HL Deb 20 November 2001 vol 628 cc1025-36

4.28 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. The Statement is as follows:

"I should like to make a Statement concerning the proposal to build a fifth terminal at Heathrow Airport and to outline our intention to streamline the handling of major infrastructure projects in the planning system.

"I am today publishing the inspector's report into Heathrow Terminal 5 as well as my decision letter. Copies of both have been placed in the Library of the House. My decision and the reasons for it have been set out in the decision letter itself.

"The inquiry into Terminal 5 was the longest in British planning history. It opened in May 1995 and closed in March 1999. The inspector, Mr Roy Vandermeer QC, reported to my department on 20th December last year. I should like to thank the inspector for his report. I am grateful to him for the great diligence which he has shown.

"The delay in reaching a decision since the report was received in December arises because, since the inspector reported, the applicants—BAA, who are the owners and operators of Heathrow Airport—warned in May that they wished to revise the Twin Rivers Scheme which was a part of the original application. It was August before they put forward any details. Those then required consultation, which was completed in mid October.

"After considering the inspector's report and taking into account all the relevant considerations, I have today given my approval to the development of Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Such a development is in the national interest. It will enable Heathrow to remain a world-class airport. It will bring benefits to the British economy, both locally and nationally. At the same time as giving my approval to the development, I have also imposed conditions in order to protect the interests of those living in the vicinity of Heathrow.

"The inspector stresses in his report that the issue is essentially one of striking a balance. He identifies the benefits of Terminal 5. They are considerable. He sees Heathrow as essential for keeping the UK air transport industry strong and competitive.

"The inspector sees wider benefits beyond the aviation industry. He points to benefits for London and for the UK as a whole. He says that Heathrow has done a great deal to attract investment to the United Kingdom and that London's success as a world city and financial centre could be threatened unless Heathrow stays competitive. He says that by ensuring Heathrow's continued success, Terminal 5 would make a major contribution to the national economy. And he says that it would be good for passengers, providing a terminal equal to the best in the world and relieving the pressure on the other four terminals. I also agree with the inspector that the real beneficiaries, if Terminal 5 is not provided, would be Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, Schipol in Amsterdam and Frankfurt Airport.

"The inspector rightly draws attention to the disadvantages. They, too, are important. There is noise: the inspector looks at that issue at length. And he looks at matters such as extra road traffic, air quality, intrusion into the Green Belt and the effects of construction.

"The inspector weighs all the benefits and costs very carefully. He says—and I use his words—that he has come to the clear conclusion that the benefits of Terminal 5 would substantially outweigh the environmental impact as long as its effects are properly controlled.

"I agree with him that Terminal 5 should go ahead, but subject to conditions. I would like to outline the key conditions to the House. First, a limit has been set on the number of flights each year at 480,000. This limit has been imposed on a precautionary basis and because of the inspector's concerns about noise. This was recommended by the inspector. Last year Heathrow handled some 460,000 flights and just under 65 million passengers. Even with a limit of 480,000 flights, the inspector adopted a figure of 90 million passengers per annum as the potential capacity of Heathrow if Terminal 5 were built.

"Secondly, the noise effects of Terminal 5 will also be limited by a condition restricting the area enclosed by the 57-decibel noise contour to 145 square kilometres as from 2016. Again, I follow the inspector's recommendation.

"The inspector recommends stricter controls on night flights. I recognise that there is considerable concern about night noise. I am not legally entitled to change the night noise regime without consultation. I will consult on an extension of the night quota period when I next put forward proposals for the night noise regime for the BAA London airports. I have decided that this consultation will take place by 2003 at the latest.

"The House should also be aware that we have already announced a change to the system of so-called 'westerly preference' at Heathrow to reduce the number of night flights over built-up west London. This is in line with one of the inspector's recommendations. We have also announced a major study to reassess attitudes to aircraft noise. This will permit a fresh look at the present 'Leg' noise index on which the inspector commented.

"I have also agreed with the inspector on the need to promote the use of public transport. So I have imposed conditions, as he recommended, requiring the extension to Terminal 5 of both the Heathrow Express and the Piccadilly Line before the new terminal is opened.

"And I have agreed with the inspector in cutting the provision of car parking spaces for the airport as a whole below that in the original proposals. I am imposing a condition limiting total spaces to 42,000 rather than the 46,000 proposed by BAA. Of these only 17,500 rather than the 21,700 originally proposed, will be available for employees.

"The terminal proposals also included widening of the M4 between junctions 3 and 4b. But I agree with the inspector that widening would not be appropriate. I have therefore refused approval for it.

"As to timing, I have imposed conditions requiring that work to implement any of the planning approvals should not start until a separate approval has been given to the essential scheme for diversion of the twin rivers that flow across the Terminal 5 site. That will ensure that there will be proper opportunity for full examination of that scheme.

"I should touch on three further points. First, the tragic events of 11th September and the effects of those terrorist attacks on air travel. In reaching my decision, I have noted that the inspector has based his conclusions on forecasts as far ahead as 2016; and clearly, Terminal 5 is expected to be in operation much longer than that. Planning decisions such as this require a lengthy time horizon, and I believe that my decision is well justified on that basis.

"Secondly, honourable Members will know of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights delivered on 2nd October in the case of Hatton and Others v. the UK. This concerned night noise at Heathrow. The court held by a majority that there had been an infringement of the convention. I am considering that judgment, which does not become final until at least three months after it was delivered. Quite apart from my decision on Terminal 5, I will of course wish to ensure that the night noise regime at Heathrow complies with the European Convention on Human Rights.

"Thirdly, I am well aware of the length of time that was taken by the process of the public inquiry into Terminal 5. In saying that, I mean no criticism of the inspector; but there must be an issue as to whether such lengthy inquiries are appropriate. Accordingly, I announced on 20th July that we were considering a package of measures to streamline the handling of major infrastructure projects in the planning system. This included a commitment to publish up-to-date statements of government policy before major infrastructure projects are considered in the planning system, to help reduce inquiry time spent on debating the policy, the introduction of new arrangements to give Parliament the opportunity to approve projects in principle, and improved public inquiry procedures. We shall be publishing further details for consultation in the next two months.

"Taken together with the other steps we will be proposing to improve the operation of the planning and compulsory purchase systems, these measures will both safeguard the rights of people to have their say and reduce the time that is taken in future to reach decisions on major infrastructure projects.

"My decision and the reasons for it are set out in full in the decision letter which I have issued today. Nothing I say here today should in any way be seen as a substitute for what is in that lengthy decision letter.

"Giving the go-ahead for a fifth terminal at Heathrow is essential if we are to maintain Heathrow as one of the world's leading airports and bring benefits to the British economy both locally and nationally.

"I have no doubt that the national interest requires that this project should proceed as long as we put in place measures to safeguard local people and their communities. This I believe my decision achieves and I commend it to the House".

4.40 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I would like to thank the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State in another place. Perhaps I should first congratulate the inspector, who has produced an extremely good report. It is a mammoth feat considering that the public inquiry took four years. The Government's will be welcomed by the airlines.

The Secretary of State has had to balance difficult considerations. On the one hand, there is a need to maintain Heathrow as a major European hub to compete with Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris and to benefit the aviation industry in this country. On the other hand, there is the contrary need of safeguarding the interests of those living near Heathrow.

The Minister has outlined some of the steps that the Government believe should be taken before Terminal 5 is opened. I should like to comment on some of those steps and to ask a number of questions.

The noble and learned Lord said that there would be a limit of 480,000 flights and that that would be a planning condition. We welcome that. Can the Minister give an assurance that there will be no increase in the number of night flights? We believe that there should be a presumption against night flights over residential areas unless it can be proved that there is a real need for them. We are as concerned as the Government about noise. The report states that there will not be a final decision until 2003. Why will it take so long? Will the effect on sleep disturbance be considered?

The Minister said that the Government will insist that rail and tube links are improved. We welcome that. Can he explain why there will be a limit on the increased usage of the Heathrow Express? I do not understand why there should be such a restriction.

What will be done to improve the rail links from the west? At the moment, if you get on a train to Heathrow from the West of England you have to stop at Reading and get on a bus. We believe that, at the very least, there should be a western rail link, if not, indeed, a southern rail link as well.

When coming to their decision in regard to Terminal 5, did the Government consider the capacity of other London regional airports such as Stansted, Luton and Gatwick? Indeed, did they look at whether there was a need for a new runway in the South East? The noble and learned Lord explained the need for increased capacity but, at the end of the day, if capacity is to rise at that level, will another runway be needed to cope with it? Can the Minister confirm that a new runway is not in the Government's plans at the moment? Can he confirm that there will be no need for an additional runway at Heathrow when Terminal 5 goes ahead?

In coming to their decision, did the Government consider the House of Commons Select Committee report published in 1995–96, which stated that consideration should be given to constructing a new airport in the Thames Estuary?

This has been a mammoth inquiry which has cost more than £83 million. It has taken far too long—more than eight years—and it will be at least another six years, if all goes well, before Terminal 5 can be opened. The Minister announced plans to change and streamline the planning process for major infrastructure projects. We are concerned that the Government's plans should not undermine local involvement when considering such projects.

4.43 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, we, too, welcome the Statement made in another place and repeated by the noble and learned Lord. I wish to concentrate, particularly, on the issue of access to the airport.

We learn from the papers that the motorway will not be expanded. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, I, too, am concerned about surface access by rail from the South West, the West and the North. It is apposite that we are considering the report at the same time as the CAA has published its first report into the funding of airline landing charges for the next five years. In terms of improved access to the airport, nothing in that report gives any comfort. It will happen if someone else pays. We believe that it should be either a condition of planning consent or that we should change the rules—which are to go before the Competition Commission—so that money is set aside for decent surface access, including the extension of the Piccadilly line and the Heathrow Express.

It says in the Statement that those lines are to be extended, but it does not say how that is to be paid for. They have to be paid for, and we believe that they should be paid for by airport users. We should not forget that "airport users" include not only passengers but "weepers and greeters" and people who work at the airport and travel there every day. The present means of access are either very inefficient or very expensive. We want these issues addressed because, inadequate as it is, the Airport Express is not a suitable way for workers to get to the airport.

We welcome the fact that the Minister will look at the planning system. This inquiry is a monument to inefficiency and has cost a vast sum of money. It is time that we moved towards an inquisitorial system and away from the adversarial system which was used here. The inspector should ask questions and people should not read out long statements. Several improvements can be made. But, whatever the outcome, inquiries should be held efficiently.

We know that there will be more noise. Unfortunately, that will be one of the effects of this decision and it is one of the crosses that people who live near the airport will have to bear. It is an area of bad air quality, which will get worse. There will be more car parking spaces than there are now. We believe that a real attempt should be made to deal with the issue of decent surface access above all others.

4.47 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their welcome for the decision. I shall now deal with the points that they have raised

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, referred to the 480,000 flights limit and asked for an assurance that there will be no increase in night flights. There can be no change in the night flight regime without consultation. My right honourable friend in another place said that he would consult about the night flight regime in the light of the concerns expressed. That consultation will be thorough and detailed and concluded by 2003. It is right that the process should be detailed, thorough and take some time.

The reason for the limitation on the number of Heathrow Express train journeys from Paddington is to deal with traffic around the Paddington area. The Secretary of State deals with that issue in paragraph 55 of the decision letter, where he sets out his reasons.

As to capacity at other airports, the report of the inspector deals in great detail with the issue of capacity at other airports in the South-East of England. He refers to capacity at airports in the country as a whole, but he obviously deals in detail with capacity in the South-East.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, referred to the fact that it will take another six years, if all goes well, before Terminal 5 is completed. He drew attention to the fact that the procedure has taken too long. With respect, we agree that the planning stage of major infrastructure projects needs to be dealt with in a way that will lead to a quicker result than occurred on this occasion.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said that access to the airport should be paid for by the users of the airport. The British Airports Authority is committed to encouraging the introduction and use of additional public transport services at Heathrow. The Secretary of State expects the BAA to fulfil that commitment, including additional rail services—to which paragraph 54 of the decision letter specifically refers.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, six years ago, I addressed the Select Committee on Transport in another place at length about the marinair airport, which my noble friend Lord Astor mentioned. I declare an interest, as chairman and chief executive of the Thames Estuary Airport Company. Another Peer, who is seated behind me, is on the board—and another Peer present is the company's political adviser. We hope to make an announcement in the next few weeks. Two of the people with whom we were working closely were killed on 11th September, which did not add to our speed or joy.

We heard today about concern, which is reasonable, over night flights and flights over towns. A Thames Estuary airport, some 30 kilometres downstream from Tilbury, would kill any night effects on London. It would also avoid daytime traffic over London and the risk from crashes.

Judging by the post that we have been receiving, interest in the airport is enormous—not only from local councils. People throughout the South East are worried. If we can make our announcement, I hope that the Government will listen with great interest. That would be to the Government's advantage financially and in every other way. Such a development would be in the Government's favour and the country and employment would gain. Above all, new runways at existing airports would be totally unnecessary.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I note the noble Lord's remarks in respect of a matter on which there has not yet been any announcement. Today, we are dealing with a decision in relation to Terminal 5 and we should focus on that issue.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on reaching a decision which removes a great deal of uncertainty after such a long public inquiry. Many people who live, work or have businesses locally will be pleased.

My noble and learned friend commented that BAA is committed to encouraging public transport. Is that really sufficient? Most other airport developments in Europe not only have rail services to the airport but local and national rail services pass through the airport. Paddington might get congested but that is nothing like what Heathrow will become if more people are not encouraged to use trains. I echo the comments by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on the need for west-facing rail services. Are BAA committed to such services and to opening them before the terminal itself is opened?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The relevant part of the decision letter states: The Inspector recommends at paragraph 32.4.4 and paragraph of his report that conditions should be imposed requiring BAA to use their best endeavours to provide a four trains an hour service linking Terminal 5 to St. Pancras, and to secure the opening of the Gateway North station, before Terminal 5 is opened. The Secretary of State has concluded that such a condition could not easily be enforced and agrees with the Inspector that there are problems in providing such a service as identified by the Inspector … Therefore, and bearing in mind the guidance in Circular 11/95 on the use of conditions, the Secretary of State has concluded that he should attach these conditions. However, the Secretary of State expects BAA to comply with their commitment to encourage the introduction and use of additional public transport services at Heathrow and to consider securing a four trains an hour service linking Terminal 5 to St. Pancras and the opening of the Gateway North Station, before Terminal 5 is open That is a partial answer to my noble friend's question.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, the Statement referred to 480,000 flights a year. Can the Minister give the definition of "flights"? Does that phrase include landings as well as take-offs or is a "flight" a landing or a take-off? Regardless of the answer, will the noble and learned Lord confirm—I am no way being facetious—that an airplane is an airplane is an airplane? Is a business jet exactly pari passu with a Boeing 747?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the figure of 480,000 relates to air traffic movements—take-offs or landings. An airplane is an airplane is an airplane, so all air traffic movements will involve a range of sizes.

Lord Desai

My Lords, at a time when the airline industry is facing massive shutdowns and losses and is begging for structural funds to survive, is it not paradoxical that a new airport is being predicated on rosy traffic forecasts? If, following 11th September, traffic patterns and travel habits change drastically, will there be a chance to reconsider in the next two years or so? We may find that there may soon be excess airport capacity, rather than a need for a fifth London air terminal.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, my right honourable friend's Statement dealt in part with my noble friend's point: In reaching my decision, I have noted that the Inspector has based his conclusions on forecasts as far ahead as 2016; and clearly Terminal 5 is expected to be in operation much longer than that. Planning decisions such as this require a lengthy time horizon, and I believe that my decision is well justified on that basis". The decision must be based on a long-term look into the future.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, the Statement referred to reviewing the lengthy planning processes involved in major infrastructure projects. Will that review be included in the report?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, that aspect will not be included in the report, which will simply be about Terminal 5. In July, my right honourable friend gave indications in another place of the areas where we shall try to speed up and streamline major national infrastructure projects. Within the next two months, we shall issue a separate consultation document that will set out our proposals for improving and streamlining major infrastructure project processes.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I note the restrictions on car parking and the welcome improvements in public transport announced as part of the decision. The south-west link proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw—from the Feltham-Staines line to Terminal 5 and other terminals—is long overdue if the number of people travelling to the airport by car is to be reduced. Is there any intention to establish a target maximum number of passengers and staff travelling by car to the airport in future? Fifty per cent is the sort of target that other airports seek to adopt. That would send a signal that the Government are serious about encouraging people using Terminal 5 to travel by public transport rather than driving there in their own cars.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, we are keen to encourage public transport. As to a specific target, I shall write to my noble friend.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord mentioned the reduction in the amount of car parking space available. Is it realistic to expect that it will be possible, by any means, to reduce the amount of car parking space required? Do the figures quoted by the noble and learned Lord include car parks outside the perimeter of the airport itself?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, as to whether it is realistic, the noble Lord will recall that one of the conditions imposed in relation to Terminal 5 going ahead is an improvement in the frequency of various public transport services. That will assist in some respects. So far as concerns car parking, I believe that the figures given are for parking within the vicinity of the airport, including Terminal 5.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, it is my observation with regard to people who work at Heathrow that the airport authority is already attempting to discourage them from coming in by car. I suspect that the main cause is that the land is rather too valuable to allow it to have cars parked on it all day long. I am talking about people who work there, not people who travel.

Perhaps I may press the Minister a little further on his public transport announcement. Will he accept that when the airport authority brought forward this project, it tried to convince people that underneath the new Terminal there would be an "all singing, all dancing, all modal" transfer station, as it were, where rail—I do not mean rail into London; I mean rail to the North West and the South West—bus, taxi and motor car could all come and go in relation to the aeroplanes arriving and the passengers arriving. Is that being done?

My second question relates to the enormous landside shopping facilities that were planned. Are those landside facilities—said to be as large as the entire shopping area of Staines, the nearest sizeable town to the airport—going ahead? If so, they will of their very nature increase the number of people who want to reach the airport by car.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I do not know the detailed history of what was on offer by the BAA—and I am not inviting the noble Baroness to remind me of the details. The inspector addressed the issue of what public transport improvements are required to deal with Terminal 5. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has considered those carefully and has given his conclusions. Those were not on whether the facilities would be "all singing and all dancing"; they were on the precise public transport improvements that are required in order to facilitate Terminal 5. He addresses all those considerations in the detail of his decision letter. The right place to look for the answer is the decision letter. So far as concerns retail decisions, I fully understand the noble Baroness's point. Perhaps I may write to her on the matter.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I accept that this is an important decision to have made. But it seems extraordinary that it has taken a year since the inquiry finished to come to this point of a decision being made today. In the future, could these important inquiries have a slightly shorter time-scale? Six years is a long time in reality.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, an application for permission to go ahead with Terminal 5 was made by the British Airports Authority in 1993—so the decision has taken eight years. The time-scale is much too long. That is why the Government, in parallel with the decision announced today, are proceeding with a consultation process on how to shorten the period in which decisions of this kind are taken. That is the consultation paper to which I referred in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that there will be considerable disappointment at today's announcement among people living around Heathrow and around the London approaches and the western approaches? There will be a considerable increase in the number of passengers. An increase of 38 per cent, or 25 million, means that there will be an extra 80,000 movements of people each day. Furthermore, I am not sure that the figures tie up with an increase of only 20,000 in the number of flights. The increase in passenger numbers is given as 38 per cent, and in flights 4.5 per cent. People will need to examine those figures.

Is the noble and learned Lord further aware that, unless there is a radical alteration in transport facilities to Heathrow, the congestion on the M4 and in west London will be more than people can bear—and it is unbearable now? The decision having been made, I urge the noble and learned Lord to put as much pressure as he can on the Heathrow authorities to bring forward a transport plan which will not bring about those increases in traffic, fumes, noise and general additional environmental pollution. Also, will he give those people the assurance that this is not the run-in for a third runway at Heathrow?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the answer to the first question is yes. I am aware that there will be significant numbers of people for whom the decision will cause considerable dismay. Those views were expressed during the course of the inquiry. The inspector and my right honourable friend in another place have considered them extremely carefully. As has been made clear, the decision seeks to provide a balance between the benefits of a fifth Terminal and the consequences for those in the vicinity who will be affected by it.

I shall not attempt to address the specific figures raised by my noble friend in his question. However, I assure him that those issues were considered by the inspector.

So far as concerns congestion on the M4, surface transport to and from Heathrow after Terminal 5 is built was considered in considerable depth by the inspector and again by my right honourable friend in considering the inspector's report. The issue has been fully taken into account, both in the inspector's conclusions and by my right honourable friend in his detailed decision letter.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, following on from the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, does the Minister realise that hardly a thing that he has said today gives any comfort at all to the general travelling public? It is hell getting to Heathrow with suitcases and perhaps with children; and doing it by public transport is virtually impossible, particularly for more elderly folk. Nothing that the Minister has said indicates that it will become easier. Using public transport is not the answer, given the difficulty of trans-shipping luggage from trains to platforms, to airport check-ins and so on. What the Minister wants to think about is making life easier for the passengers, not easier for the planners.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the purpose of the decision in building a fifth terminal at London Heathrow is to facilitate in particular the comfort and convenience of passengers at Heathrow. There are specific public transport aspects to the decision, in particular connecting London to Heathrow, which the decision specifically deals with. It is to be hoped that the travelling public will find greater facilities as a result of this decision.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, now that the Government have come forward with a decision on this important issue, no one should under-estimate the complexities or the controversial nature of the decision. I, for one, fully understand why it has taken the Government some time to digest the very full report from the inspector. What the decision does provide is clarity for all concerned, particularly those in the airport and airline industry—clarity against which they can make their investment decisions.

Perhaps I may briefly ask the Minister about a point of detail. Having praised the length of time and the diligence with which the report was studied before a decision was reached, perhaps I may ask about the announcement itself. Last night, the media were full of the fact that this decision was about to be made and gave some impression of what it would contain. This morning's press carried fairly full details—which miraculously coincided with the Minister's announcement this afternoon. Given that BAA is a publicly quoted company, and given that some 3 million shares in it have been traded this morning on the Stock Exchange, first, did the department, or Ministers, authorise the disclosure of any information whatever about the decision in advance of the Secretary of State's announcement? Secondly, what does the Minister believe the effect would have been on the stock market of this period of limbo?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his characteristic understanding of how long it took before the decision was made, although, as I have made clear, such decisions need to be made more quickly in future. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State made it clear that Parliament would be given the announcement first. That is what has happened today. I am not aware of any earlier disclosure. It is not surprising that there will be great speculation about the result when such a decision is about to be announced. That is inevitable. I am not sure what the noble Viscount means by the period of limbo. If he means the past six years when the decision was in gestation, that is the nature of such projects.