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The hon. Gentleman has the worst of all worlds. He was supporting a system of betterment which was impracticable and rejecting worsenment. We at least rejected that form of betterment but we do tax betterment very severely, up to 75 per cent. This is conveniently forgotten by Labour spokesmen.
Any day now I expect to receive news about the line of a 15-mile by-pass through my constituency which is being built to motorway standards. It will have a tremendous effect on those who, unhappily, find themselves on that line. We desperately need this by-pass but someone has to be hurt. The benefits to the community are undoubted and naturally the Government would not have considered building it but for the fact that the A41 is highly congested and the traffic upon it is doing immense damage to the towns lying on that route.
People have been very worried because while those on the line of the route will have their houses taken and receive fair compensation, those just off the route did not know what was to happen. Now at last this principle is recognised and those not actually displaced by the motorway will receive compensation. This is excellent.
It is a fine thing that compensation is to be paid for aircraft noise which is a scourge in Hertfordshire. During the Third London Airport inquiry it was found that Cublington was totally unsatisfactory as an alternative site because of the immense damage which would be done to Buckinghamshire. Instead we have an airport at Luton which is doing as much damage to Hertfordshire as Cublington would have done to Buckinghamshire but which is doing it 10 years earlier. We have this great difficulty of the aircraft having to fly, for control reasons, between 3,000–4,000 ft. for 20–25 miles as they leave Luton. This makes the most horrible din on the ground beneath.
Unfortunately, at the moment, any recognition of worsenment only occurs where there is a change at the airport resulting in increased noise. If a new runway is built, presumably aligned in a different direction, other people will be affected. At Luton, there has been a slow build-up of aircraft noise, the airport having been in existence since before the war. It was only in 1968 that the first jet aircraft started operating from there and the full effect of noise was felt. But it has increased at a rate of about 25 per cent. a year cumulatively since 1968. So, we are at our wits' end with aircraft noise now. As I understand it, however, there is to be no compensation for that because it already exists.
If the Secretary of State gives permission for the runway to be strengthened— which is the proposal now—it will not result in any greater aircraft noise but it will mean the ability to fly more aircraft from Luton and it will be difficult to see whether that actually results in greater aircraft noise. So on this aspect I fear that there is no great help for my constituents in the Bill as it stands.
But, of course, Clause 17 deals with soundproofing and the Government wish to lay down standards of soundproofing. The present standards are totally unsatisfactory. At Heathrow, the limit is 55 noise and number indicator. The whole of any ward part of which receives 55 n.n.i. grading is entitled to soundproofing. Luton is more generous. It has taken a figure of 45 n.n.i. and has put an additional band—I believe that it is 300 metres—outside the 45 n.n.i. contour. This hardly touches my constituency, however. It touches the village I live in but no other village in the constituency.
This is ludicrous when people are being driven insane by the noise from Luton. Although 45 n.n.i. may sound a low rating, one difficulty is the effect in the deep countryside at night. Just a few aircraft at intervals in the night can drive people to desperation. If one is wakened at midnight, at 1 a.m., at 3 a.m. and again at 5 a.m. night after night, one is driven to distraction, but the noise and number indicator is probably quite low—perhaps well below 45. Therefore, I hope that the Government, when they lay down standards, will abandon this totally inadequate measure of noise.
It is right that an airport which is seeking to make money by operating should pay for the disturbance it causes. Luton Airport boasts that it is making a considerable sum for the Luton ratepayers. Yet it will hardly pay one penny for my constituents in order to give them some measure of relief through soundproofing.
I turn now to the question of blight. I feel that the proposals here are somewhat inadequate since the blight notice in relation to, for example, a road scheme can only be served once the preferred plan has been adopted. Of course, the blight takes place at a much earlier stage. There is a cafe in my constituency which has been blighted for years because of a proposed road scheme. But the scheme has never been adopted and because of that the owner of the cafe cannot serve a blight notice on anyone. Yet he has been unable to sell his cafe as a going concern because there is the possibility of the whole house being demolished at some stage.
This is the great difficulty. If someone is blighted we should try to play the game by him. Equally, of course, we do not want to blight everybody. Therefore, we have the greater danger of secrecy amongst the road planners. The Road Construction Unit, I am told, is not meant to consult county planners because that might reveal its intentions. The intentions do get leaked, however. We have seen examples of the lines of motorways being leaked. In any case, the road engineers come along and put in pegs so that it is obvious where the road is going to be. As soon as that is known, blight starts.
Equally, under the Skeffington proposals, we want to have proper public discussion. We do not want secrecy. So, if we are to have a balance between public discussion and secrecy and blight, let us be generous over blight. Of course we come back to the difficulty of increased compensation. But what is this increased compensation? It is not, as many people think, that everyone who is blighted is going to serve a blight notice, but only someone who is desperate and wants to sell his business or house and cannot do it because he is blighted.
Let the authority responsible for the blight purchase what they will be required to purchase. It will be a very small number of properties. For example, the cafe owner I have mentioned will only want to sell if he desperately wants to retire, for example, and he should be entitled to serve a blight notice. The expense is great but what are the public acquiring? It is not money thrown away, but a valuable asset. On the whole, land or property increase in value year by year, and it may well be that the acquiring authority gets a rising asset.
In my constituency, we had a case where a man wished to leave his home, which was on the proposed line of a motorway. He was able to serve a blight notice. The house has been bought and he has moved. He is happy and I think that the Department ought to be happy at having acquired that house 18 months ago. It has increased, I suppose, about 50 per cent. in value by now, and if the motorway goes a different way the Department will make a handsome profit on resale of the house. So we should not be frightened of extending blight notices. We do not want to go too far, but from roughly 12 months after a proposal has been introduced which does have a blighting effect, a man should be entitled to serve a blight notice.
Subject to these reservations, I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly. It is an excellent step forward and I am glad to see it.