HC Deb 20 November 2001 vol 375 cc177-93 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Stephen Byers)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement concerning the proposal to build a fifth terminal at Heathrow airport, and to outline our intention to streamline the handling of major infrastructure projects in the planning system.

I am today publishing the inspector's report into Heathrow terminal 5, as well as my decision letter. Copies of both have been placed in the Library of the House. My decision and the reasons for it have been set out in the decision letter itself.

The inquiry into terminal 5 was the longest in British planning history. It opened in May 1995 and closed in March 1999. The inspector, Mr. Roy Vandermeer QC, reported to my Department on 20 December last year. I thank the inspector for his report, and I am grateful to him for the great diligence that he has shown.

The delay in reaching a decision since the report was received in December arises because, since the inspector reported, the applicants—BAA, which owns and operates Heathrow airport—warned in May that they wished to revise the twin rivers scheme, which was a part of the original application. It was August before they put forward any details. That then required consultation, which was completed by the middle of October.

After considering the inspector's report and taking into account all the relevant considerations, I have today given my approval to the development of terminal 5 at Heathrow airport. Such a development is in the national interest. It will enable Heathrow to remain a world-class airport, and it will bring benefits to the British economy. At the same time as giving my approval to the development, I have imposed conditions in order to protect the interests of those living in the vicinity of Heathrow airport.

In his report, the inspector stresses that the issue is essentially one of striking a balance. He identifies clearly the benefits of terminal 5, which are considerable. He sees Heathrow as essential for keeping the United Kingdom air transport industry strong and competitive. However, the inspector sees wider benefits, beyond the aviation industry. He points to benefits for London and for the UK as a whole. He says that Heathrow has done much to attract investment to the UK, and that London's success as a world city and financial centre could be threatened unless Heathrow stays competitive.

The inspector states that by ensuring Heathrow's continued success, terminal 5 would make a major contribution to the national economy. He also says that it would be good for passengers, providing a terminal equal to the best in the world and relieving the pressure on the other four terminals.

I also agree with the inspector that the real beneficiaries if terminal 5 is not given the go-ahead will be Charles de Gaulle in Paris, Schipol in Amsterdam and Frankfurt airports.

The inspector, though, rightly draws attention to the disadvantages of giving the go-ahead. Those, too, are important. There is noise, and the inspector addresses the issue at length. He considers matters such as extra road traffic, air quality, intrusion into the green belt and the effects of construction.

The inspector weighs all the benefits and costs very carefully. He says, and I use his words, that he has come to the clear conclusion that the benefits of terminal 5 would substantially outweigh the environmental impact, as long as its effects are properly controlled. I agree with him that terminal 5 should go ahead, but subject to conditions. I shall outline the key conditions to the House.

First, a limit on the number of flights each year has been set at 480,000. The limit has been imposed on a precautionary basis, and because of the inspector's concerns about noise. It was recommended by the inspector himself. Last year, Heathrow handled some 460,000 flights and just under 65 million passengers. Even with a limit of 480,000 flights, the inspector adopted a figure of 90 million passengers each year as the capacity of Heathrow if terminal 5 is built—an extra 25 million passengers at Heathrow each year.

Secondly, the noise effects of terminal 5 will also be limited by a condition restricting the area enclosed by the 57-decibel noise contour to 145 sq km as front 2016. Again, this follows the inspector's recommendation.

The inspector recommends stricter controls on night flights. I recognise that there is considerable concern about night noise, but I am not legally entitled to change the night noise regime without consultation. I shall consult on extending the night quota period when I next make proposals for the night noise regime for the BAA London airports. I have decided that the consultation will take place by 2003 at the latest.

The House should also be aware that we have already announced a change to the system of so-called westerly preference at Heathrow to reduce the number of night flights over built-up west London. That is in line with one of the inspector's recommendations. We have also announced a major research study to reassess attitudes to aircraft noise. That will permit a fresh look at the present LEQ noise index on which the inspector commented.

I have agreed with the inspector on the need to promote the use of public transport, so I have imposed conditions, as he recommended, requiring the extension to terminal 5 of both the Heathrow express and the Piccadilly line before the new terminal is opened.

I have also agreed with the inspector to cut the provision of car parking spaces for the airport as a whole below that in the original proposals. I am imposing a condition limiting total spaces to 42,000 rather than the 46,000 proposed by BAA. Of those, only 17,500, rather than the 21,700 originally proposed, will be available for employees.

The terminal proposals also included widening the M4 between junctions 3 and 4b, but I agree with the inspector that that widening is inappropriate. I have therefore refused approval for it.

As to the timing, I have imposed conditions requiring that work to implement any of the planning approvals should not start until a separate approval has been given to the essential scheme for diverting the twin rivers that flow across the terminal 5 site. That will ensure a proper opportunity for full examination of that scheme.

I should touch on three further points. The first relates to the tragic events of 11 September, and the effects of those terrorist attacks on air travel. In reaching my decision I noted that the inspector had based his conclusions on forecasts as far ahead as 2016, and terminal 5 is clearly expected to be in operation for much longer than that. Planning decisions such as this require a lengthy time horizon, and I believe that my decision is well justified on that basis.

Secondly, Members will know of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, delivered on 2 October this year, in the case of Hatton and others against the United Kingdom. The case concerned night noise at Heathrow, and the court held by a majority that there had been an infringement of the European convention on human rights. I am considering that judgment, which will not become final until at least three months after its delivery. Quite apart from my decision on terminal 5, I will of course wish to ensure that the night noise regime at Heathrow complies with the convention.

Thirdly, I am well aware of the time that was taken by the process of the public inquiry into terminal 5. In saying that I mean no criticism of the inspector, but whether such lengthy inquiries are appropriate must be an issue. I announced on 20 July that we were considering a package of measures to streamline the handling of major infrastructure projects in the planning system. That included a commitment to publish up-to-date statements of Government policy before major infrastructure projects were considered in the planning system to help reduce inquiry time spent on debating the policy, the introduction of new arrangements to give Parliament an opportunity to approve projects in principle, and improved public inquiry procedures. We shall publish further details for consultation in the next two months.

Together with the other steps that we shall propose to improve the operation of the planning and compulsory purchase systems, those measures will both safeguard the rights of people to have their say and reduce the time taken in future to reach decisions on major infrastructure projects.

My decision and the reasons for it are set out in full in the decision letter that I issued today. Nothing that I say here today should be seen as in any way a substitute for what is in that lengthy letter. I have decided that giving the go-ahead for a fifth terminal is essential if we are to maintain Heathrow as one of the world's leading airports and bring benefits to the British economy. I have no doubt that the national interest requires the project to proceed, as long as we establish measures to safeguard local people and their communities. I believe my decision achieves that, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

I thank the Secretary of State for giving me a copy of his statement in advance. As he will recall, the last statement arrived somewhat late. I am delighted that this one arrived in plenty of time, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy. Let me also associate the Opposition with what he said about the inspector, who must have spent a considerable part of his professional life preparing for and deliberating on the fifth terminal.

The statement has indeed been a long time coming. It has been eight years in the making, and the cost has been £84 million. Moreover—the Secretary of State explained why this was necessary—the report gathered dust on his desk for a year after its completion. It will, of course, be welcomed by the aviation industry as a vital boost in these difficult times, while being received by some residents with a degree of regret.

During the right hon. Gentleman's statement I had sight of the decision letter, which is indeed complex. It is right for conditions to be set: it would be entirely wrong to establish a fifth terminal without setting conditions relating to night flights, to the number of flights, or to noise. However, there is a deep tragedy about parts of the announcement. Instead of its being a triumph for the aviation industry and for addressing the environmental concerns of local people, T5, at least the planning side, will be remembered as the last hurrah of a cumbersome planning system.

Much has happened in the past eight years. Seven terminals have been built in Europe and eight runways have been planned and built while terminal 5 was deliberated on. Heathrow's position as the main gateway to Europe cannot be guaranteed, despite terminal 5, until beyond the end of the decade, but there is a danger—I would be grateful for the Secretary of State's views on this—that we might be reading the wrong message on terminal 5. The points made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) have some merit. We need to draw a balance between competitive decision making and the rights of local people. Communities have a right to a say on regional issues because they have to bear the consequences of those decisions.

It must be said that much of the time was taken up by pointless verbal repetition of written statements on terminal 5. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is important that we see a streamlining, but not a stifling, of debate? We need to ensure that key issues are addressed. Local voices do matter.

Does the Secretary of State agree that this is a vote of confidence in the future, but any contraction in the airline industry will make it more rather than less likely that Heathrow will be used, as airlines start to fall back on Heathrow rather than other airports, and that the terminal will bring nothing more than a catch-up on capacity?

With regard to the conditions, I have a number of points to raise. In his consultation, does the Secretary of State envisage looking towards a reduction of the 16 night flights? On noise, will he ensure that the studies on the effect of sleep deprivation, which I understand have been carried out only in Manchester, will take place in Heathrow and the wider area? Will he in particular ensure that the flight lines are vigorously monitored and that those who fail to follow them are prosecuted? Does the Secretary of State recognise that limiting the number of flights will further squeeze the number of slots available to regional airports? What are his views on that?

On the Secretary of State's conditions on public transport, does he understand that, until that public transport is readily available, the squeezing of car parking places will just make congestion worse? With regard to the Heathrow Express and the Piccadilly line, do his conditions ensure a degree of flexibility, particularly with regard to links in the west, to relieve pressure? I notice that paragraph 55 of his conditions seeks to limit the number of passengers on the Heathrow Express. How does that relate to the squeezing of the car parking spaces? Does he support Mayor Livingstone's suggestion that congestion charging may be introduced at Heathrow? The Minister of State, Lord Falconer, has promised a clear statement on national policies on infrastructure. Can the Secretary of State give some indication whether airports will be the subject of the first such statement?

The Secretary of State promises a paper on aviation in the spring. Will that paper give a clear indication whether the Government see the need for an additional runway in the south-east and whether it should be at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted or on the Thames estuary? Is that how he now envisages planning should take place?

We recognise that a lot of hard work has gone into the deliberations, and that this is just the beginning of a very long process before terminal 5 is concluded. We would be grateful for a response from the Secretary of State on those specific issues.

Mr. Byers

The hon. Gentleman has asked a number of questions, and I shall try to answer them in the order in which they were asked. He mentioned the very good work of the inspector, Mr. Roy Vandermeer QC, who I think has done a very thorough and effective job. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is able to associate the Opposition with my opening remarks on the work that he has done. The report has taken a long time, but I should say that it has not been gathering dust on my desk. I should have liked to take a decision on the matter soon after I entered office, but we had to wait for BAA to come up with the changes that it wanted to the twin rivers scheme. That has delayed today's announcement.

I think that the hon. Gentleman was right about contraction in air travel. There may certainly be contraction in the next two years, in the light of events on 11 September, but the experience of the Gulf war was that, after no more than six months or so, air traffic took off again and numbers began to increase. Although I had to consider that issue in relation to the inspector's report and the forecast to 2016, it was not an issue that affected the inspector's report. The important point for Heathrow is that it goes to quality and is considered around the world to be a first-rate airport. It is a quality airport that we can provide in the United Kingdom.

No decisions have been taken yet on the detail of the consultation document in relation to the issue of night flights; they will have to wait until we embark on that particular process. I am perfectly willing to accept the hon. Gentleman's proposal that we should extend the number of factors such as noise that are taken into account, to include sleep disturbance, for example, which is clearly a very important issue. When flight paths are agreed they should be followed and we shall ensure that that is done stringently.

The inspector's view was that 480,000 flight movements annually was striking the right balance. It is worth reflecting on the fact that he strongly believed that with 480,000 flight movements annually and other changes, such as the move to larger aircraft which are still quieter than current aircraft, 90 million passengers annually at Heathrow is the potential that could be achieved.

On public transport, the hon. Gentleman was right to point out the importance of the Piccadilly line and the Heathrow Express, which we will want to see extended to terminal 5. As the decision letter makes very clear, the number of people using the Heathrow express is a particular issue in relation to possible problems at Paddington. That issue will have to be addressed.

We do not expect the 480,000 flight movements to be in any way detrimental to regional services. Indeed, one would have thought that the increase of 20,000 flight movements annually offers potential from which regional airports can benefit. An aviation White Paper will be published in 2002 that will address some of the wider issues, over and above the planning application, affecting Heathrow airport and the terminal 5 application.

I have not seen any proposals from the Mayor on congestion charging at Heathrow. I have seen newspaper comment on such proposals but no detail from the Mayor. It is not an issue that he has raised in the regular meetings that we have with him.

On the wider issue of infrastructure projects and a streamlined planning process, I am very clear that, when it comes to planning, our responsibility is to take people with us in the process. I do not want people to feel that they have to resist change totally. The real challenge facing us is to put in place a planning process that enables people to feel that they are partners in change, not victims of change. What that means in practice is allowing people to articulate their own concerns, either through their Member of Parliament or without having to do so through very expensive lawyers. I do not believe that the current system allows individuals to do that.

I may be overly optimistic, but I believe that we can propose a better process that allows Parliament as a democratic body to have a say on the principle of policies and also allows local people to express their concerns about the local impact and detail of any particular planning application. It is streamlining, not stifling, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that has to be the objective of any reformed and changed system. However, I am also clear that change must be made. Terminal 5 is a lesson in how not to plan major infrastructure projects that are in the national interest. The current system does not help our competitive position in a global economy.

Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston)

I have lived within six miles of Heathrow airport for nearly 40 years, and for the 13 years before I was elected in 1992, I worked only half a mile from the touch-down point. Therefore, I know and have experienced the problems that Heathrow causes, but we are very proud of the air transport industry. I wish to raise what will seem a small problem to other people but is a large problem for those of my constituents who face the worst of the noise and who live close to the touch-down point in Cranford ward.

At the poorly designed junction between the A4 and the A312, the local people who face the worst noise sometimes have to queue for 20 minutes to join the traffic jam. The Mayor says that he cannot find the money to help, but if anybody deserves assistance it is those people who live so close to Heathrow. I could make an hour-long speech about many other issues, but if the Secretary of State would consider the point I have raised, my constituents and I would be most grateful.

Mr. Byers

On the question of noise, when my hon. Friend has had a chance to read the decision letter, he will see that that issue is addressed, and the inspector gave proper consideration to it. If he can provide me with the details of the issue that he raises—it is separate, in a sense, from the planning decision that has been taken today—we will be happy to consider it as part of our local transport initiatives. We are committing significant extra finance to support local transport schemes and the example that he has given may qualify for the new consideration that we are giving to such projects.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

I also wish to thank the Secretary of State for providing the statement in advance, and to commend the planning inspector on the work that he has done. We have waited a long time for the decision, but unfortunately it is the wrong one from our point of view. The Secretary of State has imposed some welcome conditions, but several areas of uncertainty remain. I have a few simple questions that I hope the Secretary of State will be able to answer.

Can the Secretary of State rule out a third runway, in a way that would be legally enforceable? Can he confirm that the figure of 480,000 flights a year is a permanent and legally enforceable limit? Can he guarantee that as a result of the construction of terminal 5 no additional road widening—for example, of the M25—will be necessary? Can he confirm that no erosion of safety standards will be allowed? One of the concerns is that more flights will equal shortened distances between planes, with the consequent risk to safety. Finally, can he confirm that the changes he proposes to the planning process will ensure that it is more streamlined and that communities will be able to have their say, with an independent appeal process available to them?

Mr. Byers

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for the inspector's work. This is a difficult issue, especially for people who live nearby, and we are trying to strike a balance between the national interest and the need to safeguard the quality of life of people living nearby. The decision letter and the inspector's recommendations strike that balance, which is why I agreed with the majority of the recommendations made. We will address the issue of a third runway in studies being carried out on the needs of the south-east of England and in the aviation White Paper.

With regard to the limit of 480,000 flight movements, I was very aware of the concern expressed about terminal 4. Planning conditions were not laid down with regard to the number of flights. The view was expressed that there should be a limit on the number of flights, but that was not part of the planning decision. Importantly for people living nearby, we are making it a planning condition that there will be a limit of 480,000 flight movements a year. That means that the limit cannot be changed, even by my successor, unless a fresh planning application is made and new consideration given to the matter.

The decision letter makes clear our approach to the question of road widening. As for safety standards, safety cannot and must not be compromised, as that would be no way to run a project that will have the support of the public. As I said earlier in regard to the changes to be introduced to infrastructure projects, a consultation document will be published in the next six to eight weeks on the role of Parliament in such matters. Most important, we must not deny local communities the opportunity of having their say

A planning system can work in a democracy only if people feel that their voices have been heard and their views taken into account. The present system is not successful when it comes to major projects such as terminal 5, as it does not allow people to feel that their voices have been heard. A better procedure would involve local Members of Parliament, and therefore Parliament, and would find a new way to involve local people in the planning process. I hope that our proposals will command support across all sections of the House.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

Will my hon. Friend accept that many people in my constituency—myself included—consider that allowing terminal 5 to go ahead is an error of judgment? They will bitterly regret that my right hon. Friend did not include the condition that there should be no third runway. Will my right hon. Friend make a commitment to meet me and local community representatives to consider a package of environmental and financial measures to protect my local community against the worst effects of terminal 5? My constituents have sacrificed their environment for the future of the aviation industry and the strengthening of the British economy. I think that they deserve to be protected and compensated.

Mr. Byers

I am fully aware of the strong views held by many people and, in representing his constituents, my hon. Friend has expressed his. As I said in my opening statement, we must strike a balance in this matter: the development of terminal 5 is in the national interest, but we must also safeguard the interests of the local community. When my hon. Friend is able to consider the decision letter in detail, I think that he might agree that the right balance has been struck. However, we are always willing to listen to Members of Parliament expressing and representing the views of their constituents. That will apply in this case, as it does in others.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

As you probably know, Mr. Speaker, the terminal 5 site is a few yards from my constituency boundary. Is the Secretary of State aware that I and a big majority of the people whom I represent welcome his decision announced this afternoon? As he said, it will help protect the future of Heathrow and the United Kingdom economy. Above all, it will help protect the interests of my constituents.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that we will never again subject a planning application of this sort to an eight-year delay and a four-year public inquiry. That was utter madness, and must never happen again. Now that the decision is behind us, will the Secretary of State try to ignore the howls of protest that are sure to follow from the self-appointed and self-opinionated few who seem hellbent on putting tens of thousands of my constituents out of work? Those people must not be allowed to succeed. Heathrow must flourish, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his decision.

Mr. Byers

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's words in response to my decision, and I am pleased that his constituents will also welcome it. I take the point that it is unacceptable for a decision on a major project such as this to be delayed for eight years. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, when he sees our proposals for change in respect of major infrastructure projects, will see that we are serious about changing the planning process.

There will be people who will, quite legitimately, disagree with the decision that we have taken today. I simply ask them to look at the decision letter and consider the balance that we have struck between the national interest and the interests of the local community. I hope that they will agree that the inspector and I have done a reasonable job in the circumstances. Even if they do not agree with the decision, I hope that they recognise that it has been made in an open and transparent way.

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall)

I have been a long-standing supporter of T5 for many years, since I was elected in 1992. I know that the environmental lobby has expressed concerns, but I believe that the Government have taken those issues into consideration and addressed them.

My constituency is very close to the airport and thousands of my constituents work in its terminals. The decision will bring business and employment benefits to my constituency. Will the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions provide a good transport service for people who have reason to go to the airport? I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the problems that workers and businesses have regarding access to the airport, so I hope that he will deal with that when it is raised with him individually.

Mr. Byers

My hon. Friend is right. He has been a strong supporter of terminal 5 and a powerful advocate for the interests of his constituents in terms of the benefits for business and employment. Many people in his constituency work at Heathrow, and I am sure that they will welcome the decision that we have taken today.

The issues to do with public transport which are relevant to the planning application are addressed in the decision letter. If there are other issues to do with public transport links and new demands placed on the system, they will be considered in the same way as we would normally consider new demands for public transport. We will certainly take my hon. Friend's point into account.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

Although I agree that the decision should be seen as being made in the national interest, does the Secretary of State recognise the increased financial and environmental burdens that will be placed on my constituents and the council tax payers of the London borough of Hillingdon? Will he agree to a meeting with the local authority as soon as possible to discuss those implications?

Mr. Byers

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being so quick off the mark in representing Hillingdon's interests. I am not sure whether we can do anything for the local government settlement to be announced in a week or two. However, on a more serious note, the hon. Gentleman is right that any major development is bound to have implications for a local authority which are separate from the planning process. We will consider those implications as we would do concerning those for any local authority. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me, we will facilitate a meeting between the relevant Minister and representatives of Hillingdon to discuss the detail of any issues of concern.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

May I put it to the Secretary of State that the terminal 5 decision was a golden opportunity to phase out the 16 night flights at Heathrow? Did he consider making his decision conditional on the phasing out of those flights? I am not in the least reassured to hear that he will commission a lot more research on the subject. In my 18 months as Minister with responsibility for aviation, it seemed that we had research coming out of our ears. Most of it led nowhere, and I am sure that this new lot will lead nowhere too.

Mr. Byers

My hon Friend has raised two issues. With his inside knowledge of the way in which the Department works, he has given the House an insight into the operations of government.

I know that my hon. Friend has looked closely into night flights, and the inspector makes clear comments about them. As I said in my statement, I cannot change the night flight regime unilaterally. I have to consult, within the statutory provisions and consonant with aviation law. The consultation will begin, and we will complete it by the end of 2003. That is the decision that I have taken within the powers that I have. I hope that people will understand that it would have been unlawful for me to have taken a decision without consultation. When the consultation document is published, we will consider what we can do about night flights.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

Does the Secretary of State realise that, although he has talked about striking a balance several times this afternoon, what he has actually done has weighted the scales very, very heavily against the environment and against the quality of life of the people of south-west London? Could he perhaps offer a crumb of comfort to those people who regularly have their air polluted and experience the deafening noise that comes from the skies all day long, and most of the night on some occasions, by saying that, if there is a third runway in the south-east of England, at least it will not be at Heathrow? Can he also say that the alternation of runways will continue? Will he give a categoric assurance that it will continue? That at least gives peace at some time during the day. Will he also give us an assurance that the ultimate attention will be paid to safety in the skies over a densely populated part of London?

Mr. Byers

I understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Lady on behalf of her constituents. When I considered the inspector's report, it was not an easy decision. It was not merely a question of signing up to the inspector's recommendations, but of giving detailed consideration to the balance between the needs of local people—safeguarding local communities—and the wider national interest. I felt that on balance the development of terminal 5 was in the national interest.

The third runway will be considered in the context of both the south-east of England study and the aviation White Paper, which we shall publish next year. I am aware of no proposals to change the alternation of runways that gives some respite to the hon. Lady's constituents. I understand why that is important.

I should like to think that the westerly preference decision that we have already introduced is bringing real benefits and is making an improvement to the quality of life of people living in the west of London. We shall certainly want to ensure that those benefits are retained.

I appreciate that there will be strong feelings. This was one of those occasions when whatever decision the Secretary of State had taken—whether to give approval or disapproval—there would have been disagreements from one side or the other.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

I am a long-standing opponent of terminal 5, not for the reasons given by some environmental groups, although they have validity, but because the whole process of planning for terminal 5 has never looked holistically at the need for proper transport links in the surrounding area. Will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that those transport links will be considered? I am indebted to the hon. Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) for their comments, in which they have referred to the need for transport links and, especially, for a western rail link to Heathrow that would terminate at Reading. That is vital for the future of transport in the Thames Valley and for proper air and other transport links. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that that will be looked at? Will he also assure me that the crossrail project will also be considered? That, too, needs to have its western end at Reading.

Mr. Byers

The details of public transport in relation to the planning application for terminal 5 are dealt with in the context of the decision letter. When my hon. Friend has had an opportunity to read that detailed letter, she will see how those points are addressed in it.

In a sense, crossrail is a separate issue. Both my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport and I have been acutely aware of the arguments deployed by my hon. Friend on behalf of the people of Reading. One of the options under active consideration is to extend crossrail right through to Reading. Obviously, no decisions have yet been taken as to the precise route that crossrail will take, but a powerful case can be used for that westerly link from Reading. I believe that, as a result of the decision that we have taken today on terminal 5, the arguments in favour of crossrail being extended to Reading may well have been enhanced.

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor)

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that my constituents in and around Windsor will be disappointed by one aspect of his important announcement today? Of course, there should be a balance between the vital national interest of the country and the rights of local people, but there is no such balance in his statement. Indeed, he talks about the changes in westerly preferences, but I understand that although they benefit some hon. Members' constituents, they work against the interests of others, including mine.

The European Court of Human Rights judgment is outstanding. The Secretary of State has talked about putting the issue out for consultation, which he is probably obliged to do any way in the next couple of years. That is a long time scale for people who have already suffered for a long time. I do not believe that he cannot indicate clearly what the Government's preference on night flights is now and, therefore, provide a real balance, instead of leaving us suspended.

Mr. Byers

I am still giving detailed consideration to the European Court decision on the Hatton case. We have three months before a decision has to be taken, and I want to use that time to give proper consideration to the details in that judgment.

The hon. Gentleman talks about the time scale, and it is worth reflecting on the fact that, even on the most optimistic forecast, terminal 5 will not be in operation for six or seven years or so. so the changes that we are considering will not be made until then.

On consultation, I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that it would be inappropriate for me to say today what the consultation on the night noise regime will involve; it must be proper, open consultation, and it will be. People would think it rigged if I were to say, "This is the Government's preference." We need to have an open consultation because, as I have said several times this afternoon, the point is that, if the planning process is to command public support, it must be seen to be open and transparent and there must be an attempt to involve people in the process.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that aviation is just one of the industries that has suffered horrendously since 11 September. His decision today is so vital that it will have an immediate effect. Is he now prepared to accept that some very rapid decisions need to be taken on where a third runway will be built in the south-east, how the air traffic space over the south-east will be organised and, above all, how we shall develop our aviation industry? If this decision had not been taken, not only would many jobs have been lost, but the United Kingdom industry would have been rapidly overtaken. Most people will accept that today's decision is a cost worth paying.

Mr. Byers

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we cannot over-estimate the importance of Heathrow to our national economy. If we had not given terminal 5 the go-ahead today, there was a real danger that Charles de Gaulle, Schipol and Frankfurt would have overtaken Heathrow as the premier destination airport in Europe, and we simply could not allow that to happen. The decision strikes the balance between meeting those aviation needs and those of the local communities as well.

The aviation industry is important to the United Kingdom. It is one of those industries that has developed through innovation and by taking responsible decisions, giving good customer satisfaction and service, and providing proper investment over the years. We need to consider the aviation industry in the round, particularly in the aviation White Paper, which we intend to publish next year. It offers a good opportunity to consider the future aviation industry comprehensively.

We need to consider the detailed options for an additional runway in the south-east. A south-east study is being undertaken at present, in which that issue will be considered, and it will also be looked at in the context of the White Paper. Both those pieces of work should be viewed as almost complementing the decision that we have taken today in relation to terminal 5, because they will build on the strengths of the aviation industry, not just in the south-east of England, but throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

The Secretary of State's decision will keep London in the forefront as one of the world cities for business and tourism. Is it not true that, over the past 10 years, Heathrow—which was the premier hub airport in Europe, serving more destinations than any on the continent—has slipped to No. 4 in the league? This decision could help to reverse that trend.

May I also point out that aviation is not incompatible with protecting the environment? The measures the Secretary of State has announced for surface transport links will help and the industry is also helping with quieter engines that produce a much smaller noise footprint than those of 10, 15 or 20 years ago.

Mr. Byers

The hon. Gentleman has many years of expertise in this subject and he makes important points. In particular, he referred to the way in which technology has helped to develop quieter aircraft. Aircraft are also significantly larger than they were. Therefore, although the number of flights will increase to only 480,000, there will be an increase of 25 million passengers a year at Heathrow as a result of the development of terminal 5.

For reasons that the hon. Gentleman touched on, a balance can be struck between the needs of the aviation industry, the travelling public and business and those of the environment. Heathrow is crucial to business, tourism and the competitive position of Britain in the world economy. We should not forget that Heathrow and other national airports play a role, as those of us who have travelled have seen, because they often provide the first impression that a visitor gets of a country, so we must ensure that visitors to this country get the best possible impression. I happen to believe that terminal 5 will be able to show Britain at its best.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, subject to the important constraints on transport and noise, he has made the right decision not just for the country but for west London? Although I receive complaints from my constituents about noise, more of them recognise that, if Heathrow were to go down the world league of airports, west London would suffer the same fate that east London suffered when the docks closed. It is vital to recognise that there is the equivalent of a high-tech city in west London and that it is keeping the economy of the whole area buoyant. We should maintain it in every possible way.

Mr. Byers

My hon. Friend's description of the high-tech city that is Heathrow accurately depicts airports at the beginning of the 21st century. I would like to think that the decision that we have taken has struck the right balance. It will bring benefits to his constituents and will ensure that we do not ignore the environmental concerns expressed by those who live near Heathrow airport.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

As a Member for a constituency near Heathrow, I fully accept that it has been a difficult decision for the Secretary of State to take. On balance, I think that it is the right decision in the national interest. However, if he is to allay the fears of my constituents who live under the flight path, will he accept that we need real action quickly on night flights and on reducing the noise levels of modern aircraft?

Mr. Byers

The right hon. Gentleman has touched on two important points—noise and night flights—that the inspector addressed in his report and that I consider in the decision letter. Once the right hon. Gentleman has had the chance to examine the decision letter, which is of necessity rather lengthy, I would like to think that he will feel that we have addressed those issues. I assure him that the consultation on night flights will proceed with appropriate haste to make sure that we can take decisions in 2003 so that the concerns of his constituents can be addressed within a reasonable time frame.

Mr. Tony Colman (Putney)

My right hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that my constituents will not welcome the statement. Certainly, they will not think that their views have been taken account of.

My right hon. Friend has referred two or three times to the westerly preference. It was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) when he was the Minister responsible for aviation, and it applies to only 16 night flights. As part of the decision that my right hon. Friend has taken, is he considering introducing a westerly preference for daytime flights, because that would alleviate a huge amount of the noise that affects west London?

Mr. Byers

The reasoning behind the decisions that I have taken on the specific planning application for terminal 5 is contained in the decision letter. We will continue to consider particular issues that my hon. Friend believes will benefit his constituents in Putney if he wants to raise them with us. We want to be helpful wherever possible to those people who are affected not just by today's decision, but by Heathrow being a major airport. The reasons for my decision and the way in which we intend to carry it forward are contained in the decision letter, which should now be available to hon. Members.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

As another Member who represents thousands of people under the take-off and landing paths, I know that there will be considerable concern about whether the Secretary of State's limited concessions will be enforced. How will the 480,000 planned limit be enforced? As local authority planning enforcement procedures are weak, will he take direct responsibility for it and describe the sanctions that will be employed if the limit is breached?

Mr. Byers

As I said to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), the important thing about the restriction on the number of flights is that it is a planning condition which is attached to the decision. That was not the case with terminal 4. A similar approach was not part of its planning condition, so it could be ignored. The planning authority is responsible for ensuring that planning conditions are met, but if any hon. Member, including the hon. Gentleman, believes that a relevant planning authority is not discharging its responsibilities, they should inform me or my ministerial team and we will ensure that that happens. Statutory duties fall on planning authorities, and we will ensure that when such conditions are imposed they will be enforced by the relevant planning authority.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

The Secretary of State did not answer the question about the M25. Conservative and Labour Ministers, the Highways Agency and the applicants made it clear that widening the M25 in the west is indivisible from the application. What is his response to that?

The same arguments on inter-lining, which form the crux of his argument that we must maintain our competitive position in relation to Charles de Gaulle and Schipol airports, will be advanced, as sure as night turns into day, in the case for a third runway at Heathrow. The stage has to come when we say, "Thus far, no further." The rapacious appetite of the industry is such that it goes for the terminal and then argues for the runway, and once it has done that, it argues for another terminal and another runway. The Secretary of State has accepted arguments that could also be accepted for terminals 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and so on for ever. That is the profound mistake.

Mr. Byers

If there are to be terminals 6, 7, 8 or 9, they will have to go through the planning process and no doubt someone else will consider them.

On the specifics, in the time available to me I was not able to go through all the conditions that are reflected in the decision letter. I apologise for referring continually to it, but it is, of necessity, a lengthy document. It contains the reasoning behind my response to the inspector's report. My hon. Friend will see in the decision letter that we are supporting improvements to the M25. I have accepted the inspector's recommendations on it, although I have not agreed to his recommendation on widening the M4, which I think I mentioned in my statement.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge)

The Secretary of State talked about the benefits to the wider community of terminal 5, and I concur with that view. He also talked about the need to balance the wider benefits against the costs imposed on the local community. Does he accept that many people locally will be disappointed that he has not been able to announce today a clear trade-off between the decision to go ahead with terminal 5 and the end of night flights?

The benefits that accrue to people who use night flights are tiny compared with the huge costs that are imposed on what is a wide community. Will he assure the House that when he reviews night flights it will be on the basis that night flying will be allowed only if the benefits can be shown, in aggregate, substantially to outweigh the costs? Will he also assure us that he understands that a mere reduction in the number of night flights will not deliver a significant benefit to the people of west London, Surrey and surrounding areas, who need a complete blackout on flights if they are to get some sleep?

Mr. Byers

The important point will be the nature of the consultation. The inspector makes strong statements about night flights in his report, and I shall ensure that the consultation document reflects his concerns. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the consultation that I have to conduct on any changes to the night noise regime will be completed, and decisions made, before terminal 5 is in operation.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South)

In making his decision, my right hon. Friend will realise its likely effect on line-to-line traffic between mainland Europe and regional airports. What assessment has he made of that effect? Has he placed any restrictions on the building programme for terminal 5 concerning the space available for retail opportunities?

Mr. Byers

Yes, the decision letter makes it clear that the planning inspector has introduced restrictions on the number of air traffic movements, but not in any particular direction or to a particular destination. I know that a number of Members are concerned about retail floor space. When they have the opportunity to read the decision letter, they will see that I have placed a restriction on the amount of retail floor space that can form part of the terminal 5 development.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

I do not think that the Secretary of State fully answered the first point made by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe). Surely further concentration of air facilities at Heathrow will have a detrimental effect on international air services from Scotland, Wales and even the English regions. Surely the Secretary of State should now turn his attention to other areas of the UK which badly need the massive improvements in infrastructure and tourism that enhanced air services can provide, and the jobs that go with them.

Mr. Byers

We are dealing today with a specific planning application on terminal 5 at Heathrow, and we have to address that. It would be improper for me to take into account a range of external factors in arriving at a decision on a specific planning application. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to draw my attention to wider issues in aviation. That industry is important for the whole of the United Kingdom, and particularly for regions such as the north-east, where my constituency is, and for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland—

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)


Mr. Byers

And Yorkshire. Many parts of the country will benefit from a vibrant, strong aviation sector. That is why the aviation White Paper, which we will publish next autumn, will be a significant document. I want it to map out the future for the industry in the UK. It will be published at an important time, because, one hopes, we will be over the worst effects of 11 September and there will probably have been changes in the industry. The Government need to respond to those changes and to the needs of countries such as Scotland, and the White Paper will be significant in helping us to achieve some of the objectives outlined by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Declaring an interest as one who, like Scottish colleagues, has become familiar with every cubic metre of the upper atmosphere above Watford, may I ask whether this decision will do anything about the stacking problem? What is the technical advice from air traffic controllers? Anecdotally, we are told that there are problems in the sheer control of the hugely increased capacity at Heathrow.

Mr. Byers

The development of air traffic control and the projected expansion will accommodate the projected increase in flights; there are no worries about that. I understand people's concern, however, as I occasionally travel down from Newcastle by plane, sometimes travelling over Windsor; the view is lovely, but I am sure that that is not good news for the residents of Windsor. My hon. Friend is right; stacking is a sign of Heathrow not being able to cope with the existing capacity. Terminal 5 shall help Heathrow to accommodate the increase in flights in a way that ensures that the stacking that occurs at the moment can be alleviated for airlines and passengers.