. I question whether we need a vast motorway between London and Maplin Sands, if only—and I speak from experience as a member of the Greater London Council Environmental Committee—because it is questionable that we can cope with the traffic at this end, even if there are ring ways—and that is in doubt. Secondly, roads tend to produce an urban sprawl. I would have thought that with a smaller population than that envisaged at Roskill, we could have a relatively dense population in this area, with good public transport facilities to and from work places, planned from the outset.

We have the opportunity to think of public transport in a new way. There is a railway line not far away from the area concerned, and we should envisage that it should be extended very soon. There might be a possibility of an urban railway loop, providing highspeed transport from places of living to places of work. Most of the area is already not much over half an hour by rail from most parts of North-East London and the East End itself. A journey of half-an-hour for people in London is not so great. Furthermore, if we could incorporate in the railway facilities a unique method of payment of, say, 10s. a month which would enable people to travel as often as they like, we might be able to provide viable public transport which might even pay its way.

On the matter of communications, there is the question of London itself. London might think of its protection and its own safeguards. Large numbers of tourists already come to London, and with the new airport there will be even more. It has been assumed that there will be one single terminal in London. I question that assumption. I believe that it would be better to have a through-line with a number of terminals, bringing the benefits of increased tourist traffic to different parts of London, and possibly extending it to Heathrow, so providing a quick rail link between two major airports in the London area.

I should like finally to make a central point about the environment itself. We have heard many eloquent pleas from hon. Gentlement opposite who are faced with this particular problem, and I appreciate that it is considerable. This problem highlights something that we have not yet possibly grasped in this country. There are two sides to planning. Sometimes planning is regarded as a dirty word by people who have been subjected to increased blight or noise as a result of planners plonking down a road, or following through whatever is decided in county halls all over the country.

There is another side to planning. It can be said that economic forces demand a steelworks in the Thames Estuary, or that we shall provide for a large number of people coming to work in London—or an even larger number of people, as has been recently suggested, or that we shall have this, that or the other because the forces of capital demand this sort of development. To my mind, that is the wrong sort of planning. That is trend planning. It says that because economic forces demand something, we should plan in response to it; but the pay-off is unquantifiable in terms of pollution of the environment in the fullest sense.

There is another approach that should be considered. It can be said that the community requires certain facilities in respect of work, leisure and play and a reasonable environment that is pleasant to live and work in, and to achieve such a situation certain facilities are needed in certain places. We then build up a macro-structure. Having achieved that and based it on sound criteria, we ask ourselves how best public and private capital can in-fill the structure which we have already created. Unless we undertake such studies, I believe that the Department of the Environment, for all the brave words which have been said about it, will not be a success. I suggest to the Minister that unless we work in this way in respect of Foulness the planning opportunity will be lost. I hope we may be assured that the Government are thinking in this direction. If not, all the brave words of the Department of the Environment will turn out to be as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal".

12 noon.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

I am pleased of this opportunity to reply to this important and in many ways exciting debate. I wish at the outset to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) for initiating it and for the care he took to warn me of some of the points that he intended to raise, so enabling me to give more detailed consideration to them than might otherwise have been possible.

The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) described this as a debate dealing with the provision of safeguards for those living in the area which will be affected by our proposals. As he said, it brings home the important responsibility which falls on the Government in this matter. I shall be dealing with many of the safeguards which already exist.

However, when we come to look back on the developments of the next decade, we may see in retrospect that the greatest safeguard was the determination of those in the Government with responsibility for this matter to ensure that there is real heart behind the assurances that we have continually been giving about our interest in those who live in these areas.

I have been deeply impressed by the sympathetic way in which my hon. Friends have put forward their case on behalf of their constituents. Their comments enable me to reinforce what my right hon. Friend has said on this issue. The broad picture that has been painted this morning about the concern that exists will be very much taken into account at the centre of our consideration of this whole matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East spoke of the siting of the airport itself. Roskill concentrated on three alternatives, but they are not the only alternatives—it is by no means accepted by the Government that we must choose one of those three—and we are looking to see which of the sites is the best available. In view of this, I must refuse to give my hon. Friend the specific assurance for which he asked. In other words, I cannot say that there will not be a site on Foulness Island. On the other hand, that is not to suggest that there will be.

I am merely saying that we have not yet made up our mind. We are still in the process of taking all the factors involved, many of them conflicting factors, into account. Some of these factors have been mentioned today. It is, therefore, impossible for me to give my hon. Friend the assurance he requested.

I am, however, able to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) that we are well aware of the noise problem to which he referred. He dealt with the Kent aspect, and I assure him that his remarks will be taken fully into account. The possible development of quieter aero-engines is a wider point, though a matter of crucial importance in this context. It is, of course, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, whose attention will, I assure my hon. Friend, be drawn to his remarks.

Hon. Members spent a considerable time discussing the specific routes. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East asked for an assurance about the northern route, while the hon. Member for Acton dealt with the sort of alternatives that could be blended together in terms of road-rail links.

The representations which were made by the British Rail consultants and by officials of the Ministry of Transport to the Roskill Commission were in the nature of feasibility studies. They were designed to indicate what the result would be of choosing certain lines that were reasonable to choose if decisions about other matters were taken. These studies were designed to reveal the sort of costs that would be incurred. They were, as it were, indicators of the possibilities, and the Government have made it clear that they have not necessarily accepted those recommendations.

We have not even accepted that they are the total package of recommendations. There are other alternatives, and these must form part of our consideration. Until we have considered the totality of ideas, we cannot give the sort of assurance for which I have been asked, though I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East will sympathise with the position in which we find ourselves. In other words, we must have all the options open to us in considering the picture as a whole before finally taking a decision.

The next area to receive attention from hon. Members was the actual nature of the development. We have received, through the evidence of the Roskill Commission, the representations of the Thames Estuary Development Company and the Thames Airport Group. One must, of course, consider this on a much larger scale than would be necessary in simply considering the development of a third London airport. The Government have said—I need not delay the House by adding to what has been said in this context—that all these matters will be considered and will be the subject of the decision when it is finally reached.

I must make it absolutely clear that having accepted the recommendation that a third London airport will be necessary in about 10 years' time, we must make progress forward. It would not be wise, therefore, to wait for new councils to be elected in 1974 and then start having consultations with them. It is necessary to make earlier progress. We must, therefore, have consultations with the existing councils. I will return to this point when dealing with the consultative processes. We are determined to have meaningful consultations and not simply to rest on the minimum consultations that are required statutorily.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East again spoke of the dangers of flooding. He will appreciate that many of the difficulties to which he referred have already been considered. However, on this issue I can give him a more specific assurance than I have been able to give to his earlier remarks. He will appreciate that the Roskill Commission was completely satisfied, on the basis of the information provided to it, that there was no need to believe that there would be an adverse effect from the development of Foulness. The Commission had professional advice and the benefit of extensive model studies.

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will ensure that this matter is fully investigated by those responsible before any construction work starts. I hope this provides the assurance for which my hon. Friend asked. He knows that there will be considerable consultation with the statutory authorities in this matter and that they will have the fullest possible opportunity to make their views known.

The next broad area with which hon. Members dealt was that of compensation. The House will be aware that, in another context, we are reviewing the whole question of compensation. The review concerns not only major developments such as airports but other aspects of planning, with particular application to the road programme. All these matters are under review by the Government.

It does not seem necessary at this stage to set up an independent inquiry, for that would simply add to the compensation review which is now under way. The specific points that my hon. Friend raised will be taken into account in our general inquiry, and because that is under way there seems little point in generating another inquiry of the sort my hon. Friend suggested.

While I would not quarrel with my hon. Friend's analysis of the compensation position as it stands, I hope that he will be satisfied with these remarks, and especially with my assurance that his points will be taken into account. I hope that he will accept that the framework within which we are reviewing compensation is sufficient without adding a further procedure.

Hon. Members made the understandable request that there should be the fullest possible consultation with the people involved. The procedures we are likely to have to adopt, whether they be just planning applications or whether there be a need for private legislation, all carry with them statutorily very detailed opportunities by way of public inquiries and consultation with local authorities, the sort of processes which gave the public a very real opportunity to be fully involved. But, of course, it is always possible, and in many cases desirable, to ask that this sort of rather rigid structure should be augmented sometimes at an earlier stage by consultations on a wider basis. Certainly we fully accept the statutory situation, but we shall, in fact, have consultations with bodies such as the district councils, which were specifically mentioned, and with other bodies on an ad hoc basis where is seems that they might have a view specifically relevant to the subject.

Without trying to pin myself down to a precise form of words—in the context of the debate, that is difficult—I assure hon. Members that we shall continue the dialogue with Members of Parliament who have a specific interest in the matter, to be sure that they are apprised of what is happening and that their views are taken into account. It is difficult to lay down the form of precise consultation with Members of Parliament, because that is not the nature of the way in which we work. But I hope that they will feel that at this stage of the proceedings they have had the fullest opportunity to have discussions and that this will be continued by the Government Departments responsible.

The next point is the general question of flight paths mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury. Here I am able to give him information which is slightly reassuring from his point of view. For a considerable time after the airport opens in 1980, only one stacking area will be necessary, and this will be over the sea. So the proximity to continental air space is not likely to prevent this. A second stacking area is not likely to be needed until the first two runways are approaching maximum use, which might be towards or during the 1990s. Beyond that general factual resume of the situation, I assure my hon. Friends, that as the Secretary of State has said, we are very conscious that this is an environmental factor that will have to be taken in to account in the decision that we make on the final siting of the airport.

I hope that I have covered, briefly, within the time we have available, the points raised in the debate.

Mr. Braine

I should be grateful if my hon. Friend could give some information as to the length of time before a firm plan emerges. Would this be one year, or two years?

Mr. Heseltine

I should very much like to be able to give a specific time because I am aware of the planning and blight problems that arise. But the complexities are such that it would be irresponsible to pin oneself down to a specific time on this occasion. There are so many differences of a major nature between the many people who want their views expressed and with whom we shall want to consult. I would hope that my hon. Friend will accept an assurance that, compatible with full consultation, we can make maximum possible speed to alleviate uncertainty and the difficulties which follow that.

We are aware that we are involved in a exercise of a much wider issue than simply building an airport. It is a major environmental development. It is a very exciting opportunity. The fact of the matter is that there are human beings involved and one can never lose sight of the short-term hardships which one is creating simply because of long-term aims. We want to balance matters carefully and with the utmost compassion.

Mr. Crouch

I do not ask my hon. Friend necessarily to reply now, but I ask him not to ignore the very strong plea I made for him to consider the suggestion of an under-water link between Essex and Kent.

Mr. Heseltine

I give my hon. Friend the assurance that this matter will be taken into account.

Mr. Spearing

Can the Minister say when the Government will produce a White or Green Paper on this issue setting out preliminary thoughts?

Mr. Heseltine

Regarding the precise way in which the Government will let their views and conclusions be known on this matter, which will require public ventilation and discussion, the Government will choose appropriate methods to ensure that that happens.

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