HC Deb 09 November 1982 vol 31 cc521-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Garel-Jones.]

10.14 pm
Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)

The Government's decision, announced ten hours ago, to go ahead with outline planning permission for the second terminal at Gatwick airport has made my request to you, Mr. Speaker, for an Adjournment debate in a sense both superfluous and timely. I should like first to thank my right hon. Friends, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment who is to reply, for not delaying the decision until tomorrow morning. It could have been announced tomorrow morning after my Adjournnent debate but that would have been rather a sneaky thing to do. I am glad that the Government took the plunge and made the decision, which they announced this morning.

Having said that, I must say to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that this is a classically bad decision that will come to be greatly regretted by Governments in years to come, because it does not begin to deal with the long-term problem of where we should site national airport development in Britain. It is a short-term piecemeal decision which, like most such decisions, will turn out to be bad.

I should like to draw an analogy with a decision made by Harold Macmillan's Government in the early 1960s concerning the siting of a major new steel plant. The Government of the day were unable to decide where the major new steel development should take place, so, unlike Solomon, they split the baby. They built a small steel plant at Ravenscraig in Scotland and another at Llanwern in South Wales. In consequence, instead of one new large viable steel plant we have had two small steel mills, both of which were uncompetitive.

In saying how much I regret this decision—I know that I am supported in this by hon. Friends whose constituencies surround mine, one of whom, my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern), is hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, during the debate—I am not trying to make a political point against my hon. Friend on the Front Bench. The question whether there should be a second terminal at Gatwick started to develop in the late 1970s. The matter has bumbled on for about five years. It is nearly two and a half years since the inquiry ended, and it happens to be my hon. Friends on the Front Bench who have taken the final decision rather than honourable opponents, but that does not make the decision any better.

Why am I so opposed to the decision? A second terminal at Gatwick without a second runway—and, according to the Minister's decision announced today, without additional maintenance or cargo handling facilities—will be only a short-term, piecemeal solution to a temporary problem. What was the problem? An excess of passengers was expected in the late 1980s before either Stansted was developed as a full-blown airport or the fifth terminal at Heathrow was developed. That was the main reason for suggesting a second terminal at Gatwick. I would suggest to my hon. Friends that that temporary problem has now disappeared because of the much slower growth in traffic now than was forecast at the end of the 1970s and during the inquiry.

Gatwick growth has sharply slowed down from more than 17 per cent. a year a few years ago to around 10 per cent. a year. That has meant that in the past 12 months there have been 11 million passengers through Gatwick rather than the 12.7 million forecast by the British Airports Authority during the inquiry. That, in turn, means that the present existing capacity at Gatwick would certainly last until the late 1980s.

The position of the South-East airports as a whole is even more startling. Last year the growth in traffic was only 2.2 per cent. Taken over two years, the increase has been only 1.1 per cent. annually.

On that basis, once the fourth terminal at Heathrow is built, there will be sufficient spare capacity in the South-East to last for 60 years. It is therefore hard to see why the Government have persisted in this short-term solution. I can only imagine that with the continuance of the Stansted inquiry it is because this matter has hung around far so long and they felt it necessary to to something. That is not the best way to reach planning decisions.

So much of the argument was about forecasts in traffic growth. That was a key issue at the inquiry. It was debated for six months. As I have just said, the present figures show that growth has slowed down dramatically. In those circumstances, it is extraordinary that when the traffic forecasts were changed, the interested parties had no opportunity to discuss them in front of the inspector. Why was the inquiry not reopened for the new forecasts to be discussed? I suspect that local authorities may decide to challenge that decision in the courts, but it is for them to make that move if they wish to do so.

This is not just a constituency point, because this decision goes no way towards dealing with the national problem of where future airports should be sited. It does not touch the question of regional airports. It simply gives us a second terminal, which I believe will not be fully used unless there is a second runway in due course. That is at the heart of much of my worry.

I find it impossible to believe that in the early 1990s, when this development is completed and there is a capacity for 25 million or 26 million passengers a year at Gatwick, the traffic will be handled on one runway, unless the British Airports Authority and the charter companies can persuade many people to take 2 am charter flights in January out of Gatwick. If they persuade them to do so, that will be no comfort at all to my constituents who live in the flight path and who from Copthorne to Crawley Down already complain about the amount of noise from night flights.

If the second terminal is not fully used in the early 1990s, and if the argument is developed—as I fear it will be—for full capacity to be made of the new terminal, there will be pressure for a second runway. Despite the legally binding agreements that have been entered into between the BAA and the local authorities, I fear that this matter will be raised again in the early 1990s to make full use of the new construction and capital investment that is taking place.

That would be a deplorable solution. It would end up with Sussex being covered in concrete from Crawley to Brighton. That is not something that my constituents wish to see.

I have one specific question for the Minister which I hope he will answer either tonight or in due course. What help will the Secretary of State give to the local authority most involved—the West Sussex county council—so that it can cope with the infrastructure demands that will certainly be made on it and on the relevant county services by this growth at Gatwick?

I say that in the knowledge that this county council is a low-spending authority. We heard that on Friday when my hon. Friends and I met the county council at Chichester. It constantly made the point about the low target figure for its rate support grant that it received from the Department of the Environment.

It is No. 38 out of 39 in the league table simply because it has been good. Because it is a low-spending authority, it has been clobbered. It has not been recognised that there is a growing population in West Sussex. That, with perhaps an additional 11,000 jobs flowing from the Gatwick development, means that the pressure on the council must increase. West Sussex's need for help with infrastructure must be recognised by central Government.

On this matter as on many others, Sussex Members of Parliament have a good habit of standing together. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley wishes to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is not simply a constituency issue or a piper's lament for the wealds and downs of sunny Sussex that are likely to disappear in the next generation. It is a genuine regret about the piecemeal nature of the decision that does not in any sense deal with national airports policy requirements. That decision will be greatly regretted in the years ahead.

10.25 pm
Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham and Crawley)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) on his good fortune in securing the debate following the Government's decision about the second terminal at Gatwick. I hope he will forgive me for saying that this must not be taken as the only debate on an issue that is so important to our constituents.

Neither I nor my hon. Friend are against a substantial increase in passenger traffic at Gatwick airport. We have always believed that passenger traffic should increase by some 50 per cent. to about 16 million passengers a year. As he knows, about 11 million passengers are handled each year. That is far below the British Airport Authority's forecast for last year. It said that 12.7 million passengers would be handled.

I understand that the Government propose a phased increase in the second terminal. They expect some 25 million passengers a year by the mid-1990s. West Sussex county council has a good record in forecasting such matters and estimates that with the workers and dependants who are expected at the airport there will be another 22,000 people by 1991, requiring 7,400 extra dwellings.

During the inquiry, the inspector recognised the strain that would be put on existing employment and infrastructure in the county. He said that existing firms that wish to expand may choose to go elsewhere. He also observed that people coming into the county would swamp the land allocation and that if more land were made available it would probably lead to the over-enlargement of existing towns and building on countryside that is best left open. He therefore suggested that manufacturing and warehousing be reduced and that all future development of that type should be refused.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has gone further, as he does not recognise the need for any action and maintains that existing employment must face the competition without any assistance.

Our area has the good fortune to have the widest choice of employment in science-based industries and in export-led firms anywhere in the country. If the proposed expansion takes place, those opportunities will not be available to our young people. That represents a major loss of job opportunities.

Furthermore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex said, who will pay for the infrastructure? May we have a firm assurance from the Minister that the county council will not be expected to pay for such infrastructure by borrowing money—by the Government increasing the council's allocation—but that it will receive cash grants for capital expenditure for the building of schools and houses? I cannot help feeling that the growth will not be so large and so rapid as the Government think and that the second terminal will turn out to be, if not a white elephant, at least a whited sepulchre and that, in the end, it will come to be called Heseltine's personal Taj Mahal.

10.30 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)

My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) would normally have responded to this debate, as he concerns himself with this aspect of my Department, but my hon. Friend is on Government business overseas. When he asked if I would stand in for him, I had no idea that today we would be announcing the go-ahead of the outline planning permission for a second passenger terminal at Gatwick together with road access from the A23.

As a London Member with a constituency near an airport and as one who has taken part in debates on airports policy in the past, I am aware of the broad strategic issues that my hon. Friends have raised. I understand the concern that they have expressed in a positive and constructive manner. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) says, my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Trade have today granted the British Airports Authority outline planning permission for a second passenger terminal at Gatwick together with road access from the A23. They have, however, refused planning permission for roads, services, taxiways and aircraft stands for an additional maintenance and cargo area because they have concluded that the need for these facilities has not been proved.

I am deeply conscious of the fact that this information has come as a disappointment to my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Sussex and for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern) and, I suspect, other hon. Members who have expressed doubts about the second terminal. I would like to assure them that my right hon. Friends came to their decision after very careful consideration of all the evidence, not only that put forward before and at the public local inquiry which was held from January to July 1980, but also the written representations from the interested parties which were invited as a result of new air traffic forecasts being made available after the inspector's report on the public inquiry had been received.

It has been suggested that the inquiry should have been reopened to hear evidence in relation to the forecasts. My right hon. Friends concluded, however, that there was no reason why the implications of the new air traffic forecasts could not be properly and fully investigated and assessed without reopening the inquiry. They were satisfied that the parties were not unfairly hampered or prejudiced in any way by putting their case by way of written representations.

My right hon. Friends have accepted most of the inspector's recommendations for minimising the environmental consequences of the decision and have placed a number of conditions on the planning permission to reduce the effects of noise and other nuisance. These conditions include a requirement to provide barriers or earth mounds to the north and east of the terminal to protect the residents of Povey Cross Road and the Horley Gardens Estate from the effects of noise from aircraft on the ground. In addition to the inspector's recommendation, my right hon. Friends have also imposed conditions banning, except in emergency, the night use, from 11 pm to 7 am of auxiliary power units and stop-and-start engine testing on the aircraft stands and taxiways of the second terminal.

The effect which this decision will have on the mid-Sussex area, to which my hon. Friends have drawn attention, has been taken fully into consideration by my right hon. Friends, and although they agree with the inspector's conclusions that the main impact of the additional employment, which might eventually be 11,000, will fall on central Sussex, and, to a lesser extent the Reigate and Banstead, Mole Valley and Tandridge districts of Surrey, they do not accept his recommendation that local authorities should try to ensure that the additional population arising from the second terminal should be part of the population growth planned in the structure plans and that this should be achieved by, among other provisions, requiring future reduction in allocation of land for firms unconnected with the airport and the locality.

My right hon. Friends fully recognise that the additional employment arising from the second terminal will have substantial consequences in the central Sussex area, as my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham and Crawley said, in relation to the labour supply for employers in the area. But they are not convinced that the inspector's recommendation would help to solve these difficulties. Indeed, they consider that it might unduly inhibit the growth of industry, including that of small firms in the area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex has expressed doubts about whether it will be possible to accommodate a through-put of up to 25 million passengers a year using two terminals but with only one runway. There is, however, no suggestion that 25 million passengers a year could be handled off the single Gatwick runway at present, but as the number of passengers per aircraft movement continue to increase with the introduction of modern wide-bodied aircraft, there is no reason to believe that such numbers cannot be reached at Gatwick by the early to mid-1990s.

A number of those who have opposed the provision of the second terminal at Gatwick take the view that the slower growth in air traffic indicated by the new forecasts means that a new terminal at Stansted could be available by the time additional terminal capacity in the London area is needed and that the demand should therefore be met at Stansted. Indeed, that case has been put forward tonight. As the House knows, however, the British Airports Authority's proposals for the development of Stansted to meet the expected longer-term demand in the London area airports system, brought forward by invitation of the Government, are at present the subject of a public inquiry. This inquiry is also examining proposals for alternative solutions and the proceedings of that inquiry are not expected to be concluded before the summer of 1983; my right hon. Friends cannot, of course, pre-judge the conclusions of the inspector who is conducting the Stansted inquiry or the decision they will take in the light of his report.

The British Airports Authority has said, in its written representations on the new air traffic forecasts, that it now considers 1990 to be the first full year by which the first phase of a new Stansted terminal could be available, on the assumption of a favourable decision by mid-1984, and that 1988 is the first full year for which additional capacity could now be provided at Gatwick. On those assumptions, my right hon. Friends are satisfied that there is still likely to be a gap of at least two years when demand will exceed the existing capacity, unless the second terminal at Gatwick is provided as soon as possible.

Also, evidence was submitted by the BAA, both at the inquiry and in written evidence on the new forecasts, to show that Gatwick has experienced exceptional growth in recent years and that growth can be expected to continue at a greater rate than at other airports in the South-East, despite the demise of Laker and Braniff. My right hon. Friends have accepted that evidence and take the view that on present trends the capacity of the existing terminal. at Gatwick, as against the rest of the London area airports system, is likely to be exhausted by the mid-1980s.

My hon. Friends have rightly drawn attention to the problems they see arising in the neighbouring areas of Gatwick as a result of the provision of the second terminal. I think it right, however, to mention the considerable benefits, both direct and indirect, that will arise. First, it will be a major help to the tourist industry, by greatly increasing the capacity of airlines to provide improved service and greater comfort for travellers both to and from the London and South-East areas. Secondly, the building of the new terminal and the associated facilities will provide a considerable opportunity for the construction industry. It will also create employment, perhaps of the order of 11,000 jobs eventually, and be a general boost to the economy of the area—despite the fears my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex has expressed about "overheating". Lastly—I am sure this should not be forgotten—it will provide a substantial rate income for the local authorities.

Both my hon. Friends pressed me to answer the question about what assistance would be made available to the local authorities that have to provide the infrastructure. This will be a matter for discussion between my Department and the local authorities concerned. taking into account not just the costs of the infrastructure, but the benefits—by way of extra rateable income—that the development will bring about. I am sure that the Department will enter into those discussions with good will and a keenness to resolve the situation satisfactorily in the interests of all concerned.

In his report, the inspector mentioned the advantages to the nation of providing capacity to meet the demands of air travel. A number of the parties who support the second terminal pointed out that refusal of planning permission for the proposed terminal would have a serious adverse commercial effect on the Gatwick-based airlines and would undermine the Government's policies which are designed to limit air traffic at Heathrow and relieve the greater noise burden around that airport.

As my right hon. Friends have made clear, they believe that it is in the national interest to provide adequate facilities for future demand for air transport to London and the South-East, that that will bring consequential benefits for important growth sectors of the economy and that to refuse to provide such additional capacity would constitute an unjustifiable obstacle in the way of an important aspect of the regeneration of the economy. I am pleased to see at my side my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade, who has a particular interest in, and responsibility for, that aspect.

My right hon. Friends are satisfied that there is a need for a second terminal at Gatwick, both to meet the expected demand within the London area airports system and to provide for the continued growth of air traffic at Gatwick. They are satisfied that these considerations outweigh the environmental and planning objections to the proposed development.

I am sure that this is not the last that we shall hear of this matter and that my hon. Friends will have other opportunities to raise the legitimate interests of their constituents which, rightly, they have the reputation of taking to heart.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes to Eleven o' clock.