HL Deb 18 July 1974 vol 353 cc1244-54

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House I will repeat a Statement now being made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"On assuming office, the Government undertook to re-examine certain major transport projects and on March 21 I announced that I had set in hand a reappraisal of the Maplin project for a third London airport. This has now been completed and the report of the reappraisal has been published to-day.

"Seven main conclusions emerge from the reappraisal. First, the forecasts of air passenger demand are significantly lower than was envisaged previously. Secondly, up to 1990, no further main runways will be required at any of the four London area airports at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. Thirdly, the passenger handling capacity required to accommodate the forecast traffic up to 1990 is not now dependent on a new airport at Maplin. Fourthly, the noise nuisance is expected to be much lower than was forecast by the Roskill Commission. Fifthly, whether or not Maplin were built, capacity at Heathrow would need to be expanded from its present 20 million passengers a year to 38 million and Gatwick from 6 million to 16 million. Sixthly, beyond that, further capacity would be required from the mid-1980s which could be provided through a new airport at Maplin or by some combination of developments at existing London area airports with the possibility of some diversion of London traffic to regional airports. Finally, the cost of accommodating the forecast traffic at Maplin is now estimated at about £650 million. This is nearly twice as much as the next most expensive alternative considered in the reappraisal.

"In the light of this, the Government consider that the case for a new airport at Maplin has not been established. and it has decided to abandon it.

"The review has particularly examined the question of aircraft noise.

I am deeply conscious of the distress suffered by those who live near airports. However, the review shows that Maplin would not have a great effect on total noise disturbance. First, if Maplin were built it could not affect the level of noise at existing airports before 1985. Secondly, by 1990 at London area airports, nearly all air transport movements are expected to be by new quieter types of aircraft. This means that, with or without Maplin, there will be marked improvements in current noise levels at these airports. But there can be no relaxation in our efforts, and I am determined to achieve a further and progressive improvement in noise by tackling it at the source on the aircraft, by intensifying night jet curfews, by revised operational techniques and improved facilities for noise insulation.

"I asked for special consideration to be given to the role of regional airports. Consultations were commissioned to undertake a separate examination of the scope for diverting traffic to the regions. Three main conclusions emerged from that work. First, to achieve any significant diversion would involve transferring large numbers of passengers with origins and destinations in the South-East. Secondly, passenger demand suggests diversion to Bournemouth, Birmingham and East Midlands rather than to airports farther afield. Thirdly, major diversions to the regional airports could involve noise and other environmental problems in the areas concerned. Nevertheless, I have asked my officials to consider the regional possibilities in greater depth, both to relieve the pressure on the South-East and to help in the development of other regions. I should like to see as much traffic transferred as possible.

"The review was conducted in co-operation with the British Airports Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority but it was not possible in the time available to engaged in consultation with the local authorities and other organisations affected. A number of submissions have been received from local authorities and we shall now be consulting them and other bodies concerned about the way future traffic will be handled.

"I am sure that the House will wish to debate the matter of London air passenger traffic as soon as it has had a reasonable time to consider the review."

That is the end of the Statement. If it is the wish of noble Lords opposite, I should be very willing, through the usual channels, to consider a possible opportunity for a debate.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating this Statement. It is of course a very important Statement and contains a great deal of information in which I think it is impossible to comment in detail in view of the short time we have had to look at it. Nor have we had an opportunity of studying the Report that has been published to-day. I think, however, that it is fair to say that the Government, in a reappraisal lasting only three months, have reversed the conclusions of the Roskill Commission which decided that a third London airport was needed and felt that Maplin was a possibility.

I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord shepherd, several general questions about the Statement. First, although he says that there will be no further runways at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted or Luton, there will clearly be enormously increased traffic. Will this mean increased hours of flying and how will this affect the residents living round the airports? What further developments does the noble Lord envisage, and has there been any consideration of the environmental factors and infrastructure such as housing, roads, terminal buildings and passenger handling facilities which will be necessary at all four airports to take the increased traffic? This point becomes all the more important when we realise that there has been no consultation at all with local authorities which are the planning authorities which will have to say where these facilities will have to go. Would the noble Lord also comment on the question of safety which was, I know, a major consideration at Maplin and which is very relevant to the increased use of existing airports?

The Statement makes no mention at all of the seaport. Has that been abandoned? Or when can we expect to hear what is the situation with regard to the seaport, which is as important as the airport? Also, can the noble Lord comment at all on whether or not the Government feel it worth while to reclaim land in the South-East where it is in such very short supply?


My Lords, I should also like to thank the Leader of the House for reading this Statement, which is a very important one and which we on these Benches entirely support. We are also very much encouraged to hear that there will be a review and that we may have a debate on the whole subject. So far as I understand the Statement, the review is based on regional aspects, and I suggest that the time may have come to have a national airports policy placing an emphasis on the word "national".


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, for their comments on the Statement and for the support which came from the Liberal Benches. I wish that they would have a word with their colleagues in another place. In reply to the noble Baroness, the question of the seaport is now receiving the urgent attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment and he hopes to make a Statement shortly. On the question of reclaiming land in the South-East of England, during the last three years, before coming back into Government, I had some connection in this field and I strongly believe that, depending on the area, this makes a great deal of sense and it is undoubtedly economic.

My Lords, this Statement goes against the Roskill Commission's findings, but Roskill were looking at the situation in a totally different environment. We now have the consequences of the high price of oil and an undoubted cut—certainly in the short term—in living standards, which it is estimated will have quite a serious effect on the growth in the number of passengers using air terminals. However, the most significant factor since Roskill is the new breed of aircraft. One has only to go to the United States to see the very new, wide-hull aircraft to appreciate the great difference compared with the type of aircraft we now see in London. It comes out very clearly in the Report that the number of traffic movements will decrease quite dramatically, and of course these new aircraft are a great deal more silent. If the noble Baroness will refer to the charts in the Report, she will be quite surprised, as I was, to see what a significant difference these new aircraft—and some 90 per cent. of our air transport movements will be made by these new engines by 1990—will make to the noise pattern in London. It is indeed surprising.

My Lords, undoubtedly the terminal question will be the most important, because it seems to me and the Government from reading this appraisal, that it is a question not of runways but of handling people and baggage. I would hope that when the new terminals are built we will take a much longer view in our design of terminal buildings to ensure that they have many years of progress ahead of them instead of being out of date, as most of them are, by the time they are opened.

My Lords, the environmental matter was very carefully considered, and we think that as a consequence of our reappraisal the effect here will not be so serious. In regard to consulting with the planning authorities, clearly this is a matter which will now have to commence immediately. In regard to safety, with or without Maplin, London would still be the major airport of the United Kingdom. The risks inherent would be there, but—and I feel like touching wood here—I think that the remarkable safety standards at London Airport are due not only to the design of the airport but also to the devoted work of the staff.


My Lords, may I ask one question on the subject of the construction of a new seaport which follows the interrogation by the noble Baroness, Lady Young? My noble friend will recall that when we previously discussed this matter reference was made to the construction of the new seaport. I cannot debate the matter now, but is he aware that there is less need for a new seaport in the area than for a new airport? All the facilities for expansion in matters concerning sea transport—the land facilities, the docking facilities, the manpower facilities, the technical facilities—are available at Southampton. May

I ask whether he will convey to his right honourable friend that he should proceed with the utmost prudence with any proposition for the construction of a new seaport? Before doing do he should consult those associated with Southampton in particular and probably other seaports on the Southern coast.


My Lords, the seaport is of course not dependent on whether or not we go ahead with the Maplin airport, but the points which my noble friend has put will certainly need the closest consideration by my right honourable friend. On the other hand, there is a question of the London docks on which the new port has some bearing. It is a very complex matter which will need a good deal of study, and while I hope to make an early Statement I would agree with my noble friend that we need the widest possible consultation and thought in what will be an important and major development.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us in all parts of the House had some doubts about Maplin? I think it will be welcome that technical development has made it unnecessary to start a third airport. Is he aware also that for a very long time people living around the other main London airports will have to put up with a large number of older aircraft which are extremely noisy, and would he therefore, now that Maplin has been abandoned, consider the fitting of hush kits which for a small amount can make these older aircraft much more acceptable to the many residents around the airports?


My Lords, this is a point which my right honourable friend has in mind and I think he makes allusion to it in his Statement. Also, I believe a good deal could be done by way of insulating homes, and particularly schools. These are matters which clearly have to be dealt with, and would have had to be dealt with; because even if we had gone ahead with Maplin, London would still have remained the major airport and there would not have been any dramatic drop in air traffic movements.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend—and he will guess that I do so with a note of sadness in my heart—whether this decision means that a substantial amount of air traffic will be diverted to Stansted? And if that be so, will he take special care to see that the very peaceful and delightful environmental peace of that neighbourhood is preserved in some way? My next question is: what do the Government now intend to do about the South-East Study which reported a few years ago and which suggested that a community of about 300,000 people should be built up in the Rochford peninsula, a community which would have fitted in delightfully with the Maplin airport plan? Next, will my noble friend recall that a few weeks ago I suggested that the land reclamation originally intended for Maplin should continue, and that the reclaimed site should be used to build the most beautiful maritime garden city in the world?


My Lords, in regard to the plan to which my noble friend has referred, perhaps I could get in touch with him. I have not been able to keep all these matters in my mind. In regard to the garden city, that may come, but I do not think it will be as a consequence of the Statement I have just made. The consequences to Stansted will depend very much upon how future policy develops. If we are successful in developing the regional airfields the effect will not be quite so substantial. I feel I must be frank with my noble friend. Without Maplin, and without being successful in regional development, there will be quite a significant increase in air traffic movements in Stansted, but certainly not as great as at present exists at Gatwick.


My Lords, does not the noble Lord the Leader of the House feel that the implication of the abandonment of the Maplin airport project is a matter which will have to be discussed to-morrow between the Prime Minister and President Giscard d'Estaing? As recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, on a previous occasion, this would entail increased traffic at the airport at Boissy, and the question of the continuation of the Channel Tunnel project is extremely relevant to all this.


My Lords, I have no idea what my right honourable friend is going to say to the French President to-morrow, and therefore I do not think I should follow the noble Lord in any respect in the question he has just put.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that what he has just said will bring a great measure of reassurance to those of us who believe that the continued build-up of air traffic in the South-East of England is not in the best interests of the country as a whole? Will he equally bear in mind that the Government will need to be very firm if they are to overcome the reluctance of airlines to decentralise their services, a tendency exemplified by the resistance to the removal of Government Departments and their civil servants from the same area?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support. This is a very difficult matter and, as the Statement which I have repeated said, we are going to have a further look at the matter of regional development. It seems quite ridiculous that a large number of people from quite distant parts of the country go to Luton in order to go for a holiday in Spain. This, of course, is a management matter for the airlines, and is something on which we will wish to consult with them.


My Lords, would the noble Lord the Leader of the House accept from one who was a practical operator of airlines how welcome is what he has told us this afternoon? The decentralisation away from the South-East is a really worth while plan, and with the improved silence that can be achieved. certainly from new aircraft and also from old aircraft, as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has said, I think that this new pattern makes very much more sense than did the original Roskill Report.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that his Statement will give very considerable satisfaction in its broad terms. Of course, it needs debating in full later on, but it will give great satisfaction in broad terms, in that the Government have accepted the new technical developments which have made the old considerations of Maplin and the Roskill Commission days completely obsolete. Furthermore, is he aware that he will find a large measure of support for the Government's broad policy in all quarters of the House, including many noble Lords on this side, who have regretted for several long years the persistence of the last Government in saying that Maplin was necessary and essential?


My Lords, circumstances have changed. There is a new Government who have tended to look at things with (shall we say?) a fresh eye. Things have changed quite dramatically since the Roskill Report and, while I welcome all support in regard to regional development, one must be conscious of the numbers who still will have to live within the flight paths of Heathrow. I hope that now, perhaps from some of the savings we have made by this decision, we may be able to do a little more for those who now live and suffer under the flight paths, particularly those into Heathrow?


My Lords, may I pursue that point a little further. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, set great store on three factors which he said were not in the minds of the Roskill Commission; namely, the price of petrol (which certainly was not) having a dampening effect on the volume of air traffic; the advent of the Jumbo-jet having a dampening effect on the number of air movements—and this was something the Roskill Commission were aware of; and the availability of hush kits which has a dampening effect on the noise of individual older aircraft. Do those three factors taken together mean that Her Majesty's Government have now formed the view that because all those factors are already operating—the hush kits are available, the Jumbo-jets are coming into service, and the price of petrol has already gone up—the position of those people whom we had in mind, and the Roskill Commission had in mind, those people who now live around Heathrow, Luton, Gatwick and Stansted, will henceforward all improve? I think that is the implication of his Statement and I should like to be clear about it.

The second point I should like to make is this. This review has been a short-term internal Whitehall exercise and I have not so far had time to study it, but could the noble Lord confirm that the traffic handling capacity of these four airports—and that is now the critical factor and not the runway capacity—depends upon planning permissions which have not yet been given, and that the planning authorities who will have to give them have as yet not been consulted?


My Lords, I acknowledge that we have not had the opportunity to consult the planning authorities in regard to the terminal buildings, in reply to the noble Baroness. In regard to this being a Whitehall reappraisal, I thought that that was rather a snide comment, which I am sure was not intended. This was a reappraisal made by the Department of Trade, the Department of the Environment, the British Airports Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority. I should have thought that the latter two authorities particularly now have a great deal of expertise on which we can base our judgments.

In regard to the consequences of this decision for people living around Heathrow, I ask the noble Lord to look at the Tables that are in the Report, but I shall just give the House this indication: 35 n.n.i. I am told is the lowest of the sound measurements and with Maplin, London Airport would drop in 1990 from what it is now; namely, 2,092,000 people being affected, reduced to 307,000. That is a very significant drop. However, as a consequence of no Maplin the figure will increase from 307,000 to 322,000—a marginal increase but not of any great significance. The air transport movements which in 1973 were running at 267,000 per annum, with Maplin will drop to 205,000 movements per annum. Without Maplin, (hough with an enlarged contribution from Stansted and Luton, it will rise to 230,000 movements—not a major or significant increase if one bears in mind the difference in cost between the two possibilities.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say what technical developments are now anticipated at Stansted, particularly in the way of air traffic equipment there which has been somewhat deficient for a number of years? Secondly, can the noble Lord say what is the future now of Southend Airport which was, I believe, scheduled for closure under the Maplin proposals?


My Lords, if the noble Lord would like to put down those questions or write to me, I shall give him an answer, but I am sorry I have not come here so prepared to-day.


My Lords, in the light of the Government's important and wise decision, in the absence of any airport in central Scotland, would the noble Lord direct the Government's attention to the extension and improvement of the airports at Edinburgh and Aberdeen?


My Lords, I thought that Edinburgh was in the course of being improved. I am not sure about Aberdeen, but I will look into the matter and write to the noble Lord. My Lords, I see that we have been at this Statement for 30 minutes, and I wonder whether we should now move on and listen to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, whom I so rudely interrupted.