HL Deb 12 July 2004 vol 663 cc1086-9

7.32 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 8 June be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order was laid before Parliament on 8 June and discussed in the other place on 29 June. It will remove the current statutory limit on the number of take-offs and landings of passenger aircraft at Stansted airport each year and place control of such matters within the local planning framework.

As it stands today, Stansted is unique among airports in having a PATM limit set by Parliament. Its first limit was set in 1987, the second in 1996 and the current limit of 185,000 PATMs in 1999—all by order.

Noble Lords might be aware that planning permission for Stansted airport to expand to handle 25 million passengers per annum was granted by Uttlesford District Council in May of last year. As a condition of the planning permission, the council imposed an air transport movement limit of 241,000, covering both cargo and passenger movements.

The White Paper The Future of Air Transport made it clear that the Government believe it is preferable for controls of this kind to be agreed locally and that there is no longer a good case for use of the statutory limit on PATMs at Stansted.

We propose to revoke this order now because Stansted is already operating near to the current limit of 185,000 PATMs. It handled more than 160.000 in 2003. Action is needed now to allow the airport to handle the number of movements granted in planning consent by Uttlesford District Council.

As part of the process to revoke the PATM limit, on 28 May we completed six weeks of public consultation. Around 100 interested parties were consulted. They included the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the airport operator, operators of aircraft likely to be affected by the order, organisations representing operators of aircraft, local authorities around the airport and other interested parties. From the responses received, there was very strong support for revoking the limit, and no support for retaining the current limit.

One particular issue concerning the planning conditions imposed by Uttlesford in its 2003 planning consent emerged during the consultation. A condition in the planning approval states that the new ATM limit of 241,000 does not come into force until the completion of an extension to the existing terminal. BAA has yet to begin work on this development.

With reference to this, some consultees expressed concern that the removal of the PATM limit now could result in a situation in which no movement limit exists at all. To avoid such a situation, BAA has agreed to enter into a unilateral undertaking under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The conditions of the agreement are: air transport movements at Stansted will be limited to 241,000 ATMs per year—that is, in line with the planning consent; the agreement will take effect immediately when the PATM limit is revoked by Parliament; and the agreement will continue until the ATM conditions in Uttlesford's planning consent have been effected by opening the terminal extension or if further planning permission has been granted for air transport movements in excess of 241,000—that is, unless the local planning authority and the airport operator agree a different arrangement at a later stage.

I can confirm that BAA has now finalised its unilateral Section 106 undertaking. It has been received by Uttlesford District Council and placed on its planning register. The unilateral undertaking will ensure that once the statutory limit has been revoked, there will still be control on the number of PATMs until such time as the conditions in the airport's planning consent come into force.

This draft order will revoke all three orders that have been made relating to Stansted's PATM limit since 1987. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 8 June be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee. —(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

Lord Bradshaw:

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his statement. I draw attention to the fact that we are not talking about the extension of Stansted airport, which is contained in the recently published White Paper. That refers to an entirely different development and is not the subject of tonight's debate.

We are reasonably happy that within the present planning arrangements, everything that needs to be done has been done. Our main reservation is the fact that the Government are involved in a large expansion of air transport without considering global warming as seriously as they might. As we have already heard in the House today, that is one of the greatest threats to our society.

I have one simple question for the Minister. I shall not contest the order, although it was contested in another place—I think very largely due to the strength of opinion of local Members about the expansion of Stansted airport, which is not really the subject of the debate. Stansted is used by many airline operators, and they are cutting prices all the time. They are cutting prices by all manner of means, such as making passengers carry their own bags on board—which might do them good—getting rid of the use of the hold, and getting rid of refreshments.

I am concerned about whether those airlines are not only breaching any safety regulations—which the CAA control pretty strongly—but whether it is possible for the airport operator to keep a strong hold on the way in which aircraft land and take off, the extent to which airlines comply with the noise limits and the hours limits, and those things that affect the local environment. It is important that they stick to the agreed flight paths, that they do not go outside the envelope of the airport, and that they behave themselves. Will the Minister address those issues when he replies?

Viscount Astor:

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this order. I echo some of the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. He is right to say that this is not about the expansion of the runways at Stansted, but about the expansion of the use of Stansted. In a way it is a pity that the Government have come forward with this order now, so that we do not see a totally coherent airport policy. When will this draft order come into effect? When will we see more flights operating from Stansted? What is the timetable?

It is not an entirely satisfactory system. There has been some local consultation, but it was not really terribly satisfactory. A number of people outside the area, who are nevertheless close to it, have not been properly consulted. No doubt such things will become more apparent as the Government move further with their airport policy. I should be grateful if the Minister could give us a little more understanding about when the order will come into effect and when we will start to see an increase in the number of flights.

Viscount Simon:

My Lords, my noble friend correctly stated that the order will bring Stansted into line with all other airports, which is highly commendable. The order will also apply to freight aircraft as well as passenger aircraft. My noble friend said that there are currently 160,000 PATMs, but he did not mention the number of current freight movements. Has he any figures for that?

Lord Davies of Oldham:

My Lords, I am grateful to the three noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for doing what I was not able to do in opening, when my job is to commend the order. He kindly put the order into context, which is important.

It is not for me to anticipate that people might stray on to wider issues, but there could have been a danger of that had there not been a salutary warning. This order is not about the expansion of Stansted airport. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and my noble friend asked when we will see the effect of this order. At present, Stansted is increasing its traffic. It was 160,000 PATMs last year; it is up to 185,000 this year. The limit that Uttlesford local authority has imposed is 241,000. I do not know the rate of expansion, or how soon Stansted will arrive at the maximum limit under the agreement that is in place with the local authority. Noble Lords can see the rate of expansion.

7.45 p.m.

I suppose my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw—he asked me to comment on broad airline policy—is that we clearly do see Stansted expanding its capacity. It is doing so rapidly, within those limits. I have the great advantage of living not a huge distance from Stansted, so I am mindful of local concerns about increasing traffic. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Simon for indicating that the more anti-social hours used by flights tend to be for freight aircraft rather than passenger aircraft. That is not least because arriving at Stansted unduly late at night still raises acute problems for passengers if they want to get anywhere else.

Local people have responded in exactly the way that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, thought that they ought to; they have separated this issue from the really big, contentious issue about a second runway at Stansted, which would clearly be the route towards very considerable expansion indeed. That is within the framework of the Government's White Paper on the necessary expansion of south-east airports, against what we all recognise as a pressing demand from our fellow citizens. No one will underestimate the extent to which passenger movements have been increasing in recent years. They show no sign of being blighted by all the dire warnings that are given from time to time, either when enormous delays occur at airports, or some aircraft get into such obvious difficulty that we all thank Heavens that we are not on them.

The pressure is there for airport expansion, and no one will deny that. The Government are not building on demand, nor are we taking the view that the issues do not have to be put within the framework of a coherent policy. However, we are not blinding ourselves to the obvious fact that the demand for air travel is increasing at a significant rate. We would be failing in our duty if we did not realise that Stansted had a contribution to make.

The main local opposition group, Stop Stansted Expansion, did not respond to the consultation. It will probably have taken the view that the local authorities will have responded; there are four local authorities in addition to Uttlesford, which is central as the holder of the planning permission. Local authorities were representing the position clearly. Furthermore, the members of Stop Stansted Expansion are far too sensible to fail to recognise that this is not about expansion; it is about transferring a planning permission from Parliament to the locality, which is in the general interest of all local people.

On the general topic of when flights will increase, we expect BAA to apply for further planning permissions next year. We cannot predict what numbers will be involved, and we therefore cannot predict when the 241,000 limit that is imposed at present will be reached. We can, however, predict that that will be a matter for the local planning authority at that stage and not for Parliament.