HL Deb 18 April 1978 vol 390 cc978-82

2.49 p.m.

Lord BOYD-CARPENTER: 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, in view of the delay in proceeding with additional terminal capacity at Heathrow and the absence of plans to build a second runway at Gatwick, they are satisfied that adequate airport capacity will be available in the London area to meet the traffic to be expected in the first half of the 1980s.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, with the completion shortly of the redevelopment work at Heathrow and Gatwick, terminal capacity in the London area airports will be about 50 million passengers a year, compared with a throughput of 32 million passengers in 1977. This capacity, and the developments envisaged in the White Paper on Airports Policy, with the existing runways, should be sufficient to meet the demand in the first half of the 1980s.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness two questions? The first relates to her reference to the early completion of the work at Heathrow. Is that intended to cover both the completion of the public inquiry, and then the completion of the fourth terminal? Secondly, has she, and have the Government, taken into account the fact that previous traffic forecasts were based on the old fares system and that recent developments and the popularisation of cheap fares are likely to bring about a very substantial increase in traffics? Finally, on that point, has she seen that that appears to be the view of British Airways?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, so far as the first point is concerned, when I referred to the completion of the redevelopment work I meant the completion of the redevelopment work which is in hand now. I understand that the public inquiry will start on 31st May. When we have the recommendation about the fourth terminal depends on how much evidence is submitted and how long it takes to deal with it. On the second point, we are aware of the fact that there are cheap fares and we are aware that the number of air passengers is increasing year by year; but we think that when the redevelopment of the central area at Heathrow. which has really brought about the recent congestion, is completed it will raise the airport's capacity to 30 million passengers a year. In addition, the Government's present policy of transferring traffic to Gatwick, where there is spare capacity, and the ban on whole plane charter flights at Heathrow from 1st April of this year, will help to relieve the congestion at that airport. We are satisfied that BAA are working along these lines.


My Lords, in view of the noble Baroness's reference to Gatwick, with its planned passenger throughput of 25 million passengers a year, can she tell me whether there is any other airport in the world where anything like that airport capacity is planned on the basis of one runway?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I could not answer the second part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, but I can say that the British Airports Authority are satisfied that the single runway at Gatwick will be capable of handling the expected growth in the traffic.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness hear in mind that, as in the case of the electricity supply, guessing at the number of passengers who are likely to travel has always been a major stumbling block? Does she not perhaps think that the mistakes which were made a few years ago, when we were looking at the question of a new airport, are being repeated; and are we in any way ready to deal with the situation if the estimates are seriously wrong, which I think they may well be?

Baroness STEDMAN

No, my Lords. The Government and the BAA are satisfied that the estimates on which they are working are now reasonable ones.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that the proposal to erect the fourth terminal on the South side of Heathrow Airport is unsatisfactory from almost every point of view and cannot meet the problem in the short-term, let along the long-term?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the noble Earl made a very valuable contribution on these lines to a debate we had recently in your Lordships' House. I have today written to him suggesting that his points were valid ones and telling him where to make them to the public inquiry which is in hand. At this moment I cannot predict what will be the outcome of the public inquiry.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether I am right in gathering from her remarks that the urgency to upgrade Stansted Airport in Essex to a full-size third London airport is perhaps not quite so great now as it was a few months ago?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the White Paper provided for the expansion of Stansted to handle 4 million passengers a year. Beyond 1990, the White Paper has outlined three options for further consideration: first, a major expansion at Stansted; secondly, the development of a military airfield as a civil airport; or, thirdly, the construction of a completely new airport. With respect, I do not think it would he helpful at this stage to consider the implications of these options, until we know what the decision is about proceeding with a fourth terminal at Heathrow.


My Lords, if the noble Baroness tells us that any further development at London Airport is conditional upon the traffic forecast beyond the year 1990, does that not require that we take a view as to the likely trend in oil prices, and aviation fuel prices in particular, beyond that point? Has she studied the evidence from the major oil companies, such as British Petroleum, showing that world oil production is likely to be declining by that time, and therefore increasing very steeply in price; and what effect does she think this will have on the traffic through London Airport? Will it exceed the 50 million passengers throughput which is containable within the existing terminals?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I personally have not considered these points, but I am sure that the BAA and the Department considered all of them before making the recommendations in their White Paper.


My Lords, in view of the fact that 25 million passengers pass through Gatwick Airport, will the noble Baroness bear in mind that a single runway has sometimes to be repaired and can be very vulnerable to an accident; and that if that runway had to be closed in such an emergency, with 25 million people counting on travelling from that airport, the whole of the metropolitan air travel would be in a desperate position?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, it would be necessary, in that event, to use the runways at other London airports. In 1976-77, the Gatwick runway was closed due to obstruction for a period of four hours and 44 minutes only. That is the only closure we have had.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us congratulate the Government on not over-expanding the airport facilities? Over-expansion disturbs a great many people and wastes public money.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I welcome the support of my noble friend. Of course we have to take into account what are the effects of expansion of airports on the environment in general, as well as on the use of them by airport travellers.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that, as well as putting emphasis on the expansion of London airport capacities, it would be a very good thing indeed to see that the provincial airport capacities are increased, thereby dispersing the load, dispersing the noise factor and collecting more traffic conveniently?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's views on the use of the regional airports; but the fact is that 80 per cent. of the passengers using London airports have either origins or destinations in the South-East, and it would be unrealistic to expect that any substantial traffic could be diverted into the regions. But we believe that, in the longer term, there has to be a policy of rationalisation and concentration of services at selected airports in order to lead to a greater use of some of the regional airports.