HL Deb 06 June 1967 vol 283 cc267-70

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave 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 they approve of the proposed installation by B.E.A. of a helicopter service between London Airport and a point on the Thames near Waterloo Bridge; or whether, in view of the grave noise threat to the Palace of Westminster inherent in such a service, they would not rather insist on the early completion of express railway services to the Airport which would cover the distance in much the same time at far less operating cost.]


My Lords, B.E.A. have obtained a licence for this service from the Air Transport Licensing Board but they have not yet applied for planning permission for the Central London heliport or for the Board of Trade's approval of the investment in aircraft and the heliport that would be needed before the service could be operated. The potential noise nuisance, including the effect on the Palace of Westminster, will be thoroughly considered if an application is made for planning permission. In considering B.E.A.'s investment proposals, my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade will, of course, also take into account existing and potential alternative means of transport between Central London and Heathrow.


My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for that reply, which gives me satisfaction and quietens my own apprehensions. I hope that the Government will use their influence to see that there is no undue noise in the Palace of Westminster as a result of the service, if operated.


My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that, so far as internal air services are concerned, the major part of the time spent by passengers is on the ground, between the terminal and the airport? Does the noble Lord realise that if this goes on internal air services are not going to remain competitive?


My Lords, I am well aware of the importance to both internal and external airway services of doing all that can be done to diminish the amount of time spent in travelling between the aircraft, once it has landed, and the point of destination in the city. That is one of the major factors which have to be borne in mind on the one side, and assessed against the inconvenience, noise, safety and other matters which have to be taken into consideration on the other side.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that if the Government do not very soon shake themselves out of their present state of indecision as to what the future British aircraft should be there will not be any need for a London heliport because British European Airways will be peacefully grinding to a standstill?


My Lords, I cannot accept what the noble Lord has said in that respect: I think that the record of British European Airways gives the direct lie to it. The Corporation have expanded their services and their profitability steadily over the past years and I have every confidence that they will continue with this progress in the future.


But shall we get a decision?


My Lords, would my noble friend explain more fully what he means by considering other alternative services between London and the respective airports? Is he aware that for a considerable period pressure has been brought to bear on previous Governments to extend the rail link between London and the airport, and can he give any indication of what further thought is being given to it? Can he also say what thought is being given to a rail link between London and the proposed new airport at Stansted?


My Lords, I think that the second part of my noble friend's supplementary question is really another matter. I agree entirely with what he has said about the importance of connections between London Airport and Central London. The Inter-changes Group of the Transport Co-ordinating Council for London is now in the final stages of a detailed study of how best to improve surface communications for passengers between Heathrow and Central London. I hope that it will not be long before a final decision is reached. Of course, among possible improvements are rail extensions to the airport.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of us would welcome an internal helicopter service but that the noise factor is of course very serious, not only for the Palace of Westminster but for others as well? Is it not possible to contemlate helicopters alighting on a high building, which would significantly reduce the gravity of the noise threat? Can this aspect of the matter be investigated?


My Lords, this is an aspect which could be investigated. My own "off-the-cuff" impression is that there are no sufficiently high buildings in the vicinity which would make a significant difference in the noise factor, but it is certainly something that may be borne very much in mind.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister how many helicopter flights it would take to fill a normal passenger plane?


My Lords, that depends entirely on the size of the helicopter and on the size of the passenger plane, but I can assure the noble Lord that there is no likelihood whatever of a helicopter being able to cope with anything more than a very small proportion of the total number of passengers arriving at London Airport. There will undoubtedly be need for a considerable extension of surface means of access.


My Lords, arising out of the reply by the Minister to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, and to the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, may I ask whether it indicates that further consideration is being given to improving the connection between the Gloucester Road Tube station and the Cromwell Road departure station?


My Lords, the whole question of access is under consideration by the Committee to which I have already referred.


My Lords, coming back to the question of a heliport, can the noble Lord, Lord Walston, give the most positive assurance that not only Members of this House and another place but all those likely to be affected by the installation of such a heliport will have ample opportunity to make their objections known?


My Lords, I can give that assurance to the noble and learned Viscount without any question at all.


And, my Lords, if they are given an inquiry so that they may make their objections known, will their objections be swept aside, as they were in the case of the Stansted inquiry?


My Lords, their objections will be balanced against arguments in favour of the proposal, and I am quite confident that a just and reasonable decision will be reached.



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