HL Deb 22 February 1979 vol 398 cc2031-75

4.38 p.m.

Lord BOYD-CARPENTER rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that the present and projected developments at the London Airports will be adequate to deal efficiently with traffic in the mid and late 1980s; and in particular whether they are now prepared to arrange with the British Airports Authority for the construction of the second runway at Gatwick, further terminal buildings at Heathrow, and better facilities at Stansted.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking this Question I wish to express my deep gratitude to those noble Lords who have put their names down to take part in this debate. Although it may seem invidious to say so, I take special pleasure from the fact that my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has so put down his name. When, as chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, I was involved in work leading up to the Government Blue Book, I worked very closely with him in his capacity of chairman of the Standing Group of South Eastern Planning Authorities; and, but for his skilful management of that highly variegated and sometimes opinionated team, it would have been impossible to present to the Government of the day a considered view representing both aviation and planning. Therefore, when we come to discuss the London airports it is particularly appropriate that my noble friend should be taking part.

I think I should also disclose three rather variegated possible interests. First, as some noble Lords may know, I am chairman of a company that makes cement, and as a certain amount of building will be suggested in the course of my remarks I should disclose that we make cement and that any sensible user of that commodity will have no difficulty in deciding where to select it. Secondly, as Minister I was involved both in the decision to develop Gatwick Airport and in the opening of the central buildings at Heathrow. Thirdly, I am involved as a member of the council of Trust Houses Forte Limited, the biggest holiday and travel organisation in the world. I hope that that multifarious disclosure of possible interest will not disqualify me in the minds of your Lordships from offering a few observations on this subject, because it is at least possible that the possibilities of bias which derive from it may, at any rate in some measure, be offset by a certain familiarity with some aspects of the topic.

The substance of my Question, as I hope is clear from its terms on the Order Paper, is that I am very concerned by the slow progress now being made in the development of the airports which serve the Metropolis, as against all the indications that are building up of increasingly heavy traffics in the 1980s. It may seem strange to be raising this matter with a Government whose life may be—in Sir Harold Wilson's immortal phrase—measured in weeks, not months, but the matter is urgent, and there is said to be a considerable moral value in death-bed repentances.

Part of the trouble about decisions on airport development is that they are so long term. When they are taken they are unpopular. They involve Governments in conflict with private interests, with environmental interests and with landowners, and if they are not taken in time it is not the existing Government who suffer but perhaps two Governments later—that is when the chickens come home to roost. It is just because it is such a long-term operation that there is perhaps a peculiar temptation to Governments—which I beg this Government to resist—to defer possibly unpopular action which can only have its beneficial effect and attract its credit many years ahead.

Having been involved in the business, I accept that the forecasting of the demand for airport use is a terribly tricky operation. It is rather like weather forecasting; it is reasonably easy to forecast what is to happen, but when it is to happen and the speed at which it is to happen is the difficulty of the problem.

I can only offer a thought by way of guidance. This is an area in which the penalty for forecasting too low a figure is in due course very serious indeed. It is perfectly true that if one forecasts more than the traffic turns out to be one undertakes nugatory expenditure. Perhaps a classical example is the beautiful airport at Rhoose near Cardiff—an airport which has every attraction, except traffics. I suggest that that is perhaps an error on the safe side, because the consequence of under-providing, particularly in the case of metropolitan airports, can be very serious indeed. After all, it is a fact—and I think that the noble Lord on the Government Bench will confirm it—that tourism today is overall our largest earner of foreign exchange. If there are not good facilities for airports for the capital, that enormously important national interest will suffer. The airlines themselves are very big earners of foreign exchange, and big contributors to the United Kingdom balance of payments.

The problem is that if we fail to make adequate provision in, particularly, the metropolitan airports, to which my Question refers, then we are simply going to lose very valuable business in both tourism and aviation. It is no use kidding ourselves that if the London Airports become over-congested most of the international air services will terminate at the other British airports. All experience points the other way. If they cannot get into London, they will go into Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt; and, indeed, we have already had a lesson in connection with Frankfurt, which has gained the newspaper traffic to North America simply because the business-minded Germans keep the airport open at hours at which newspapers have to be despatched to the United States, whereas the curfews which our own Department of Trade have imposed on Heathrow and Gatwick have lost us that traffic, and have lost it to British aviation. So there is a warning there. The first point I want to make to the noble Lord who is to reply therefore is that, whereas no one but a fool would claim to be able to give a completely confident assessment of the traffics even in the middle 1980s, never mind beyond that, this is an area of such economic and industrial importance to this country that, if there is to be an error, then the error ought to be on the side of over-provision rather than under-provision.

Again I stress the London context, even though I know that the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, feels, as he said the other day, that if people cannot get to London they will go to another British airport, perhaps one to be constructed at Severnside. I do not think experience supports that. A very large proportion of travellers to this country on international routes want to go to London. The same applies to an even larger proportion of them on domestic routes. And, of those who do not want to go to London, a considerable further proportion want what is called the interline; that is, to leave (shall we say?) an aircraft from North America at an airport in this country where they can pick up another one to Oslo, Moscow, Belgrade or wherever it may be, and therefore they want to go to the big metropolitan airports where interlining is possible. It is an easy temptation to all of us to try to get away from these very expensive problems by saying, "Let us build airports elsewhere"; but, apart from the fact that I do not believe, in the face of the resistances that there are in this country, we shall see a new green field site for an airport developed in this century, it is really a great mistake to seek to provide an airport at a place people do not want to go to, because you cannot in fact compel them to use it, and they will go to your foreign rivals.

The decisions are difficult, as I say, because they have to be taken well ahead; but I very much believe that present plans are falling behind any reasonable assessment of the demands of the future. I am not, I hasten to say, casting any aspersions at all on the Government's blue book, Airports Policy (Cmnd. 7054), which was laid before Parliament about a year ago. I am hardly in a position so to do because a body with which I was concerned was responsible for a good deal of its contents. But; the point I want to make is that, of course, the work leading up to that document was done mainly in 1976 and 1977, and could not help being influenced by the depression in the international aviation world which existed at that time. Since that time—indeed, not only since the work was done in 1976 and 1977, but since the blue book was laid in 1978—the situation has changed.

I know that one can argue that there are factors like Iran which could be said to be factors militating against further increases in traffic. But I think that the most significant element in this can be detected in the ebullient figure of Sir Frederick Laker. His popularisation, through the Skytrain concept, of cheap fares, and the repercussions from that which have shaken the old stranglehold of the IATA arrangements, shaken them to breaking point, is contributing to a very substantial increase in passenger movements even at a time of some economic difficulty.

I call in aid in that connection not only Sir Frederick Laker but I think it right at this stage to pay a tribute to the former Secretary of State for Trade, Mr. Edmund Dell; because when the Court of Appeal made its decision in the famous case of Laker v.the Department of Trade, Mr. Dell promptly accepted the decision of the court and used his very considerable ability to see to it that Sir Frederick and his airline were given full opportunity to exploit the opportunities that the courts had said were owing to them. It would be wrong, particularly now that Mr. Dell has resigned from the Government, that his; part in this build-up should be forgotten and I am happy to pay tribute to a man with whom I worked happily for some time a little while ago.

However, my Lords, there is further evidence of what is happening. I have seen in the last 48 hours a paper by Professor Secore Browne, who noble Lords may remember was the highly efficient chairman for some years of the American Civil Aviation Bureau and who is now an aviation consultant. He demonstrates that 1978 turned out to be a year of far greater expansion in international aviation than anyone had anticipated, and that this s continuing. Therefore, I must ask the Government to look very hard at proposals and timings which, arguably, may have been justifiable a year ago but which all the evidence is now suggesting are not adequate.

Let us look at the situation. Let us take Heathrow, first. Those of your Lordships who use that airport regularly, as most noble Lords do, and particularly in the summer, realise that there is already congestion at the terminals up to and sometimes beyond the limits of human endurance. When there is a delay, as there can always be in aviation, that congestion becomes appalling. It has reached a stage when I am afraid it is already damaging to the economic interests of this country, to our tourist travel to London as the aviation centre of the world. Perhaps not all noble Lords are aware that Heathrow has more international air movements than any other airport in the world. This is a very significant thing.

What is happening there? The British Airports Authority have put forward a proposal for a fourth terminal—urgently necessary and needed some time ago. I think that the Government were very much at fault in insisting on a public inquiry into this, which has dragged on as public inquiries do, despite the fact that everybody knows—including the noble Lord who sits on the Treasury Bench-that whatever the inspector finds, that fourth terminal must be built and when it is built it will be already late and overcrowded. Nothing has been done about a fifth terminal which could be built on the Perry Oaks site but which needs to be planned now because the Perry Oak site and its use involves moving a sewerage works. There are few things less popular in the planning world—as my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford will agree—than the moving of a sewerage works to somebody else's neighbourhood. An airport is comparatively agreeable.

Here we have the London situation where the shortage is not of runways but of terminals. It is serious, increasingly serious, and there is not a sign that there will be actual additional facilities there for two or three years—and only then if the Government really act urgently. Then there is Gatwick. I have already inflicted on your Lordships on more than one occasion, so that I shall do so briefly now, my view that it is an extraordinary mistake to seek to develop Gatwick, as it is being most expensively developed, on the basis of it being a single-runway airport. No airport in the world dealing with traffic such as is contemplated for Gatwick is, or is planned to be, operated on a single-runway basis.

It so happens that this morning—whether there is any connection with your Lordships' debate this evening it would be indelicate to speculate—there appears in the Press (I am quoting from the Financial Times) a statement by the British Airports Authority that they are proposing, though apparently with some unwillingness, to convert the taxi-way which runs parallel with the Gatwick runway and widen it over 2,500 metres of its length, so that in an emergency it could be used as an alternative runway.

It is indicated—and this does not surprise me—that this is related to the reaction of the foreign airlines whom the Department of Trade are trying to persude to come to Gatwick. When the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry (who has asked me to say how sorry she is not to be able, owing to a previous engagement, to take part in this debate) raised the question of the compulsions being imposed upon a number of foreign airlines to go to Gatwick, it came out that one of the reasons—and there are several —for their reluctance was that they did not want to be directed to an airport where one minor accident could immobilise the whole set-up.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, when she dealt with the question the other day, said that there had been such incidents in both December and January, when the breaking of a nose wheel on a modest-sized aircraft caused all aircraft trying to land at that airport to be diverted elsewhere, and all aircraft seeking to take off having to wait. That was in December and January when traffic was low. What will be the situation on a summer weekend when Heathrow is already full to capacity and unable to take any diversions? What will be the case if, as sometimes happens, weather conditions take Heathrow out and unavailable, and Gatwick has to be used? This could be a very serious situation indeed.

In some measure I hope the British Airports Authority's suggestion—which I gather, to my alarm, according to their statement is likely to be the subject matter of yet another planning inquiry by the Department of the Environment—would deal at some cost with that emergency situation; but, with respect, it would not deal with the major problem of how to operate an airport carrying, as is planned by the Government, up to 25 million passengers in the course of a year on a single runway.

We can easily delude ourselves by saying: "You average that out through the year; it is not all that much. "But aircraft movements and passengers do not average themselves out throughout the year and one gets far, far more of them—as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, knows from his practical experiences—on a summer weekend than in midweek in midwinter. They do not average out. An airport, if it is to be efficient, has not to be equipped to deal with demand averaged out throughout the year; it has to be able to deal with peak demands in difficult circumstances, perhaps with the weather going wrong, and perhaps with accidents happening. This is the alarm.

I was particularly struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said in reply to a question in this House on 7th December at column 268 of Hansard. The noble Lord, Lord Pargiter, said: My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether the Government are satisfied that the single runway operated at Gatwick is going to be sufficient to cope with this enormously increased volume of traffic?

The noble Baroness said this, which I think is significant: Yes, my Lords, until the mid-1980s".

Those ministerial words were no doubt used with some caution, and if the implication is—and it seems to be quite clear—that beyond the mid-1980s it will not be sufficient, it is becoming increasingly urgent that the Government should take action to secure this second runway. This is made all the more necessary by the statement in this morning's Press by the chairman of the British Airports Authority that there is no space available now for a second runway at Gatwick. I think, with great respect, that Mr. Payne is misinformed because even within the area of the airport I have a plan here which shows two possible lines for the runway which I can show to the Minister. But even if he is right in this respect, this is an area which has much open country around it and in a matter of such importance as this further land should be acquired if necessary.

When I raised this question the other day, my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery said that if the Government adopted this proposal it would produce an unplanned environmental catastrophe. My noble friend was not right to say "unplanned", because a second runway at Gatwick—and I speak as the Minister responsible for the Gatwick proposal—was in the original plans for the mid-1950s. So whatever the second runway is, it is not unplanned. Secondly, why is it an environmental catastrophe? A second runway will probably marginally increase the amount of use of the airport, yes; but the main effect will simply be to operate aircraft on two runways instead of one. From the environmental point of view, that may actually have advantages. Noble Lords may be aware of what is done at Heathrow where, when weather conditions permit, alternative runways are used for landing and take-off so as to spread the environmental and noise trouble more fairly as between different areas which are affected by one runway rather than the other. A second runway at Gatwick could be used for that purpose and so, with great respect to my noble friend, I would say that that comment does not seem to me to be wholly justified. The British Airports Authority are spending a great deal on buildings at Gatwick. I am delighted to see that; I hope they will continue with it and that they will be supported by the Government. But I hope also that they will match that with adequate runway facilities.

Then there remains Stansted. The Government of my noble friend Lord Home many years ago decided that Stansted should be the third London airport. It has a magnificent runway. The bad ground communications with London that used to affect it are now disappearing with completion of the M.11 motorway, and there is an enormous amount to be said for developing facilities at Stansted. It would be a particularly good airport to take over more and more of the holiday charter traffic, where interlining is of hardly any significance—less significance than with scheduled traffic. I should like to see work now being done at Stansted to deal with that traffic because, with the rates for holiday traffic now being quoted, once economic recovery comes in this country—and history teaches us that under some Government or other it always does come sooner or later—the public appetite for holidays in the sun reached by aircraft will become enormous and whoever is in Government at that time will have a very serious problem to cope with if people cannot get away on their holidays because no convenient airport is available.

I have put only tentative suggestions about the three airports to the Government. They are tentative suggestions and they are ones upon which I agree views may very well differ; but the central point on which I hope the House will feel there is no room for difference is that the matter is becoming increasingly urgent. We will never make up the lost time in respect of these airports if we go on losing that time. We shall see a gradual, perhaps almost imperceptible, shift of traffic and tourism away from London to our European friends. We shall see our civil aviation industry earning a good deal less than it could and less than the skill and devotion of those who run it would enable it to do.

I do not need to remind your Lordships of the problems that surround our economy, but here is an area in which we are doing well, in which we can do well, and it would be a tragedy indeed if it were to be strangled because of lack of pre-vision by the Government of the logistical bases on which these tourist and aviation industries depend. So I hope very much that, when the noble Lord comes to reply—and I know he will reply in his usual charming and agreeable style—he will give an indication that a wave of dynamism has come into the Government in this respect; that they are really going to get on with the job, not necessarily of doing what, in my amateur way, I have suggested should be do le, but of doing what they think right to improve the facilities of our airports, and therefore securing, at least in this sector of the economy, that we have a real future and a real success. I shall close by giving this Government a motto from one of my favourite hymns: Oh, happy band of pilgrims, Look upward to the skies Where such a light affliction Shall win so great a prize".

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot, I am afraid, equal the quotations of my noble friend, but, like him, I ought to begin by declaring an interest, because I, too, have a job in the industry and spend a lot of my time, when not in your Lordships' House, working at Gatwick. So I am thus directly concerned with the decisions taken relating to that airport, and indeed to the others. The House will be grateful to my noble friend for raising this matter. We have indeed discussed the topic in general terms earlier, but he has, in his usual style, focused our minds on the immediate problems with considerable effect, and I think that we ought to be grateful to him for that. I am not so sure, though, about the Government's position in the matter. I recall speeches from the Government dispatch Box by the noble Lord, Lord Oram, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and now tonight we have the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and, like my noble friend, I am looking forward to the wave of dynamism, as he put it, that is to come across the Floor of the House and strike us all sitting here on this Opposition Bench.

Hitherto, the Government have told us—certainly, the noble Lord, Lord Oram, said this quite recently from the Government Dispatch Box—that there was no runway problem, anyway, until the middle of the 1990s. I think that the Government may well have changed their view on that. I do not wish to quote them unjustly, but my understanding is that the Government now think that there will be a runway shortage—and I use that word advisedly—before the time that they originally anticipated.

The question of terminal shortage is, of course, more imminent. As my noble friend has said, an inquiry is presently proceeding into the prospect of a fourth terminal at Heathrow, and undoubtedly, whatever the inspector may report, that terminal will have to be built in the very near future. There are plans for a second terminal at Gatwick, but that, too, will no doubt be the subject of an inquiry and, certainly, that cannot exist until a long time after the fourth terminal at Heathrow. It is true, therefore, that new airport capacity—and I use that word advisedly, as well—will be needed very soon, because it seems that we cannot necessarily get both runway and terminal capacity matched to provide the total capacity that we need at the right time.

The Government are assuming, in figures that they have published, that, for example, Gatwick will be able to handle 16 million passengers using the present single terminal, and up to 25 million passengers using two terminals, as and when that second terminal is built. Their figures also assume, I think, that there will be at least a fourth terminal at Heathrow, and perhaps a fifth. We are also told that modest expansion must be expected at Stansted.

The principal defect in the Government's argument is the capacity of Gatwick. I do not believe that with the present single runway it will be possible to carry 16 million passengers a year through Gatwick with one terminal, or 25 million passengers with two. As my noble friend explained, the prospects for growth are, for the most part, confined to what can be carried in the summer, because there is no growth in the market in the wintertime. It is the summer when people want to go on their holidays, and that is when the growth must be accommodated. The fact of the matter is that Gatwick is already very congested during the summer months. I simply refuse to believe the figures put forward by the British Airports Authority: that they can perhaps double the total carryings during the year to reach the 16 million figure that they are forecasting and take that growth only in the summer.

If I were asked to put a figure on it—and I confess that this is something of a "guesstimate"—I would say that Gat-wick's maximum capacity with a single terminal is 10 million, not 16 million. The figure of passengers moving through Gatwick in 1978 was, I think, 8 million and, as I have said, at times during the summer the airport was approaching saturation.

On the vexed question of a second runway at Gatwick, I very much doubt whether it can really be justified in terms of cost benefit. Almost everyone involved in the problem has turned his face against it so far. I was interested to hear what my noble friend said about the recent thoughts of the British Airports Authority regarding the use of the taxiway as an emergency runway. Even if a second runway were to be built—and I do not deny that it would be possible—it would increase the theoretical capacity of the airport, in terms of aircraft movements, by only 10 per cent., because I am advised that it is not possible to construct the new runway sufficiently far from the existing runway to enable it to be used to the full extent.

In fact, the two parallel runways at Heathrow are not so far apart as they might be, and that is why Heathrow has imposed a limit on the number of movements that can be accommodated. Certainly that limit is restricted by the proximity of the two runways. Thus, if a second runway were to be built at Gatwick, we would not provide a significant solution to the problem.

However, I see no prospect at all of achieving the forecast figures for Gatwick without the construction of a second runway. The British Airports Authority claim that they can carry these passengers with the single existing runway but, as I have said, I do not really believe that to be the case.

I am forced to conclude, therefore, that the money which could be spent on a second runway at Gatwick might be better spent elsewhere. My noble friend has referred to possible developments at Stansted, and I think that he is right. There are many fewer geographical problems over the terrain around Stansted. Access has recently been improved with the completion of a major length of the M.11 motorway, and there is already a considerable infrastructure, to use the modern jargon, around the airport in terms of housing for employees and all the other facilities that are required but which are not directly related to the airport itself.

It might be, therefore, that a second runway at Stansted would result in a better use of our scarce resources than a second runway at Gatwick. Without wishing to claim any detailed technical knowledge of the matter, because I cannot pretend deeply to have studied it, I feel sure that a second runway at Stansted would provide better use of the resources that we have than a second runway at Gatwick. But whether or not we have a second runway at Stansted, I certainly think that there is some scope for development there, even within the existing boundaries.

Indeed, the Government have already foreseen some development there and I think are at present forecasting an increase in the passenger carryings at Stansted to (if my memory serves me) 4 million passengers a year or thereabouts. Clearly to make any significant difference to the problem throughout the whole of the South-East airports Stansted will certainly have to carry many more passengers. As my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter has suggested, I believe that the scope for expansion at Stansted must be in terms of charter operations which have already, to an almost complete extent, been excluded from Heathrow and may in future have to be at least restricted at Gatwick. As for Heathrow itself, my noble friend has described very fairly the position with regard to the fourth terminal, but, like him, I wonder what is going to happen to the sewage farm if they decide to build a fifth terminal on that site.

In the meantime, while we are considering these weighty problems, I am firmly convinced that better use of Heathrow could be achieved by a more equitable distribution of flights between the three existing terminals. For the moment there is no acute runway problem at Heathrow except for comparatively short peak hours in the mornings, but there are a number of what I might call complementary peaks and troughs at Terminals 1 and 3, for example. At times when Terminal 1 is very congested Terminal 3 is less so and vice versa. I hope that the Government will see whether they cannot bring some influence to bear on the British Airports Authority, and indeed British Airways, to achieve a better use of the existing, most expensive facilities at Heathrow.

I noted that my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery has put his name down to speak this evening, and undoubtedly therefore we shall hear something about Severnside airport. Without wishing to dismiss that project out of hand I am somewhat sceptical about the likely success of that proposal. For a start the cost is clearly going to be astronomic, but I accept that that would apply wherever a new airport was built. The details that I have heard of the rail link, which is such an essential feature of the proposal, lead me to wonder whether British Rail are really going to be able to operate a train at 250 or 300 miles an hour—or whatever the speed was—having regard to their current success with trains at about 50 miles an hour. But assuming that that difficulty can be overcome, as perhaps it may be in the future, I am still worried about the difficulties of providing all the other facilities around the airport in addition to the aviation facilities that are required within the boundaries. I am also worried as to whether the airport proposed on Severnside can be constructed within the timescale that my noble friend so rightly described.

We certainly have some major problems just around the corner. I do not claim to have any cut and dried solution, but the Government, with all the machinery of office at their disposal, can and must prepare their plans and make their decisions. Whatever improvements can be made at existing airports, a new one will be required sooner or later and we are entitled to see the Government plan now, or at least to know their idea of the likely timing. Whatever may be the political uncertainties of the next few months, while the Government remain in office they have a clear duty to bring forward timely and well considered proposals. So far I am afraid we see no sign of it but perhaps tonight the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, will be able to shed a little light for us.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I have no interest to declare other than that I am a pensioner of British Airways. In his Unstarred Question—for which I am grateful, because it gives us an opportunity to discuss this challenging question once again—the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, asks the Government whether they are satisfied with the planning to date, up to the middle 80s or late 80s. The Government White Paper makes an estimate of passenger traffic growth up to 1990. But that is only 11 years away. We all know, as the noble Lord has already said, how long it takes to get airport developments off the ground and they can be delayed by such things as public inquiries. So I wonder whether it would not be wise now to consider planning for a much longer term, at least up to the end of the century—say, A.D. 2000. If I heard him aright, I think the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, had sympathy with this idea, which makes me wonder whether, during his distinguished chairmanship of the British Airports Authority, he had opportunity or occasion to promote it.


My Lords, if the noble Lord would allow me, I would not wish to sail under false colours. I never had any connection with the British Airports Authority. I had the good fortune to be chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, which is, of course, as the noble Lord will appreciate, a totally different body.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I was misinformed, or rather my paper is wrong. But I think my comment still holds. The White Paper estimates that in 1990 the London passenger traffic will increase to somewhere between 66 and 67 million; that is in rough figures. Is the Government's view that this indicates a saturation peak, or is some Department trying to crystal-gaze further, in which case should not we in planning try to crystal-gaze further, also.

London is to have three airports, according to the White Paper, all of international standards. These are to be Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Luton, it seems, is not to be so developed, so presumably the British Airports Authority will not purchase Luton Airport from the Luton Borough Council. I wonder whether the noble Lord can confirm this. A couple of weeks or so ago in a supplementary question by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, in what seemed to be perhaps a rather light-hearted vein, he asked whether the Maplin chickens were not coming home to roost. I do not know whether that still is a moot question, but you never know.

As we all know, Heathrow is and has been for some time bursting at the seams. To relieve immediate pressures there are two major plans afoot. One is the building of a fourth terminal on the South side of the perimeter, and the second is the transfer of certain airlines and their traffic from Heathrow to Gatwick, and presumably later to Stansted. The building of the fourth terminal on the South side has been referred to a public inquiry, and I am told that we shall not know the results of this inquiry until next April. So I feel somewhat inhibited in trying to pursue that matter further tonight, save to say that I still urge, as I did last year, that the Authority should consider a long-term view and develop the Perry Oak site, despite its cost and delay and the removal of that wretched sewage farm, rather than pursue this South side site, where so far as I can tell the only advantages are that it is cheaper and can be done quickly. I am told that the customers—that is, the airlines—have rather grudgingly said, Yes, to this scheme on the basis that they think this is better than nothing, but they would much rather see development of the Perry Oak scheme on a long-term basis even though they would have to wait longer for it.

We discussed the transfers to Gatwick on 24th January, and if my memory serves there was considerable argument and objection to the transfer of Iberian, TAP, and Air Canada almost immediately to Gatwick. I understand that the matter has now been put back into the melting pot. In his reply, will the noble Lord answer a few questions of which I have given him notice? He has been kind and good enough to write to me in some detail on these questions and I am most grateful to him. However, I must still ask them so that my questions and his replies will be on the record.

First, do the Government intend to proceed with such a scheme, and, if so, how will the selection of the airlines to be moved be determined? Is it to be based on the safety requirements of the Air Traffic Control, so that the flight paths of aircraft coming to and going from the London area from the North and the East will not interfere with those coming from the South and the West. Or will it be based on the importance of the destinations overseas and their particular traffics, or perhaps a mixture of both? Will the transfers become mandatory or subject to negotiations between all the interested parties, possibly through the medium of a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Airport Policy?

Reverting to Heathrow, I understand there is, and has been for some time, growing irritation and exasperation at the delays experienced by passengers arriving at No. 3 Terminal in retrieving their baggage; indeed, so much so that I have been told that an increasing number of transatlantic passengers who used to stop off on their way to destinations in Europe for a day or so in London are now overflying and going to other places like Amsterdam, so as to avoid these delays. I am told that the bottleneck is the shortage of carousels in Terminal No. 3. The provision of carousels, is, of course, an Airport Authority's responsibility. What happens is that the baggage loaders have to wait until a carousel has been cleared of a previous flight's baggage until they can start loading another lot of baggage on to the baggage belts. They sometimes have to wait a long time before so doing.

Another source of extreme irritation and frustration, again in No. 3 Terminal, is that the immigration desks for foreigners are seldom, if ever, fully manned, and sometimes only half-manned. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, made succinct reference to that during our debate on 24th January. The net result, of course, is that queues build up, temper;; become frayed and there is considerable delay. That is very bad for our national image and especially for those foreigners arriving early in the morning after a long, tiring night flight and possibly making their first visit to Britain. I am told that the Home Office, which is responsible, pays little or no attention to requests for more immigration officers. Can the noble Lord impress upon his appropriate colleague the necessity of inducing the Home Office to be at least a little more co-operative?

We had a considerable discussion on Gatwick on 24th January. So apart from saying that we agree very m ach with what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, and with a good deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has said, I do not want to say any more than I said on that occasion. As regards Stansted, I understand that sufficient territory belongs to the airport to allow for more runway facilities, if that is what is wanted, but that the airport will require,;o bring it up to international scratch, considerable terminal and ancillary facilities.

As regards public access, as had already been said, the new motorway, the M.11, when it is completed will pass within two miles of the perimeter and presumably there will be a link with the terminal areas. But, the Southern end of the motorway ends somewhere East of Woodford. Therefore, should one want to reach central London or the West End one would have a long and tedious road journey through Woodford, Epping Forest, Seven Sisters and Caledonian Road to reach even King's Cross; or one could go round the North Circular Road and come into London via Finchley and Hampstead. Either way it would take considerably longer than it would take to reach either Heathrow or Gatwick.

There is a rail connection at the moment between Liverpool Street and Bishop's Stortford, which is some four miles from the airport. But at the moment there is no public transport available, so presumably it is a question of taking a taxi. The train frequency is one an hour on weekdays and one every two hours on Sundays. The fast trains take 35 minutes; the slow trains 55 minutes. There is a station at Stansted, but to reach it one has to change at Bishop's Stortford and take a local train. The Airports Authority's brochure, entitled Airport Information, says: Do not book to Stansted as airport connections are difficult". Unless an air link—possibly by helicopter—is set up, quick or efficient interlining between Stansted and the other two airports would seem to be a difficult if not an impossible problem. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, will tell us something of the plans of the Airports Authority and, indeed, of British Rail to improve the access facilities at Stansted.

I have the impression that high on the list of facilities for their passengers, airlines require quick and efficient access to and from airports, both by motorway and by rail. At the moment with its rail connection, which British Rail plans greatly to improve this year, Gatwick seems to be leading the field. I wonder whether the noble Lord can tell us when the adjacent M.3 will be extended to go into South London, and the M.25, which now ends at the top of Reigate Hill, will be extended to reach the M.4, passing quite close to the Perry Oaks site?

In the planning for the future I would urge the Government in their turn to urge the British Airports Authority to think long-term and to think big; and not to plump for short-term ad hoc patchings-up to meet this or that crisis, which may be cheaper but which ends by being too little too late. I should like to remind the Government, and through them the Airports Authority, of the proverb: "Where there is a will, there is a way", with the rider that the will must be genuine.

5.32 p.m.

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

My Lords, I am afraid that owing to the rather unexpected lateness of the commencement of this debate I may have to leave before the end and therefore, strictly speaking, I should not take part. I have made my apologies to the Minister and I hope that my apology will also be accepted by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and by your Lordships as a whole; I impute no discourtesy. I have no interest to declare. I rise partly in order to support my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter in his plea for a wave of dynamism in the matter which we are discussing. There is no doubt whatever that urgency is lacking, and is greatly required if the airport situation near London is not—as the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, has just said—to burst at its seams, an expression that has come readily to the forefront of the minds of a great many people by this time, for I believe that that is more or less what is happening.

I should like to refer to one or two remarks in the speech of my noble friend. The first struck a certain amount of dismay into my heart. I do not know whether he meant to make quite so damning an accusation of the Government as he intended, but I take a certain pleasure in, for once, supporting the Government. My noble friend said that whatever the inspector in charge of the fourth terminal inquiry at Heathrow might say, the fourth terminal will be built anyway. The fact is that at that inquiry every local planning authority, and certainly every amenity group, which gave evidence was unanimously against the building of the fourth terminal. The inspector doubtless will report that, but what else he may say I do not know. What my noble friend's statement that I have just quoted (I hope correctly) amounts to is that the Govern- ment in fact have set up this inquiry as a pure whitewash exercise, and have not the slightest intention of taking any notice of it at the end.


My Lords, as my noble friend referred to me perhaps he would allow me to say that I think he has slightly misunderstood the emphasis of what I said. For the avoidance of doubt perhaps he would allow me to correct him. What I said was that, whatever the result of the inquiry, the terminal would have to be built because it is a sheer necessity. I criticised the Government, on a rather different basis from the one he is suggesting. I did, for setting up the inquiry, which they were under no legal necessity to do. And in the circumstances I should have thought they have probably wasted the time not only of a perfectly competent inspector but of all the worthy groups to whom my noble friend referred.

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

My Lords, I am most obliged. I have no wish to pursue this matter, nor in any way to misrepresent him, but it sheds a rather unhappy light on the whole inquiry procedure, which I believe will be repeated in the case of the second terminal at Gatwick. I am not sure whether I am right in this, but I understand that an application for that inquiry has already been called in by the Department of Trade.

My noble friend was good enough to refer to the Severnside project, supposing that I would have something to say about that. I can give him a crumb of comfort by saying that I have no intention or wish to use his Question in order to advocate the Severnside project. This is not my purpose at all. I have done that before. If any noble Lord wishes to refresh his memory, or find out what I said in presenting that case, he will find it in the Official Report of 16th June last year. I do not wish to go into that any more.

My noble friend Lord Trefgarne has foreseen the arguments that I intended to deploy, and answered them, in a way, very much to the point. Therefore there is no need for me to deploy them any further, except to say this: he suggested that I had envisaged a speed for the high-speed train of something like 250 miles an hour. He has in fact introduced a factor of two in this. My suggestion was 125 miles an hour, which is the present speed of the high-speed train.


My Lords, I am happy to stand corrected.

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

My Lords, it might go up a little but not to that astronomical speed. I must say a word about the time scale, to which my noble friend Lord Trefgarne referred. I argued, and I would be prepared to do so on another occasion, that the time scale is nothing like as great as he fears it would be. In fact, I have good authority for believing that if the construction of an airport at Severnside were to be sanctioned now it would be operational before the second terminal could come into operation at Gatwick, or at any rate in a space of time comparable with that, and certainly before the beginning of the building of a fifth terminal at Heathrow.

All I want to say about Severnside is simply this, and this is the important thing to me: it is not necessarily the only possible alternative to what my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter is asking for, but it is an alternative. I believe it is certain that we shall have to have another airport somewhere, and the time to begin thinking about that is now. This is a matter of urgency. We cannot wait until the mid-1980s. Almost all the advantages that were ever claimed for Maplin exist in favour of Severnside, and others as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, spoke on my Unstarred Question last June. Your Lordships will remember that he is now a Member of the Government. He was not supporting the Severnside proposition, but he said that in his opinion I had made out a convincing prima facie case for having the issue further examined. That is all I am asking for now. I believe it would be totally wrong for any of these proposals, to which my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter addressed himself, to be put into effect without proper consideration of all the alternatives that might make them unnecessary.

I believe, and others believe with me, that the Severnside project is the one which would fill the bill, but that is one among others. All I ask is simply that that project be examined and either approved or disposed of, one way or the other, before any decision is arrived at to expand at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, spoke of the possibility of a new terminal at Gatwick, or even a second runway, and said that would not so greatly increase the number of air movements at that airport. I do not know the amount of salt so large that I could pinch between my fingers with which I should have to take that statement. Gatwick is looking forward to an expansion, with one runway, to 16 million passengers a year, and I share the doubts of others as to whether that capacity could be met; I very much doubt it, and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, does, too.

If we had two runways at Gatwick, properly spaced—which, as Lord Trefgarne said, the ones at Heathrow are not—I see no reason why the passenger traffic at Gatwick should not go up to the projected Heathrow figure of 38 million. We should have another Heathrow, and an even bigger one possibly at Gatwick. If this is thought to be of no great importance, I would remind noble Lords that so far we have heard nothing about the people on the ground. It is all very well for Lord Boyd-Carpenter to say: O happy band of pilgrims, Look upward to the skies, Where such a light affliction shall win so great a prize". I suspect he has not heard the verse: O miserable groundlings, Look upward to the skies, And steel yourselves to suffer This apocalypse, that flies". An expansion of this magnitude at Gatwick would, I believe, amount to an urbanisation of the whole railway corridor from London to Brighton, an environmental disaster of the greatest magnitude. My noble friend took me to task, with some justice, for referring to his proposal—he made it in his Starred Question the other day—by referring to the second terminal at Gatwick as "an unplanned environmental disaster". I say "with some justice" because I think I was rather misleading. I meant to say that the whole airport network around London is itself unplanned. Nobody ever planned Heathrow or Gatwick to be London airports, as they are now; if they had, they would seriously have needed their heads examined because nobody would ever have set up a system such as we have now. It was not planned; it has just grown, like dropsy. I do not want to see it go on growing, and that is what I meant by "an unplanned calamity". It is not the runways that are unplanned but the whole system, the planning or non-planning of which has been grossly exaggerated at the expense of millions of people.

I have nothing to add and I have no analytical comments to make. However, I urge on the Government the point of view that the Severnside project, which in my opinion is the best of all, should be examined by the Government and either adopted or turned down. All the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, put against it must be considered; there are objections to every possibility that might be put forward. Nevertheless, may it please be considered one way or the other before anything else is done, above all at Gatwick?

5.45 p.m.

The Earl of KINNOULL

My Lords, we seem to have been sitting for an awfully long time today, and I shall be very brief. I rise to support my noble friend in his continued thirst for the latest Government thinking on how to handle the London airport traffic problems by the mid 1980s, and I congratulate him upon the very moderate and clear way in which, as always, he put what has become an increasingly urgent case for action. I do not think that there is any Member in this House who has more political, or indeed practical, experience than my noble friend of running the great CAA. He referred to Sir Freddie Laker and the catalystic effect that he has had on air travel, and indeed the effect which means that the only item which seems to go down in cost in our present days of inflation is the price of an air ticket. Perhaps we can reflect that my noble friend had some little part to play in the success of the Skytrain issue at the time of its introduction.

I start with the view that the London airports policy and the Government's contingency plans are developing into an increasing morass of lack of decision. We are faced with the situation in which last year there was an unexpected swing in passenger traffic of 15 per cent., whereas I understand that the figure on which the Government have been working in respect of the next 10 years or so is between 7 and 8 per cent.

We are also faced with contingency plans which are subject to long, expensive, and, to some people, puerile inquiries on whether the Heathrow fourth terminal should be built, or whether the second terminal at Gatwick should be built, when in fact we know that there is no alternative. We are faced with the official airport capacity figure at Gatwick of 25 million in respect of the second terminal, when many experienced people genuinely believe this to be ficticious. We are faced with a delay until the autumn because of the Government's private study led, I understand, by the Steele Committee, of which my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford, is a member—and I am pleased that he will be intervening in the debate—yet we do not know what progress will have been made by the end of that study. Will there be need of another Roskill, or of three or four years' planning procedures, or whatever?

The real truth is that our options are becoming more limited. As my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said, no one now believes that we can afford a new green field site. I consider that no one believes that we can afford even a coastal site, in view of the timescale. So the options are limited to either an existing civil airport, or a military airfield; and of course that comes down to Stansted, or possibly Thurleigh. Whatever options the Steele Committee reach by the autumn, there will be one overwhelming view—that an existing airport must be used.

I turn to specific questions I wish to put to the noble Lord. I wish to ask whether the Government will genuinely look into the form of planning inquiries on new terminals at major airports. Other noble Lords have made the point, yet I believe it needs to be stressed yet again, that considerable money, time, and energy go into these planning inquiries, whereas at the end of the day everyone who has taken part knows that the Secretary of State does not have an option; he has to go forward because it is part of the contingency planning. I believe that there is room where, by the terms of reference, the evidence produced could be limited, which would allow a more sensible form of inquiry, yet still give people a chance to air their views. I am sure that many of the active bodies concerned with the environment—bodies which have to collect voluntary subscriptions in order to pay expensive barristers—and indeed all the local authorities involved, would be very grateful for that. I hope that the Government will look into the procedure of the planning inquiries and come up with something hopeful and helpful.

The second point is on the projected capacity of Gatwick. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne, whose experience, particularly his practical experience, we all value, knows that the projected movements on this one runway are, I think, 150,000 a year. This is allowing for the 25 million passenger projection. He knows that this figure assumes that each aircraft will carry 168 passengers. We also know that the present average load of the aircraft using Gatwick is only something like 80, so there is a big fall-short here. Are we to assume that if the Government are going to reach this capacity of 25 million, they are going to request, or indeed insist, that all the small aircraft using Gatwick at present move to another airport? I believe that is the only alternative; but I think the noble Lord who is to reply should come clean on this, because there have been serious doubts about this capacity figure.

I shall also be interested to hear a little about the facilities at Gatwick. The noble Lord who is to reply will have seen, as indeed the House will have noted, that the chairman of the British Tourist Authority recently described the Gatwick facilities in the midsummer of 1978 as appalling. There was a serious lack of immigration officers; there was a dearth of luggage trolleys; there was a meagre sprinkling of porters; and passengers, particularly the old, were forced to carry luggage down a long flight of stairs to the Gatwick Station. I hope the Government will have some reassuring words on the point of facilities, as this is a specific point in my noble friend's Question.

The last point I would put briefly to the Government is: How are they progressing in encouraging airlines to move from Heathrow to Gatwick? The noble Lord who spoke earlier commented on the fact that there have been problems with, I think, Iberia and Air Canada; indeed, not only problems but embarrassments and upsets. The case, I am told by Iberia, is that there was a distinct lack of consultation prior to an announcement on 18th August, delivered by our Ambassador in what was quaintly termed "a verbal note", that that airline—and indeed, I believe, Air Canada as well—was to move to Gatwick by 1st April 1979. This in fact culminated in a legal action by Iberia, and the Government have now withdrawn that request.

I should like to ask two questions, if I have put those points fairly. First, I should like to ask whether that apparent history is compatible with paragraph 86 of Airports Policy—and I would quote: This policy"— and it is talking about the building up of Gatwick— requires the full co-operation of the airline operators"; and it went on to say that the Government will not dictate. The second question I should like to ask is whether, when discussions are taking place between Governments (and this, I think, is very important) included in those discussions are any counter-agreements with regard to airport facilities in other countries which could damage the interests of British carriers—and I am of course thinking of British Airways. I hope the noble Lord will be able to address his remarks to some extent to that point.

My noble friend ended his comprehensive case with the words of his favourite hymn, O happy band of Pilgrims". I hope the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, when he comes to reply, will not send us away with a message from a hymn which I remember learning, irreverently, at school, which was: Onward Christian soldiers, Marching up the wall". Because what many people feel now, I believe, is that very message—that we are going up the wall.

5.54 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity to take part in this interesting debate promoted by my noble friend's Question, and I should begin by declaring an interest as a member of the Advisory Committee on Airports Policy. When I saw my noble friend's Question down on the Paper, I was in the difficult dilemma that if I did not speak people would ask why I did not, and if I did speak they would probably ask why I did. But, curiously enough, this structure, as the Minister will no doubt say, is not one of a completely confidential nature, and because of its very constitution it allows consultation outside. Many of these consultations have already taken place, and therefore I am not breaching any confidences in what I intend to say.

Our first meeting was last September so that we are, as it were, under way. Let me say immediately that my speech is not going to be a forecast of an inside nature of what the Committee is likely to recommend as the best solution to the Third London Airport. I shall confine myself to comment on the constitution of the inquiry and the methods by which we are approaching it. Let me say immediately to my noble friend that I feel that he has a "bull point" here (and I am sure that the Minister will agree) in the need for urgency. That is why we as a Committee have committed ourselves to making our report by the autumn, which is a very short time in which to deal with an immensely complicated subject. But we understand the urgency of the matter and if the Government is vulnerable to criticism—and I think they are—it is that they did not set up this inquiry two or three years ago, certainly a couple of years ago, when the signs were there.

However, they have done it now. I believe that the structure is a good one and I hope that what I have to say will be of interest to noble Lords and will, perhaps, give them some confidence, at any rate so far as we are concerned, that we should be able to produce a helpful answer. My membership of the Committee is because I am chairman, and have been so since it was set up, of the Standing Conference for London and South-East Regional Planning. That is the local government body for regional planning. What we have succeeded in doing after many years of argument with Government is to convince Ministers that in the search for a major airport it is absolutely essential to bring in the planning authorities at the very beginning. My presence on this body is, of course, the culmination of a long, long argument. The membership of this Advisory Committee—which is set up under the Board of Trade, as has been said, with the Deputy Secretary in the Chair—covers a range of Ministries very comprehensively. It includes a number of other important national bodies who may be interested, including the national and local government bodies. No doubt, the Minister will give details if he is asked for them.

An interesting feature of this inquiry in that there is a parallel body to the Advisory Committee which is called the Study Group on South-East Airports. That body is set up in order to consider the land-use planning aspect of the development of a third London Airport. Again, there is a senior Board of Trade official in the Chair and the members of the Committee include a range of representatives of various Government Ministries; but the members brought in are officials from the planning authorities from London and the counties and the planning authorities in the South-East who have the expert knowledge which is necesssary for this input.

This study group is charged to work in close liaison with, and parallel to, the Advisory Committee but also works directly and reports directly to the Minister. Of course, the success of the whole operation will depend upon the successful liaison between the Advisory Committee, on the one hand, and the study group, on the other. I am hopeful that we shall achieve that. The method of working by which we are proceeding is that the Advisory Committee, which includes all the aviation interests—the CAA, British Airways et cetera—with all their expert knowledge. They have advised, and the Advisory Committee has accepted, the basic air parameters which they consider are necessary. We have accepted that this covers such matters as the required capacity of this new airport that we are to look for. Let me say at once—and this should reassure noble Lords who have anxieties in this matter—that we are looking ahead to the year 2000 and beyond: that this airport that we are looking for has to be a multipurpose and omnidirectional one, and it has to have an ultimate throughput capacity of 50 million passengers per annum. In the location of it, we have to be guided by the air interests in the vital matters of air traffic control in order to co-ordinate the management with Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, et cetera. This has a determining influence on the location that we eventually find. Similarly, the Ministry of Defence and their requirements have to be catered for as well.

Regarding the size of the airport, we have been advised that it should be about 2,000 hectares. That is a very big airport, nearly double the size of Heathrow. It should cater for all future requirements. We must also cater for the necessary capacity and speed of communication to Central London, both by rail and by road; and, above all, we must cater for timetables. My noble friend made the cogent point that the dynamic effect of the Laker influence in the past year or two has been greatly to accelerate the increase in traffic flow particularly for leisure. Therefore the BAA, as the noble Lord has indicated, have orought forward the date at which existing airports, even with the proposed expansions of the fourth terminal at Heathrow, and the second terminal at Gatwick, will probably be bursting at the seams some three years earlier than the Government's blue paper indicated; in other words, coming forward from 1990 to 1987. We have taken these facts on board. We are well aware of the urgency and therefore we are aiming to make our report by the autumn, which will be quite an undertaking for us.

These basic parameters have been passed to the study group which are concerned with the landside interests. They set up a working party of experts who have expert knowledge of the physical conditions throughout the South-East region to apply those parameters to the ground. Inevitably, this has meant immediately the definition of quite large "no go" areas where, for one reason or another, it is impossible to establish a major airport. The study group has now completed its study and is about to submit its report which will show that there are a number of possible sites which can meet these necessary parameters. The study group has also added its set of parameters applying to the land use interests.

The first one—and this is the one which has brought my presence on to the Advisory Committee and brought the Standing Conference for South-East Regional Planning into the picture—is employment. A fact which is well understood by my noble friend but is not always well understood is that a major international airport is the largest single place of employment in the country. This is a factor which has to be catered for in deciding where the site is going to go. Heathrow today employs some 50,000 people. By 1987 it will probably have gone up to 60,000 people, and Gatwick in proportion. There are as many again in employment in the supporting and service industries. The third London airport, which is to have a potential of 50,000 passengers per day—nearly double Heathrow—will employ, when it reaches full size, something of the order of 70,000 or 80,000 people on the airport with as many again outside.

We are talking about an employment of 150,000 people by the end of the century, and multiplying that by four to get the full population, we are talking about a population of 600,000. That is a very large population. Therefore it is essential that the site should be located with regard to the urban infrastructure which could be called upon to operate the airport; in other words, near large populations.

The second parameter that the local authorities are concerned with is of course the broad environmental protection problem. Local authorities are responsible for planning generally, but of course they are responsible for the protection of local communities from noise; they are responsible for the protection of amenity in the villages, the towns, and countryside with special amenity values. And, of course, they are concerned with the protection of the best agricultural land. They are also domestically concerned with the very heavy financial liability which falls upon them in the early years of these developments.

Finally, both the Advisory Committee and the Study Group are concerned with the cost element. This, as noble Lords will know, was a major factor in the shedding of Maplin on the earlier study. Costs must be catered for: it is one of the factors that must be considered. I should add as a matter of interest, that within the standing conference for regional planning, we have set up a structure to make sure there is member participation both of county representatives and of district council representatives, so that they will be kept informed as these possible sites are being considered.

We consider we shall not adequately have discharged our difficult responsibility unless we can bring members in so that we can—I do not know whether it will be possible, but we shall try—to reach a consensus among local authorities, including London, throughout the South-East on what is the best site for a third London Airport. We feel it is so important to try to cater for the broad environmental picture from the representative council members, who, after all, have the major say in this matter. If would be a fact of tremendous value to the Government of the day, when the report comes along, if we can produce such support. That we shall try to do.

Obviously we have quite a formidable task on our hands in the Advisory Committee and the study group. It has been well said that there is no perfect solution. There are so many conflicting factors which have to be balanced one against the other; but we are going to be capable, first of all, of categorising them and evaluating them, and then we shall use our best judgment and our best compassion for each other to try to reach a consensus between us, which will produce a report that will be helpful to the government of the day. They will then be able to make up their minds, consult with all the interests concerned so that perhaps in the not-too-far distant future—even perhaps by 1987 but, my word! they will have to be quick —we may have the beginnings of this great new third London airport which is undoubtedly needed.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to talk mainly about the environmental issues, and I should indeed like to declare an interest—the interest of an inhabitant of the South-East. We are, quite unquestionably, all closely concerned with this emotive problem, and though I live 25 miles to the South of Gatwick, perhaps that fact will give a rough idea of what my interests may be. That is what I am, and I shall declare it.

I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for putting down this Unstarred Question, because I agree so much about the urgency and the need not to let more water go under the bridge. Obviously, I am not a part of the aviation lobby; I am on the other side of the fence. I have one or two "parish pump" matters to mention regarding Gatwick, which I believe it is right to raise because they are illustrative. I recollect that the last public inquiry there had to be held because when the runway was last extended it was necessary to lop some trees on property which was outside the control of the British Airports Authority. I seem to recall that the hall was too small. At an early hour it rapidly became overcrowded with people who did not appear particularly anxious to operate the normal noise abatement procedures that would have been appropriate to such an occasion. One learned representative who was submitting evidence had to address the inquiry through a window from outside, with the aid of a packing case. The inquiry had to adjourn thereafter to make more seemly arrangements. That all indicates what an emotive business it is, and one must think how one can make it a little less emotive and more satisfactory.

The reasons that I have listed are, first, failure to take social costs into account, even remotely adequately, and many a local authority has complained about this. Secondly, there is noise. It may get better, according to the blue book, but I am sure we all realise that it is not a problem that will go away. Thirdly, there is a lack of sufficient forward plans. Fourthly—and this is something which we cannot do much about—we are a small island, the South-East is crowded, and we need to look after our land resources, because they are irreplaceable.

I should like to say a little more about the failure to take social costs into account. Part of this problem arises because of the function of the British Airports Authority. It is not their fault, and the last thing I want to do is to decry their management over this matter, but it remains a fact that they are permitted to cause a nuisance on their property against which others do not have normal remedies. On that score, their immunity from the more normal planning procedures has been too great, and it is an extremely good thing that efforts are now being made to remedy that situation. I know that it takes time, but it is vitally important that it should be done. In the same way, I think it is right to stick to having planning inquiries. I think that we must have them. If they could be a little less emotive because our policies were better, they would not waste so much time. Nevertheless, they remain of great importance.

I should like to mention the question of compensation for private property. In this connection, I want to take an extreme case, the case of Mr. Greenfield, who had a smallholding at the end of the runway at Gatwick. He had on it a livestock enterprise with a riding school, and his whole operation was completely upset by noise. I believe that independent tests of the noise levels were made at the time, and it was concluded that the houses there were unlivable-in. They were right at the end of the runway where by comparison at the end of the runway at London Airport there is a sewage farm. His property suffered blight. Not so very long ago, the late Lord Henley put down an Unstarred Question in this House about that man. I believe that nothing more has been done about him, and I wonder whether we shall one day get some better news about his case. He has recently died of a heart attack, which may or may not have been connected with his experience at the airport.

When this matter was raised earlier, there was the counter-agrument that more people suffered at Heathrow, but I think it is right to say that individually they did not suffer so much. I have every sympathy with the people living around Heathrow, but the case of Mr. Greenfield shows a serious lapse in the way in which our country upholds personal rights, particularly bearing in mind the situation of that man.

We have not done enough generally about these matters. Those who live around Heathrow have received grants for double glazing and other improvements, but I think that the help given to them should have gone further than it did. Air conditioning is an obvious corollary. A better regard for personal property rights would lower the temperature and might lead us to get on better with the problems that face us over the allocation of scarce land resources and the preservation of the quality of life. These two problems are difficult to quantify financially. Nevertheless, they are of vital importance.

Turning to local authority planning problems, it was good to hear what my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford had to say. The West Sussex County Council will certainly be glad to read what he has had to say. They have asked for a full environmental study to be carried out if the throughput at Gatwick is to be increased from 16 million to 25 million passengers. A great deal lies behind that short sentence. Their study group, consisting of five county councillors, produced a valuable outline report, entitled Gatwick Tomorrow, which they say straight away raises more questions than it answers. But these are the questions which need to be solved, and they are very much the ones which my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford touched upon.

It is thought that the future increase in population which will be needed to bring about a 25 million throughput of passengers at Gatwick will be round about 68,000. This will take place in an area which is already crowded. Crawley New Town is close by. In the Strategic Plan for the South-East, it was said of the planning district: No further induced growth should be encouraged". That means Gatwick. There will obviously be great infrastructure problems—over schools, finance, cross country roads, and so on. There is a serious lack of communications with Southampton, where there will soon be 1 million people, some of whom will doubtless want to get to Gatwick. Already there are pressures on the area. The effect on Crawley's modern industries must be considered. The airport will become the major employer. Will Crawley's industries therefore be able to keep the skilled labour that they need? There is anxiety about that.

I understand that the effect of the airport rates on Crawley should be mentioned. Crawley receive the airport rates but lose an equal amount of rate support grant, which means that the airport does them no good at all, despite the problems which it creates. This is another matter which should be considered in terms of social cost.

We have already heard of worse to come. Both the West Sussex County Council and Crawley agreed to Gatwick handling 16 million passengers, but they feel the very greatest concern about Gatwick handling more than that number, that is, 25 million passengers; and it could be worse than that, as we have heard this afternoon. Will one runway and two terminals work? I understand that the airline operators told the county council a long time ago that they thought they would not work. There will be a severe problem over the peaking of air traffic, which may again make it impossible to reach the targets anticipated. I wonder whether Iberia was the best operator to send to Gatwick first, in view of the fact that I imagine theirs is a very seasonal operation. If there is to be a second proper runway I should very much like to know. If there is any further news about the emergency runway I should like to hear it. If there is a second full-scale runway the trouble is that there will be a great temptation in the future to say, "Well, what about a third terminal?". That will be the next cheapest way out of the difficulty, and if that is done I feel fairly certain that the consequences could only too easily be an unplanned urban mass extending from East Grinstead to Horsham and down to Haywards Heath, which would be a pretty profound tragedy and certainly would not contribute to the quality of life.

Does one not have to reckon the true cost to the community in all this? I think we do. Both at Gatwick and at Stanstead two major inquiries have found that they are not suitable sites for international airports. That is the point from which we start. As regards Stansted, I should like particularly to mention that although I understand there is to be a public inquiry at Gatwick there is no such intention at Stansted. I believe that there should be a public inquiry at Stansted. They have an equal right to have one.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way for a moment, can he say what it is that the public inquiry at Stansted should enquire into?


My Lords, I think it would clear the air very greatly about the planning difficulties that would be facing Essex.


But surely, my Lords, the inquiry must enquire into something?


My Lords, it would be enquiring into the implications of the growth of the airport, as is the case at Gatwick. At any rate, although the Blue Book says that it is anticipated that there will be 4 million passengers by 1990 it is an open-ended commitment, and there is quite a possibility that there will be 16 million there instead, by 1990.

I hope that we shall not end with a 19th century type solution and repeat that kind of mistake. I feel that the Blue Book cost of £150 million for the developments is no great sum, bearing in mind this particular problem. One might call it a shoestring. I think we need perspective and an open mind about that.

To get this into perspective, may I say that only this morning I—and not I alone in this House—received from the British Tourist Authority a statement that 12 million tourists last year spent £3,000 million with us. Laker Airways and British Caledonian together, I understand, are shortly about to spend £500 million on their aircraft fleets. When one sees this one wonders whether £150 million is really not very little.

At this stage I do not want to go deeply into the matters of Maplin, but something on a greater financial scale should have been possible and might have got us over very great difficulties here in the South-East. I would have liked to get more precise information about the planning of de Gaulle airport at Paris. I believe it was thought about quite 20 years ahead and not 10, and that it was a very much smoother and happier operation for everyone concerned. I know it may be said that it is easier in France because they have three times as much land per head as we have, but I think it is really the other way round, that because we have so little we and not they are the people who ought to be more advanced withour planning.

At any rate, I think we have to decide between a great 19th century mistake, doing a proper job, or, the third alternative —the objections to it have already been mentioned but nevertheless it remains a third alternative—which would be to refuse the traffic after a certain point. I think, finally, that you will have, in view of the situation at Gatwick, to limit the growth there and after it has got to that stage traffic must go somewhere else. I would like to wish my noble friend Lord Nugent the best of luck, and I am sure his sagacity will contribute very greatly. I think that is all I need to say about it.

6.27 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery, who unfortunately has had to leave, in asking the Government to give serious consideration to the Servernside airport project. Your Lordships may be aware that a notice has gone up that a study group has been formed for this matter, and I, for one, am looking forward to attending some of its activities. My own particular interest in the problem of airports is in the way of getting to them. In June last year there was an Unstarred Question on the Severnside project and the suggestion of using high-speed trains to and from Severnside on which special facilities for customs and immigration matters to be dealt with could be included. The proposed position for Severnside is an airport constructed on a sits where there would be little problem of either noise or disturbance of homes, and it could have easy access to South Wales, the Midlands and the South West of" England as well as London.

The study of railway tracks around the London area has been a particular interest of mine. For many years I have had to use public transport in my work, and I always prefer to use the rail rather than the road. At times I have had to go to some lengths to work out the railway routes from one place to another. In my contribution to the Unstarred Question last year I suggested the use of that very versatile station at Olympia, together with the idea of constructing a connection between the line there which goes north towards Willesden and the main line out of Paddington, with the use of a bridge connecting up with another suburban line, which I admit was a rather elaborate and very expensive project. I am glad to say that, with a little further simple research on the matter, I discovered that a connection already exists. It is between Westbourne Park and Acton and it is a double track. It has sharp bends, so if high-speed trains were using Olympia they could not accelerate at all until they were safely on the main line.

The line north of Olympia is useful. It goes up to Willesden, where there is another connection with the main line out of Euston, and from there it goes eastwards to Broad Street via Kilburn, Hampstead and Camden Town. South of Olypmpia it joins the main line out of Waterloo at Clapham. There is another useful little addition because there is a small connection with the District Line at Earl's Court.

So, to sum up, Olympia should be the station for London to use as a terminal for Severnside. It could still be used for railway connections to other airports such as Gatwick and Heathrow, like the station at Feltham. It is easy to get to by road and it has good rail access from both the north and the south and, in particular, it has a very good central position.

Severnside is not really a new idea. I understand that it was thought up some years ago, but at the time it was definitely shelved because it was feared that the area would be far too remote. But, now that we have the fast trains—particularly the 125s—it makes it an ideal situation for the new airport for London and also for the rest of Britain.

6.32 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened to the debate with great care. Your Lordships will notice that, in spite of perhaps wanting to do so, I have not interrupted any speaker. I hope that the House will give me the same courtesy and allow me to make my speech without interruption. However, at the end of my remarks your Lordships can always catch me before I sit down.

The planning of future airport capacity, raises such important environmental problems, involves the expenditure of so much public money and, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, pointed out, involves such risks of under-provision that debate on the issues involved should always be welcome. That is especially so if the debate is informed and tolerant and if it is positive rather than purely negative. I think we can say that our debate has, by and large, been on those lines.

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for putting down the Question. He has given very distinguished service to civil aviation, first as a Minister and latterly as chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority. There is perhaps no one better qualified to lead this debate than he. I should also like to pay a tribute to the contribution that was made by the Civil Aviation Authority, under his chairmanship, to the work which preceded the White Paper. The noble Lord will be aware that the conclusions of the White Paper were based upon very careful studies of airport capacity, detailed forecasts of demand and exhaustive studies of the options.

That White Paper came to three main conclusions. First, owing to the very considerable uncertainty of forecasting, traffic demand should be kept under continuous review and the work should be commenced immediately on the next stage which was outlined in the Paper; secondly, that limits on the growth of Heathrow and Gatwick should be accepted; thirdly, that local authorities and other interested parties involved in future airport capacity should be brought into consultations. As a consequence, following the White Paper—as the House already knows—the Government set up the Advisory Committee on Airport Policy and the Study Group, to which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has referred. I was particularly pleased by the noble Lord's intervention because he is at the centre of this and was able to speak with first-hand knowledge of what is going on. I should also like to pay tribue to the work which he did preceding the setting up of those bodies and to the work which he is continuing to do as a member of the Advisory Committee.

I should like now to take each airport in turn, dealing first with Heathrow. Heathrow has a throughput of 26 million passengers per annum. Redevelopment of the central terminal area has been completed and this gives a capacity of 30 million passengers. The extension of the Piccadilly line has improved the flow of surface traffic; and the Eurogate satellite, which is planned and which we should have at a very early date, will be linked by travelators to Terminals 1 and 2, and should greatly improve the passenger handling at those terminals.

The construction of the fourth terminal will increase the capacity to 38 million passengers. It is subject to planning inquiry, which has just been completed. However, that planning inquiry showed that we not merely have problems of estimating demand, but that we also have problems of estimating what the capacity will be. It emerged from that inquiry that a more realistic figure of the capacity after the fourth terminal is completed is not 38 million passengers but 43 million passengers, which, of course, would be very much to everybody's advantage. But let us be quite clear: even though the planning inquiry has been concluded, without a final decision having been announced, the fourth terminal cannot be completed before 1984.

If the traffic continues to grow at the present rate, the capacity at Heathrow will be exhausted by 1981. Therefore, it is vital that the Government should pursue their policy of transferring traffic to Gatwick. I would point out that we are not transferring particular airlines to Gatwick; we are transferring aircraft for given destinations, regardless of the airline to which they belong. I would also point out that the consultations with the Spanish Government began almost two years ago. We are conducting those consultations within certain guidelines. The noble Earl, Lord Amherst, was good enough to give me notice of the points he has raised. His questions called for detailed answers. I have already written to him and I have given him those detailed answers, including the guidelines which are used for the transfer from Heathrow to Gatwick. If, at the end of the debate, any noble Lord would like a copy of that letter, I should be very pleased to arrange for him to have a copy.

The White Paper explained that the Government had concluded that Heathrow's ultimate development should not go beyond a fourth terminal. That is still the view of the Government. Consistent with that conclusion, the further development of Heathrow—whether by building a fifth terminal at Perry Oaks site or otherwise—is not among the options that are being considered in the long-term.

I know there are those who find the Government's policy on this more difficult to accept, and that suggestions have been mooted for further massive expansions at Heathrow. These ideas seem to us to take insufficient account of the environmental implications of such developments; insufficient account of the planning considerations; and insufficient account of the operational problems in the arrangement and management of an airport handling such volumes of traffic on what, by most standards, is still a very restricted site. The Government have made clear their policy on Heathrow, and I believe that the right approach now is to concentrate our efforts in the consideration of the long-term options which were identified in the White Paper.

I pass now to Gatwick. Gatwick had a throughput of only 7.8 million passengers last year. The £100 million redevelopment is virtually completed. This raises the capacity to 16 million. I am advised by the experts that this takes fully into account that there is only ore runway and that there is a seasonal peak in the demand. But it also assumes that the improvements in the rail-link which were dealt with by my noble friend Lady Stedman in answer to an Unstarred Question on 24th January should be completed within reasonable time.

The British Airports Authority announced yesterday that it will shortly make planning application for the development of the second terminal. The White Paper on airports policy stated that the proposal for a second runway at Gatwick should not be revived, which effectively limits development at Gatwick to a two-terminal airport. The Government are still of that view. The White Paper suggested that such an airport should be capable of handling 25 million passengers a year. I recognise that there is a strong body of opinion which takes the view that a single runway at Gatwick will be inadequate to handle such a volume of traffic.

Two main reasons have been advanced in support of this view. The first is the question of operational needs. It has been argued that closure of the runway could totally incapacitate the airport, and ground the aircraft possibly for a considerable time. Past experience does not support this view. Apart from planned maintenance and repairs which are carried out at night, usually in the off-season, and apart from closures due to adverse weather conditions which would not be reduced by having a second runway, the single runway at Gatwick has been out of use for relatively insignificant periods due to incidents or obstructions on the runway. Over the last nine years there has been an average of less than four hours closure per year due to incidents of this kind.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, mentioned, being always up to date, there was an announcement this morning that the British Airways Authority is seeking planning permission to widen the northern taxiway at Gatwick. It could then be used as an emergency runway when the main runway is obstructed. But it could not be used simultaneously with the main runway. Therefore, it could not become a second runway. At the present time, the Airports Authority is in consultation with the airlines on this issue, and it is also giving serious consideration as to whether the cost would be justified.

I come to the second reason why it may be thought that the capacity of one runway is not sufficient for 25 million passengers. The runway capacity at Heathrow is estimated at 160,000 air transport movements a year and, before going further, I wish to defend that figure. It will be readily understood that if you have two runways you cannot double the number of transport movements, because you need airspace for each of the runways; and there is the significant point which was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, namely, that the runways at Heathrow were so close together that we could not safely make the fullest use of them.

At Heathrow we have on those two runways 269,000 movements, so we see no difficulty in having 160,000 movements on this single runway at Gatwick. At the present time the runway has less than 100,000 air traffic movements and the average passenger load is only 88. This relatively low figure in comparison with Heathrow reflects the mix of the traffic which currently uses Gatwick. However, with the increase in scheduled air services at Gatwick, the transfer of major blocks of traffic from Heathrow, the general trend towards larger aircraft and the introduction of new fares structures on scheduled routes, which are designed specifically to fill vacant seats on aircraft, there is little doubt that the average passenger load per aircraft will grow considerably during the next decade. When it reaches 168, then, assuming that 90 per cent. of the movements at Gatwick are passenger aircraft, the runway will be capable of handling 25 million passengers a year. And 168 is not outrageous; the third terminal at Heathrow already exceeds that figure.

One can hardly predict exactly when we will reach this situation, but all the forecasts indicate that it will be reached. The British Airports Authority are confident that the single runway at Gatwick will be sufficient to handle 25 million passengers a year and the Government see no reason to dissent from that view. In the light of that, and bearing in mind the Government's decision effectively to limit the extension of Gatwick to a capacity of 25 million, it is not envisaged that a second runway will be required at Gatwick.

Luton in 1973 had 3 million passengers. It is now down to 2 million. Nevertheless, as the White Paper indicates, we visualise an extension of the terminal buildings which would increase the capacity to 5 million. The local authority is considering the timing of this development. There are no plans by the Government to purchase Luton airport; that would be a matter for discussion and negotiation between the BAA and the local authority. The Government are quite happy to leave it at that. Stansted has a throughput of only 300,000, though it is capable at the moment of taking at least 1 million, and, as announced in the White Paper, we have at this stage of development an extension of the terminal buildings which would give a throughput of 4 million passengers capacity.

In the White Paper the Government identified three possible options. The first was the development of Stansted as an airport. The second was the conversion of a military airport to civil use, and the third was the construction of an entirely new airport. As the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has said, the Advisory Committee and the study group are at present evaluating these options, and they are doing so with a sense of urgency. The intention is that the work of the study group and the Advisory Committee should form the basis of a document to be completed this autumn, and this should evaluate the options. This document will be published, and will serve as a basis for consultation on the options with a wide range of interests including local and environmental bodies. It is intended that this process should be completed in time for decisions on the longer term airports capacity to be reached by the end of 1980—by the end of next year we expect the decision to be taken.

I should like to sum up the position in the following way. Last year the throughput of the four London airports was 36 million. The capacity is 50 million. Within the next decade we intend to increase the capacity to 72 million; that is to say, to double last year's throughput. Of course timing is of the essence, but we are assured by the British Airports Authority that in its opinion the work will be completed in time, provided that there is no undue delay in planning procedure. So far as the long-term is concerned, as I have indicated, we are working towards a decision next year.

I believe that I have covered the main ground, but I would add two points. First, we shall look at the record of what has been said, and in so far as I have not covered any points which call for replies in writing, letters will certainly be sent. Secondly, I can assure the House that what has been said, especially by the noble Lord who led the debate, as well as by all those who followed, will be taken into account when the final decisions are made—


My Lords, can the noble Lord deal with the following point before he sits down? In view of his confident assertion that a single runway airport at Gatwick can handle 25 million passengers a year, can he explain why, throughout the world, airports which aim at much lower annual throughputs provide two or indeed three runways? Why does the noble Lord think that he is right and all the rest of the world is wrong?


My Lords, I think that the others were right when they built their airports, and that I am right when I am building my airport. The circumstances are quite different. The average passenger load at Gatwick at the moment is 88, whereas an average of 168 is required to carry the 25 million passengers. Other countries were planning for entirely different circumstances from those for which we are planning. That, I believe, is almost a perfect answer to the noble Lord.