Stansted Airport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:22 pm on 28th April 1987.

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Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East 10:22 pm, 28th April 1987

In reply to my right hon. Friend, and to use the Minister's own words, it is predictable and unsurprising that the sort of interests that my right hon. Friend has outlined were not consulted. In view of the controversy that has surrounded the proposed development at Stansted airport, to say the least it is somewhat insensitive that the interests about which my right hon. Friend spoke have not been consulted. I have heard him speak many times about this in the Chamber so I know that he is aware of the concern of provincial airports such as Manchester about the proposed Stansted development.

Being aware of those concerns, one would have thought that the Minister would have consulted, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) said, such bodies as the North of England Regional Consortium or the Joint Airports Committee of Local Authorities—JACOLA.

If the Minister wants to use the description "predictable and unsurprising" about orders such as this, one would have thought that he would have first sought extensive consultation with aviation and airport interests represented by both bodies to which my right hon. Friend and I have just referred. The Minister might well say that there is no statutory duty for a Secretary of State to consult regional interests, but, given the controversy that has surrounded this development, I repeat that one would have thought that, for the sake of peace and tranquillity in aviation, these consultations would have taken place. If they had taken place, there might well have been suggestions from bodies such as the North of England Regional consortium and JACOLA and there might well have been a slightly different approach to limiting ATMs at Stansted.

The Minister referred in his speech to section 32 of the Airports Act 1986, but the Act should be used not only to facilitate environmental objectives but to reinforce other policies such as traffic realloation. The bodies to which I have referred and the Opposition believe that Stansted's limit need not be based on the maximum throughput of its new terminal but perhaps could be laid on a gradual buildup of traffic reflecting the Government's traffic reallocation policy generally.

The Minister referred to the fact that Stansted's current capacity is less than 20 per cent., I think he said, of the proposed limit. If that is the case, why set the limit in this order tonight? It would be better gradually to step up the limit so that regional interests could express points of view over the next few months or even the next few years. That would be a more conciliatory and consultative approach than setting a limit in the order that allows the enormous development of which Stansted is currently not capable.

The order does have particular significance for controlling the incidence of long-haul traffic at Stansted. As I understand it, the order allows for up to 2·75 million passengers per annum of this type of traffic. I trust I speak for hon. Members on both sides of th House when I say that we would appreciate some indication from the Minister as to where this demand will originate and, if necessary, from what airports those 2·75 million passengers per annum will be transferred. As I am sure the Minister will concede, the output at Stansted since the announcement of its development has been growing modestly.

Opposition Members favour a limit on ATMs at Stansted which reflects the reality at present and which can be subject to review on a regular basis. That is not to say that we want an enormously controversial debate, whether late at night or in prime parliamentary time, but I hope that the Minister will appreciate that these matters are fairly sensitive on the regions. While I understand that the Government's aviation policy appears to be devoted to solving the London problem at everybody's else's expense, surely it is not beyond the wit or inclination of the Department of Transport to appreciate the genuine concerns that are felt in areas outside London.

The Minister referred to positioning movements at Stansted. These movements are normally associated with inclusive tour operations which again, as he has indicated from the projected figures he has given, make up a high proportion of movements at Stansted. As the ATM limit excludes those positioning movements, as the Minister has rightly said, we can anticipate that about 5 to 10 per cent. more movements will be allowed over and above the limit. It is not for me to spend too long on the environmental implications for the residents in the Stansted area of the 5 to 10 per cent. increase over the proposed limit. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr Haselhurst) will do that himself — if not tonight, certainly at some time in the future. However, the question of positioning movements appears to be somewhat incompatible with the Minister's declared objective of protecting environmental interests in and around the airport.

I hope that the comments that will come from Opposition Members, despite the Minister's description of the order as "predictable and unsurprising" are, at least in his eyes and the eyes of those who advise him, unpredictable and surprising.

The proposed development at Stansted has been and is a controversial matter. There are legitimate concerns at Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and other airports in the United Kingdom. The Minister's comments so far, far from allaying those concerns, enhanced them. I hope that, in the same spirit as I have replied to the order, he will do something this evening to show that we can expect future debates on these matters so that those legitimate concerns to which I have referred can be expressed in the House and satisfactorily answered by a Department which, as I said earlier, somtimes appears to be more concerned with solving what it sees as the problems of London's airports than looking at aviation as the great national industry that it is.