HL Deb 09 November 1955 vol 194 cc393-6

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the declared intention of B.O.A.C. to retain Hurn as their alternative airport and of the grave doubts expressed by many experts as to the advisability of extending Gatwick Aerodrome, they will seriously consider abandoning the whole Gatwick scheme thereby helping our present economic situation by the saving of millions of pounds.]


My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that it is rather over twelve months since the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation announced the decision to proceed with the development of Gatwick Airport. That decision was reached only after the matter had been examined very fully. An exhaustive and searching inquiry was held in public, and all interested parties who wished were represented and made their objections. The report of the inquiry was made by an independent chairman, Sir Colin Campbell, after hearing all these objections. A White Paper was published dealing with the points raised by Sir Colin's report.

No event has occurred since then which would justify a re-examination of the project. On the contrary, the experience of this summer's air traffic, which was even heavier than had been expected, more than reinforces the Government's view that it is essential to extend the Airport at Gatwick. It has never been envisaged that Gatwick would take the place of Hurn as a remote alternate to London Airport for B.O.A.C. and other long-haul operators on long-distance flights. Nor was Hurn considered as one of the possible alternative sites for London's second airport, because of its distance from the metropolis. The nature of long-haul operations is such that a more distant alternative is necessary for safety.

It was explained at the public inquiry that the main value of Gatwick in its rôle as a diversionary airport will he for the far more numerous short-haul European flights, but it will in practice also be used by long-haul operators. The development of this necessary airport is now proceeding according to plan. Most of the land has already been acquired; negotiations for the rest are far advanced, and the first contracts for work on the site will soon be let.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his comprehensive reply. I should like to ask him whether, in view of the great development in the use of the helicopter for short-distance flights which has taken place in the last year, and the fact, which he has already admitted, that this aerodrome is unfit for the operation of large planes, the enormous expenditure required to make this airport into a full-dress long-distance aerodrome can be justified, or whether, in view of the development about which he has just spoken, we should wait a little before this great expense is incurred.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that Her Majesty's Government did not undertake the extra expense involved here without careful examination, and they are satisfied that it is absolutely essential for the development of air traffic services in and about London. I do not think the noble Lord is quite correct in saying that this aerodrome is unfit for use by long-range planes. It will be used by them from time to time, though normally they will not use it as an alternative airport. So far as helicopters are concerned, I think it is still too early to say that the major part of the European services could be carried out by helicopters. It is, I think, safe to say that quite a number of years are bound to elapse before that position becomes possible.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that this airport which is to be so greatly extended is right adjacent to Crawley New Town, and will take up a lot of land and give rise to a number of new buildings there? Can the noble Earl give us an assurance that the character of the new town will be preserved, and that the suburban sprawl which may result from an extension of this airport will not be allowed to go into the green belt and thus lead to the joining up of Crawley New Town either with London, on the one side, or with Brighton, on the other?


My Lords, when answering that question, perhaps the noble Earl could say something about the effect of noise at Gatwick Airport, which is likely to be detrimental to the new town at Crawley.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, has raised a number of questions that are a little outside that on the Order Paper. It is fair to say that the whole circumstances of Gatwick have been thoroughly examined. The matter has been discussed in this House, and it has been most exhaustively examined outside—in fact, I hardly think there can be anything about it to which attention has not been drawn, one way or the other. The noble Lord asked me for an assurance with regard to the green belt. Frankly, I have not gone into this question, but I think he may take it that this matter has been most carefully examined to see that the development of the new town of Crawley is not prejudiced thereby. I do not think the new town raised objections at the inquiry which was held, but accepted the project as being necessary. I understand they are satisfied that the general character of the town of which the noble Lord speaks will, in fact, be maintained. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, asked about the detrimental effect of noise. The question of noise naturally arises in any airport, but the new steps which my noble friend Lord Carrington described as being taken will be fully employed to see that noise does not injure the new town any more than can be helped.


My Lords, I am most indebted to the noble Earl. Is he not aware that the whole character of a new town depends on its being divided from adjacent urban development by a green belt, and that the new town will disappear if it becomes involved in a mass of buildings? If I put down a Question on the Order Paper, could he arrange for some further assurances to be given on this important point? Crawley is the nearest new town to London; it is growing rapidly, and it will lose its character unless great care is taken.


My Lords, I fully appreciate the point raised by the noble Lord. However, I would rather he put down a Question so that I could speak more fully on it, because at the moment I have not the information.