HL Deb 09 August 1972 vol 334 cc1100-7

2.24 p.m.


My Lords, with permission I should like to repeat a Statement which was made by my honourable friend, Mr. Eldon Griffiths, in another place this morning about the Maplin project for the Third London airport.

"My right honourable friend has already made clear that the nature of this project, its long timescale and the crucial issues of Government policy that it raises, require substantial public sector involvement. The Government have therefore decided to seek powers to establish a Development Authority to undertake the task of land reclamation; secondly, to make land available to the British Airports Authority for the airport and the Port of London Authority for any seaport development that may be approved; thirdly, to promote, in close co-operation with the private sector, such commercial and industrial development as is consistent with the Government's regional policies; and fourthly to act as landlord for the entire complex.

"Maplin will create a need for large-scale urban development in South-East Essex. My right honourable friend intends that this shall be built to the highest environmental standards. The Government propose to designate a substantial area for development by a New Town Development Corporation, working in close collaboration with the local planning authorities. We expect to publish a draft designation Order early next year.

"On runways, our consultation document identified four possible sites—lettered A, B, C and D—from South-West to North-East. Broadly, the further North one goes the less the noise but the greater the cost. We have carefully considered all the representations made about siting. Many have favoured site D mainly on grounds that reduction of noise, however small, should override all other considerations. But site D is further offshore, in deeper water, and its extension into the Crouch estuary could complicate the hydraulic aspects of reclamation. It also creates major problems over removing the Shoeburyness military establishment, with serious risks of delay, and it would rule out any option for future access to the airport from the North.

"Site A is strongly advocated by aviation interests on the grounds that it is cheapest, quickest and easiest to develop and causes least difficulty for the military withdrawal. Site A is also the choice of local authorities, North of the Crouch. Having carefully weighed all the evidence, the Government have decided that, within the limits of practicality, environmental considerations must be uppermost. This is why we chose to go to Maplin in the first place. Notwithstanding the additional cost the Government have decided to locate the runways at a Northerly site—Site C. This will have substantially the same environmental advantages as Site D but without its physical difficulties. This location is acceptable to Essex County Council and we consider that it will safeguard the interests of Kent. I should add that the overall noise impact of the airport should be much less than envisaged by the Roskill Commission because of the development of quieter aircraft—a development the Government will do its utmost to foster.

"Detailed work will be put in hand to reclaim enough land for the first two of the four runways for any seaport development, plus land for industrial and commercial development. Further reclamation will be undertaken when needed."

That is the end of the Statement.

2.28 p.m.

LORD SHACKLETON My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for the Statement which, as he said, has already been made in another place. It raises so many important issues that if only there were a spare second we should have liked to debate it; but no doubt the Government will be treating us more kindly in another Session.

I should like to ask one or two questions. The choice of Foulness is still a controversial one; that the Government should have chosen the site most rejected by Roskill. I should like to ask the noble Lord, therefore, how the various airlines and the British Airports Authority—and especially the latter—view this? What is the cost of the front loading for the airfield; that is, the capital on which they will have to meet interest charges before they begin to generate any revenue at all? The noble Lord may not have that figure. If he has I should be grateful if he could tell me. Can the noble Lord tell us what will be the total cost? In that connection, it might be helpful if the Government would consider issuing a White Paper to answer the many questions raised by the Statement. The Statement itself has revealed a great deal of careful consideration by the Government before they arrived at this decision. May I also ask (I think it is implicit) whether the Shoeburyness range will now have to move? There was a slight implication that site D would be more difficult, but I take it that the site that has been chosen equally calls for this move.

Finally, while congratulating the Government on what appears to us to be a fairly firm, public interest-orientated statement, may I ask what role private enterprise is going to play? I know that a number of companies have invested some money. Is the railway to be built by British Railways? Can the noble Lord say anything on the communications? I am sorry; I must stop, but there are so many questions. Perhaps I had better wait for the White Paper which I hope the noble Lord is going to give us. And how far have the Government taken into account modern aircraft development which may, by the time this Airport is ready, make the whole place unnecessary?

LORD WADE My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Lord for repeating this Statement, and I will not attempt to compete with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in the number of questions. I note that it is the intention of the Government that the Government should act as landlords for the entire complex, and I presume that that includes the commercial and industrial development referred to in the Statement.

In view of the recent winding up of the Land Commission, I wonder whether this represents some change in Government policy. I recognise that it is extremely difficult to choose a site. As for noise, would the noble Lord agree that wherever this Airport is placed there will be noise. Lastly, the noble Lord said that the detailed work would be put in hand. Can he say how soon it will be put in hand and how long it is likely to take?


Before my noble friend replies—


My Lords, there are so many questions I think it would be better if I tried to deal with this batch first. It is difficult to answer the first question of the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, on overall costs. What we were considering here mainly was the comparative costs of the four alternative sites for the runways. The one we have in fact chosen costs £5 million more than the cheapest, site A; in hard reclamation costs it is £5 million more expensive than site A. The least noisy site, site D, would have been £21 million more than site A. The consultation document went into a lot of other costs, but the site reclamation costs are the firmest ones and the ones with which we are chiefly concerned.

The noble Lord asked about movement of military establishments from Shoeburyness. A number of decisions upon this matter have already been taken; the possibility of moving some of the establishments to existing defence establishments at Tam and Kirkcudbright is already under consideration, as is also the possibility of moving others to Spadeadam; and further dispositions are still under discussion. As for service access, the position is that consultants have for some time been working on this problem, both in respect of the road and the rail access, and we hope to have their report by early next year. The prospects of modern aircraft, requiring shorter runways or no runways at all have been borne in mind from the outset. We had full reports on that matter in the Roskill Commission, and they are still being borne in mind, but in our view they do not alter the necessity for this Third London Airport with the first runway coming into operation in 1980. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Wade, could remind me of his question.


My Lords, I asked whether the intention that the Government should act as landlord for the entire complex represented a change of policy on the part of the Government.


No, my Lords. Because of the particular nature of this exceptionally complex and large-scale operation, we feel it necessary to have a development authority to act as landlord here, and a new town corporation as well, but both of these will draw in private enterprise.


My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the rail and road communications into London will be functioning by the time the runways are in use, and that we do not follow what has happened at Heathrow, where we are only building an underground railway 20 years after? Can we have an assurance on that point?


My Lords, certainly there will be sufficient road access available by the time the first runway comes into operation in 1980, but no doubt there will be further developments after that.


My Lords, could my noble friend bear in mind that it is not just communications to the centres of population and London, but intercommunication between the three London airports which is vitally important. Will this matter be studied, because not only will passengers wish to change airports, but spares and technical personnel will have to travel from London Airport to Maplin. I am sure the House will understand that the noble Lord is wise not to give a global figure of costs, because these are liable to escalate over the period of development, but could he tell us what the first tranche of presumably loan capital will be next year, and possibly the second tranche the year after? What is the sort of order of loan capital which the Government are going to make available?


My Lords, I really do not think it is possible, for the reasons my noble friend indicated, to give that answer yet. For instance, the area for designation of the new town has yet to be precisely defined. The consultants have not yet reported on the access, and we have only just taken the decision as to which particular runway the reclamation will have in mind.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that he has made a very extensive Statement, and I take it that it covers the country and not just one particular area. What attitude of mind is the Minister for the Environment showing in regard to land that has been cleared by slum clearance within certain areas of the country, and particularly in my own area in County Durham, in reclaiming such land for development purposes, instead of scheduling so many category D villages? Quite an upset has been caused throughout the whole of the county because of such a policy being pursued by the county authority. What powers does the Minister have in regard to that particular situation, and what redress have the people themselves got who are desirous of keeping to their own particular villages? Because these particular sites could be redeveloped for housing accommodation if local authorities were given that opportunity.


My Lords, I am not sure that I immediately see the connection between the noble Lord's question and my Statement, but I will study what he has said and answer him more fully if I can. All I can confirm is that my right honourable friend has been very much concerned with all the environmental considerations involved in this particular proposal. But that is not to say that we are not concerned with the reclamation of derelict land in the County of Durham, which is now proceeding at a greatly increased rate.


My Lords, while thanking the Government for making up their minds without undue delay, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that there are many people who will think that the establishment of a development authority and new town corporation is the right decision and that this should be a real public enterprise? Can he also give some consolation to those private firms and consortia that have been preparing plans, and probably assure them that they will get some of the construction and building contracts, or that they will be eligible for them—let us put it no higher than that. Is he further aware that while many people would have preferred the most northern site, many of them will feel that site C is the next best thing and that it lacks some of the disadvantages of the northern site, which would have impinged on the estuary of the Crouch? Finally, may I ask when we are likely to get a progress report concerning road and rail communications, because large numbers of people are in a state of uncertainty as to how and whether their homes are to be affected?


My Lords, I am particularly grateful for the noble Lord's welcome for this Statement, especially as he embodies, as it were, the voice of Essex in these matters. I would confirm that there is certainly scope for private enterprise in this project, as indeed my original Statement indicated. I would also confirm that we do regard it as important that the proposals for the road and rail access are worked out and published as soon as possible, and our expectations are that the consultants will be ready early next year.


My Lords, while not wishing to prolong this discussion when there is so much business before your Lordships, will the noble Lord, who, understandably, only answered half my questions, consider adopting the usual courtesy of undertaking to write to me; and, more importantly, will the Government publish either the consultation document, whatever that may be, or a White Paper? There are so many unanswered questions, particularly in the area raised by my noble friend Lord Harvey, as regards the cost of transport and the vital need of rapid communication with London.


My Lords, certainly I will read the noble Lord's questions and answer them so far as I can. But it is not the position that we have a lot of answers that we can give at this stage and which we have not already given. There are an enormous number of problems still to be considered and further statements will be issued as it becomes possible to add to what I have already said.


While very rightly dwelling on the relevance of this question of an airport and the development of South-East Essex, will the noble Lord remember that it is extremely relevant to the development of South-West Essex, now in the early stages of devastation? Its relevance is amply demonstrated by the Buchanan Minority Report of the Roskill Commission.


I well recall the noble Baroness making this important point in an earlier debate and it is an aspect that we have very much in mind.


My Lords, may I ask a question? Is land reclamation for agriculture at the Thames estuary to come under a development corporation or have we to wait for the Minister of Agriculture to do this? I understand that land can be reclaimed in the area at about £1,000 an acre, and with the price of silt land to-day at over £700 an acre it seems to me an economic proposition to reclaim a considerable proportion of the Thames estuary.


My Lords, that may well be so but I think that is rather another question.