HC Deb 22 October 1991 vol 196 cc835-42

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

5.57 pm
Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

It is a refreshing change for an Adjournment debate to be held as early as this. Whenever I have had an Adjournment debate in the past, it has been in the early hours of the morning.

The subject that I want to raise is the second runway at Manchester airport which is causing great concern in my constituency. Ever since I was elected as Member of Parliament for Altrincham and Sale I have supported Manchester airport, for a variety of reasons. It is of great value to the north-west region. The airport is also the largest single employer in my constituency. If anything drastic were to happen at the airport and employment there were to drop, it would have a devastating effect on my constituents.

In particular, I have supported over the years more scheduled international flights. I could never understand why passengers from the north of England had to take the shuttle down to London and change aeroplanes in order to get to their final destination. I have always felt that, as long as airlines were prepared to fly passengers direct, and provided that there was sufficient demand, this was nonsense. I encouraged more scheduled flights because they fly during the day at more civilised times, unlike charter flights, which often take place during the night and cause residents in the area to complain.

Recently, the airport published its development strategy to the year 2005. To say that that has caused a stir in the area around the airport would be a classic understatement. It has caused a great deal of concern.

Protest groups have been formed, protest meetings have taken place and countless letters of protest have been written. People have written to me blaming not only the Government, but the Conservative party, for the problems. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will disabuse them of that false notion. The airport is controlled not by the Government, but by a board that consists of three professionals, nine councillors from Manchester city council, and one councillor from each of the nine district councils that made up the former Greater Manchester council. Of all those councillors, only one is a Conservative.

I regret the personal attacks that have been made on the airport's chief executive, Mr. Gil Thompson. He does not make the decisions; as chief executive he carries out the decisions made by the board. People have a right to put their case fairly and squarely, but to descend to personal abuse is unforgivable.

The development strategy to the year 2005 proposes the construction of a second runway by 1998. Three options have been suggested. Some people suggest that the reason for there being three options is to cause dissent in the area and to pit one group against another. That is not true. Three options were suggested because this is a consultative period and the board feels that it must put forward options that it thinks might be viable. I am most concerned about option 2—the option that is causing the greatest anxiety in my area —because the runway would be sited close to a built-up area.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, Manchester airport is in my constituency. Over the years, he and I have participated in debates about the future of the airport. As he said, this is a consultation period, and it will last for some time yet. It is essential that all points of view are fully stated and considered. It may not be decided to proceed with any of the options, but if it is decided to proceed with any one of them, there will have to be a planning application and a public inquiry. We must make it clear to people that we are at the very beginning of a long consultation period.

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a great deal of concern about the threat of privatisation of the airport. It is felt that if that were to happen, environmental factors would go through the window and the airport could be controlled from Tokyo, Wall street or the City of London, and that local influence and authority would disappear. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that concern.

Sir Fergus Montgomery

I agree with the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, but if I had known that he intended to talk about privatisation, I might not have given way to him.

The airport tries to maintain a good neighbour policy, and any complaints that I have taken to it on behalf of constituents have been sympathetically treated. The airport operates a series of policies in an effort to help those who are adversely affected. It has a noise insulation grant scheme, it imposes fines on noisy aircraft, it has installed equipment to monitor whether aircraft keep to flight paths, and it will begin to fine aircraft that do not. After its efforts last year, the airport was awarded the north-west "Golden Lear' award because it was the business doing the most to limit the environmental impact of its operations in the north-west. The airport has quite a good record.

The argument that is now raging is whether a second runway at Manchester is essential. First, it is argued that a second runway is needed because of maintenance or disruption to the existing runway. Secondly, the airport is claiming that future demand in the area will require a second runway and it has produced figures to substantiate its claim. However, at protest meetings and in the letters that the right hon. Gentleman and I have received, Gatwick is always cited as an example of an airport that has only one runway, yet still manages to cope with more passengers and more aircraft movements than Manchester.

Some figures supplied by a local resident compare the numbers of passenger and aircraft movements for Manchester and for Gatwick. For the year ending 31 December 1990, Manchester handled 10.8 million passengers, while Gatwick handled 21 million. It is estimated that, by the year 2000, Manchester will handle 22 million and Gatwick 30 million. For that same year, Manchester handled 123,000 aircraft movements, while Gatwick handled 189,000. It is estimated that, by 1995, Manchester will handle 172,000 and Gatwick 200,000.

People say that Gatwick, which does more business than Manchester, manages with a single runway—so why the need for a second runway at Manchester? That fact has had a great impact on people who oppose a second runway. The other constant theme in the letters that I have received is that people feel that the issue should be dealt with as a regional problem. They believe that a regional study should be undertaken to identify where passenger traffic originates—in the whole of the north of England, not just in the Manchester area—in the hope that some traffic could be diverted for the mutual benefit of the north of England as a whole. I hope that the idea of a regional survey will be considered in conjunction with the continuing consideration of runway capacity in the south-east. It is vital, in the national interest, to ensure that maximum use is made of regional airports, consistent with the demand that they can attract.

Another point that needs clarifying is whether there should be greater co-operation between the airports of Manchester and Liverpool. Again, one of the themes running through the letters of constituents is that, if more jobs are to be created, it might be more sensible to create them in Liverpool where they are more greatly needed. On the other hand, Manchester airport has published research carried out by the Henley centre, which claims: We are able to give an unequivocal response. From a carrier perspective, a passenger perspective and for the economic good of the region as a whole, it would be better to develop a second runway at Manchester, rather than redevelop Speke as a major international airport. We therefore have two conflicting views, to which I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will give some thought.

The problem appears to relate to how near people live to the airport. Those who live a fair distance away are in favour of more development because that would mean more jobs and greater prosperity in the area. Those who live close to the airports or under the flight path do not have quite the same enthusiasm for expansion. My constituents have written to me expressing concern about the increase in pollution and noise that a second runway would generate, even with double glazing. I am told that, when the weather is hot and they need to open their windows to get some cool air in the evening, the noise makes that unpleasant for them. When people sit in their gardens talking, they have to stop because they cannot be heard above the noise of passing aircraft.

My constituents are concerned about the environmental damage that would occur in Bollin valley. They are worried about the congestion on local roads that would be caused by the additional cars that would be used in the area and they are especially concerned about the effects on the already overcrowded M56.

I wish to mention one novel suggestion passed to me —that everyone who uses Manchester airport should pay £1 tax. The money collected—this year, it would have amounted to about £11 million—could be placed in a separate fund and used to bring about improvements for those who suffer nuisance from the activities of the airport.

I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister could give some idea of the procedures that will be followed. That point was made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). I can only assume that he must have read the end of my speech because he used almost the same words that I shall use.

As I understand it, the airport board will either say before Christmas that there will not be a second runway or it will advance a preferred option. If it does the latter, it will have to make a planning application to the relevant local authority. I am told that that would most likely be made at the end of 1993. The Secretary of State would call in the application and a public inquiry with an independent inspector would he held in 1994 and 1995.

That process is essential, because it will allow objectors to put their case publicly and will ensure that their arguments are fairly considered before a final decision is taken.

I hope that the airport will give my constituents a lovely Christmas present. I have always supported the airport, but plans for expansion must take into account the concerns of local residents. There is no way in which I could support growth at any price.

6.10 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) on securing a second Adjournment debate on Manchester airport within a short period. As we are talking about one of the top 20 airports in the world, the time is well spent. I confirm the point that he made about the airport not being controlled by the Government—far from it, as he made clear.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), in whose constituency the airport is located, made a valid point about the overall context and importance of the airport. I am sorry that he diverted into the realms of privatisation. If any privatisation proposals are made, we shall debate them in more detail on a later occasion. I should prefer not to debate them now, as I am pressed for time, but our experience of companies that have been privatised is that there has been no dereliction of duty.

One of the objectives that the Government had in mind when the largest local authority airports were reconstructed as companies under the Airports Act 1986 was that they should think and plan ahead as businesses. That involves them in considering the financing of airport activities, but as important is the preparation of strategies for the development of their airports so that the public can be consulted and so that the environmental implications can be considered in good time.

Manchester was in the forefront of creating an airport company and it has been in the lead in preparing development strategies and in public involvement. Its existing strategy, prepared in 1987, covers the period to 1995. The airport company has now published a draft of the fourth development strategy that will cover the period to 2005. It is right that the company should set out its proposals and the rationale for them. Although we recognise that the options that the draft contains may cause severe concerns to some of the people living near the airport, others will be encouraged by the prospect of the greater opportunities that these proposals represent.

The airport is well known as a major source of employment for the region. There are more than 150 companies at the airport, employing almost 10,000 people. An additional 15,000 jobs in the region are dependent on the airport.

Mr. Alfred Morris

It employs more than 10,000 directly at the airport.

Mr. McLoughlin

The right hon. Gentleman says that it is more than 10,000. It is certainly a vibrant part of Manchester.

I said only last week in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) that passenger numbers at the airport had increased from 3.4 million in 1979 to more than 10 million in 1990. For several years in succession, Manchester has been Europe's fastest expanding airport. The airport company forecasts that passenger numbers will increase to 16 million in 1995, to 22 million in the year 2000 and beyond that.

Translating such figures into requirements for terminal and runway capacity is not as straightforward as it may seem because of the uncertainties about aircraft sizes, the mix between schedule and charter traffic and the amount of hub traffic that is expected, but Manchester forecasts that demand during the morning peak period in 1995 will be equivalent to about 60 aircraft movements per hour, compared with the existing capacity of between 41 or 42 movements.

In the short term, it may be possible to constrain demand by measures such as pricing and liaison on airline schedules. The airport company plans to carry out work to the runway and to the taxiway system to maximise the capacity of the existing runways, but it is concerned that, by the time that passengers levels reach about 18 million, which they are expected to reach in the late 1990s, it will have to turn traffic away because of the shortage of peak-time slots. That is the background to the airport company's proposal to construct a second runway.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale about the need for local people to be able to use their own local airport. I wish that we could think of another name for regional airports. It is unfair to describe Manchester, Birmingham or other airports as regional airports—they are major airports. Manchester is the third largest airport in the United Kingdom and it is wrong to describe it as a regional airport.

We received a report from the CAA on airport capacity —document CAP 570. We have established a broadly based working group to take forward and to build on the CAA's advice in CAP 570. In considering the south-east area's capacity, it will take full account of the important contributions that regional airports can make to meeting overall growth in demand. The group is testing the CAA's findings that although traffic at regional airports will continue to grow strongly, development at these airports would not provide an effective substitute for additional capacity in the south-east. Indeed, the report stated that we would need to look for a new runway in the south-east by 2005. We are taking advice on the problem in the south-east.

The working group has established a sub-group specifically to consider those important regional issues. It is chaired by a representative of the Joint Airports Committee of Local Authorities, which is making a substantial and valuable contribution to the group's work. I look forward to learning the results of its studies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale mentioned Liverpool. I have no doubt that there is room for development at Liverpool airport, but its owner—British Aerospace—must decide whether to seek an accommodation with Manchester. It cannot be ignored, however, that by some margin Manchester is the third biggest airport in the United Kingdom. It is a substantial regional airport which provides a wide range of international services for the business traveller and holidaymaker, covering about 140 destinations. It will want to pursue the development in a way that seems most appropriate to its commercial operations.

Accordingly, Manchester is formulating its own plans to meet the demand being generated within its catchment area. Twenty million people and 60 per cent. of the United Kingdom's manufacturing industry are located within two hours drive of the airport. The CAA's advice in CAP 570 contains traffic projections for Manchester that are broadly comparable to those that the airport company has recently produced. Moreover, the CAA concluded there would be a need for a new runway to serve the north-west and, prima facie, a site in the Manchester area was indicated. The airport company's evaluation of potential runway options has been carried out in conjunction with the CAA to ensure a robust analysis compatible with national air traffic planning. An initial study by the company shows that a second runway could be integrated into the air traffic system both regionally and nationally.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale will not expect detailed views from me today on the three areas of search for a second runway contained in the draft development strategy. The airport company has rightly set out the options and invited comments on them. It has also given an undertaking that it will announce its preferred option before Christmas. I join my hon. Friend in hoping that there will be no slippage in that announcement. We are all aware of the uncertainty that proposed major developments have caused. Therefore, the sooner that uncertainty is ended the better. The undertaking is important to end the uncertainty that the possibility of large-scale airport development inevitably creates.

Some of this uncertainty relates to the differing noise effects which local residents may suffer directly from the various options. There is also more general concern about aircraft noise as an environmental issue, together with concern about landscape and air and water quality. Manchester airport lies in attractive open countryside, within the green belt and close to residential communities. At the same time, its development is closely related to our aviation liberalisation policies and to our achievements since 1979 in regenerating the economy of the north-west. The airport company recognises that it has a particularly difficult task in balancing the claims of development and the environment.

Noise abatement measures are generally the responsibility of the owners or operators of airports. We believe that these local matters are best discussed and resolved locally, but we expect owners or operators to reduce the disturbance caused by their operations so far as is practicable and reasonable. We also believe that Manchester airport is taking its environmental responsibilities seriously—for example, its noise and track-keeping system and its contribution to research on sleep disturbance.

One cannot completely overcome noise problems, but the airport company is doing what it can reasonably be expected to do to mitigate the effects. That can be achieved without recourse to new taxation. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale would not wish us to follow through that suggestion which his constituents may have made, but I accept the specific points that have been made about people using the airport and the impact on the locality. This matter can best be addressed by the airport, without introducing new taxation. New taxation would set a precedent for other airports, which I am not sure we would welcome.

The Government, too, are playing an active role in reducing aircraft noise. The United Kingdom played a major part last year in securing worldwide agreement within the International Civil Aviation Organisation to ban the older, noisier, chapter 2 types of aircraft between 1995 and the year 2002. A European Community directive on the subject will be incorporated into United Kingdom legislation. On current forecasts, the phasing out of noisier jets will improve the noise environment around airports, even with projected increases in traffic.

Noise will, of course, be one of the factors covered in the environmental impact assessment which will accompany the airport's planning application for its preferred choice of runway site. It hopes to reach that stage by 1993. Consideration of the issues would then be a matter for the planning system in the normal way. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale and the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe said that they would campaign vigorously to have applications called in. Whether an application should be called in is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the environment to determine in the circumstances that exist at the time. The Government's general approach is not to interfere with the jurisdiction of local planning authorities unless that is necessary.

In general, cases are called in only if planning issues of more than local importance are involved—for example, those that have wide effects beyond the immediate locality, those that give rise to substantial regional or national controversy, those that may conflict with national policy on important matters and those where the interests of national security of foreign Governments may be involved. There is a fairly wide definition. I am sure that it would not be beyond the ability of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale to make a strong case for consideration by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

There are no easy solutions in building a runway. In many debates, hon. Members on both sides of the House have agreed with the need for additional runway capacity. However, there are always differences over where that extra capacity should be. One of the most memorable of those occasions occurred when the House debated the findings of CAP 570. My hon. Friends said that a new runway was essential, but they then explained why it should not be at the airport closest to their constituencies. It is a difficult decision and we face great difficulties in dealing with applications.

We have no control over the airport. As my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale pointed out, the company is controlled by local councillors in the main and by three executive officers. I am sorry to hear about personal attacks on Gil Thompson, whom I respect and to whom I have listened. I am disturbed to hear of personal attacks on someone who is doing a professional job. It is unfortunate if such things happen and would not serve any purpose.

Over the past 10 years, through the Government's liberalisation policies, the tremendous growth in regional airports has brought tremendous benefits to the people living in those areas. They do not necessarily have to travel to the south-east to get a flight. The important changes that have occurred have been generally welcomed, because those airports have provided new hubs for business. In 1979, just over 3 million passengers used Manchester airport, the number has grown to more than 10 million. Many people are directly employed by the airport.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

I wish to make it clear to my hon. Friend that Manchester airport is recognised as an asset for the region. The problem is that, in Cheadle, my constituents have been asked to face the prospect of not only a second runway but night flights.

Mr. McLoughlin

I thank my hon. Friend. Those are important points. My hon. Friends the Members for Cheadle and for Altrincham and Sale have stressed the importance of achieving a balance between expansion and environmental considerations, such as noise abatement. There are no easy solutions, but it is right that Manchester airport has formulated a long-term strategy and is [consulting the public about it. We need to —

It being not later than half an hour after the motion had been made, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER suspended the Sitting, pursuant to Order [18 October.]

Sitting suspended at 6.27 pm.

7.24 pm

MR. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.

Message to attend the Lords Commissioners:

The House went:—and, having returned:

Forward to