Stansted Airport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:56 pm on 28th April 1987.

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Photo of Mr Robert McCrindle Mr Robert McCrindle , Brentwood and Ongar 10:56 pm, 28th April 1987

—and no doubt that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells). The House will know that in the northern parts of my constituency a good deal of apprehension has been expressed about the prospective development of Stansted. Indeed, if one is honest, one has to say that the dissipation of that apprehension is a relatively slow process.

I seek the indulgence of the House for a brief period to express my approval of the order, but also to express some concern about the likely progress of this matter as we begin to move towards the true expansion of Stansted airport.

I approve of the order for two reasons. First, it confirms Government policy on the expansion of Stansted. Secondly, and more important, it reminds us that Stansted is not, and has no prospect of becoming in the immediate future, the full-blown, third London airport, for which many wished and for which pressure continues to exist.

I can say with some certainty that most of my constituents principally concerned with Stansted are coming to terms with some expansion, perhaps of the order proposed this evening, but the quickest way to recreate their suspicion and concern would be to move too quickly. Therefore, I draw to the attention of the House the proposals of a pressure group, the National Policy for Britain's Airports. It is perfectly understandable that this pressure group, comprising as it does local authorities which tend to repose particularly in areas immediately around Heathrow and Gatwick airports, should take the view that Stansted is the principal airport for the expansion of traffic in the London area. It is not expansion of the order that we are considering this evening, nor expansion up to 15 million, which would be the second tranche of what may be called existing Government policy, but expansion to enable Stansted to handle 25 million passengers by the turn of the century.

I think that it would be appropriate for me to utter a word of warning to people such as the members of the National Policy for Britain's Airports, remembering, of course, how easy it is to suggest that airport expansion should take place in someone else's backyard, and that Stansted is not the only possible site for further runway expansion. I think that it would also be appropriate for me to remind that body that the maximum degree of expansion to which we are agreeing to this evening is 7 million to 8 million passengers. Even if we go forward to the second tranche, subject to parliamentary approval, we shall then be in the region of 15 million passengers. To envisage the possibility of 25 million to 30 million passengers is to contemplate airport developments around London to an extent that the Government have not yet undertaken. It really would be wise for bodies such as the National Policy for Britain's Airports to bear that very firmly in mind.

It may be that by 1995 the runway capacity in the London area will be inadequate, and a good case can be made for assuming that that will be so, but to assume the enormous growth at Stansted to which our attention has recently been drawn, involving not only 25 million passengers per annum but a second terminal, and quite possibly a second runway, is way outside the range of existing Government policy. To assume that this would be the easy solution to the problem of the expansion of airports in the London area would be quite wrong.

I do not deny that additional runway capacity may well become necessary, but I wonder whether sufficient consideration has been given to the possibility that instead of immediately assuming that that means that we must have an additional runway at Gatwick, Stansted or Heathrow — recognising, of course, the difficulty at Gatwick — there might be an argument along the following lines. If air traffic control in the United States, particularly around the Chicago and Los Angeles airports, can have an interval between landings and take-offs considerably shorter than that necessary around the London airports, consideration should be given to whether the Civil Aviation Authority could, with perfect safety, be persuaded to approve of rather more landings and take-offs at these London airports, so as to prolong the period at the end of which no doubt we would have to consider the possibility of further runway capacity around the London area.

It seems to me that those are considerations that should at least be given some thought, and I hope that the Minister will be prepared to turn his attention to that and possibly even say something about it when he responds to the debate this evening.

In essence, I rise this evening to express approval of the gradual expansion of Stansted. I have always accepted that there is a case for such expansion, but I believe that to go too far and too fast would be to risk reversing the growing approval, or at least acceptance, of this development, which I sense is now the state of play in the area immediately around Stansted.

I would very much welcome the development of more scheduled services from Stansted. If we are to have greater utilisation of that airport, I should like to think that many of my constituents would be able to use scheduled services from Stansted when travelling on business or otherwise, rather than, as is necessary at the moment, have to go to Heathrow or Gatwick. I am bound to say, however, that so far there is singularly little indication that scheduled services are developing at Stansted to anything like the degree that some of us might wish. I recognise that perhaps the most likely immediate use of Stansted is increasingly for charters. This may be necessitated by the growing difficulty of finding spots for charter airlines at Gatwick.

For whatever reason Stansted is expanded, I believe that there has to be a recognition of the fact that we can move only as far and as fast as will enable us to take local opinion with us. To go at this stage much beyond the proposal that is before the House in the order would he, in my opinion, to risk once again building up that state of opposition which my hon. Friends the Members for Saffron Walden and for Hertford and Stortford will readily recall was one of the principal difficulties during the many years in which Stansted was a major heartache for all three of us in relation to our constituency opinion.

The order is acceptable in that it is a reaffirmation of Government policy as we know it to be. If we can adhere to that parameter, we can carry public opinion with us. However, if the Government were tempted to go further and faster, we could open up the opposition which it has taken many of us a good number of years to play down, at least to some degree. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say that the order sets out the extent to which we are able and interested in proceeding at present, and that if we plan to proceed further as time passes that movement will be subject to the procedures within the House as laid down when the Government's policy on Stansted was intimated some time ago.