HC Deb 06 July 1993 vol 228 cc71-3W
Mr. Jessel

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has reached conclusions following the consultations on night restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor

On 28 January this year I published proposals for night restrictions at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. These followed a wide-ranging review of how we might best maintain the policy of continuing to protect local communities from excessive exposure to aircraft noise at night.

Our existing policy has brought very considerable benefits to local communities by controlling movements of most jet aircraft at night. At the same time industry has made great strides in phasing out older noisier aircraft. There has been a substantial reduction in the number of people affected by daytime aircraft noise above the recognised disturbance threshold. This trend will continue, and I have separately laid regulations before the House which will ensure that the noisier, chapter 2 jets will be phased out by 2002. These regulations are in line with international agreements which we have worked hard to deliver.

The central element of our consultation paper was a new system to maintain the protection offered to residents around Heathrow and Gatwick and extend similar protection to those around Stansted. Additional features were to move away from restricting numbers of movements to a system of quotas that would further encourage the use of quieter aircraft. Each aircraft type would be assigned a quota count (QC) for take-off or landing in line with certificated noise performance. The noisiest aircraft (QC8 and QC16) would not be allowed to be scheduled at night. We also proposed that there should be a QCO category for all aircraft with certificated noise levels less than 90 EPNdB to provide a further incentive to airlines to accelerate changes in their fleets and scheduling in favour of the quietest aircraft. Our proposals also include harmonisation of the night restrictions period and other measures to make the system fairer all round.

Responses to the consultation have clearly demonstrated the importance local people attach to night restrictions. At the same time, it is clear that they have benefited from the introduction of quieter aircraft. Industry respondents for their part broadly accepted much of what was proposed although they argued that the threshold for QC0 could have been set higher. Some airlines also stressed the need for modest growth in quota to meet anticipated increases in demand over the next five years. However, leaving the movement of QC0 aircraft unrestricted raised concerns among local people that there could in theory be a major and uncheckable expansion in night flights.

I have concluded that local concerns would best be met by extending the quota system with a new QC½ band to cover larger aircraft below 90 EPNdB. Although the aviation industry will lose some of the benefits of the previous QC0 proposal, they will still be able to use the flexibility of the quota system in scheduling their movements. At the same time local people will have the assurance that the quota will cover all relevant aircraft movements, with a reduction in the types that are currently exempt. This provides an additional measure of protection and meets local concerns about the perceived threat of uncontrolled growth.

I have given careful consideration to whether I should increase the proposed quotas in order to accommodate the introduction of the QC½ category. On balance I concluded that the relatively small number of such movements at Heathrow could be accommodated within my previous proposal but that enhancement of the quotas would be appropriate at Gatwick and Stansted, because of the larger number of QC½ movements particularly at the latter where there is a significant number of mail and empty positioning flights.

I have put a full statement on the new quotas in the House Library.

I pay particular tribute to the commitment of BAA plc in establishing noise and track-keeping systems at the three airports. These systems will complement our new arrangements providing further monitoring—further protection for local people. They will also provide a comprehensive basis for the reviews that I am asking the aircraft noise monitoring advisory committee (ANMAC) to carry out on current noise limits by night and day and the aircraft noise classification system. The noise and track-keeping systems also give industry a ready means to check on its own performance.

In my decisions I have sought to maintain the essential balance between the aviation industry and local people. The aviation industry makes an important contribution to the economy and it is essential to preserve employment and business opportunities not only for the 100,000 people who work in the industry but also for the wider contribution it makes to the local and national economy. It will be tough on industry and is a challenge to them to maintain progress at introducing quieter aircraft. It is just as important to ensure that local people should be able to enjoy a good night's sleep.