Orders of the Day — Maplin Development Authority (Dissolution) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th October 1976.

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Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham 12:00 am, 14th October 1976

The last line of Clause 1(2) states: the Authority shall cease to exist. If it ceases to exist we shall have no Maplin Airport in the foreseeable future. That will be a disaster for many people living around the existing airports of Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton.

I believe that Maplin offered the one long-term hope for the future. If it had gone ahead when the Conservative Government took the decision to bring it in in 1971, and if it had not been dropped subsequently by the Labour Government in the summer of 1974, by the early 1980s we could have diverted or forced the noisiest aircraft for example Boeing 707s, Tridents and Concordes, to manoeuvre, take off and land over the sea instead of over residential areas. We could have permitted only the quieter aircraft to use Heathrow.

My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) has said that quieter aircraft are being introduced. The Under-Secretary of State informed me by letter two days ago that 18 per cent. of aircraft now using Heathrow are of noise-certificated standards. That leaves 82 per cent. that are not. Quite a large proportion of the 62 airlines using Heathrow are continuing to buy noisy aircraft which have a life of about 20 years. The hush kits to which the Department referred in a recent document have been shown not to be cost effective. There is no prospect for advance in that direction.

It is the frequency of aircraft that causes the most suffering. Already there are about 600 flights a day in and out of Heathrow. It is true that there has been a small drop this year as a result of the oil crisis, but anyone who has studied the problem will know that that is no more than a temporary hiccup in the upward trend in the number of aircraft moving in and out of Heathrow. By the middle or late 1980s, assuming, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) says, that the number of passengers has increased to 50 million a year, the number of aircraft will not have increased so dramatically as we should have more large aircraft, but there will be about 900 or 1,000 movements per day.

The decision to drop Maplin makes it inevitable in the long term that more and more aircraft will be crammed through Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and perhaps Stansted. I do not believe that the Government or the Liberal Party have faced the environmental consequences.

In an Adjournment debate I said, I refer to the problem of aircraft noise—a problem which nobody with any personal experience of living under the noise shadow of a major airport would dream of belittling. This is a serious problem which causes a great deal of human suffering, ruins people's quiet enjoyment of houses and gardens, interrupts the work of schools, churches, hospitals and offices, and interferes with people's private lives, their telephone conversations, their opportunities to listen to gramophone records or watch television."—[Official Report, 27th June 1974; Vol. 875, c. 1928.] It must be admitted that it is a problem that some people do not mind very much, but to many others it causes real hurt. To a minority it causes serious anguish, and for a small number it causes mental illness, as was shown recently by some studies at the West Middlesex Hospital.

That is why I say the Bill is a disaster. Responsibility for this disaster must lie with the Liberal Party as well as with the Government. The Liberals have always been totally hostile to the Maplin project. I am sorry to see that none of the 13 Members of the Liberal Party, which pretends to be concerned with the environment, has taken the trouble to be present at any part of this debate so far. It is an important debate from an environmental view and their total absence is a disgrace.

If any Labour or Liberal Member is thinking of visiting any part of my constituency, I offer them some friendly advice, namely, to come in the winter rather than the summer, when the suffering from aircraft noise is at its most acute.

Fortunately the plans for Maplin have not been destroyed but put on the shelf. I hope that before long economic conditions will change for the better and allow the scheme to be resurrected.