HC Deb 22 January 1973 vol 849 cc26-8
18. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what progress has been made towards the opening of Maplin airport to traffic by 1980.

41. Mr. Wilkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is his latest estimate of when he expects the first runway of the proposed airport on Maplin Sands to become operational.

Mr. Onslow

Is is our aim that Maplin airport should be operational by 1980. Action is proceeding in various fields which is would take too long to recapitulate here: but the forthcoming debate on the second reading of the Maplin Development Bill will enable the House to be given a full account of progress to date.

Mr. Wilkinson

Bearing in mind that airport facilities in the Midlands and the North, if properly developed, could have a big impact on the requirements for air transport in the South-East and since the Civil Aviation Authority is pursuing a comprehensive review of facilities in the Midlands and the North, to reduce capacity at an airport like Luton in the South-East can surely only add to the difficulties of the civil air transport industry.

Mr. Onslow

I am sure that due attention will be given to my hon. Friend's remarks, though I do not necessarily accept either of the bases on which he puts them forward.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will my hon. Friend ensure that £1,000 million of public money is not committed to this project before he has good grounds for believing that the bird strike problems can be obviated? Is he aware that there are as yet no grounds for believing this and that, in the absence of such knowledge, this project compares unfavourably with the Charge of the Light Brigade as an economic use of resources?

Mr. Onslow

I am sure that that was the last thought in the Earl of Cardigan's mind as he went down the valley. [HON. MEMBERS: "Birds?"] The economic use of resources. This is a point on which there is clearly room for disagreement, but my hon. Friend is mistaken in supposing that all the evidence necessarily lies one way. I am sure that my hon. Friend who answers from the Government Front Bench will look forward to hearing my hon. Friend's speech in the Second Reading debate.

Mr. Ford

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). Is the Minister aware that he and his Government might be more popular if they were to consider alternative solutions such as that now being considered by Japan in Osaka Bay for a floating airport or, alternatively, the development of an airport to serve the Midlands and the North as a third national airport in the East Midlands?

Mr. Onslow

I look forward to receiving a supplementary question from the hon. Gentleman on his Question No. 29 on the latter subject if we reach it. In reply to his suggestion of a floating airport, I think we had better make up our minds to stick to Maplin.

Mr. Adley

Is it not clear that the non-airport part of the costs, such as road and rail communications and the destruction of homes, will outweigh the cost of the construction of Foulness airport? Is it not strategic planning madness to take this decision before a final decision has been made on the Channel Tunnel?

Mr. Onslow

I think my hon. Friend is mistaken in believing that the decision on the airport could or should have been further postponed.

Mr. Mason

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what is the latest total estimated cost of the development of the airport, the adjacent facilities and the communications?

Mr. Onslow

No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will be able to repeat that question in the Second Reading debate, when he will receive as accurate an answer as can be given to him at that time.

Mr. Mason

What is the answer?

Mr. Onslow

The right hon. Gentleman must contain his impatience. If he is telling the House that he prefers not to take part in that debate, we shall understand his reluctance to stand up.