HL Deb 10 April 1946 vol 140 cc700-7

5.50 p.m.

VISCOUNT SWINTON had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government, if they had any statement to make regarding the development of the London airport at Heath Row. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to ask the question that stands in my name on the Paper.


My Lords, information has been given from time to time about the initial stages of development of the London airport. But I will, for the sake of completeness, briefly outline the course of events. The site is only about twelve miles from the centre of London. Being on the west side of London, it is comparatively free from industrial haze and has a favourable meteorological record. The land is remarkably level, not only on the site, but in the surrounding area. The gravel sub-soil has excellent bearing and drainage qualities. To meet the needs of post-war civil aviation for a major terminal to serve London 52 sites were surveyed. No better site for the purpose could be found than the one at Heath Row. In addition to the points I have mentioned, it has good road access and this will be still better when certain plans my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport has under consideration have been carried out.

As has already been made known, one of the main runways 9,000 ft. long is now competed and is being used by British South American Air Lines for services to South America. Two subsidiary runways, 6,000 ft. long, are in an advanced state of construction and will be ready in July. Until permanent buildings are erected, passenger handling facilities will be provided in temporary hutted accommodation between the main runway and the Bath Road. As regards further development, the total area of land which, subject to Parliamentary approval, I propose to acquire, is somewhat over 1,000 acres. It extends both north and south of the Bath Road. The ultimate layout will consist of three sets of parallel runways—nine in all—with the terminal area in a central position. The runways will vary in length between 9,200 and 5,300 ft. but one can be extended if necessary to 15,000 ft. and another to 12,000 ft. Three runways will be usable at a time and the maximum capacity of the airport will be 160 aircraft movements an hour in good weather and 120 aircraft movements an hour in bad weather. An aircraft movement is counted as one take-off or one landing.

It is my intention that the terminal building should be worthy of London's main airport, and I propose to take all necessary steps to ensure this result. In addition to bays for aircraft loading and traffic handling accommodation, rooms for aircraft employees and operator's staff, there will be all the amenities which a passenger would expect to find at a first-class airport. The layout for the site has been the subject of much deliberation. Many different runway designs, including the much debated tangential pattern, have been considered. In order to have the best possible advice, consideration of the runway lay-out was referred to a committee on which outside experts in this field as well as departmental staff served. I have arranged for a plan showing the boundaries and the proposed layout to be placed in the Library. Although nine runways are to be available when the airport is fully developed, the plan actually shows ten. The explanation is that one of the runways—marked No. 3 on the plan—will, after a period of use, cease to be used as such. But all except a small portion of it will be used for other purposes. If this runway had been retained as such in the final plan, a much inferior layout would have resulted and the terminal area, which must be centrally situated, would have been badly cramped.

The total area of land required is extensive, but not when considered in relation to the capacity of the airport. The main reasons why so large a tract of land is needed are the long runways required for safe operation in all weather conditions by large modern aircraft, the wide separation between runways essential for safety reasons, particularly in bad visibility, the large terminal area required for passenger handling and related activities, and the generous space which must be allowed for hangarage. The area south of the Bath Road will be fully developed as rapidly as circumstances allow, so as to provide six runways in all. Development of the area north of the present Bath Road, which will have to be diverted to the north of the new boundary, will not start for at least five years.

This phasing of the work will fit in with the need to minimize demolitions while the present housing shortage continues, and to keep the maximum amount of agricultural land in cultivation for the next few years. Such demolitions as are necessary before this will be kept to the minimum and will be few in number. I am aware of the anxiety which has been felt, and expressed, by residents in the area, and take this opportunity of stating that it will be the endeavour of the Government to mitigate hardship. In the event of the housing shortage in this area continuing to exist in five years time, the Government will arrange with the local authorities concerned 10 provide houses in place of any which have to be demolished. One of the reasons which led to the siting of the London airport in this district was that it could be done with the minimum disturbance of householders. Compensation will, of course, be payable for houses and other buildings demolished, on the basis prescribed in the relevant Statutes. Steps will also be taken to mitigate the loss of agricultural land and to make as good a use as possible of available land during the conduct of the operations. The area contains some buildings of archaeological or historic interest and your Lordships will be glad to know that the plans for the development of the airport have been so framed that there will be the least disturbance of such buildings.

The airport at Heston has become completely out of date through the spectacular advances in aircraft design during the war years. It is in order to avoid the underestimates of the past that we must plan the new London airport on a scale which will take care of future developments. The Heston airport, owing to its proximity to the new London airport, will have to go out of use as an aerodrome. The land thus made available will do much to compensate for the loss of building and agricultural land to be absorbed by the new airport. The buildings at Heston will prove of great value to the British airline operators for various non-flying purposes, such as the accommodation of stores and motor transport. Although the plan of the new London airport has been settled in outline, there remains much detailed work to be done. But I hope that the outline I have given will show to the House, and to the world at large, that when the airport is complete it will be one worthy in every respect of the heart of the Commonwealth, one which will give a fitting welcome to visitors from abroad, and one which will give wings to the commerce on which our prosperity depends.

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, before my noble friend leaves this vitally important question, could he just enlarge a little on one aspect—namely, the plans which the Ministry of Transport has in hand with regard to the communication system between this wonderful and splendid new airport and London itself? My noble friend spoke of objects of historical and archæological interest. He is, I am sure, well aware that one of the objects of historical and archaeological interest is the western exit from London. It is entirely inadequate for the ordinary traffic to-day, and when petrol rationing is lifted and new motor cars and motor vehicles come on the roads, for anyone trying to get out of London westwards the congestion will be appalling on all roads. This matter of the western exits from London was raised in your Lordships' House several times before the war, and was one of the outstanding subjects discussed in your Lordships' House. It is not the trunk road, but the district all round Hammersmith and so on where the congestion is perfectly appalling, and it will have to be taken in hand quite apart from this new airport. When you are going to have great passenger liners and cargo liners coming in from all over the world and landing at Heath Row, how are you going to get the people into London? They may be able to go westwards to Bath, and northwards, but this matter of the western approaches will have to be considered.

What I am afraid of is that the aerodrome will be completed and great airlines will use it, but the plans of the Ministry of Transport will still be in hand. I would beg my noble friend, if he possibly can, to relieve my mind. I do not know whether any other noble Lords are interested in this particular aspect of the matter. I want to be constructive, and apart from urging the necessity of getting on with the work of road improvements as soon as possible, I would make this suggestion: Has the question of enlarged electrical railway communication beer considered We have the nucleus of it now, but could we not vastly increase electrical railway transport? Goods traffic, I suggest, could also be relieved. There will be a great deal of goods traffic to and from this airport and it could be greatly eased, I suggest, by the greater use of electrified railways. I hope that my noble friend will not mind my bringing this matter up without having given him previous notice of it. He will, I am sure, agree that it is of great importance, for his work, I suggest, will be largely stultified if passengers in the future should find that it will take as long to get, say, from Heath Row to the Strand as from Paris to Heath Row.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, if I may be allowed to do so, I would like to ask the noble Lord to amplify the very interesting answer which he has just given. He said that the South American service was already flying from Heath Row. Could he tell us when the Commonwealth and the transatlantic services are likely to be able to use Heath Row? That is the first question I would like to put to the Minister. Then he said that the capacity of Heath Row major, as I may call it, when you have got north of the Bath road and the whole thing is complete, would be 160 an hour. Could he tell us what would be the capacity of that proportion of the airport which is to be south of the Bath road, which is all we shall have for a number of years to come?

The third question I should like to put to the noble Lord arises in this way. He has stated that on the layout of the airfield he was advised by a committee consisting partly of officials and partly of outside experts. Now layout is a matter on which there are very many schools of thought. The Minister is to lay for us or to have put in the Library all the plans of the airfield: Would he be good enough to put in the Library or, what may probably be more convenient, publish as a White Paper or Stationery Office publication, the report of the Committee to which he has referred and upon which the final plan is based? In addition to asking that, perhaps I may be also allowed to add this, for there has been a great deal of discussion about Heath Row. I have no doubt that Heath Row is the one and only possible site for a great London airport. It was considered by the Royal Air Force long before the Ministry of Civil Aviation was created. And the Royal Air Force had to consider it really as a civil aviation problem. They had to consider where could be found the most suitable airport capable of taking very large transport liners as near as possible to London. That indeed is the problem of a London airport. I thought it my duty when I went into office to review all possible sites, to go into the matter afresh and with an entirely open mind. Not only did it appear to me quite conclusively that Heath Row was the best site, but I say without the least hesitation that it was the only possible site on which a great airport for London could be built.


My Lords, may I have your Lordships' permission to answer the questions which have just been put to me? My noble friend Lord Strabolgi put a question which I was very glad to hear about road and rail access to Heath Row. I can assure him that my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and myself are most fully alive to the necessity for developing access to the airport as work on the completion of the airport proceeds. As regards road access, this is a matter which has been, and is at the present moment, under consideration in the greatest detail by the Minister of Transport and myself and by the officials of our Departments. As to rail transport, that question is being examined in conjunction with the main railways and the London Passenger Transport Board. Finality in this matter cannot be reached until a decision has been come to on the location of a terminal building for our air lines in London. Access for employees on the airport will probably be catered for by an extension of the Tube beyond Hounslow West: to the airport itself.

My noble friend Viscount Swinton asked when the airport would be open for use by the Commonwealth and the transatlantic services. Those services will be able to use Heath Row this summer, when the three runways to which I referred are completed. With regard to movements, the figure of 160 which I quoted refers to the whole scheme when completed. With respect to the nature of the Committee which advised on layout and the various plans that they put forward, I will certainly consider the noble Viscount's suggestion that these plans or a selection from these plans should be laid in the Library and that the final plan to which I have referred shall also be made available. I will certainly give very careful consideration to the noble Viscount's suggestions on this matter.


What I had particularly in mind was the question of whether the layout should be on the tangential or triangular principle. Obviously the Committee has made a definite report on that point and it would be extremely valuable to have it so that we could know on what basis the Committee's judgment was formed.


I will consider what the noble Viscount has said and see what it is possible to do. May I take this opportunity of thanking the noble Viscount for the encouragement which he has given me by telling me that my views as to the suitability of Heath Row as a site for this airport coincide so exactly with his own?


, in whose name the following question was on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government if they have any statement to make regarding the provision of civil airports for London additional to Heath Row, and if they will consider setting up a London Airports Authority to control and administer on behalf of the Government all civil airports serving London, said: My Lords, I beg to ask the question standing in my name.


My Lords, Northolt is being loaned by the Air Ministry for extensive use by civil aircraft, the arrangements being subject to review later. The future of Bovingdon is at the present moment under discussion. The preservation of another site for future development as a civil airport is being considered. As regards the latter part of the noble Lord's question, I have to say that since airports serving London will be closely linked with those in other parts of the country, a separate controlling authority for London is considered inappropriate.


I wonder if the noble Lord could give me some information on one further point. I understand from his previous reply that Heston is not going to be used in the future. Is he satisfied that the position after the passing of the Air Ministry (Heston and Kenley Aerodromes Extension) Act, 1939, is quite satisfactory? I understand that various orders were served on tenants and owners of property. It may be that the position ought to be reviewed to see if these orders, if they are not in abeyance, should be cancelled.


I am obliged to the noble Lord for putting that to me. I will certainly look into the matter. On the question generally, I am satisfied that we can now see our way to make proper provision of civil airports.