HC Deb 09 August 1972 vol 842 cc1744-52

12.40 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)

I will, with permission, make a statement about the Maplin project.

My right hon. Friend has already made clear that the nature of this project, its long time scale and the crucial issues of Government policy that it raises require substantial public sector involvement. The Government have therefore decided to seek powers to establish a Development Authority to undertake the task of land reclamation; secondly, to make land available to the British Airports Authority for the airport and to the Port of London Authority for any seaport development that may be approved; thirdly, to promote, in close co-operation with the private sector, such commercial and industrial development as is consistent with the Government's regional policies; and, fourthly, to act as landlord for the entire complex.

Maplin will create a need for large-scale urban development in South-East Essex. My right hon. Friend intends that this shall be built to the highest environmental standards. The Government propose to designate a substantial area for development by a New Town Development Corporation, working in close collaboration with the local planning authorities. We expect to publish a draft designation order early next year.

On runways, our consultation document identified four possible sites—lettered A, B, C and D—from south-west to north-east. Broadly, the further north one goes the less the noise but the greater the cost. We have carefully considered all the representations made about siting. Many have favoured site D mainly on grounds that reduction of noise, however small, should override all other considerations. But site D is further offshore, in deeper water, and its extension into the Crouch estuary could complicate the hydraulic aspects of reclamation. It also creates major problems over removing the Shoeburyness military establishment, with serious risks of delay, and it would rule out any option for future access to the airport from the north.

Site A is strongly advocated by aviation interests on the grounds that it is the cheapest, quickest and easiest site to develop and causes least difficulty for the military withdrawal. Site A is also the choice of local authorities north of the Crouch.

Having carefully weighed all the evidence, the Government have decided that, within the limits of practicality, environmental considerations must be uppermost. This is why we chose to go to Maplin in the first place. So, notwithstanding the additional cost, the Government have decided to locate the runways at a northerly site—site C. This will have substantially the same environmental advantages as site D, but without its physical difficulties. I understand this location is acceptable to Essex County Council, and we consider that it will safeguard the interests of Kent. I should add that the overall noise impact of the airport should be much less than envisaged by the Roskill Commission because of the development of quieter aircraft—a development the Government will do their utmost to foster.

Detailed work will be put in hand to reclaim enough land for the first two of the four runways for any seaport development, plus land for industrial and commercial development. Further reclamation will be undertaken when needed.

Mr. Crosland

I think it is quite wrong that a statement of such importance should be made on the day that the House rises when a large number of hon. Members have already gone away.

On the substance of the statement if we are to go ahead at Maplin about which I have grave doubts as the Under-Secretary knows, the proposals for a Development Authority and a New Town Development Corporation are right and imaginative. The choice of site can hardly be called an inspiring blow on behalf of the environment, but at any rate it could have been much worse.

I should like to put three short specific questions to the Under-Secretary. First, what would be the additional cost of site D over site C, taking only the actual money cost and ignoring the imputed cost of additional travelling time, a factor which has messed up all these calculations over the last three or four years?

Secondly, so that we know the full social cost of going to Maplin, what is the approximate number of houses which will be destroyed as a result of the new communications network which will be needed to serve the new airport?

Thirdly, has the hon. Gentleman noticed the irony in the fact that, on the day that he makes a final announcement on an entirely traditional airport, a study group of the United States Government has urged that Government to go ahead with the first of a new type of airport especially for STOL?

Mr. Griffiths

I will respond to the right hon. Gentleman's four points as follows. First, the right hon. Gentleman complains about the making of this statement on the day that the House rises for the Summer Recess. The right hon. Gentleman should recall that the statement on Stansted was made on the day that the House rose for the Whitsun Recess that year under the Labour Administration.

The additional physical costs of recovering land from the sea for site D would be about £16 million more than for site C, but a number of additional costs would have to be taken into account. To put it in crude terms—in terms of the number of houses which would be relieved from the 35NNI contour—site D would cost approximately £160,000 per house relieved of noise.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the number of houses that might or might not be affected by the access corridor to the airport. This depends entirely on where the corridor will be. That is still a matter for our consultants. As soon as my right hon. Friend has the results of the consultants' report he will no doubt inform the House.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman raised the question of traditional airports. This will be the world's first environmental airport, of which we shall be proud.

Sir Bernard Braine

While recognising that site C is certainly preferable on environmental grounds to site A and is to be welcomed on that score, is my hon. Friend aware that many of us are nevertheless disappointed that site D was not chosen? Will he spell out in more detail the reasons for its rejection?

Secondly, how many homes are saved from intrusive noise as a result of choosing site C over site A?

Thirdly, will my hon. Friend confirm that the decision which he announced makes it virtually certain that the road and rail access routes must now pass north of the urban development in my constituency for which we have been pressing from the outset?

Finally, is my hon. Friend aware that the decision to set up a new town development agency is to be warmly welcomed provided, and only provided, that it is run from the outset with a clear mandate and all necessary powers to preserve and improve the environment of South-East Essex in conjunction with the elected local authorities?

Mr. Griffiths

Yes, Sir. The objections to site D, which were very carefully considered by my right hon. Friend, are that it is in deeper water and a good deal more offshore, that it would preclude the option of northern access, which is of great importance, not least on environmental grounds, that it would greatly complicate the problems of military withdrawal and, in addition, that there is very high extra cost.

Concerning the number of houses relieved by the choice of site C, more than 900 houses which would have been caught in the noise shadow at site A have been removed from that noise shadow by my right hon. Friend's decision.

Regarding the routes to the airport, I must ask my hon. Friend to await the results of our consultants' investigations because it is not yet possible to say where the corridor will go.

I agree with my hon. Friend about the new town. This project will be developed in close collaboration with the Essex County Council and other local authorities. We are determined that it shall be done with a large measure of private investment and to the highest possible environmental standards.

Mr. Crouch

I hope that my hon. Friend will not ask us to sympathise with him too much in recognising the disadvantages, as he has tried to describe them, of site D. After all, site D was offered to us as a site being considered by the Secretary of State. However, I recognised that this is the second time the Government have gone against the recommendations of Roskill. Foulness was not recommended by Roskill, but Roskill recommended site A. I am happy this second time to agree with the Government in not choosing site A which, in my opinion, was environmentally almost disastrous.

May I remind my hon. Friend of what the Secretary of State said in his foreword to the consultation document? He said that Maplin had the advantage over inland sites in that most of the sound would be dissipated over the sea. He reminded those who were studying the problem that residual noise remains naturally a matter of public concern It certainly does to me and to thousands living in North-East Kent. May we have an assurance that the Secretary of State will not forget his undertaking and that he will continue to remember that residual noise is a problem? Will he take such steps as are necessary to ensure in the planning of the airport that the flight paths and the stacking areas are as far as possible over the sea and that night flying restrictions will be taken into account?

Mr. Griffiths

I can give that assurance. We shall do our best to ensure that the patterns of take-offs and landings from the new airport and the controls on night flying are so exercised as to relieve as far as possible any noise nuisance to the people of North Kent, Essex or anywhere else. This is a case where environmental considerations have been placed uppermost and it is a great success for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that he has been able to ensure that environmental considerations prevail over all others.

Mr. Jessel

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the sooner that Maplin is in operation the sooner it will be possible to give some relief to the people living near Heathrow Airport who are suffering from airport noise? With this in mind will he do all he can to hasten the introduction into service of Maplin?

Mr. Griffiths

Yes, my hon. Friend, who so frequently and rightly has sought to put forward the interests of his constituents who live in the neighbourhood of Heathrow Airport, is right. We are endeavouring to develop the project by 1980 and the sooner we get on with it the sooner we can bring relief not only to the people living near Heathrow but to those living near Luton, Stansted and Gatwick.

Mr. Warren

Will my hon. Friend state what limitations will be incurred by the selection of site C and the failure to provide a cross-wind runway on that site for use in all weathers?

Mr. Griffiths

Not without notice, but we shall have regard to the maximum possible safety considerations at this airport.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Only if the remaining hon. Members will make their questions as short as possible will they all get in.

Mr. Roger White

On the Kent side of the estuary there will be no spin-off from this project. My hon. Friend mentioned that new aircraft would be coming forward. While one appreciates that the TriStar type aircraft and so on will have reduced noise levels, this will not be the case with Concorde. May I remind my hon. Friend that we shall be looking forward to—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have asked hon. Members to be as quick as possible. The hon. Member must not remind the Under-Secretary; he must ask—and he must ask quickly.

Mr. White

Will my hon. Friend make a close study of night flights when this project is in operation?

Mr. Griffiths


Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

As environmental considerations have led to the selection of this airport, will the site chosen reduce the danger of bird strike? Has my hon. Friend seen the letter from the director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds that about 180,000 gulls were seen there on one day in 1968 and that there are always tens of thousands of birds in the area?

Mr. Griffiths

We have taken into account the possible risks not only to the birds but also to the aircraft. My right hon. Friend has asked the Nature Conservancy to study the problems, using substantial funds provided by my Department, and to consider what best to do about the gulls on the one hand and the Brent Geese on the other. We shall do our best not only to minimise the danger to aircraft and people but also to see whether there are ways of relocating the birds where possible.

Mr. Moate

Does my hon. Friend recognise that my constituency more than any other will suffer from the noise problems created by the airport? The decision he announced will be received with great disappointment, distress and some anger on the environmental grounds. Does he not agree that the decision means the rejection of the opportunity to put one and a half miles of the noise shadow over the sea and that instead it will now be put over the land and over people's homes? 11 will be seen as a victory for the Treasury which wishes to save £18½ million in real and immediate costs in an exercise that will involve hundreds of millions of pounds of Government money. May we have an assurance that no steps will be taken during the Summer Recess on this matter before the House has had a full opportunity to debate it?

Mr. Griffiths

No, Sir. We must now proceed as far as we can to planning. Of course we shall need to come to Parliament for the necessary powers to set up the New Town Development Corporation and there will be a full discussion of the draft designation order for the new town. On the point that my hon. Friend makes about environmental considerations being sacrificed to the Treasury, if only he knew the reality of the situation he would accept that precisely the opposite happened.

Mr. McCrindle

As considerable planning blight has been becoming evident over the whole of South Essex in the last few months, will my hon. Friend bear in mind the necessity of announcing the line of road and rail communications at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Griffiths

Yes, but my hon. Friend will recognise that in order to minimise environmental damage and to ensure that road and rail access is planned properly we must study all of the possibilities. We shall do so as quickly as possible.

Dr. Glyn

In his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham, (Mr. Jessel) the Minister said that the new airport would relieve eventual congestion at London Airport. Is it intended that virtually all the traffic at London Airport should be diverted to Foulness? When are we likely to get considerable relief in the locality of Heathrow? Will it be ten, 12 or 15 years before that happens?

Mr. Griffiths

I cannot say that there will be a massive diversion from London Airport and the other airports to Maplin, but rather that the very large increase in flights will be taken care of by the growth of Maplin rather than those flights being concentrated at the existing airports.