HC Deb 02 February 1972 vol 830 cc446-55
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Walker)

I will, with permission, make a statement on the Third London Airport.

The Government have been considering the scope for associating other forms of development with the airport at Maplin and the possibilities of involving private capital. In considering the nature and scale of possible developments, we have had regard to the need to ensure high environmental standards in carrying out the whole undertaking, including the consequential housing and other developments which would be required in South Essex.

The airport will be a key factor in the success of any wider development at Maplin. It must be built to the highest standards and supported by first-class road and rail links. We are planning to have the first runway by 1980 or earlier if practicable.

There is no objection in principle to seaport development at Maplin, and we are informing the Port of London Authority that it is free to put forward firm proposals for detailed scrutiny under the Harbours Act, 1964.

We do not think it would be appropriate for primary industry such as steelworks, oil refineries and petro-chemical works to be located at Maplin, whether in association with a seaport or separately, both on grounds of regional policy and because development of this kind would create serious problems of incompatibility with a large international airport.

It is too early to take decisions about promoting a large industrial estate as part of the Maplin complex. It would create very real regional problems. We think that options should be kept open and that demand for secondary industry, hotels, offices and other commercial development which may be expected to grow following the opening of the airport should be considered as it arises in the light of our regional, industrial and environmental policies and our developing relationships with Europe. To this end we are examining the engineering, cost and hydraulic implications of a method of reclamation which would allow land to be reclaimed by stages as and when needed.

We consider that although it may be highly desirable to involve private capital in the Maplin projects the nature of the project, its long time scale, and the crucial issues of Government policy that it raises necessitate substantial public sector commitment and control. We are giving further consideration to the machinery required and the best means of engaging private capital at the appropriate time.

Further announcements on these and other aspects will be made in due course.

Mr. Mulley

We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making this interim statement. Can he give us some idea when he will make a further statement, and, in particular, give us, for the first time, some real costs for what is involved and state how they will be borne? Secondly, is he aware that we fully endorse his statement that substantial public sector commitment is the best method? Will he assure us that no undertakings to private capital will be entered into before this House is fully informed because we would not want to see the profit in the enterprise going to the private sector with the public sector having had all the expense? Is he aware that we welcome his decision not to develop the steelworks and so on on this site as that would be totally unacceptable? Will he give an assurance that the expenditure involved here is not to be at the expense of regional development in areas of high unemployment?

Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that there are many doubts about developing a new seaport when our existing seaports are operating below capacity? Dealing with the Harbours Act, will he say that in this case, at least, he will make a grant for development, unlike his policy in other respects? In the meantime will he ensure that proposals, such as those of B.E.A., for utilising existing airports and technological developments will not be ignored to make a case for the third airport which many people feel is not yet made out?

Mr. Walker

As to the point of further announcements, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I will keep the House informed of any major decisions taken as soon as any progress is made. As for regional policy, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Government made their decision with regional policy very much in mind. There was considerable pressure for primary industry to be based there. We considered that it was against the interests of regional policy to do so. In terms of further development, the reason why I want to keep the options open is that I believe that the options will be of interest primarily after the airport is completed, not before, and that that is the time to review the effect of regional policy on any decisions then made.

As for the point about private enterprise being connected and my informing the House, obviously for things other than contracts for dredging and matters such as this—I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows what I have in mind—I will certainly inform the House before any decisions are made. Turning to the point about the Harbours Act, the right hon. Gentleman knows better than most the scrutiny to which this matter will be subjected to determine its effects on other ports and the port industry. This is the proper process. I do not envisage any grants for this project.

In terms of the need for a third London Airport and the general remarks about B.E.A. I am certain that no responsible Government would do other than proceed with ensuring that these runways are available by 1980.

Sir Bernard Braine

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his decision to safeguard the environment of my constituents, in particular by not permitting intense industrial development of a kind which would adversely affect amenities among the large population in the narrow peninsula between the Thames and the Crouch? Is he aware that this decision will give great satisfaction in South-East Essex? Is he further aware that his statement leaves unanswered some of our anxieties about the precise location of the runways, where the new roads and rail access routes will run and whether he considers it necessary to set up some special agency to acquire land and co-ordinate and implement development? When can we expect an announcement on these matters?

Mr. Walker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. First of all, as he knows, the Essex County Council and the Southend County Borough Council are fully represented on the steering committee looking into these problems. We are in association with the elected representatives of those primarily affected. On the question of the siting of the runways and the location of the road and rail routes, I shall be making an announcement to the House as soon as these are available. I can assure my hon. Friend that the main consideration is to ensure that they are in the best environmental interests of all concerned. Whenever the motorways concerned are built and whatever railway development needs to take place, it will be done in the best environmental way. As for a special agency, we have not made decisions about the basic method by which this development will be carried out. We are in close contact with the Essex County Council on this project, and as soon as any firm decision is known I will make it available to the House.

Mr. Lawson

While congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on his decision about primary industry, may I ask him whether he intends to bring in such organisations as the Nature Conservancy to ensure that the work done there causes the minimum damage to the environment and that from the beginning such wild life as there is, notably bird life, will be protected?

Mr. Walker

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's first remark. As for his later comments, I have already spoken to a number of experts in this sphere, for example about the problem of Brent geese, to see what level of environmental damage is done to wild life in the area.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Would my right hon. Friend accept that those concerned with town and country planning will welcome this statement as to associated development at Foulness, representing as it does a careful balancing and reconciliation of the economic, social and environmental factors? Does he also appreciate that it is a further justification for the imaginative decision of placing this airport by the sea?

Mr. Walker

I am grateful for what my right hon. and learned Friend has said.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that no hon. Member with a constituency anywhere near Heathrow has any doubt of the urgent necessity for a third London airport, and some of us on this side of the House wish our own Front Bench would stop knocking the third London airport——

Mr. Mellish

Well done, Hughie—good boy!

Mr. Jenkins

—and that they would turn their dispraise to such undesirable projects as Concorde? Further, will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to say what present planning foresees as the opening date of this airport and when the first aircraft will take off from it?

Mr. Walker

May I say to the hon. Gentleman, and also to his right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), that for the first time in my life I am willing to join with the hon. Gentleman in a campaign to try to convince his Front Bench. It is necessary to have these runways in operation by 1980, and I believe that it will be in the interests of people living near Heathrow and various other airports in the South-East to get this airport into operation as quickly as possible.

Mr. Brian Harrison

Will the Secretary of State treat as a matter of urgency the setting up of the authority which will deal with the third London airport? There is already tremendous speculation in land and great worry that, before long, we may find the barriers are down and that development north of the Crouch will take place as well?

Mr. Walker

Yes, I certainly accept the view of the hon. Gentleman, and I very much appreciate and understand the views expressed about the planning dangers of development north of the Crouch. I am well aware of this particular factor. The important thing in a project of this magnitude is to get the effective and right agency set up. It is only a relatively few months since we made the decision to go ahead with this project, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that I recognise the urgency of the matter. We will come to a conclusion as quickly as possible.

Mr. Spearing

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the word he used throughout his statement—namely Maplin rather than Foulness—will indeed become official? We are glad he has adopted the Opposition's suggestion on this matter. Furthermore, would he agree that there is great danger in leaving open the matter of secondary and associated industry until the airport is open, because planning might be much more difficult at that stage? Finally, would he say something about rail links to London? Has he ruled out the possibility of a rail link which goes right through London, finishes up at Heathrow and has several terminals rather than one terminal?

Mr. Walker

As for the name of the airport, I believe we would all agree that an airport by any name is still an airport. I think it is right to call this Maplin.

Hon. Members


Sir Bernard Braine

Foulness is a place of wild birds.

Mr. Walker

The birds which will be there in future will be tame ones. With regard to rail links, consultation is taking place with British Rail throughout; but I accept the hon. Gentleman's basic premise that the important thing is to see that the various major airports in London have proper communications with each other, and we shall see to this.

Captain W. Elliot

Could my right hon. Friend give a few more details about the port he has in mind? Does he visualise a great entrepôt port serving the Continent? Secondly, does he visualise its taking deep-draught ships, for example half-million-ton oil tankers? Has he considered the implications of such tankers coming up the Channel and through the Straits?

Mr. Walker

All shipping considerations will be very carefully borne in mind. The P.L.A. considers that its main sphere of activity in this matter will be in terms of a container port, with the possibility of its being an oil terminal, but not an oil refinery, with oil being piped to locations where refining takes place. The whole proposal will come under the close scrutiny required by the Harbours Act before a final decision is made.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that though an airport is bound to generate employment opportunities, there are other areas more deserving of employment generation? Will he also bear in mind that the Southend area has already had the V.A.T. centre, and will he in future use his strongest possible persuasive powers to make sure that any other large employment-generating project will go elsewhere?

Mr. Walker

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no immediate intention of having the third London airport at either Nuneaton or Worcester.

Mr. Allason

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the Government have adequate powers to require air operators to move to the new airport? Would he give early warning as to who is to be required to move so that these operators do not come back and say, "I have now spent vast capital sums in my present location and cannot move."

Mr. Walker

I assure my hon. Friend that the operators are well aware of the Government's firm intention to develop Foulness. I also believe that Foulness, when developed, will at that moment in time be the best international airport in the world and will have the best communications to an international city. On this basis I do not think there will be any problem with operators.

Mr. Small

Will the right hon. Gentleman turn his mind to the problem of a great deal of speculation and people being "out for grab" on the lines of the way in which the Continental Shelf was put up for auction? Will he turn his mind to the question of the private capital which was attached to the Continental Shelf matter, and take this opportunity to say whether he intends to put the whole lot up for auction?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman will have in mind my decision announced today that I considered it would be in the public interest for this to remain in the public sector at the present time. I hope that this will satisfy the hon. Gentleman that I have the public interest very much in my mind.

Mr. Crouch

My right hon. Friend has properly mentioned the problems surrounding the Crouch. I wonder if I could remind him that there is another Crouch and that in Kent we hope he will not neglect the interests of all those people in the north-east corner of Kent who will suffer noise pollution unless their requirements are taken into account in the planning? I was very glad to hear his emphasis on the title he bears, namely the Secretary of State for the Environment. He will be under great economic pressure in the coming years from private, and even possibly public, sectors and I hope he will never forget that he is responsible for the environment and that we shall always regard his work for the environment as most important.

Mr. Walker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. So far as the people of Kent are concerned, I can assure him that we have pledged ourselves to take fully into consideration and to discuss with the Kent County Council the position of Kent. The object of the flying paths we choose will be the minimum of noise. I hope that technical developments between now and 1980 will mean that even the projections of noise forecast in the original Roskill Report will prove to be exaggerated, and that the noise effects of the Maplin project will be even less than was originally anticipated.

Mr. Sandelson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is growing concern about prospects of employment at Heathrow as a result of the development of the third London airport? Would he give some reassurance about future employment prospects for those now employed at Heathrow?

Mr. Walker

With the general expansison of air travel, both internationally and domestically, I think that there need be no concern for those employed in these spheres.

Mr. Burden

May I further impress on my right hon. Friend the necessity of consulting Kent County Council about the noise hazard? May I ask my right hon. Friend especially to do his utmost to ensure that the runways are so placed that there is not a considerable noise level over the highly-populated Medway towns?

Mr. Walker

I am very much aware of my hon. Friend's concern. I can assure him that we shall keep very closely in touch with the Kent authorities. Our objective will be the minimum of noise.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Can the Secretary of State give some idea of his 15-year thinking on the respective rôles to be played by Heathrow and the proposed third airport?

Mr. Walker

On all projections, the third airport is desperately needed. Unless we have it the injection of traffic into existing airports will be such as to make the lives of those living near those airports even worse than it is at present. In terms of regional planning and environmental effects, I am sure that it is right to progress firmly with the third London airport.

Sir S. McAdden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the greatest concentration of population in the area of the proposed third London airport is in my constituency and that the apprehensions of my constituents will not be allayed until my right hon. Friend can give clear indications of where the runways will be, where the noise contour levels will be, and so on? While we appreciate my right hon. Friend's dedication to the environment, it is lines on a map and practical tests alone which will satisfy my constituents, and the sooner that it is done the better.

Mr. Walker

I am well aware of this fact, and my hon. Friend reminds me of it constantly. Our objective is to see that the runway is sited in the best possible place in terms of environmental noise.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Will the right hon. Gentleman now comment on my right hon. Friend's first question, asking whether the Secretary of State is in a position to make a statement on costs at present?

Mr. Walker

No. There are a great many factors involved in terms of the extent to which land is to be reclaimed and of options on future reclamation of land. But I shall keep the House fully informed as progress is made.

Mr. Simeons

Now that my right hon. Friend has fixed a date for the opening of the runway, will he be as specific about the impact on other airports, such as Luton? Will he say, for example, who as the control? There is complete confusion about this, following local government reorganization. Secondly, will he consult his right hon. Friend about the implementation of clause 29 of the Civil Aviation Bill in this respect?

Mr. Walker

I undertake to consult with my right hon. Friend when I discover what Clause 29 of the Civil Aviation Bill is about. As for Luton, my hon. Friend will know that there is a public inquiry going on there at present, and I am unable to say anything because it is my duty to act in a judicial capacity following that inquiry.

Mr. Rankin

Are we to take it that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that air pollution will be a diminishing factor in the development of aircraft? Can the right hon. Gentleman find some way of ensuring that Scotland shares to some little extent in this new expansion?

Mr. Walker

I believe that Scotland will obtain its share of international air travel, like any other part of the country.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am afraid that we must move on.