Clause 21 - Content and effect of licence conditions

Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 6th March 2012.

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Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour, Feltham and Heston 10:30 am, 6th March 2012

I beg to move amendment 31, in clause 21, page 14, line 31, at end insert—

‘(g) provision relating to a compensation scheme for the noise pollution arising out of licensed activities which affects persons residing or occupying business or community premises in an area designated in the licence conditions.’.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan, and I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce the amendment and to debate clause 21. I welcome the Government’s recognition of the importance of the environment to aviation and the fact that that informs important principles underlying their emerging sustainable aviation policy framework. The CAA’s recently published consultation document, “CAA and the Environment”, also states that the CAA, as the aviation industry’s regulator, has a potentially key role to play in helping the sector improve its environmental performance. The CAA’s stance is helpfully stated as follows:

“In areas such as airspace and noise, where we have a driving role, we will promote stretching environmental outcomes and challenge industry to deliver against them”.

We all recognise the need for aviation to support our economy and the vital importance of airports in providing local employment. However, one set of stakeholder needs that do not appear to be as well recognised or reflected in the Bill, or in the CAA’s useful environmental consultation document, are those of the residents who live around airports and who are exposed to aircraft and other noise that may arise from licensed activities and surface transport. The consultation document states that aviation noise is a local issue for neighbourhoods around airports and that any policy solutions will need to find ways for residents and airport owners to engage with each other more constructively. However, although the wording that describes the desired outcomes for the CAA’s environmental objective, as set out in its strategic plan, refers to sector ambitions, to consumers and to consumer choice, no specific reference is made to local residents.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

Regarding the stalemates that may arise in relation to an extension to an airport and local residents concerned about noise, is some method of arbitration perhaps necessary within the legislation to ensure that, where there are two opposing points of view, somewhere in between can be found for them to agree on?

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour, Feltham and Heston

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I will be commenting on extending the CAA’s role beyond just reporting on the environment to potential roles as referee and adviser.

As I was saying, the CAA’s environmental objective refers to sector ambitions, to consumers and to consumer choice, but there is no specific reference to local residents, despite a reference to a clear commitment to protect the public’s interests. We support the work on noise modelling and environmental reporting that the CAA will be undertaking. Although the amendment makes specific reference to noise pollution, other vital environmental issues, including emissions, reporting and so on, are covered by other amendments and will be debated during consideration of later clauses or returned to in later stages of the Bill.

The amendment has the support of my local authority, the London borough of Hounslow, and, in essence, it seeks a provision relating to a compensation scheme for noise pollution arising from licensed activities. The measure would support local residents, businesses, and community premises being potentially insulated according to a formula based on geographic zone or noise levels that could be decided or kept under review by the Secretary of State, as a minimum level of the airport’s responsibility to the local area.

Heathrow is a vital economic asset, which provides employment to many thousands of my constituents and those of neighbouring boroughs. It is estimated that Heathrow provides more than 110,000 jobs. For Hounslow’s quarter of a million residents, however, the daily environmental impacts of Heathrow include flights overhead every 60 seconds, and the majority of the borough is located within the 55dB(A) Lden aircraft noise contour area.

We know that noise has many impacts. A recent report by Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry on the effect of nocturnal noise on health documents the relationship between noise and stress levels, and the impact of aircraft noise on annoyance and irritation. The report states that recent secondary analyses of the London Heathrow sample of children from the RANCH project—the EU project on road traffic and aircraft noise exposure and children’s cognition and health—examined the effects of daytime aircraft noise exposure at home and at school, and concluded that aircraft noise exposure at school had a significant effect on children’s cognitive development and that schools needed to be an important focus for the protection of children from aircraft noise.

Although I have drawn on examples from my local area, the impact of noise is a national issue that affects any airport location. The good practice guide on noise exposure and potential health effects from the European Environment Agency states that 27% of people in the 55dB(A) Lden level areas are highly annoyed by noise, which has implications for irritation, anxiety and stress. Disturbances in the early morning have been proven to have a serious effect on people’s health and well-being. The CAA is the regulator of aviation activity in the UK, but its responsibility for the environmental impact of aviation has been the subject of much debate and will continue to be so. The amendment seeks to ensure that the CAA has some authority to help control the effects of noise and ensure the quality of insulation and mitigation schemes that each of the major UK airports operates in the interests of local residents and the local work force.

The idea is not without precedent; in the United States, airport-related noise insulation schemes are not only regulated, but administered by the Federal Aviation Administration across American airports. The UK has a voluntary system of noise insulation for communities affected by aircraft noise. In Heathrow’s case, the operator, BAA, administers a voluntary scheme that provides noise insulation grants. Good progress has been made under the scheme, and BAA consulted on a new scheme last summer, which we hope will lead to further improvements. Much of the negotiation has taken place, and will continue to do so, between airport operators and local authorities.

I welcome the reporting of environmental impacts by the CAA, which will, in time, lead to greater consistency in monitoring and a more robust evidence base to support dialogue and negotiations between local authorities and airports. However, one of the Bill’s unintended consequences—particularly as it lays open the possibility of inter-terminal competition—may be a lack of clarity about who will be responsible for negotiating with local authorities and under what formula different operators may have different levels of responsibility. Residents who live near airports will not thank us when battles begin about who should be responsible for working with local authorities to help mitigate the effect of aviation on local families.

In the amendment, the Opposition argue that, in addition to a passive reporting role, the CAA’s roles should include those of advisor and referee, and that airport operators’ responsibilities to local communities should be clearly referred to as part of the licence conditions under which they operate. That will help to provide greater clarity and consistency in the principles of noise mitigation schemes, which vary—sometimes rightly, sometimes not—across the country. Clear minimum standards should be set, and local authorities should be given the tools and support to negotiate effectively for the needs of their local communities. I am sure there will still be room for local flexibility on that, including on the specifics of any compensation scheme and on local choice of product.

I thank the Committee for the opportunity to move this amendment. I hope that enshrining such a provision in the licence conditions would enable us to lock in for the future current good practice that might otherwise be watered down or lost as the regulatory regime changes and new systems and priorities are introduced.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I listened with great interest to the hon. Lady’s thoughtful contribution, and I am in no doubt of the need for all airports to consider and properly address their noise impact.

The hon. Lady and I have a great deal of common ground, but despite that there are a number of important reasons why I cannot ask the Committee to support the amendment. Clearly, her constituency is significantly impacted in a positive way by Heathrow, with all the job opportunities, but it is subject to much of Heathrow’s noise impact, too.

First, I do not feel able to support the amendment because it contains a significant technical flaw. Although the amendment seeks to insert a provision on compensation for noise pollution arising from licensed activities, it is not entirely clear on the meaning it attributes to “licensed activities”. I assume that the intention is to refer to  clause 68’s definition of airport operation services as “licensed activities,” but clause 68 expressly excludes air transport services from the definition of licensed activities, so it actually excludes flights. If the amendment seeks to allow compensation for noise arising from flights, it could not achieve that as drafted, which is one reason why I do not think it would be wise for the Committee to support it.

A more substantive reason for opposing the amendment is because, as I said in response to amendments tabled by Opposition Front Benchers and to questions during the evidence sessions, environmental protection measures should not depend on whether an airport happens to be subject to economic regulation. If there is a case for environmental regulation, this should depend on the airport’s environmental impact, regardless of whether the airport happens to have substantial market power and fall within the scope of the economic regulation framework set out in the Bill.

Of course, noise is a real concern for many people who live around airports—noise is a particular issue at Heathrow, and the Government’s concern about the noise impact was one of the major reasons for our opposition to building the third runway—but, as the Committee has heard on a number of occasions, I do not feel it is right to rely on the economic regulator to act as a policeman on environmental issues.

We want to see airports making every effort to reduce noise impact and engage constructively with local communities on that, which is why, as we have heard, the Government directly regulate noise at the nation’s three largest airports. That regulation includes restrictions on both day and night noise at Heathrow. At other airports, planning law enables local authorities to introduce restrictions to protect local communities from aircraft noise. For example, a cap may be imposed on the number of flights to and from an airport. The EU environmental noise directive 2002 requires noise action plans to be produced by all airports with more than 50,000 annual movements.

The CAA is bound to consider environmental matters in its work on airspace management, which is separate from economic regulation, including within the future airspace strategy on which it is working with NATS. The Government’s consultation on a sustainable framework for aviation will consider what more can be done to mitigate aviation’s noise impact, as well as many of the issues raised by the hon. Lady today. For those reasons, I hope that she will consider withdrawing her amendment, as it does not achieve the aim she aspires it to. I also feel, as I have said, that using the licensing system is not the best way to deal with the environmental impacts of aviation.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour, Feltham and Heston 10:45 am, 6th March 2012

I thank the Minister for her response. What is heartening is that the need to deal with the issues of noise and other impacts for local residents is understood. I also recognise her points about technical interpretation of the amendment. Under clause 68,

“the landing and taking off of aircraft” is referred to, but before that, that clause states that

“‘airport operation services’ means services provided at an airport for the purposes of—”,

so perhaps a discussion could be had later about a better phrasing of the amendment.

Although I take the Minister’s points on board, I think we need to work towards a solution that will stand up nationally. We are not there yet, but I am happy to withdraw the amendment and continue discussions, perhaps looking at introducing a further amendment at a later stage in the Bill. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Shadow Minister (Transport)

I hesitate to raise this point now, but I want to ask the Minister a question about licensing. With your indulgence, Mrs Riordan, I will be brief.

I sought some clarification about the CAA’s various licensing responsibilities for airports from the excellent Ms Louise Butcher, whom many colleagues will know as the transport policy specialist at the House of Commons Library in the Department of Information Services. As the Committee will remember, I referred last week to licensed airports; I was unclear about the different airports that would be covered by the licensing arrangements. After asking for clarification from the Library about the different licences, Ms Butcher advised me:

“Licences issued under Part 1 of the Bill are in addition to the operating licence. So, for example, Heathrow would require an operating licence in order to, in effect, be a commercial airport.”

However,

“all commercial airports need an operating licence.”

I would like the Minister to think about what Ms Butcher then suggested:

“I wonder if it might be useful to put down an amendment to the Bill changing references to ‘licence’ in Part 1 to something like ‘regulatory licence’, in order to differentiate it from the general ‘operating licence’?”

That would give greater clarity to the different airports. Perhaps the Minister will reflect on that point, because I think it would tidy up the Bill. That is not a matter on which the Opposition seek to oppose the clause; rather, we ask for clarification, either today or at some point in future.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for raising that point. It is important, as he says, to distinguish the kind of licences that every airport needs for the purposes of safety and operations from the licences we propose to introduce for the purposes of economic regulation, which would apply only to certain airports passing the tests we have discussed.

I am clear that the Bill provides appropriate separation of the different categories, but I am happy to reflect on what the shadow Minister has said. It is important that the Bill maintain clarity, and although I am content for the moment that clarity is achieved, I will look again in case anything further can be done.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 21 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 22and 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.