HC Deb 27 June 1974 vol 875 cc1928-38

1.2 a.m.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I am grateful for this opportunity to raise a matter which is of great concern to many of my constituents and to a large number of people beyond the boundaries of my constituency. I refer to the problem of aircraft noise—a problem which nobody with any personal experience of living under the noise shadow of a major airport would dream of belittling This is a serious problem which causes a great deal of human suffering, ruins people's quiet enjoyment of houses and gardens, interrupts the work of schools, churches, hospitals and offices, and interferes with people's private lives, their telephone conversations, their opportunities to listen to gramophone records or watch television.

It must be said that some people do not mind aircraft noise very much, but to a large proportion of people it is a major nuisance and to a substantial number it causes suffering and in some cases mental ill health. It is a major social evil in the communities affected by it.

In reply to a question which I put to the Under-Secretary of State on this matter two weeks ago, the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to this debate referred to aircraft noise as a pestilence. He was absolutely right and was not exaggerating at all. The hon. Gentleman is known in the House for his great concern for social problems and the avoidance of human suffering in matters such as housing, and he is well aware from the voluminous correspondence which he has had with me on aircraft noise how much suffering exists. I hope that he will take every possible action he can to relieve the lot of my constituents and to mitigate this nuisance, despite the undoubted technical difficulties. I hope that he will be able to assure me that he and the Secretary of State for Trade will not flinch from placing the peace, quiet and health of people around airports above any commercial interests.

This problem is compounded by the great growth in traffic through Heathrow Airport. The British Airways Authority estimated in 1973 that 27 million passengers passed through the airports of South-East England during the year, and it projected the 1985 figure as 84 million, almost a three-fold increase. No one who has studied the problem is in doubt that the oil crisis will cause no more than a temporary hesitation in the graph reflecting the upward trend of air travel.

I suggest seven main areas of action. The first and most popular among people who have not studied the problem is the quietening of engines, thus dealing with noise at the source. There has been talk about this for years, and it is highly desirable in principle, but it is not enough. It is limited in scope and I am sceptical about how much can be achieved, especially in the short term. It is true that some quieter aircraft are coming along.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

My hon. Friend has spoken of quieter aircraft. Is it not more appropriate to say "less noisy aircraft"?

Mr. Jessel

I agree wholeheartedly. Two years ago, I and others in the House suggested to the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that he should use his influence with BEA, as it was, to buy quieter or less noisy aircraft. We were pleased when a few weeks later BEA announced that it would buy Lockheed TriStars. However, four adverse factors are involved.

First, the life of an aircraft is about 20 years. Many of the 62 airlines using Heathrow continue to receive deliveries of Boeings and other very noisy aircraft to orders recently placed. Secondly, the quietening of existing aircraft by hush kits is much easier said than done. There is little to show for the already large sums spent, and I remain unconvinced until we have definite evidence to the contrary that any major advance can be made in this way.

Thirdly, it is not just a matter of quietening the engines. The aircraft themselves make considerable noise passing through the air. Fourthly, and most important, it is the frequency of flights which people resent most. I believe that they resent the frequency more than the peak loundness of an individual aircraft. People can tolerate 10 or 20 very noisy aircraft but they cannot take several hundred in a day, very often at peak hours every minute or two.

Already there are 600 movements in and out of Heathrow every day, and it is projected that by the late 1980s the figure will be 1,000. This is intolerable from the point of view not only of aircraft noise but of crash risk. As I pointed out two months ago, when the Secretary of State for Trade made a statement about the crash of the Turkish aircraft outside Paris, if it had crashed 20 minutes later it could well have done so on part of London—and the mind boggles at the thought of over 100 tons of metal, bodies and luggage ploughing through a heavily built-up area at several hundred miles an hour. A thousand flights a day is an unacceptable level of crash risk, quite apart from the noise involved.

That brings me to my second point, which is the Third London Airport. I am a strong supporter of Maplin. It must make sense to put an airport by the sea on land relaimed from the sea so that aircraft may take off and approach the airport for landing over the sea instead of over residential areas. What is more, the noisiest aircraft and all-night flights can be routed through it. Despite all that has been said in recent months, I ask the hon. Gentleman to keep an open mind on the matter, especially in the light of the aircraft noise problem.

Third, on Concorde, I was pleased to receive an assurance from the Secretary of State for Industry a few weeks ago that the Government would take the aircraft noise aspect into account when deciding on the future of Concorde.

My fourth point relates to bans on night flights. Here, some progress has been made since 1971, when, in the summer season, there were more than 1,600 night jet take-offs. That was reduced by five-sixths by the summer season of 1973 to 261. I should very much like to hear what further progress has been made in reducing still further the number of night jet take-offs.

Fifth, I suggest, as other hon. Members have done, that there should be a total ban on all traffic through Heathrow on Sundays. There should be one day a week when people could look forward to a total respite from aircraft noise. It is reasonable that the interests of people on the ground should be put above those who wish to fly, at least on one day of the week.

My sixth point concerns soundproofing. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle), who I am very pleased to see attending this debate, despite the lateness of the hour, tabled an early-day motion two weeks ago, which I was glad to sign, urging that the system of sound-proofing grants be extended to the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, which embraces both his constituency and my own. I am sure that my hon. Friend will not argue that this is a complete answer to the problem, but at least as a matter of equity it could go some of the way to compensating those residents who suffer from aircraft noise and, as a consequence, from what is permitted by Parliament in the way of disturbance. It is right that the rest of the community should compensate householders by providing sound-proofing which would give some limited protection to those who choose to avail themselves of it.

Seventh, I refer to the distribution of flight paths. This is my final and main point for the purpose of this debate. My constituency is burdened by three flight paths on those days when, for safety reasons, aircraft take off from Heathrow towards the east against the prevailing wind.

There is the Dover 2 route, which is centred over Whitton, West Twickenham, Strawberry Hill and onwards over Richmond Park and my hon. Friend's constituency, towards the coast at Dover, as its name implies.

There is the Woodley route, which turns round 180 degrees to enable transatlantic flights to go in a westerly direction. I was glad to learn from a document recently published that the Civil Aviation Authority is now studying the possibility of routeing this to the north of Heathrow.

Then there is the Mole Valley route, which is used for southward destinations. Last week the Department of Trade published a consultative document suggesting a split in the Mole Valley route. I am not opposed to the idea of a split to relieve the concentration of noise on those living under the present route, but I cannot support the split proposed in the document, for reasons I shall come to. I wish to propose what I believe is a fairer solution than that in the document. I say this without any disrespect to those who have worked on the document. In saying that I wish to produce another proposal I am fortified by paragraph 17 of the document, which reads: The Department will be pleased … to consider any alternative proposals that are consistent with the Noise Advisory Council's report. That report was published a month or two ago and gave rise to the consultative document.

The document suggests changing the Mole Valley route by moving half the traffic half a mile to the east and the other half of the traffic half a mile to the west; half the route would be centred over the Heathfield area, the Rivermeads, the west side of Hampton Hill and the centre of Hampton; the other half would be situated over Whitton, West Twickenham, Strawberry Hill and the centre of Teddington.

The hon. Gentleman has assured me both in reply to a Question some weeks ago and in a recent letter that full consultation will be carried out with all parties concerned. I regret to say that annex D of the document does not provide this quite as it should.

Astonishingly, Teddington, a town of some 15,000 people, has been left out, even though the document proposes to put a new flight path straight over it.

I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would confirm, if I supply him with the necessary addresses, that he will consult the Teddington Society, the Strawberry Hill Residents' Association, the Hampton Wick Association, the Hampton Court Green Residents' Association, the Whitton Community Association, the Twickenham Green Residents' Association and the Hampton Residents' Association, in addition to those he has already listed in annex D, in addition to the Richmond upon Thames Borough Council.

I wish to criticise the proposed route split as being unsatisfactory because it is so narrow that it will not achieve the desired objective of dispersing the noise, because its centre lines are only about 1 mile apart at the widest point, so that people in the middle hear both lots of noise, bearing in mind the width of the noise shadows. It will give hardly any benefit to Hampton Hill or Fulwell, which are two of the areas which suffer the worst under the present route. Whitton, West Twickenham and Strawberry Hill will suffer from increased noise although they have also to endure the Dover 2 route.

It would be more equitable to split the Mole Valley route rather more widely. I suggest half the traffic is put along a route to the west of Hampton over Han-worth Park, Kempton Park and the Queen Elizabeth Reservoir, slightly to the west of the route used prior to December 1971. I believe this would be fairer than the split proposed. It would bring limited relief to my constituency, which is now carrying far more than its fair share of the burden of noise.

I hope the Minister will look into this proposal with a fair and open mind.

1.19 a.m.

Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)

I do not wish to hold the House more than a minute as I realise that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) would wish to have the answers to the many points he has raised.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this subject and also for allowing me to have a minute to add one major point to the very important points he has raised. I fully support everything my hon. Friend has said about double glazing, night flights, and most of the other of the first six points he made.

Regarding Concorde, I expressed my concern to the Minister about the reply he gave when he told me that the noise made by Concorde will be equivalent to that made by a Boeing 707. This, in the view of my constituents—and I assume that my hon. Friend would agree with me—is unacceptable. We must ask the manufacturers to reduce the noice to the level of the quieter jets using the airport today and not just to be satisfied with the noise running at the level of that made by the present Boeing 707.

One point not touched on by my hon. Friend is helicopter noise. People at one end of my constituency suffer very much from helicopter movements. Much of the responsibility here rests with the GLC, but its attitude towards the environment of my constituents is totally unsatisfactory. It has tried in the past to drive motorways across my constituency. It has tried, and is succeeding, to flood one end of the constituency with juggernaut lorries, and now it has a proposal before it to increase the number of helicopter flights from Battersea Airport from 4,000 to 6,000 per annum, excluding emergency flights. The fact that the number of movements is double that figure shows the extent of the concern.

Although the Minister will not have time to deal with this matter tonight, I would ask him to look into it as soon as possible, because my constituents and I are very concerned.

1.22 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)

I think that it was by cutting into my time rather than that of his hon. Friend, that the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) was able to make his speech. I clearly will not be able to cover all the points that have been raised, but if any are missed, of course, I shall communicate with the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel).

I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising this vexed question again. I was right to describe aircraft noise as a pestilence I do not know the hon. Gentleman's constituency, apart from the fact that I used to raise questions about it when in opposition.

To a major extent, this sort of noise detracts from the quality of life of those who suffer from it. This point was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade in a speech on Monday to the Airport Operators' Council International Conference. He said: In my view if the air transport industry is to have a healthy and vigorous future it is essential that the high level of disturbance in areas around too many of the major airports throughout the world should first be mitigated and then progressively reduced. This cannot be done overnight without unacceptable serious damage to the industry It must follow from a controlled and phased programme which is universally accepted Thus, while the industry must recognise the yearnings for peace and quiet of those affected by aircraft noise and work towards the continued mitigation of those problems, those who live near airports, unhappily, must accept that civil aviation is here to stay, that it provides benefits for millions of people throughout the world and that noise is an inevitable consequence. We must face this acute dilemma

The hon. Member mentioned the Mole Valley route, a matter which he has often raised in the House. On 10th April 1972 he advocated a change to two routes which passed over his constituency, with the express purpose of reducing the number of people exposed to aircraft noise. Largely as a result of those pressures, in July 1972 the more important of these routes—the Mole Valley route—was revised, but, regrettably, the results have fallen short of expectation.

It is an unhappy situation that often a well-intentioned initiative fails to bear fruit, and sometimes the temptation is to conclude that nothing more can be done. But in the case of aircraft noise, I believe that we must learn from experience, even from unhappy experience, and redouble our efforts to find ways of achieving a real advance. That is the view I take of the Mole Valley problem since I have been able to consider it.

We have the independent report of the Noise Advisory Council, which was set up largely because of the experience with the Mole Valley route, and we have had the opportunity to consider the position. This was one of my first tasks when I assumed office. We have to see how best we can implement those recommendations that appeared technically feasible and most likely to bring substantial alleviation to noise suffers.

I cannot discuss the report in depth in six minutes, but it is of direct relevance to the debate because it contained a specific recommendation that the Mole Valley route should be split in order to give a measure of relief to the worst affected areas to the south east of Heathrow, where several routes, of which the Mole Valley route is one, are concentrated. I regard this an an eminently sensible suggestion and, after a full evaluation by officials of the Department and of the Civil Aviation Authority, a route split consistent with the conditions contained in the report was formulated.

We have sent out a consultative document to Members of Parliament affected and to local authorities with a direct interest in the matter, and to those amenity groups which submitted evidence about the Mole Valley route to the Noise Advisory Council during its investigation. I must stress, as I have done in correspondence, that we place the greatest emphasis on the importance of the need for full consultation. It does not mean that because we have identified a number of amenity groups other people are excluded. If people wish to submit their views we shall certainly consider them because, as I stress, consultation is the order of the day.

I do not want anyone to go away with the belief that we are seeking to impose new routes by stealth. There must and will be consultation.

I should like to go into more detail on the precise form that the route split should take, but I fear that I cannot. The essence of the matter is that we have to look at the recommendation and adjudge the response which the recommendation receives. There is nothing more I can usefully say in this respect in the time available, because there are a number of other points which the hon. Gentleman raised which I would like to deal with.

Mr. Jessel

Is the hon. Gentleman able to look at the alternative proposal which I have put forward?

Mr. Davis

Of course we shall be able to look at the alternative proposal, but it has a number of drawbacks. I am certain that even some of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends would be reluctant to accept the conclusions he has reached, but this matter falls within the ambit of consultation. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's suggested reservoir route, it should be pointed out that while this would transfer the burden in part from his constituency it would fall upon some of his neighbours, and that may not be totally acceptable.

The hon. Gentleman will know that steps are being taken in relation to quiet aircraft. I wish that the hon. Gentleman had given me more time to deal with this. British Airways are introducing the TriStar, and there is to be an increasing use by European carriers of the A.300B Airbus. Both of these are notably quiet aircraft. Steps are being undertaken by the Government to modify the older types of jet aircraft, but this takes time. The hon. Gentleman cannot expect a remarkable reformation in days or even months.

We are looking at the noise insulation grants scheme—to which the hon. Gentleman rightly referred—in the light of the recommendations made by the Noise Advisory Council, but I cannot promise a hasty reaction to it, because other Government Departments have to be consulted, as well as local authorities, and we have to see what the full repercussions would be of implementing all the recommendations of the Noise Advisory Council's report—

Sir Anthony Royle

How long will it take?

Mr. Davis

This is a matter of lengthy consultation upon which I cannot make a prediction at the moment. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman's constituents are deeply affected, but this matter has tremendous repercussions. There are also other types of noise pollution to be considered.

Reference has been made to Maplin. It is impossible to anticipate what will be in the statement to be made by my right hon. Friend before the Summer Recess, but noise disturbance will figure largely in his considerations. My Department, the Department of Trade and the Government as a whole will have to consider this issue.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Concorde. That is a little academic at the moment. I do not want to get involved in comparisons between the various air craft involved. I wrote to the hon. Gentleman along the lines that he suggested. There is, as he rightly said, a difference of view. I shall take carefully into account the views that he has expressed.

In the last minute and a half that is available to me I shall refer to helicopter noise. The hon. Gentleman will realise that that is the responsibility of the GLC rather than of the Government. The GLC is at present discussing with Westlands, the owners of Battersea Heliport, the number of flights to be allowed from the heliport this year. Last year the number of flights exceeded the number allowed by the GLC. Essentially that is a matter for the GLC, but we shall use our influence with the GLC to ensure that the point that the hon. Gentleman has made is taken into account.

We are trying to find quieter helicopter routes, with the help of the CAA. I hope that to some extent that satisfies the hon. Gentleman. I cannot prophesy that the noise problem will be overcome. It is a gradual process and each element in the noise abatement programme, although not always a major headline item, makes a major contribution—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Thursday evening and the debate having been continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-eight minutes to Two o'clock.