HC Deb 08 May 1973 vol 856 cc206-13

The following Written Question stood upon the Order Paper:


TO ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he has received a report from the Civil Aviation Authority on its recent study of air traffic forecasts and airport capacity in the London area and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Heseltine—to answer Written Question No. 40.

The Minister for Aerospace and Shipping (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

I have received a copy of a report by the Civil Aviation Authority "Forecast of Air Traffic and Capacity of Airports in the London Area" which was published this morning.

The report, which is based on the latest estimates by the British Airports Authority and others of passenger and aircraft movements in 1980 and 1985, gives the Civil Aviation Authority's view on these figures and examines the ability of London's airports to meet the demand projected up to 1985 both for runway capacity and for ground handling capacity. It makes no attempt to evaluate the environmental consequences of the levels of traffic predicted. It emphasises the uncertainties and margins of error in the forecasts.

The report does not conflict with the judgment of the Roskill Commission that new airport capacity will be required in the early 1980s in South-East England. Although the Civil Aviation Authority Study reaches the conclusion that the pressure on runway capacity will be less severe in the early in 1980s than had been forecast earlier, it concludes that even with one runway at Maplin in operation there would be a shortage of available ground handling capacity at Heathrow, Gatwick and Maplin together in 1985. The main differences between the Roskill Commission's estimates and those in the present report are that it would be possible to increase the number of aircraft movements at Gatwick by 50 per cent. above the level assumed by the Roskill Commission, and there will be a little more use of wide-bodied aircraft by 1985 than the commission assumed.

Nothing in this report gives grounds for the Government to reconsider its decision, taken in the light of the Roskill Commission's Report, that a third London Airport is required by the earliest practical date and that the best site for this expansion is Maplin. It offers a unique opportunity of providing for the necessary expansion of air transport for as far ahead as anyone can foresee, combined with a seaport and for sensible economic development in Essex. At the same time it offers the only civilised solution to the problem of bringing relief to many hundreds of thousands living in densely populated areas and increasingly disturbed by aircraft noise and congestion.

In anticipation of the opening of Maplin, the Government have already announced that Luton, Stanstead and Southend Airports will be either closed or severely limited in use in due course and that there will be no second runway at Gatwick. The Government are determined to press on with the construction of Maplin so that the first runway is in operation as early as possible.

Mr. Jessel

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is time to stop cramming more and more aircraft over the hundreds of thousands of people living around Heathrow and the other airports to whom he referred? Will he please continue to attach due weight to the need for peace, quiet, and the health and safety of those people? Will he please continue to go full steam ahead with the construction of Maplin?

Mr. Heseltine

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that that is our intention. If we were to cram aircraft into Gatwick and Heathrow, as my hon. Friend suggests, by 1985 we should have to have some 30 per cent. more operations moving in and out of Heathrow and some 130 per cent. more moving in and out of Gatwick.

Mr. Crosland

The Minister and I have obviously been reading entirely different reports. Is the Minister aware that to any objective reader this excellent report drives yet another nail into the enormous coffin of this absurd white elephant of Maplin, and illustrates beyond any doubt that no additional airport capacity in the South-East is needed before 1985. There are three remaining nails still to be driven in. Perhaps I may put these to the Minister. First, on ground handling capacity, which the Minister mentioned, is he not aware that it is perfectly within the jurisdiction of the Government and the British Airports Authority to extend ground handling capacity in the space which already exists at the existing airports?

Second, is the Minister aware—he should make it clear to the House—that the report's estimate of surplus runway capacity in 1985 in the South-East area is made without taking any account of the possibility of a deliberate policy of diversion of air traffic movements from the London area to regional airports? Will he ask the Civil Aviation Authority to bear this in mind in its important regional study, for which it has just given a contract?

Third, on the critical problem of noise around existing airports—here I agree with the Minister—will the Minister now invite the CAA to do a noise study and work out—it is perfectly possible; the techniques are well known to the Government—the noise consequences of its central traffic forecast for 1985?

If the CAA does that, I can promise the Minister that with the quieter engines now coming so rapidly into service we shall find that the extra traffic can be accommodated with an impressive reduction in the present level of noise.

Mr. Heseltine

I think that I can take it that the right hon. Gentleman is now in favour of abandoning Maplin and using Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Stanstead and Southend as London airports, with no further airport at all. If that is what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting, he should tell the House plainly, so that we may make a clear judgment on the alternative policies.

Referring to the right hon. Gentleman's three particular points. I deal first with the point that the handling capacity on the ground can be made available in the space which exists. I made that point very clearly on Second Reading of the Maplin Development Bill. I said that on aviation grounds the space could be found around existing airports. The question that the House will have to consider is whether environmentally we are prepared to see the number of movements increased by 130 per cent. at Gatwick and by 30 per cent. at Heathrow between now and 1985. That is one of the principal decisions which guided the Government towards the Maplin decision in the first place.

As to the question whether we should divert more aircraft movements towards the provinces, I see no ground for believing that the pattern of aircraft movements which has grown up so far would not be substantially repeated, as the growth in the whole volume of the market increases. In these circumstances there is no reason to suppose that regional airports would syphon off more than has already been taken into account in the figures before us, which the report considers. In addition, the report assumes that 23,000 movements will be lost to the South-East as a result of the decision to go to Maplin.

As for the question of a noise study, it is perfectly possible to carry these matters onwards and onwards for ever, but anybody living anywhere near airports, even with the quieter aircraft coming in, knows of the great environmental harm that the intrusion of aircraft noise does. As quieter aircraft come in, so the expectancy of the public will rise, and I do not believe that it would be tolerable, having made the commitments we have made in respect of Luton, Stansted and Southend, and having made it clear that we do not see more than limited development of Gatwick, to reverse those proposals, as the right hon. Gentleman seems to intend.

Sir J. Rodgers

Can the Minister give an assurance that there will be no increase in commercial aircraft movements at West Mailing either before or after Maplin comes into operation?

Mr. Heseltine

In the welter of studies for this document, West Mailing has escaped my attention, but I will certainly look at that point.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that anyone with constituency responsibilities in the South-East must be conscious of the absolute need to lift some of the noise burden from these constituencies? Therefore it would be quite wrong, in order to maintain solidarity with my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland)— much as I should like to do so—if I were to conceal from the House that I differ strongly from him in this connection. It seems to me that any objective determination on this report must lead to the conclusion that, in spite of the qualifications it makes, it generally follows the line that there must be relief from the burden of aircraft noise and that the only way to achieve this is by reaching the sort of decision which has been reached about Maplin.

Is the Minister aware that he will not be entirely without support on this side of the House if he decides to proceed with his programme and policy for the third London Airport at Maplin?

Mr. Heseltine

It seems to me that it would embarrass the hon. Member if I were to show too much support for him. His question seems designed more for his own Front Bench than for me.

Sir S. McAdden

While not sharing the joy of other hon. Members at the transfer of their nuisances to my own area, may I draw attention to newspaper reports which have been widespread with regard to this report before its publication? If we are to have leaks of this nature, can they in future be accurate leaks?

Mr. Heseltine

We would rather have no leaks at all. I greatly deplore that there should have been leaks with regard to one of the working documents on this report.

A considerable part of the noise which will come into the area to which my hon. Friend refers will be over the sea. That is one of the great advantages of the Maplin site.

Mr. David Steel

Since this report is extremely important, will the hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for an opportunity for the House to have a fresh look at the situation, bearing in mind the cost involved?

Mr. Heseltine

The House already has this opportunity through the Standing Committee which is sitting to deal with the Maplin Development Bill.

Mr. Deedes

In connection with this report, has the Minister made any assumption about the Channel Tunnel?

Mr. Heseltine

The Civil Aviation Authority assumed that there would be a Channel Tunnel by 1980 allowing a four-hour London-Paris journey. It is also its calculation that if that tunnel did not exist it would bring forward the dates in the report by some two years.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Will the Minister accept that those of us with constituency responsibilities in the North-East and other development areas are very anxious about the decision on Maplin Sands and other decisions affecting the south-east of England? We are extremely concerned, in fact, that two or three decisions, such as Maplin Sands, commit us to so much public expenditure in the future that there will be nothing left to develop the regions. The Government ought to think again on this problem, armed with this report.

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure the hon. Member realises that we all share his concern about the regions. That is why it is one of the Government's policies to ensure that the regions get more help than ever before. He may also want to bear the wider national interest in mind. Sixteen per cent. of the country's trade goes by air, and by 1980 air cargo in the London area will treble. That is an indication of the general importance of this industry, which is also a massive earner of foreign currency.

Sir Bernard Braine

It my hon. Friend aware that the report and the exchange this afternoon must inevitably add to the existing uncertainty in South-East Essex about the pressing need to provide new, adequate access roads not merely to the airport but to the proposed seaport? Does my hon. Friend agree that any delay in completing the airport must not be used as an excuse for delaying the provision of adequate access roads for the seaport?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure my hon. Friend knows how much we agree with him about the general communications situation in South-East Essex and also recognises the Government's determination to announce the new communications network proposals in respect of the airport as soon as possible.

Mr. Jay

As the Minister used this report as one of his main arguments in the Second Reading debte, is it not clear that there is no justification for the £800 million outlay when we can get all the runway capacity we need for £8 million or £10 million elsewhere?

Mr. Heseltine

Those figures bear no examination whatsoever. It could certainly not be achieved at the cost the right hon. Gentleman suggests. In fact, massive investments would be required, and the chances are that in any case it would then be found necessary to build a third London Airport at a later date. Nor can we ignore the massive environmental improvement associated with this decision.

Mr. Allason

Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether this report adequately covers the situation at Luton, which is expanding at a greater rate than any other airport in this country? This is making life utterly intolerable for the residents of Hertfordshire, whereas the airport lies in Bedfordshire. There is expansion not only of freight but also of passenger traffic, very little of which comes from the locality but in fact from all over the country. Is he aware that we should be very much happier if they would go to the North-East and fly from there?

Mr. Heseltine

I can assure my hon. Friend that the report deals with the future of Luton. It makes two alternative assumptions. One is that traffic after 1980 will be virtually eliminated and the other is that it will be reduced to 20,000 movements a year. It is a matter for Government decision which policy is carried out, but it is our intention severely to restrict growth at Luton once Maplin comes into operation.

Mr. Dalyell

Can the Minister tell the House what cost has been attached to a second runway at Gatwick?

Mr. Heseltine

That is not a relevant question for the Government because we do not believe that it would be practicable in all the circumstances to develop a second runway at Gatwick. I am sure the hon. Member remembers that the reason is that to do so would be to imply a policy of basing the growth of London Airport traffic on existing airports. It is because we have set our face against that policy that we are committed to what is environmentally a vastly more attractive scheme—Maplin.

There is one other fact which I think the House will want to take into account. For the first time we have an opportunity at Maplin to plan an airport which is designed for the scale of operations which are presaged for the future. The other airports have grown up piecemeal. They were never expected to have to carry the present traffic. Although this is obviously an area where one can argue about whether it will be 1981, 1982, 1983 or 1984 when demand reaches saturation, no one can deny that in this century the massive growth of this industry will force us into the provision of very expensive and extensive facilities.

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