Airport Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th May 1977.

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Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham 12:00 am, 26th May 1977

Many of us spoke up very loudly at the time. Far from not making a peep, we made a very loud noise against Maplin being dropped. But at the time there was an oil crisis and people could not see how that would develop in the decades ahead. Perhaps a clearer pattern has emerged now. Nevertheless, I should emphasise that the overwhelming majority of Conservative Members were reluctant to see Maplin dropped in the summer of 1974, and the majority had voted for Maplin when the Development Bill came up in the previous Parliament.

The Under-Secretary has described aircraft noise as "a pestilence". He is right. It is a terrible nuisance to the communities who live near it. Some people do not mind it much, but to large numbers of people it means sheer fury and exasperation when they go into their gardens, or for a walk in the local park and have their ears assaulted and their nerves shattered by this violent noise. Their plight should evoke sympathy and compassion from people in other parts of the country who do not suffer from this problem. It is a major social evil in the communities that are affected by it. The time will come when future historians will wonder why our generation was so slow to deal with it.

I know that the Under-Secretary is trying in one way or another to alleviate this problem. He has said that the only real answer is quieter engines. But the time scale for that is far too long. There is a danger that we are raising hopes and creating expectations about quieter engines which cannot be met. In reply to a question I put last year the Undersecretary told me that 18 per cent. of aircraft using Heathrow were noise-certificated. He added that by 1980 the figure would be 30 per cent. and that by 1985 it would be 55 per cent. But that still means that in eight years time 45 per cent. of aircraft using Heathrow will not be noise-certificated, and that will be 45 per cent. of a larger number of aircraft than are using the airport now.

I am not sure that any of the forecasts about quieter engines can be met. I have heard recently that the manufacturers of two of the quietest wide-bodied aircraft—the TriStar and the Airbus—will cut back production because of lack of support from the airlines. Although quieter engines are the eventual solution, it is hopeless to demand and useless to expect rapid enough progress towards this goal to satisfy those people who are suffering from aircraft noise now.

The Under-Secretary is right to talk of consultations with people. It is very easy for us in Parliament and for the civil servants studying these things to think in terms of time scales of five, 10, 15 or even 20 years. But those who are suffering from aircraft noise want something done urgently. To tell them that the noise from which they are suffering will be reduced by half in eight years time gives them practically no comfort at all.

The question of the fourth terminal at Heathrow was raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle). There has been a hint from both the Leader of the House and the Under-Secretary that there may be some possibility of an Article 4 direction leading to a public inquiry. I urge that course very strongly on the Undersecretary of State for the Environment. At present there is a feeling that the amount of consultation that has taken place has been inadequate. The borough that includes my constituency, as well as Richmond and Barnes, was not consulted, although it is very close to Heathrow and is heavily overflown. We shall be very much affected by the fourth terminal, the object of which is to increase the capacity of the airport. As people cannot see just that justice is being done, I believe the only way to handle the matter is to have a public inquiry.

I turn to the subject of utilisation of aircraft. A large number of the aircraft coming in and out of our airports are half empty as everybody knows. There are operational reasons, and sometimes they are making a stop at one airport and travelling on elsewhere and will fill up on the return journey. The airlines obviously think it worth while commercially to fly aircraft in those circumstances or they would not do it; but peace and quiet and the health of our people must not always take second place to commercial reasons. There is no reason why Governments, working together in the interests of the relief of aircraft noise, should not impose conditions on airlines forcing them to fly fewer aircraft and to fly them with more people in them. It is wrong that people should be disturbed more than they need to be merely by dint of the fact that so many aircraft are so often half empty.

I turn to differential landing charges. I recently received a letter from the French Ambassador in London confirming that the French Government are carefully examining the efficiency of differential landing charges so that the noisiest aircraft will have to pay more to land. This would at least provide an incentive for the manufacture of quieter aircraft, and this may bring more revenue to the airport authorities, and that money can be provided for double-glazing and soundproofing to surrounding properties.

I saw in one evening newspaper that the Government had announced this morning that they intended to increase grants for double-glazing around Heathrow but apparently intended to increase grants only in those places that already received them. The present boundaries of the scheme are, in my view, far too narrow, because there are people four or so miles from the airport under major flight paths who do not qualify for such grants. It is absurd that the scheme is now administered according to borough boundaries which do not coincide with the noise and number index. I do not even fully trust that index, and I noted the Minister's comments. It is most unjust that my constituents are not eligible to receive grants for double-glazing when other people, who in some cases suffer less noise, are entitled to receive them.

I turn finally to the subject of the sharing out of noise. There is a major problem in my constituency over flight paths, as the Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Trade well knows.

Some weeks ago I sent the Minister a memorandum in which I said that in a period of 12 months—which incidentally has already run for 23 months—the experimental Mole Valley split has imposed on eastern take-off days an intolerable concentration of aircraft noise upon Whitton, Twickenham, Strawberry Hill and Teddington. This has occurred because 70 per cent. of the Mole Valley route (the Dunsfold route) coincides in these places with the Detling route, together comprising about 15,000 aircraft flights annually. These tend to be particularly noisy aircraft". I was glad to receive confirmation from the Under-Secretary of State for Trade that he intends to proceed with his consultation process in June and July, especially in the light of a reply to my Parliamentary Question on 16th May, when he said: We are continuing with the existing noise abatement measures but I do not intend to make any alteration to the Mole Valley route this summer. Such alterations only involve shifting aircraft noise from one place to another."—[Official Report, 16th May 1977.] It is that second sentence which has given rise to most concern. At first, the Minister said that it was to be a 12-month experiment. Now he says that it would be wrong to alter the route because that would only shift the noise from one place to another. But if that is wrong now, surely it was wrong to do that 23 months ago when the experiment began. Is it being suggested that the routes should be ossified where they are simply because the people under the present routes were the last to suffer from any change?

The Minister has a reputation for being concerned for the environment and for being fair-minded. I hope that he will handle this matter in a way that does not damage that reputation. What was wrong with his reply to my Question on 16th May was quite simply that it was not fair. I hope that he will bear that in mind during the consultations that are due to take place in June and July.