§ 11 am
§ Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)
I note the depth of versatility lurking in our Whips Office. It is remarkable that a former member should spring to a ministerial seat and have responsibilities for such a varied selection of topics as North Norfolk and night noise. It is great to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), in his new role with responsibility for aviation. Indeed, among the rich and varied bequests left in the pending tray for my hon. Friend by his predecessor is the hugely important Green Paper "The Future of Aviation". It invites ideas and views on a wide range of aviation and airport issues that will underpin the publication later this year of the first White Paper on aviation since 1985. During the intervening period, the economic, environmental and political framework within which airports and airlines operate has changed in the most dramatic way.
Today's debate is the first parliamentary opportunity for Back Benchers to flag up their own concerns. In my case, those concerns will be restricted purely to civil aviation and will not include military or defence activities. The changes during the past decade and a half to which I referred include a doubling of the number of planes using United Kingdom airports. Unless that rate of growth is dampened down, in the next two decades Britain will need four new airports each the size of Heathrow, and the number of passengers will rise from 180 million this year to more than 400 million by 2020. "So what?" say those who regard growth in economic activity as an unmitigated good. I expect that they would point to the report in 1999 by Oxford Economic Forecasting that asserted that aviation increased United Kingdom productivity, and that even limited restraints on growth would have serious negative effects. The report included charts demonstrating that the economy in 2015 would be £30 billion or 2.5 per cent. larger if passenger numbers were to be allowed to soar into the stratosphere unchecked by social and environmental constraints. Those forecasts were buttressed by the astonishingly complacent view of the London Chamber of Commerce that "capacity must be provided to meet all reasonable demand."
I believe that the previous Minister responsible for aviation made it clear that the Government reject the predict and provide strategy and are opting for a demand management approach that recognises environmental considerations and political realities and listens to the important aviation lobby.
Present growth rates are not sustainable. Issues that the previous aviation White Paper failed to predict or tackle have been in a holding pattern for too long, circling high above the political arena, although they are now starting to land in the Government's lap, whether or not the Government want them to.
I declare an interest to the extent that East Midlands airport is in my constituency. Last summer, East Midlands airport's own survey showed that there are 5,400 employees in firms on or near the airport site, perhaps 10 per cent. of whom are my constituents. No hon. Member with an airport in his constituency is 187WH unaware of the economic significance of aviation and its contribution to constituents' standard of living. Equally, hon. Members' e-mail in-boxes are probably bulging with examples of how those living in airport communities experience damage to their quality of life. The main types of environmental impact are: the effect of aircraft noise on communities near airports or under flight paths; the effect of emissions from aircraft on climate change; local air quality; the effects of emissions from aircraft at airports and of the airport infrastructure that serves them; noise, emissions and congestion arising from surface access to airports, especially from road transport; land take and urbanisation resulting from airport development; and, other environmental effects of airports such as water quality, energy consumption and contaminated land and waste.
Other hon. Members will want to consider noise and climate change, so I shall refer to those matters only briefly before speaking about other concerns in more detail and suggesting the way ahead for the Minister and his colleagues.
Noise from aircraft, especially at night, arouses the strongest feelings of those who are affected by it. Ten days ago, in Kegworth, I addressed a local meeting organised by People Against Intrusive Noise—PAIN. It really is a pain when excessive noise occurs because there is inadequate international regulation to enforce limits on aircraft or inadequate local regulation to control impact around airports.
Last year's consultation paper on noise included some useful suggested changes to the existing noise control powers in the Civil Aviation Act 1982, and my first question to the Minister is: when will those changes be put in place? British tolerance is beginning to stretch very thinly over the cauldron of public protest and there will be direct, European-type action if something is not done soon, especially about night noise.
My local planning authority, North West Leicestershire district council is consulting on night flying limits, which it will ask the Deputy Prime Minister to impose using his powers under section 78 of the 1982 Act. It thereby seeks to safeguard the amenities and the environment of people living around East Midlands airport, not only in its own area but in the South Derbyshire, Rushcliffe and Charnwood local authority areas. The council's proposed controls address the litany of complaints so frequently encountered: a ban on movements by aircraft with high quota-count noise levels; a limit on aircraft movements at night; a reducing night-noise quota; monitoring and track-keeping; early phasing out of the noisiest aircraft; a noise management system with surcharges and penalties and a noise insulation scheme.
Those are challenging topics for debate, but I hope that the new owners, Manchester airport, with its long track record of striving to be responsive to community concerns, will be able to agree a modus vivendi that recognises and resolves those local problems promptly and effectively. The airport recently introduced a consultative forum and noise-preferential routes, and noise and track monitoring equipment will soon be introduced. There is a foundation on which the new owners can build.
188WH The impact of a rapidly changing and expanding aviation industry on global warming and climate change is probably the main threat to the wider environment. In a recent report, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expressed anxiety about carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft and about the possible increase in global warming due to condensation trails. Globally, aircraft emissions of carbon dioxide already account for about 3.5 per cent. of all human-induced global warming; in comparison, current United Kingdom emissions contribute 2.5 per cent. More worryingly, with those emissions set to rise at about 3 per cent. a year, the IPCC estimates that aviation's contribution to global warming will be about 7 per cent. by 2050.
Aviation is not covered by the Kyoto agreement and I put it to the Minister that it can no longer be excluded from the policy discussions on climate change as its emissions are now clearly implicated. A recent report entitled "The Plain Truth: Aviation and the Environment", commissioned by Transport 2000 and the Ashden Trust, argued powerfully that aviation must respond as other industries are beginning to do to the challenge of climate change. I hope that the Minister agrees.
At a lower level in terms of height and detail, is local air pollution. Large airports and their aircraft can be major polluters because so many aspects of their operations produce toxic emissions that are a major threat to human health. The Government state in their Green Paper that the effect of emissions from aircraft on air pollution in the vicinity of airports is in most cases less than that from road traffic to and from airports. That may broadly be the case, but as road traffic becomes progressively cleaner, the proportion of total emissions from aircraft will grow and aviation emission standards will have to be raised.
Official data on UK airport emissions is hard to find, but the general American experience and the European experience show seriously heightened levels of air pollution around larger airports. Research in the United States and mainland Europe reveals that airports are comparable to large industrial plants in respect of their toxic emissions. In the US, the top four emitters of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds are chemical factories, refineries, power stations and airports. A study of Frankfurt airport showed that it was responsible for three quarters of all unburnt hydrocarbons in the city. In an area measuring 9 by 12 km around the much smaller Zurich airport, almost 30 per cent. of nitrogen oxides were found to be of airport origin.
One exception to the near invisibility of British data on the all too detectable air pollution around airports is Heathrow. The nearly interminable terminal 5 inquiry heard from the British Airports Authority that present levels around Heathrow were not unlike those at Frankfurt airport. Present air pollutants in a 6 by 8 km area around Heathrow are, according to the BAA, largely attributable to the airport—three quarters of sulphur dioxide, 60 per cent. of nitrogen oxides and almost half of carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds.
Growth in air traffic linked to the construction of terminal 5—I shall not press the Minister for his predictions about the outcome of the inquiry—would 189WH have a worrying effect on air pollution, especially from nitrogen oxides whose levels could be expected to more than double.
Two other pollutants in and around airports are ozone, formed in the presence of sunlight from VOCs and nitrogen oxides, and the particulate matter frequently produced by airports and aviation activities. Both pollutants are associated with a wide range of respiratory diseases and loss of lung function.
When does the Minister expect the publication of the interdepartmental group report on the costs and benefits of measures to improve air quality, which should help to achieve the targets n the national air quality strategy? Will he confirm that demonstrable health benefits to residents in airport communities as a result of reduced air pollution will be a significant factor shaping the development of our future aviation policy?
One of the most insidious and depressing effects frequently linked to airport development is the loss of, or damage to, natural habitats, attractive landscapes, biodiversity and heritage sites, collectively caused by land take—a phrase as unattractive as its impact. Evidence in my own constituency is not difficult to find. When those hon. Members present today are next on the Leicestershire section of the M1, I urge them to look carefully as they drive north from junction 23A—in other words, leaving the civilisation of the midlands or Leicestershire behind—and they will see the beginnings of an urban sprawl that threatens in he medium term to engulf the attractive villages of Castle Donington, Isley Walton and Kegworth. The location of those villages lying close to the east midlands nexus of the A42, the A50 and the M1 has been a key factor, but the nearby airport has certainly been a catalyst for the worsening position. Will the Minister reassure my constituents that much tighter requirements for the use of brown land will reduce to a minimum the land needed for any developments required by the airport and related activities?
Finally, I draw attention to the occasional problems associated with waste disposal and the discharge of water into inadequate drainage systems and water courses, which contributed to the serious flooding experienced last year in parts of the north-west Leicestershire villages of Hemington and Lockington.
What can the White Paper do to reduce the significant environmental costs that are being largely met by those outside the aviation industry? The Minister is a keen walker, and one useful short walk that he might make this afternoon is along the ministerial corridor in Eland house to the office of the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill)—it might even be next door—whose richly varied brief includes responsibility for the nation's rail network, which he seems to be standing up to very well.
The two Ministers might then examine the report "From Planes to Trains", which was commissioned in October 2000 by Friends of the Earth. That looks at realising the significant environmental potential from shifting short-haul flights, both domestic and European, to rail. The pre-Hatfield findings ai e that the rail routes in the UK that offer the greatest scope for cutting large volumes of air traffic are the east and west coast main lines. There is some limited potential to develop the 190WH midlands and the Great Western main lines, but as the majority of domestic air traffic is between the regions and London, rail links between air919ports outside London offer less scope for substitution.
The extent to which the transfer can take place depends crucially on the level of investment made in the rail network and rolling stock to reduce travel times, and on the provision of rail links to all major domestic airports. That would be achieved most easily in a rail network back under public control, as I am sure that the Minister would agree although he may not confess it now. Obtaining modal shifts from air to rail is one way to apply a gentle brake to unrestricted and harmful aviation growth. I hope that the White Paper will also take a more direct route to regulate environmental impact by improving the planning regimes and policies at local, regional and national level that have proved so ineffective in the past two decades.
The present planning system for airport developments is totally inadequate even when it limits its aspirations to mitigation packages to offset some of the environmental impacts or at most to attempt to slow the rate at which they worsen. I said that I welcome the abandonment of the predict-and-provide planning regime, which seemed continually to approve expansions or to pre-determine them. Long-dormant permissions, granted on appeal with few environmental constraints, as was the case in 1983 in my area after a decision by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), the then Secretary of State for the Environment, can still be reactivated to the chagrin of those affected.
Statutory environmental impact assessments are not the whole answer either. EIAs, especially when they are commissioned and financed by developers, are immensely variable in their scope, accuracy, detail, clarity and transparency. Those that cover airport developments cry out for a standard, more rigorous and well-defined approach. In any case, EIAs predict a level of impact of activities a decade or more in advance. Whether those estimates are borne out by future events, and whether the mitigation measures imposed prove to be adequate, never seems to be reviewed. I therefore urge the Minister to ensure that the White Paper totally overhauls the airport planning system, which satisfies neither the developer in its speed, cost or flexibility, nor the airport communities in delivering environmental safeguards, nor the planners in providing adequate opportunities to enforce them.
It is generally agreed that the aviation White Paper must be target driven. As the Aviation Environment Federation argues, tough but realistic targets for noise and emissions would protect the environment, reassure residents living under flight paths and ensure that the industry had clear incentives to obtain a much more sustainable and socially acceptable approach. All campaigners recognise that aviation is largely dependent upon a complex arrangement of European and international agreements, so collective action at those levels is crucial.
Britain must press hard for international aviation to become part of the Kyoto agreement on global warming and we must persuade the international community to adopt and implement the standards recommended by the World Health Organisation on noise. The Government also need to legislate for local targets for noise and air pollution levels.
191WH After modal shift and tighter planning and legislative regimes, there remains one powerful way of levelling the uneven airfield that favours the interests of the aviation industry against those of the environment and airport communities—charges and taxes. It is therefore appropriate that this debate is taking place a week before the Budget. I shall send a copy of today's Hansard to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If we are to manage the demand for air transport in a sustainable way—the present regime clearly cannot—we must ensure that the polluter pays, not just pay lip service to the principle. The aviation industry does not pay the costs of the noise pollution and climate change that it causes. A 1995 study assessed those externalities for the EU at an annual cost of £11 billion. Although charges and taxes seem to be best co-ordinated at European level, the Dutch have shown, through a noise tax at Schipol airport, that it may be feasible to introduce local environmental charging at national level.
The aviation industry does not pay for its pollution or its fair share of taxes. In fact, it is heavily subsidised. The White Paper must spell out the levels of that unjustified subsidy. There is no VAT on the purchase of planes or airline tickets. Vast sums are spent providing surface access to airports, particularly on roads. Worst of all from an environmental perspective is the fact that no duty is paid on aviation fuel. Indirect subsidies at EU level have been estimated at £20 billion annually. Again, changes in fiscal regimes can be achieved only by agreement at European or international levels, but the Government must start to move down that path, lobby for change and negotiate. Aviation has been a tax avoider for far too long. We must be realistic. In the short term, it will be impossible to reach global agreement on fuel taxation, but an OECD aviation fuel tax or a harmonised climate change levy on landing fees should be possible. Some of the revenues raised could go into international funding of projects to tackle climate change.
I hope that the White Paper will draw a vapour trail in the sky beyond which future growth in aviation must not go without addressing the serious environmental concerns that I have described. The frequently heard argument that restriction of aviation growth would inhibit general economic growth must be seriously scrutinised, but many observers believe that it will not stand up to examination. Indeed, it is probable that planning for limited growth would achieve the double top of improved quality of life for airport communities and enhanced standards of living for those who work both in the aviation industry and in the wider economy.
The new owners of East Midlands airport envisage that passenger numbers will treble to 6 million a year and that the number of jobs will double to more than 11,000. It is undeniably a major regional spur to help economic development to take off, but more than 40,000 people live near the airport and are deeply concerned about its impact on their communities and lives. That dilemma is repeated up and down the country as regional airports brace themselves to absorb the surplus growth decanted by the London airports.
192WH I have shown how economic growth versus environmental protection can be made a win-win game. We need clear policies to reduce greenhouse emissions from aviation; fiscal changes to ensure that air travellers and freight hauliers pay the full environmental and social costs of their decision to fly; regulatory measures and incentives to invest in cleaner, quieter aircraft; investment in inter-city rail to reduce short-haul demand; stricter application of regulations governing airport use; and, vital to many constituencies such as mine, a more strategic approach to the consideration of plans for new airports like Finningley in Yorkshire, or expanded ones, such as East Midlands airport. A greater public debate, which does not pit the well resourced aviation industry against cash-strapped communities, is of the essence. There is a pressing need for a huge change in public attitudes and policy towards aviation. The forthcoming White Paper provides an opportunity to address that need for change. I have every confidence that the new Minister will not miss that opportunity.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)
I am pleased to take part in the debate as I represent Farnborough, the birthplace of British aviation.
The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) spent the best part of half an hour criticising one of Britain's greatest 20th century success stories. We were one of the first countries in the world to master the art of flying when, on 16 October 1908, Samuel Franklin Cody took to the skies from Laffan's plain in Farnborough. We remain one of the world's leading aerospace countries, through our manufacture of air frames and aero engines. Our airlines are also second to none. It is therefore astonishing that the hon. Gentleman, who has an airport in his constituency and who has been on innumerable councils in Leicestershire, should tell us what bad news that is.
I hope that he will tell his constituents the bad news that he has in store for them. If his recommendations to his ministerial colleagues were accepted—although I do not expect for a minute that they will be—the price of his constituents' air tickets to Ibiza, Florida or wherever would go up by 50 per cent. The hon. Gentleman's speech was seriously devoid of practical suggestions, other than that we should switch from plane to rail. That process is already happening and the privatisation of the rail industry will ensure that the process accelerates faster than it would have done had the railways remained under the dead hand of nationalisation.
§ Mr. David Taylor
No one, least of all me, is suggesting that the economic and social importance of East Midlands airport to the people of the region, and south Yorkshire and beyond, is not considerable. The proposed measures would enhance the profitability of the airport and its value to the region. Conflict between improved environmental considerations and economic performance is not inevitable.
§ Mr. Howarth
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman flatly contradicting himself. He said earlier that we needed to increase taxes on what he calls the polluters, that people need to pay more, that the cost of aviation in terms of its alleged pollution needs to be 193WH more transparent, and so on—and now he says that of course he welcomes that investment in his constituency. I am sure that he does, and that when he goes back to his constituency he will find that the Conservative candidate there will, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, be armed with a copy of Hansard, showing the hon. Gentleman's rather Luddite view on the development.
§ Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
Does the hon. Gentleman deny aircraft pollution? Does he deny the effects on global warming or the effects of environmental pollution generally, particularly noise pollution, of which my constituents in north London are well aware? Surely it remains the policy of his party, along with others in the House, that the polluter should pay.
§ Mr. Howarth
I had hardly got into my remarks when the hon. Lady intervened. Of course I recognise that there is inevitably some pollution. There is a degree of pollution from motor cars, for which the motorist pays. Under the Government, the motorist pays extremely heavily—much more heavily than under the previous or the next Conservative Government, after May or whenever that will be.
However, Parliament needs to try to balance out the conflicting interests. I fear that, in trying to achieve a balance, the hon. Gentleman has skewed his argument so far in one direction as greatly to inconvenience the travelling public, whether the business community or holidaymakers. Air travel is a necessity for business people and one of the great joys of life for leisure travellers. It has opened up the world and given people easier access to distant regions, which once would have been impossible. I suppose that one could go to the far east with P&O, but one would need more than the four weeks holiday that most people get. Air travel gets people to such destinations more quickly.
§ Mr. Taylor
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way yet again; he is most generous. The core worry and our dominant concern is the night noise produced by freight aircraft, particularly the older variety. Dealing with that will not imperil or threaten package flights or holiday makers.
§ Mr. Howarth
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. When in London, I live about 300 yd north of runway 27 right. I happen to be an aviator, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands my description; I mean the northern parallel runway at Heathrow. I am well aware that jumbo aircraft arriving at 4 am during the summer can disrupt people's sleep patterns. I understand that; I am talking about getting the balance right.
The hon. Gentleman seems unwilling or unable to acknowledge the efforts that the industry has already made, particularly in the United Kingdom. For instance, improved burn technology and air frame efficiency and better operating procedures have cut the consumption of fuel per passenger mile in the past 40 years by no less than 70 per cent. That fantastic achievement was achieved in part by the International Civil Aviation Organisation regulations on noise, and the fuel crisis of the 1970s may have helped; but it is also 194WH the result of the industry's determination to operate more fuel-efficient aeroplanes. It did not happen by accident. It needed investment.
The Government have lauded their investment in the aerospace industry. For instance, Rolls-Royce has received another £250 million to develop the 900 and 600 variants of the Trent engine. It is hoped that those engines will produce even further efficiencies in power performance and reduce fuel consumption and, therefore, pollution. The aircraft will also become quieter. Everyone must know that aircraft have become less noisy. One needs only to hear a Boeing 707 go past to know that—although the only ones to be seen nowadays are probably owned by corrupt and incompetent African dictators, of which there are quite a few. However, at air shows one can hear the difference between a 707 or a B52 and an Airbus. It is amazing to see an Airbus go overhead at that incredible angle and seem just to hang in the sky.
Credit ought to be given to the aerospace industry, and we should certainly sing the praises of the British industry. I am sure that you would be extremely upset if I did not mention the contribution made by your constituents at Hawarden, Mr. Jones, where the Airbus wings are made. They have joined others across the United Kingdom to ensure the success of the British aerospace industry by making more efficient and quieter aircraft. The aircraft entering airline fleets today are typically 20 decibels quieter than comparable aircraft of 30 years ago. Ours is a success story.
I agree with the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire about the ludicrous nature of our planning arrangements. I congratulate the Minister on obtaining his position as Aviation Minister. Will he please ensure that the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions looks urgently at the matter? We cannot go on dealing with planning procedures in this Neanderthal fashion. The terminal 5 inquiry has been going on for five or six years and has cost hundreds of millions of pounds. The issue is simple. Of course there are passions on both sides, but there are arguments for T5 and against it; let us hear them and make a decision. We should stop fiddling around in this extraordinary way, damaging the United Kingdom's economic effectiveness and continuing the uncertainty for people who live in the environment of Heathrow.
I agree with the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire on the planning issue. If he wants to stop night flying at Heathrow, then fine; let us find a brand new airport, as has been done in Munich. We would need a brand new greenfield site. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to tell us what part of North-West Leicestershhire would be suited to the new site.
§ Mr. Howarth
I shall be happy to give way if the hon. Lady wants to tell us about that. I gather that she will do so later. I flew in and out of Finningley when it was an RAF airfield, so I know it.
South-east England will not be given another airport. Under present planning arrangements, another airport is not realistic. The attitude of the antis is understandable. Who wants a socking great six-runway aerodrome taking up square miles of crowded 195WH countryside in south-east England? We must maximise the benefit of what we have. Heathrow was the most successful airport in Europe because it was revolutionary. It had two parallel runways when no other airport in Europe did. Charles de Gaulle now has six and we are being overtaken by our continental partners. It is not realistic to consider an alternative new airport for London. We need to make the most of our assets and try to accommodate the demands of business and leisure travellers within the constraints of existing airports.
The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire talked about people who live near airports. We have new arrangements at Farnborough, which is the designated business airport for the south-east of England, as the Minister knows. It has now been agreed that a company called TAG, more familiar to the public as TAG McLaren, the Formula 1 operation, is to turn the aerodrome into the executive jet centre for southeast England, with 28,000 movements. That figure is causing my constituents some concern. The figure for Heathrow is something like 420,000. My constituents are concerned that the site will turn into another Heathrow, although that is simply not going to happen. I understand the worries that people express, but in any estate agency properties are marketed on the strength of easy access to Heathrow or East Midlands airport or the prospect of easy access to Finningley. The public want that access. What is at stake is the reconciling of the different demands.
We have a great deal to be proud of in our aerospace industry. It has served our people well and enhanced Britain's competitiveness. Good air links are a vital factor in companies' investment decisions about the United Kingdom. Without them—if we price those involved out of the market—we shall seriously damage the economy. That is the context in which we must consider the burdens that we are willing to impose on our industry, to its detriment against competitors.
§ Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
Noise is one of the prime problems for Londoners today. Despite what the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) has said, it is not only the noise produced by an individual aircraft that needs to be considered but the overall pattern of aircraft movements in London.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) on having secured today's debate. I agree with absolutely everything that he said about wider environmental damage and climate change taxation. However, I shall refer to noise.
HACAN ClearSkies, the Londonwide campaign on the matter, suggests that 1 million Londoners are now affected by aircraft noise. Some of that noise comes from City airport, but the vast majority comes from Heathrow, where between 75 and 80 per cent. of the year prevailing winds mean that aircraft fly over London.
Like the hon. Member for Aldershot, the Department asserts that there has been a decrease in the amount of noise. We have reason to believe that the investigations 196WH and records that the Department makes and keeps are inadequate in assessing the current position, as I shall explain.
The noise data maps collected by the Department measure only the noise of take-offs, not landings. Takeoffs have become quieter, but the big increase in complaints in recent years has related to landing aircraft. The data do not include noise of less than 57 decibels, yet in large areas of London people are complaining about noise levels of 54 decibels or less. The data do not take account of the number of planes, which is a continuing problem despite individual planes becoming quieter. The area measured is based on a study conducted more than 18 years ago, and it takes no account of what is happening today. Parts of London that were not previously affected are seriously affected this year and have been for the past five years, my constituency, Lewisham, Deptford, in south-east London being a case in point.
Furthermore, the hour between 6 am and 7 am, the busiest and noisiest hour of the day, is not measured. Londoners want the few aircraft that fly in and make the greatest noise in the early hours of the morning to be completely banned. I am sometimes woken in bed in south-east London, many miles from Heathrow, between 4 am and 5 am. The economic value of such flights is extremely small, and Londoners are insistent that that economic price is too great a price to pay for people constantly being woken in the early hours of the morning.
The numbers affected are much greater than the Department's data suggest. The United Kingdom data suggest that only 158,000 people are affected by noise of more than 60 decibels around Heathrow and Gatwick. However, there are several reasons for believing that that is a serious underestimate. Most notably, no account is taken of people who live under flight paths but not in the immediate vicinity of airports, my constituents being a case in point. A more recent study of noise levels around Heathrow shows that many more people are disturbed by aircraft noise. That study, which was conducted by the European Environment Agency, found that 440,00 people around the airport are exposed to noise of more than 55 decibels.
I have several questions to ask the Minister. I wanted to refer to the World Health Organisation, but I know that other colleagues want to speak. The WHO has shown the severity of problems ranging from insomnia and stress to mental disorders in adults and retarded learning among children subjected to intense aircraft noise around airports. The WHO proposals specify safe noise levels that are well below those operating at our major airports. Do the Government or industry have plans that offer a realistic prospect of reducing aircraft noise to the safe levels recommended by the WHO? What progress has been made on the European Commission's plans to draft a noise directive that would have further implications for aviation in this country? Can the Minister confirm that radar controllers' video map centrelines have been extended from 15 miles to 20 miles from Heathrow? When will the new night-time arrangements that his predecessor announced on 21 December last year be put in place? Does he have any idea when we will hear the result of the terminal 5 inquiry? Finally, what plans are there to extend proper 197WH noise monitoring to areas such as my own, in south-east London, which are not near an airy ort but are under flight paths?
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
I congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) on introducing this important subject into the debate today and for the comprehensive way in which he covered the subject.
I shall concentrate my remarks on the effect of aviation on climate change. As we had a debate in Westminster Hall on climate change before the COP 6 talks in the Hague, it may be best if I do not read into the record all the effects of climate change. I simply note that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recently said that the effects of climate change in its worst-case scenario have doubled. The Government acknowledged that, when the Deputy Prime Minister said that the report from the IPCC showed that we risked major irreversible changes unless we significantly cut emissions of greenhouse gases.
Some 96 per cent. of the deaths from the changes resulting from natural disasters happen in developing countries. We in the western world must think about the impact of our activities on those countries.
Does aviation have an effect on climate change? International freight is projected to 1 row by 70 per cent. between 1992 and 2004 because of increased global trade. That is one of the fastest-rising causes of greenhouse gas emissions at the, moment. In effect, international trade is getting a free ride because those emissions are untaxed and excluded from the Kyoto principles. Members of the Conservative party who have great concern for the farmers, as I do, know that a reason why our farm produce is under-priced is that it is so cheap to import by air freight. Therefore, there is a good sustainable environmental reason, as well as a local economy reason, to support British farmers by reconsidering what aviation is doing to farming in this country.
Aeroplanes emit 2 per cent. of all man-made CO2 released into the atmosphere and some nitrogen oxide, which creates ozone—a potent greenhouse gas. The IPCC has developed a measure for calculating the effect of aircraft emissions, which the organisation calls "radiative forcing". The emissions, being at a higher altitude, have a higher warming capacity. Using that formula, the IPCC calculated in 1992—since when we have experienced growth—that aviation emissions contributed 3.5 per cent. of the effect of global warming. That is the equivalent of the entire CO2 output of Canada. Canada is involved in Kyoto, but aviation is not. Clearly, that situation needs to be addressed in future talks on global warming.
Emissions of CO2 are set to double by 2015, and nitrogen oxide emissions will rise by 96 per cent. The Government have acknowledged in their global change programme that by the year 2050, we should have reduced CO2 emissions by some 50 or 60 per cent. The Deputy Prime Minister said that that should be our target, but I cannot understand how we can approach that target without including aviation within it. The aircraft industry has made a huge social and economic 198WH impact. We have until 2050, but let us start planning now so that there is an incremental change within aviation. No Member has suggested an overnight change that might frighten many whose economies and livelihoods depend on aviation. However, we have an opportunity to start planning now within international agreements to include aviation, as with any other form of transport, in environmental considerations.
Some argue that economic benefits are such that we cannot curb air growth. The same arguments could be advanced about the economic benefits of road traffic. However, during the past 20 years, road traffic has increased at a greater rate than economic growth. Air traffic is increasing similarly because it is so cheap to use air for both freight and passenger traffic.
Freight, in particular, undermines our own local economy. That was brought home to me by a recent constituency case. My local authority is considering an application to allow an MOD facility at Aberporth to become a civil aviation facility. Although it would be located in Blaenannerch, a rural village in remote west Wales, it would become the second largest civil airport in Wales—second only to Cardiff. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire about the planning process, which seems completely inadequate in terms of allowing local residents to have their say and make a real assessment of the impact of such a facility.
The environmental impact assessment has been funded by the developer, which means that local residents have no faith in it. It talks of reaching 8,800 flights from Aberporth within two years, increasing by 10 per cent. each year thereafter. That is clearly taking United Kingdom statistics and applying them to a remote site in west Wales. I do not share the same worry as some local residents about such figures, although I appreciate their concern at the potential growth in air flights. However, we are not talking about west Wales decanting from London. Aberporth is a five-hour car journey from London, so I doubt whether people will fly into west Wales to relieve pressures in south-east England. We are two hours from Cardiff.
Will the Minister explain the role for small civil airports, particularly in remote areas such as west Wales? I have some faith in the application because it is linked to a technology park and a move away from an MOD facility to a Civil Aviation Authority-controlled facility would be an improvement. In terms of the environmental impact, I have slightly more faith in the CAA than the MOD. My constituents want to know how the Government see aviation fitting into sustainable development. The Green Paper entitled "The Future of Aviation" mentions regional plans, and places them in a Welsh economic context.
There is no doubt that aviation has an effect on climate change, but that it is missed out from all international considerations. That is a clear sign that the problem must be addressed. The aviation industry must be part of sustainable development. All other industries are, and the aviation industry—important though it is in the economy—should not have an advantage over other parts of the economy. Several steps can be taken. As the hon. Gentleman said, there is no tax on aviation fuel. That may be prohibited under the Chicago convention, 199WH but an emission charge tax may be considered in terms of how we can internalise the full costs of the flight, including the environmental costs.
The industry has improved noise emissions. It has done so because it knew that the Government were interested in noise. Until now, not so much attention was paid to noise emissions. Perhaps the industry can work with the Government in improving emissions, but I should like to see some form of charges so that some of the older freight aircraft that are in use pay for their effect on the environment. We must also examine the removal of unfair state subsidies. There is a VAT exemption on air tickets. It is possible that Air France puts direct state subsidies into its operations. Let us consider the infrastructure involved in constructing an airport. A road alignment must take place for even the small airport that has been suggested for my constituency, and that will have to be paid for by the local taxpayers, many of whom are upset that we are using objective 1 money.
My understanding is that airports are excluded from the provisions of integrated pollution control, which were introduced by the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Will the Minister reconsider the matter? Why should airports be excluded when factories and other industrial processes are not? Airports have an effect in terms of local air pollution and climate change. It is worrying that airports are not included in IPC, which is the highest standard of pollution control in this country. Airports should be included.
The autumn assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation will provide an opportunity to press such issues. The Government have at least flagged up some of the concerns in their Green Paper, and I am grateful that they are aware of those matters. International standards for aircraft emissions have been agreed in the past through the ICAO, and it can be done again. With more work, international aviation can be included within our Kyoto targets. Given the disappointments in the Hague, some might feel that, if we cannot even address the current situation, more should be done on climate change. However, it is a clear omission if international aviation cannot be included in our Kyoto targets. I hope that the Minister will listen to the concerns expressed by Members today, and consider how to factor them into the Government's future programme and the White Paper.
§ Caroline Flint (Don Valley)
I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) to his new position as Minister, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) for securing the debate. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes), one of my local colleagues, who shares my interest in seeing Finningley fulfil its potential in the growing industry of airports and aviation.
As Members may have become aware, the proposed Finningley airport is in my constituency. I am pleased to hear that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) flew in, and I am also pleased to hear that he 200WH flew out again. There is no doubt that many Members who have an interest in aviation are aware of the superb facilities at the Finningley site, which has one of the longest runways in the United Kingdom. It is a shame that the previous Government, who decided to close that excellent facility and advanced a proposal for yet another prison—there are already three in the area—did not use joined-up thinking to realise its potential for recycling millions of pounds of public investment. Stories abound that Manchester airport was interested in Finningley as its second runway at the time. We might have avoided a huge public inquiry in relation to that site if Finningley's potential had been recognised earlier.
I understand that airports must be good neighbours. I am not naïve enough to believe that there is never a conflict between short-term commercial interests and effective environmental controls. I have made a detailed submission to the Department in relation to its paper on the future of aviation and the separate consultation on aircraft noise.
More than 50,000 people have written to the council in support of Finningley being developed as a civil airport, and 500 people have written in against it. That is 100 to 1 in favour of the site rising from the ashes to be a major contributor to the local economy. That is what it signifies to many people who lived and worked with the RAF for many years. Whether the site meets its potential again is a question of sustainability. Considering the numbers who are against it, never have so few tried to thwart the ambitions of the many. I think that I am the only Member of Parliament who has presented to the House a petition of more than 20,000 people, in this case against a public inquiry into the proposed airport development.
Several simple proposals could significantly improve the environmental sustainability of UK airports. First, on a macro level, the Government should aim to reduce the average journey made by consumers to airports that provide an appropriate service. Each region should seek to provide suitable services for the majority of its residents. Government policy should deal with those regions where existing airports demonstrably fail to achieve the level and range of services to meet local needs. Yorkshire and the south-west are two such regions where new air services are desperately required. Where necessary, Government should recognise the availability of suitable brownfield sites—the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) made that point well in respect of the development of the Ministry of Defence site in his constituency—and we should certainly consider using former RAF airbases. Where new airports are needed, we should avoid greenfield development.
Each region should guarantee a long-haul capacity. At present, we have too few airports capable of long-haul travel, unevenly distributed throughout the United Kingdom. Our objective should be to have between 12 and 15 long-haul airports. Without those, there will be a rising trend of passengers travelling to the south-east or Manchester to take long-haul flights.
All of that is fully in keeping with the Government's other worthy objective of maximising the potential of regional airports to assist in economic regeneration for each region. The Government should develop sustainable access to airports and financially reward those that achieve the highest rates of access via public 201WH transport and means other than cars. Rail-bus-air intermodal hubs should be created wherever possible. Two means of achieving that are diverting major intercity rail lines through airports and locating parkway stations at such interchanges. One Government target should be to reduce long road journeys to airports—mainly in the south-east—and the overall distances travelled to airports.
Every airport should have noise quotas applied and all new airports should match or better the noise controls of comparable airports. All airports should be given a timetable for meeting agreed minimum standards via nationally determined quiet operation policies and noise control programmes. Enforcement of noise controls should be separated from commercial considerations. The imposition of penalties on airports and airlines for breaches of noise controls or departure from noise preferential routes should be independent of the airport and local authorities, and should perhaps be administered by the Civil Aviation Authority. The present system discourages enforcement of noise controls for commercial reasons—especially, I regret to say, if the airport is partly or wholly owned by the local authority. Minimum noise standards should apply irrespective of how few or many residents are affected. Each household should be accorded the same minimum protection.
Freight should be encouraged by rail and then by air, rather than by road, and each region should be able to offer appropriate air freight services—Yorkshire and Humber makes a poor contribution in that respect, thereby adding to the number of freight-related journeys by road to airports further afield. The Government should deter and discriminate against internal flights that can more sustainably be undertaken by rail. However, the Government should not cap passenger numbers, which would only thwart legitimate consumer aspirations for international travel and have the effect either of driving up the price of travel as supply was restricted, or of driving passengers abroad to meet their air travel needs—neither is in the national or consumer interest.
The best way to improve airport capacity is to adopt policies to increase the number of regional airports that can provide long-haul as well as European flights, thereby increasing the chances of significant market penetration. That would assist in meeting the objective of reducing internal flights and short flights to European hubs, such as Amsterdam and Brussels, before a long-haul leg.
Government policy should seek a diversity of ownership and market penetration in the interests of competition and of the consumer, and of raising standards, including environmental standards. Policy should prevent a duopoly developing, with BAA and Manchester dominating the market and preventing the growth of other airport consortiums, especially in long-haul travel. By ensuring that, we will not only increase consumer and airline choice but raise standards through competition in this growing area of our economy.
§ 12.3 pm
§ Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) on securing 202WH this debate. It is important that airport authorities never underestimate the impact of airports on local communities, nor should they evade their environmental responsibilities. However, I stress that we should not view developments at Birmingham international airport as totally a gloom and doom story, because the airport authority has made strides in recent years and provides a model of airports engaging in sustainable development but still entering legally binding agreements that protect the local community. Credit should be given for that.
Like my hon. Friend, I am conscious of airports' impact on jobs. Birmingham international airport employs as many people as MG Rover's Longbridge plant. Hon. Members will recall the shock waves that went through this House when Longbridge recently came under threat.
I want to focus on a couple of matters relating to noise. I, too, have noticed that noise levels in general are reducing thanks to the introduction of quieter aircraft, which is particularly important. My hon. Friend mentioned PAIN, and said that night flights are one of his core concerns. Birmingham airport operates what is probably one of the most stringent night flying policies in the country. Operators whose aircraft exceed agreed levels are fined the equivalent of a full runway charge, and the money thereby generated is diverted into local community schemes. Those sums are reinforced by a £50,000 annual grant paid by the airport, so it is not true to say that air operators do not pay. Stringent agreements can be entered into, and by and large operators observe them. Where they fail to do so, the money generated through fines can be recycled into local communities.
As is doubtless true of airports throughout the country, Birmingham has invested a lot of money—about £500,000—in monitoring and tracking equipment to ensure that aircraft follow noise preferential routes. In 1999, about 98 per cent. of aircraft taking off from Birmingham did indeed follow such routes. By investing in the right equipment and engaging in the right agreements, it is possible to ensure that local communities are protected.
Reference was made to American studies on pollution and the impact on health, but Professor Roy Harrison of the University of Birmingham, who is a leading authority on the subject, has also done some interesting work. His two-year study of respiratory disease in the area around Birmingham international airport, which involved some 9,000 people, concluded that there were no significant health risks. In fact, where respiratory illness and similar conditions were found, they were as likely to be associated with smoking and housing conditions as with the airport itself. The air quality monitoring scheme at Birmingham international airport has revealed pollution levels that are lower than those at other sites monitored by Birmingham city council. Therefore, we should not automatically make such claims about airports.
Reference was made to surface transport, which is a crucial factor in ensuring that local communities do not suffer as a result of attempts to develop airports. The bus network in Birmingham has been expanded extensively to serve most of the surrounding areas. The airport itself is building a dedicated public transport interchange that is linked to Birmingham railway station, and as my hon. 203WH Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) said, such developments are crucial. It is also investing £10 million in an environmentally friendly people mover, and is engaged in green commuter plans that are crucial for staff who commute to the airport. It is therefore clear that there are steps that airports can and should be encouraged to take.
In conclusion, I agree about the importance of protecting local communities and ensuring that the environment does not suffer when airports develop and expand. However, we should not underestimate the positive impact—in terms of jobs and other factors—of airport developments and we should not negate the efforts of airports such as Birmingham international to respond to the concerns of local communities.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair)
Before I call the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), may I ask him to be extremely brief? I had intended to call him earlier, but he did not rise in his place. We must allow the Opposition spokesman and in particular the Minister adequate time to reply.
§ Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
I am grateful to be called, Mr. Winterton, and I apologise for failing to catch your eye earlier. I thought that I had made my intentions clear. I acknowledge that significant contributions are yet to come from the two Front-Bench spokesmen and I look forward to hearing them.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) on securing the debate and raising an issue that is vital to this country's transport debates, but is regularly ignored in debates about sustainability. We must acknowledge—and I do nothing to detract from it—that aviation is a great UK success story. Its growth has been phenomenal and is expected to intensify in the next few years.
Too often, however, the environmental and social aspects of the sustainability equation have been either less well understood or not debated at all. The Green Paper, "The Future of Aviation", sets out some of the important arguments. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response and I belatedly welcome him to his position. Last year, he and I spent some time considering the transport legislation. As he was often not able to speak at all, it is a rare treat to hear him twice in one morning.
The Oxford economic forecasting report has already demonstrated the economic success of the aviation industry but, as the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire pointed out, many serious concerns have been expressed about the limitations of that report.
We have had a measured debate, which has taken account of the delicate balance between environmental and economic issues. Hon. Members representing constituencies with airports have made valuable contributions. However, there can no longer be any escape from the need to tackle noise pollution, local air pollution and, as the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) pointed out, the effects of global warming and climate change.
204WH The Liberal Democrats accept that—directly or indirectly—aviation contributes hugely to the economy of this country and of the world, but it is not without cost. The British Airports Authority itself recently suggested the need for a sustainable aviation forum.
The "polluter pays" principle cannot be ignored and should be closer to the heart of aviation policy than it has been in the past. My hon. Friends have been vigorous in their opposition to terminal 5. Perhaps we can tempt the Minister to comment on it today. Urgent measures should be taken to deal with climate change in the international context, which means considering the introduction of an international aviation fuel tax.
The Green Paper starts the debate, which we hope the Minister will continue; and when the White Paper finally arrives, we hope that it will measure up to the task.
§ Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)
Thank you, Mr. Winterton. Let us hope that you are soon appointed Mr. Deputy Speaker officially.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) on securing this important debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) said, aviation is one of Britain's greatest success stories not only in manufacturing aircraft, but in respect of airline; and airports. British aviation is second only to the United States of America. It contributes £10 billion to our economy, 1.4 per cent. of gross domestic product, and it directly employs 180,000 people and supports the jobs of a further 380,000 people. Despite criticism during our debate, it contributes £2.5 bill on in taxes and represents 11 per cent. of UK export services.
The industry has been successful because it has allowed itself to innovate. In recent years there have been developments such as low-cost airlines, the growth of the charter market and the expansion of some regional airports. The Confederation of British Industry said that airport links with the rest of the world are crucial for any company or business that wants to invest in the United Kingdom. The industry has an excellent safety record, which I hope will continue.
There is no question but that air transport has an environmental impact and the forecast growth in air travel requires steps to he taken to tackle the issue. A rational debate is required, the starting point of which is that global aviation consumes 12 per cent. of fossil fuels burnt by the transport sector, and road transport 75 per cent. As a result of improved burn technology, air frame efficiency and better operating procedures, consumption of fuel per passenger mile over the past 40 years has been out by 70 per cent., which is a substantial improvement.
Aircraft are becoming quieter, and aircraft entering the fleet today are typically 20 decibels quieter than comparable aircraft 30 years ago, a reduction in noise annoyance of about 75 per cent. and a massive shrinkage of noise footprints around airports. Great progress has been made in the matter.
205WH The industry's role has changed, and aircraft manufacturers appreciate what they must do in future years. My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) spoke about aircraft noise recently. He said:At present, aircraft noise is assessed against an absolute measure: decibels. However, the disturbance a noise causes depends upon the loudness in relation to the background noise. The noise of flights into Heathrow has little impact over West London, alongside traffic and other, daytime noise. But at night, London's suburbs are deadly quiet, and there are parts of the countryside that are noted for their tranquility. Some special areas are designated as such, citing their tranquility. There is absolutely no provision for tranquil areas in present policy. Public support for aviation depends upon the way these questions are addressed. The next Conservative government will not only expect the growing number of aircraft in our skies, a: technology continues to improve, to have less and less noise impact. We will also adopt relative systems of measurement for assessing the impact of aircraft noise. Furthermore, we will create a presumption that low flying air traffic should avoid tranquil areas and tranquil periods. This will not change much—or indeed anything— quickly, but it may lead to some significant changes at the margin.That is a good start.
Terminal 5 and airport policy have been mentioned; if we have a difficulty, it is with strategic planning for airspace and airports. Governments of all colours have not always been willing to grasp the nettle, because of the four or five-year cycle of parliamentary elections and the longer-term cycle required to develop airspace. The terminal 5 inquiry cost between £70 million and £85 million and since it began, Charles do Gaulle airport has completed a third runway and started a fourth. Schipol will have five runways by 2003, yet the five London airports combined have only six runways. There is a problem, especially in the south-east, of ensuring that capacity is met. Those issues need to be addressed and it is difficult to set out a sensible regional strategy; it is a pity that we cannot look at things strategically, across the whole country, until we know the result of the terminal 5 inquiry.
Airport operators can do a great deal about improved surface access; we heard that pollution caused by cars going to and from Heathrow may be more than that caused by the aircraft. The airline industry is a profitable industry, and so are airports; what is needed is a balancing factor to ensure that profits go into improving the infrastructure for passengers and reducing the environmental impact around airports. There are numerous examples, such as the London to Heathrow express rail link and Manchester an port's development and public transport strategy, which should be pursued to develop a more sustainable policy.
Overall, if air traffic is increasing it is sensible to try to accommodate it with investment. The only effective way to dampen down demand, as the to hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire recommends, is by taxation or by putting people off flying. People have a right to travel. We hear stories about rip-offs in the selling of cars and fuel, but here is an efficient industry that is delivering good value in terms of flights and packages so that people can move around the world. The criticisms we have heard today are unfair. We have a successful industry and if we work with it to ensure improved environmental standards and investment it should not be beyond the wit of the fourth largest economy in the world to allow people to travel and to improve environmental standards.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Robert Ainsworth)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) on securing the debate and on the comprehensive way in which he dealt with both the global and local issues. I will try to answer the points that were raised, but I am fairly certain that I will not get them all in. I give a commitment to write to hon. Members about any that I miss.
Our consultation paper, "The Future of Aviation", published in December, raises a comprehensive range of issues for the longer term, with the environmental implications of the industry right at the heart. We must seek to minimise the impact of aviation on the environment. At the same time, our present and future policies must and do take account of the economic benefits from a strong and competitive airline industry and from enabling capacity to be provided where it is economically and environmentally justified. That is emphatically not the same as what has been termed, perhaps simplistically, "predict and provide".
We must look critically at the environmental dimension, and that is what we are doing. However, we must also recognize that demand arises because people want to fly for business, for holidays and to visit friends and relations. Whether aviation growth is sustainable is a decision for Government. We have recognised that responsibility, but it also involves personal decisions on how, and how often, we want to travel. We are therefore consulting very widely.
Responses to the consultation paper are due by 12 April. We are not just waiting passively for people to respond. We are actively involving representatives of the industry, and environmental and residents' groups, in the various strands of work as they are developed. We have commissioned a series of studies of airport issues in six regions of the UK. The studies assess the economic, environmental and social impacts, and we shall balance all those factors before reaching a view about whether additional capacity should be provided, either at a particular site or at all. Again, I stress that there is not a blanket commitment to meet demand and then just to mitigate the environmental effects. The demand management option is on the table.
We are working towards a White Paper on air transport looking about 30 years ahead, which will set a course that the aviation industry, its users, and those affected adversely by its operations, can follow. As most hon. Members here will know, jet aircraft are subject to noise certification requirements agreed through the International Civil Aviation Organisation. The noisiest subsonic jets—those certificated to chapter 2 standards—are already being phased out and, apart from minor exemptions, may no longer operate in Europe beyond March 2002. That has already delivered significant benefits, but we have to move on.
The Government have been prominent among those in ICAO who have argued for tighter standards for new aircraft. After much hard technical negotiation, in January this year CAEP—the Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection—agreed on a set of recommendations to the ICAO council. The headline in respect of noise is the agreement on a new noise 207WH standard for new jet aircraft 10 decibels lower—cumulatively across the three certification points—than the present chapter 3 standard. The new standard will apply from 2006.
I make no secret of the fact that we had argued vigorously for an even more stringent standard than the new one, which will consolidate the technical progress in engine and airframe design achieved by the industry. We shall continue to work in CAEP for a more stringent long-term standard and for action to prevent noise from increasing in the short term. For three years we have been arguing for a standard that ensures improvement in future designs and for a phase-out programme covering the noisiest chapter 3 types. They are generally the oldest aircraft, including many of those hush kitted to meet the standard.
As well as reducing noise at source, our policy includes mitigating its impact around airports. Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted are designated under section 80 for the purposes of section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982. That provision gives the Secretary of State powers to impose requirements on the operators of the airport, and of aircraft using it, for the purpose of limiting or mitigating the effects of noise. The requirements imposed include departure noise limits—which for daytime have been reduced with effect from this week; the new night-time limits come into effect next month—night restrictions, noise preferential routes for departures and certain regulations for the management of arriving aircraft.
Hon. Members will be disappointed if they expect me to comment on the Heathrow terminal 5 decision process beyond noting that the inspector's report is being carefully studied in the Department. A mass of evidence on environmental matters was submitted to the T5 inquiry, which the inspector has had to consider.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire expressed a keen interest in the possibility of East Midlands airport being designated for the purposes of section 78, as North West Leicestershire district council and others have requested. Although I am not entirely unacquainted with the east midlands 208WH region, I am sure that everyone will understand that I cannot comment in detail on that request. The council and the airport are still discussing the noise controls at East Midlands airport. Now that the airport's sale has been completed, subject to clearance by the Office of Fair Trading, it may be possible to expedite the dialogue somewhat. We shall take a decision when all parties' representations have been considered.
Currently, the Government impose controls only at the three London airports. Elsewhere, we continue the long-standing policy that operational noise controls are best addressed at local level as far as possible. Many larger airports tend to model their controls on those at the designated airports, modified to suit local circumstances. Noise charges, set by airports themselves, are also used at the London airports and elsewhere.
We are considering improvements to the regime for non-designated airports. Separately from the consultation on the strategic issues for the White Paper, we have consulted on legislative proposals to strengthen those aerodromes' powers to control noise. We propose to repeal section 5 of the 1982 Act, whereby the CAA could be required to address environmental factors when licensing an aerodrome, and replace it with a new power of designation with an emphasis on locally agreed noise amelioration schemes. That will continue the broad policy of local resolution and add to the incentives to find effective and appropriate voluntary controls, with the possibility of central Government intervening where necessary. The paper was published last July, and the consultation period closed in October.
I apologise for being unable to move on to the issue of emissions, which is very important and was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire and the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas). I make a commitment to write to my hon. Friend about the situation with regard to emissions and about where the issue fits into Government policy in international negotiations and the work being done in the run-up to the publication of the White Paper. I shall write to all hon. Members who have contributed to this debate.