Stansted Airport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:12 pm on 28th April 1987.

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Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , North West Hampshire 10:12 pm, 28th April 1987

I beg to move, That the draft Stansted Airport Aircraft Movement Limit Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 7th April, be approved. In introducing the draft order, I think it worth remarking that this must be one of the most predictable, most unsurprising measures which could be brought before the House for its approval. The Government's intention to make an air transport movement—ATM—limit order for Stansted airport was signalled in June 1985, when we first gave the go-ahead to expansion there. The Government now seek to implement their intention and, in so doing, to fulfil the promise we made about phasing the development at Stansted.

The 1985 airports policy White paper expressed the Government's awareness of the genuine and understandable concern which had been expressed by local residents and Members of Parliament in the Stansted area about the scale and extent of development at the airport and about the environmental effects. The Government therefore promised that development of Stansted airport would be phased with the first stage of development limited to about 7 million to 8 million passengers per annum. A condition of the planning permission for Stansted airport to grow from current levels to about 15 million passengers per annum was that construction of the development would be so phased.

To underpin the planning condition we decided that the relatively blunt, unsophisticated instrument of an ATM limit could provide an additional means of regulating airport development, with the object of controlling the impact of that development on local infrastructure. We therefore undertook to seek the necessary powers to enable the Government to set ATM limits subject to the approval of Parliament. We made it clear that we would use such powers at Stansted to impose an ATM limit sufficient only to enable effective utilisation of the first phase of development, that is to say, about 7 million to 8 million passengers per annum.

The Government sought the necessary powers in last year's Airports Bill, and they now exist as section 32 of the Airports Act 1986. Section 32 restricts the use of ATM limit powers to airports where runway capacity is significantly underused. An airport whose runway capacity is already saturated has a naturally imposed limit. Section 32 also required the Secretary of State to consult within the civil aviation industry and among local authorities that are likely to be affected before setting a limit. That local authority interests are required to be consulted on the face of the legislation bears testamount to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) and we are indebted to him. I am glad to see him in his place, as is usual when anything affects his constituency is debated.

The necessary powers came into force late last year. The Government are now keen to keep their promise for a first-phase ATM limit at Stansted—a promise that they gave when planning permission for Stansted development was given, in the 1985 airports policy White Paper, and during the passage of the Bill, both here and in another place.

The White Paper commitment to an ATM limit went beyond the reassurance of local interests—important though those interests may be. The White Paper said that decisions on a Stansted ATM limit should be for Parliament. The Government have again been faithful to their intention in bringing before this House tonight a draft order that is subject to affirmative resolution.

The order proposes a limit of 78,000 air transport movements. That figure is designed to correspond to a passenger throughput at the Stansted development of no more than about 7 million to 8 million passengers per annum. This is consistent with the planning condition and with the Government's subsequent investment approval for a terminal capable of handling 8 million passengers per annum. The figure, which has been calculated on my Department's most recent air passenger traffic forecasts, has been determined by two factors. The first of those is the relative mix of types of traffic that we expect to serve Stansted when passenger throughput approaches 8 million passengers per annum; and secondly, the average aircraft passenger loading — the number of passengers per air transport movement—at that time.

The figure of 78,000 ATMs assumes that all categories of traffic at Stansted will experience significant growth. The assumptions which underlie the calculation of the limit suggest that 8 million passengers per annum at Stansted would be composed of about 10 per cent. domestic passengers, 37 per cent. short-haul charter passengers, about 19 per cent. short-haul scheduled passengers and the balance — about 35 per cent. — of long-haul passengers.

The second element of the calculation, passenger loading, has been predicted by comparison with Gatwick. Given the similarities of Stansted now and Gatwick in its early years, it is not unreasonable to draw a parallel between the passenger loadings that might operate at Stansted when the airport development is handling 8 million passengers per annum and the passenger loadings at Gatwick when that airport had an identical passenger volume. Of course, the analogy is not precise. I have already been pressed on this matter by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden, who represents this locality. I have no doubt that he will wish to have further discussions with me about that. The analogy is not precise and corrections have had to be made to allow for higher passenger loadings as a result of improvements in aircraft technology, and to eliminate any distortion from the passenger loadings on the Gatwick-Heathrow helicopter link which was in operation, when Gatwick was at 8 million passengers per annum.

In determining the quantum of the limit, we have tested the robustness of the figure against differing assumptions about both traffic mix and passenger loading. In particular, the limit has been tested against two scenarios, one of which puts forward rapid growth in short-haul scheduled services — reflecting extensive liberalisation and deregulation of air services—and a quite different scenario in which there is pre-eminent growth in the charter market — with short/medium haul charter passengers forming a much larger proportion of the 8 million passengers per annum. In both cases there was no significant difference from the 78,000 air transport movement figure of the central assumptions. Indeed, the agreement was within 1 per cent. This gives me great confidence to commend to the House the figure in the draft order.

The draft order is in five articles. The first two define the numerical value of the limit and its period of operation. Although the limit would apply annually from 1 March of each year, it is proposed that the order should come into effect from 1 June this year. This will mean that one quarter of the first year of operation of the limit will have passed, but this loss will have no material effect. The current level of ATM usage of Stansted is less than 20 per cent. of the proposed limit and the existing terminal capacity will not allow traffic to approach the limit even distantly between now and February 1988.

Article 3 of the order describes those classes of aircraft movement that the Government propose to exclude from counting against the limit. In the 1985 White Paper the Government set out their undertaking to impose a limit expressly on ATMs at Stansted. During the passage of the legislation, we explained what an ATM limit would and would not cover, setting out explicitly that the limit would exclude diversion, repositioning, air-taxi and general aviation movements. The proposal reflects our White Paper undertaking about seeking to constrain passenger volume. It follows that the limit should bear on passenger air transport movements only.

I opened this debate by suggesting that this was an unsurprising measure for the Government to bring forward. I hope that I have now explained why. Our 1985 White Paper promised a limit on ATMs at Stansted so that the first phase of development should not handle beyond about 7 million to 8 million passengers per year. We promised to seek the necessary powers and did so in the Airports Bill. During the passage of the Bill we described in detail how a limit would operate and what it should and should not include. The Airports Act 1986 and the necessary powers are now in force and tonight we are fulfilling our promise to seek the House's approval to an appropriate limit. I commend the order to the House.