HC Deb 26 October 1992 vol 212 cc764-5
8. Mr. Jessel:

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he intends to take in 1993 to reduce the aircraft noise around Heathrow.

Mr. Norris

Heathrow will continue to benefit in 1993 from the replacement of older, noisier, chapter 2 aircraft with modern, quieter chapter 3 types.

Mr. Jessel

Although the Government have an excellent record on aircraft noise, including the decision to refuse planning permission for a fifth terminal at Heathrow in the 1980s, and the removal of the Heathrow to Gatwick helicopter link, is my hon. Friend aware that hundreds of thousands of people living around Heathrow, where there are 1,000 flights a day, find aircraft noise a curse and a pestilence which spoils their enjoyment of their homes? Apart from emergencies, should not night flights be banned altogether?

Mr. Norris

The whole House knows that my hon. Friend has been a doughty fighter on behalf of his constituents against noise pollution. I congratulate him on this latest effort. My hon. Friend knows that the night-flying restrictions are due for review and that we intend to introduce new ones in the winter season of 1993. That process will involve wide public consultation, during which I know that my hon. Friend's views and those of his constituents will be heard. As for any application that might be made to expand services at Heathrow, my hon. Friend will appreciate that no planning application has formally been made at this point. However, when it is made, the Secretary of State for the Environment and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will have to consider all the issues involved in deciding whether to grant permission.

Ms. Hoey

Will the Minister apply his attention to a particularly nasty form of aircraft, the helicopter, which, as he knows, is being put to increasing use, particularly along the river? Can he tell us why his Department is being so secretive about ferreting around trying to find new heliport sites along the river? Can he tell us why he will not now make public the sites that his Department is looking at so that the people who live in those areas can make their views known? I am sure that he knows what they will want to say.

Mr. Norris

I know of no hit list of secret sites for helicopter sites on the Thames. However, I do not believe that the Battersea heliport is adequate. A major city such as London ought to have a heliport that is much closer to the financial centre. I should welcome the proposal for a heliport in such a position as it would enhance the economic life of our city. There has been a great deal of Nimbyism about previous proposals to find such a site, but I trust that when it is identified—I have not had one put to me yet—the hon. Lady will join me in supporting something that will do a great deal to enhance London's reputation as a financial centre.

Mr. Wilkinson

When my hon. Friend comes to review night movements at Heathrow, or any other proposal affecting air transport services to or from that airport, will he bear it in mind that it is the premier gateway to Europe, an invaluable source of foreign exchange and a vital source of employment for tens of thousands of local residents? Will he also remember that the noise footprints around the airport have been considerably reduced over the years because of the quieter aircraft that have come into service and that the really important aim is to get into service the high-speed surface transport link to Paddington? Can he help on that matter, too?

Mr. Norris

I acknowledge that my hon. Friend's sentiments about the importance of Heathrow are widely shared. When it comes to night-flying restrictions, the British Airports Authority has to balance the commercial needs of airlines against the environmental impact of those airlines' operations. It is perfectly proper that consideration of these matters should involve public consultation. My hon. Friend knows that the Heathrow express proposal is being taken forward by the BAA and British Rail. I look forward to there being some progress so that the link can be provided as soon as possible.

Mr. Snape

As Dan-Air has become the latest victim of the recession, does the Minister think that British Airways' replacement aircraft will lead to a reduction in aircraft noise and, indeed, a reduction in noise from the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who I notice is not with us now? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, he is."] I am sorry; he is skulking. Will the Minister confirm that Virgin and British Midland were offered the same deal as that accepted by British Airways, but preferred to wait for Dan-Air's collapse to pick up its routes and slots without having to save jobs or meet redundancy payments to its former employees?

Mr. Norris

The hon. Gentleman knows that the chapter 3 requirements on noise extend to new aircraft being manufactured, which will gradually lead to improvements in noise levels at Heathrow and elsewhere. He knows that the commercial criteria of the Dan-Air transaction are for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who will consider all aspects of it in considering whether to take further action.