I beg to move,
That this House
has considered growth and noise reduction in Gatwick Airport.
Thank you, Sir Christopher, for allowing me to address this Chamber. I am delighted to have the privilege of congratulating you on your well-deserved honour, which recognises your lifetime of service.
The issue of aircraft noise is incredibly important to me, and I am afraid that many in the Chamber will have heard me speak about it many times. It is also important to all the residents of Tonbridge, Edenbridge and surrounding villages—indeed, I have received more correspondence on this issue than on any other since I was elected. That is unsurprising for those of us who live under the flightpath in the beautiful villages of west Kent, which are the most beautiful in England, as we all know—I declare an interest because our home is there. The impact of aviation noise on the economic prosperity and environmental sustainability of our communities has been severe.
Why am I raising the matter now, when many villages in Kent, Sussex and Surrey have been experiencing noise from flights for half a decade or more? In 2013, the introduction of the aviation policy framework meant a dramatic change to the flightpaths of the Gatwick airport approach. Many of the villages around Tonbridge, Edenbridge and Malling are now overflown as they have never been before. I therefore wish to focus on what Gatwick and the wider industry are doing or not doing to reduce noise from approaching aircraft as the airport continues to grow.
It is great that there are busy airports in this country, proving the case that you have made many times, Sir Christopher: that we are a global country open for business with the whole world. It is wonderful that communities from across the world are using the airport, but the impact on communities who live under the flightpaths are also of great concern to us all, and we should take into account the impact of each aircraft that arrives or leaves.
I am well aware of the London airspace management programme and of the importance of getting it to properly reflect the views of communities. The global implementation of P-RNAV—precision area navigation—will require more to be done to reduce noise, but it will not be implemented until the early 2020s. Communities such as ours need action to address the problem now.
This may surprise you, Sir Christopher, but extraordinarily enough, I would like to acknowledge the change in attitude from Gatwick airport. Not only does it say that it is helping with the work of the London airspace management programme, which I welcome, but it has listened more in recent days and its attitude has improved dramatically since I first met its representatives in 2014.
The arrivals review was much needed and proposed some good ideas. I am grateful for the work done on it by Bo Redeborn and Graham Lake, whom I am glad to see in the Gallery today, and for the community representation, but it needs to go further. For example, modifications have been made to the whine of the Airbus A320 that many of us will have heard. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who worked so hard to achieve those modifications, is not present, but I know that he is on Government business abroad—he is in our thoughts, and I know we are in his. The modifications are welcomed by all communities, but they are not enough and they were even agreed before the arrivals review was completed.
Recommendation 11 of the review would have provided a fair solution, utilising both sides of the airport equally on days with no wind, but it was rejected. It should have happened as part of the commitment to implement the review in full. It has also been admitted by almost all those involved that recommendation 10—widening the swathe—will not alone cure the problem, so we clearly do not have the solution to the noise issue.
Growth comes at a price to the communities affected. The impact of both arrivals and departures is heard for many miles around on all sides. Complaints continue to increase and new protest groups have sprung up all over Kent, Surrey and Sussex. These folk are protesting not because they want to, because they have nothing better to do or because they have a history of direct action, but because aircraft approaching Gatwick are having a serious impact on their lives, their health, their children’s development and their right to enjoy their properties in peace.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I know that he has done a great deal of work on the matter and that it has caused grave difficulties in his constituency. Does he agree that one of the problems of dealing with Gatwick—indeed, with any airport—is that people must be able to trust the information that they get from it? In East Grinstead in my constituency, there are constant complaints about erring off the straight and narrow. It is clear that trust has broken down between residents and the airport. What suggestions does my hon. Friend have for a remedy? Does he agree that it is a very serious problem?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for expressing that essential point. The noise management board, which is part of the solution, has begun that work, but of course it cannot solve the problem alone. As he would expect, I will come on to the Department for Transport and its role in restoring trust. I welcome his points.
I remember David Wetz, who lives in Chiddingstone, telling me last summer that he was unable to enjoy his daughter’s birthday celebration properly outside because normal conversation simply was not possible in the garden. That is a disgrace. It is not a matter of nimbyism. It is about people wanting to live a normal life without having a motorway built over their heads.
As representatives in Parliament of communities such as Chiddingstone, we are responsible for representing their interests to the Government—I pay tribute not only to the right hon. and hon. Members present, but to the many others who have joined groups with us. It is clear that we need to enforce a better balance between the interests of the aviation industry and of local people affected by noise. Successive Governments have designed policies that seek to achieve that balance, but we must consider whether Gatwick is complying with them and whether the Department for Transport is enforcing them in its role as noise regulator.
The key policy—it is a welcome policy—on noise is the 2013 aviation policy framework, which clearly stated Government policy on aviation noise as
“to limit and where possible reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise”.
I know that the debate is about Gatwick, but the same issue affects other airports. Belfast City airport has a cut-off time of 9.30 pm for aeroplanes to land. Obviously there are cases in which aeroplanes land later, but a system of fines is in place and the money goes into the community. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what happens at Belfast City—a smaller airport, but one that is surrounded by houses—could well be helpful for his investigations, and indeed for the Minister and his Department?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has come up with some suggestions, and I would be happy to look into them later. In fact, some interesting work has been done on the approaches to Schiphol airport with respect to the effect of laying out the ground on how sound travels. There are interesting ideas out there, and I certainly welcome looking at Belfast’s example.
The policy set out by the Government is clear: they do not endorse any increase in the number of people significantly affected by aircraft noise. That approach is a welcome change, but Civil Aviation Authority data demonstrates that it is not being followed. Since the policy was introduced and the flightpaths were altered radically in 2013, Gatwick has increased its flight numbers by 12% and its passenger numbers by 22%, but the number of people significantly affected has not reduced. In fact, it has risen every year.
The Minister will know about the 57-decibel average noise contour—after all, it is the Government’s preferred noise impact measure. Using that calculation, the number of people affected by aircraft noise has increased by 27% since 2013. Looking at it geographically, the affected area has increased by 8% across Kent, Surrey and Sussex over the same period. Using the Government’s preferred data method, we can show that noise is continuing to get worse in the communities affected, despite the policy. My question for the Minister is clear: why have the Government failed to implement the aviation policy framework in full? Their own figures clearly show that the number of people being significantly affected by aircraft noise has increased.
The aviation policy framework rightly looks at sharing the benefits of growth between the aviation industry and local communities. Indeed, to quote it directly:
“The industry must continue to reduce and mitigate noise as airport capacity grows”.
I hope everyone includes in their definition of “the industry” airlines, airports, National Air Traffic Services, the Civil Aviation Authority and all those industry representatives who sit on Gatwick airport’s noise management board. Have the benefits of growth been shared? Certainly, many people are benefiting from the airport—Gatwick and the air industry have grown—but both collectively and within their individual areas of responsibility, they have not done enough to reduce noise.
I am afraid that it remains unclear what the industry has done so far, particularly away from the confines of the noise management board. At the Gatwick airspace seminar and noise management board public meeting only last month, we heard that the airport requires airlines to contribute to the reduction of noise. We also heard very clearly from the chair of the noise management board, Bo Redeborn, that this issue would not be considered because it is outside the terms of reference of the board. However, in a letter to me and six other colleagues on
I am disappointed that repeatedly the Department for Transport seems unwilling to take a view on whether its aviation policy framework is being properly implemented or not. My view, however, is clear: I agree with Bo. It cannot be left solely to the noise management board, although it definitely has a role. The line from the policy is clear and it is the whole industry that needs to do more, individually and collectively, to reduce and mitigate noise. Passing the issue to the noise management board for its consideration is being used as a reason not to enforce policy, which is a great shame. My second question to the Minister is this: what steps will he or his Department take to ensure that the industry will reduce and mitigate noise on its own, outside of the agreed work programme of the noise management board?
Finally, I will again quote from the aviation policy framework—everybody’s favourite bedtime reading. The framework says it is clear that the Government want
“to incentivise noise reduction and mitigation”.
Sadly, in the considerable correspondence that I have had with the Department for Transport over the past few years, I cannot find many examples to highlight what incentives have been offered for noise reduction and mitigation. It seems that Gatwick airport’s compliance with the aviation policy framework is largely optional. As Gatwick, along with Heathrow and Stansted, is a noise-designated airport, the Secretary of State has direct responsibility for regulating noise at the airport. It is for the Department for Transport to ensure compliance—that cannot be delegated down to the airport’s noise management board.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I will just say how important the south-east airports are to the regional airports and how important economically the south-east airports are to Aberdeen. I know that he will visit the north-east soon, so today I will highlight the heliport at Aberdeen. During his campaigning on noise, I would also like him to emphasise the issue of helicopters, because, as he is well aware, helicopters dwell, as opposed to just flying in on a flight-line. The residents of Dyce, near Aberdeen International airport, are blighted by the noise from helicopters. I would be very grateful if he could remember helicopters as well as fixed-wing aircraft.
I will be absolutely delighted to remember that. Helicopters are not an enormous issue around the area that I represent, but the issue does arise, and when I am up in the north-east of Scotland I will look out keenly for helicopters.
Community groups, including those who are not affected by helicopters, are represented on Gatwick’s noise management board and wrote to the Secretary of State on
As Gatwick is a noise-designated airport, the Department for Transport is responsible for regulating noise at Gatwick and it must take its role as a regulator far more seriously, so my third question to the Minister is this: what measures will he or his Department take to deliver a reduction in noise that meets the aims of the Government’s policy regarding the significant growth of Gatwick airport in recent years? I am sure that that question will be familiar to the Secretary of State because it is exactly the same one that we put in writing in November last year and that was not answered properly in his response on
To be clear, three issues clearly arise from the motion. The first is that more needs to be done to ensure that the aviation policy framework is enforced in full; the second is that the industry needs to do much more to reduce noise; and the third and final one is that the Department for Transport needs to take its role as a noise regulator more seriously.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. I welcome the fact that he is here—I appreciate that the Aviation Minister sits in the other place and that my hon. Friend is, as it were, taking one for the team. It is very welcome that he is responding on her behalf.
Before I wrap up, I should emphasise that the only reason I called for this debate is that it is evident that the Department for Transport can do more, should do more and must do more to deliver peace to west Kent. As Gatwick is a noise-designated airport, the Department’s role in this regard is to fulfil its statutory responsibility. A Government should be able and willing to implement the policies that they have introduced. That is all we ask the Department for Transport to do. It should not be the job of local communities to hold Gatwick airport to account with regard to its growth and consequent noise reduction measures.
I urge the Minister to meet me and representatives of local community groups, including the excellent Gatwick Obviously Not! group, which is based in Penshurst—some of its members are represented in the Gallery today. They can express to the Minister in words that are even clearer than mine exactly what the impact is. I look forward to hearing hon. Members’ comments.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and I congratulate Tom Tugendhat on securing this debate on an issue that affects not only Gatwick but other airports, like the one in my own constituency of Edinburgh West. Residents living around Edinburgh airport are constantly bothered by the number of planes and the noise they make. Nevertheless, Edinburgh airport is a vital and growing hub for tourism and industry, not only for my city but—
Indeed; I understand completely. I was simply going to relate how similar the issue is in Gatwick and in Edinburgh, and how—perhaps—Gatwick airport is an example of what we should be pursuing across the country. Unlike Gatwick, Edinburgh airport is not an airport that is particularly restricted at night by legislation. Like at Gatwick, however, as Colin Clark mentioned, the problem is endured at a number of airports around the country, and Gatwick provides us with an example that we could perhaps follow.
The general volume of air traffic in this country has grown significantly over the past 10 or 20 years. At Edinburgh airport, we now have 12.4 million passengers annually. I imagine that that number of passengers is not as large as the number at Gatwick, which I understand is owned by the same company that owns Edinburgh airport. There is a direct connection between the two. What we have to do with both is find a way to balance the needs of the communities around the flight path and the needs of the airport.
It should not be a burden to live near an airport. An airport should be an asset, and communities such as those in my constituency—Cramond, South Queensferry and Ratho— that are constantly disrupted in their night- time routines should not be expected to suffer that without some support, including legislative support if necessary, from the Government. Indeed, those residents brought me some evidence to me—I am sure it is relevant to Gatwick as well—of how there is a link—
Order. I well understand that the hon. Lady has a deep constituency interest in Edinburgh airport, but this debate is about Gatwick airport. Frankly, I think it is very unfair of her to use examples from her constituency to try to produce a nebulous connection between Edinburgh airport and Gatwick airport. If the hon. Lady wishes to speak about Gatwick airport and the subject matter of this debate, which is growth and noise reduction at Gatwick, she can continue to do so. If not, I will call the next speaker.
Apologies. I was simply wishing to illustrate that residents around Gatwick will be suffering from the same sort of inconvenience. The evidence that has been brought to me appears to show a link between the sleep disruption caused by aircraft noise, particularly at night, and conditions such as high blood pressure, stress and coronary problems. Noise between 10 pm and midnight—the evening period, rather than the overnight period—is a particular problem at all airports, but specifically at Gatwick, given the number of flights involved.
Gatwick is an illustration of the problem, and it shows exactly why we need some legislation to control noise. The aircraft and airlines have improved the engines in recent years. Although easyJet is about to buy a fleet of jets that are much quieter than those it has currently, I doubt that one airline alone would be sufficient for residents around Gatwick. They would like to see more control and legislation that insists that more airlines use similar aircraft and includes restrictions on numbers and times. Gatwick is an example that we should take to the rest of the country. We should use it to show us where we should be going in having a balance between our communities and our airports.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and I congratulate you on your elevation. I welcome the initiative of my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat in calling this debate. As he explained, the background to it is a significant increase in the number of flights to and from Gatwick airport. Since 2013, the number of flights has increased by 12% and the number of passengers has increased by 22%. That has resulted in an increase in noise not just in the immediate vicinity of the airport, but in rural areas, such as the one I represent in Arundel and South Downs, in the approach to the airport for both take-off and arrival.
As my hon. Friend explained, the Government’s policy is that future aviation growth should share benefits between the industry and local communities. Therefore the question is: how is growth that has already taken place and future growth to be shared with the communities that many of us represent? So far as we can see, there has been no such sharing. There is no doubt that the increase in growth has been good for elements of the local economy, for those who are using the airport, including me, and for the country as a whole, but it is difficult to see a benefit for local communities, which calls into question whether the Government’s key objective is being fulfilled.
The Government’s second objective is to limit and where possible reduce noise. The second question is, therefore: to what extent has noise even been limited, let alone reduced? What precisely is their policy to ensure that the objective is met? That policy can be expressed only through the operation of Gatwick airport, and it is not at all clear that its noise management board is doing anything other than providing a talking shop where community groups are encouraged to make their representations known. Adjustments can be made to flight paths, approach lanes and so on, but there is no strategy to reduce noise. There are no metrics by which the airport can be held to account for that noise reduction. That is the key point: there is no plan.
The Government have effectively conceded that point, because their response to the concerns raised on our community’s behalf by various community groups and by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling on behalf of a number of us was to say, “There will be an aviation strategy that will look at how noise can be reduced.” It is wonderful to know that there will be an aviation strategy; it would be good to know when that aviation strategy is coming. My hon. Friend the Minister has been hard at work today—first thing this morning he was doing a debate on a different matter, which I also attended—but it would be good to know when the strategy is coming. Will he say a little more about how that might affect the reduction in noise that the Government are committed to? For all we know, that aviation strategy might be months or years down the line. We do not know what it will say on noise. At the moment, there is meant to be a policy to reduce noise. I return to the key question: why is there not a plan that Gatwick airport, which is making a great deal of money from this expansion in aviation—I am not criticising the expansion at all—must subscribe to that sets out how it will reduce noise?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat, because they have both made powerful points. I first took part in a debate on aviation noise 34 years ago, when Gatwick was in my constituency. We had to deal with the BAC 111, which made a noise like a screaming banshee. It is true to say that aircraft noise is much mitigated now. The point that my right hon. Friend makes is terribly important, because it requires only a tweak, not major change, and the absolute enforcement of discipline in terms of the pilots.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Only he could introduce phrases such as “screaming banshee” into a debate. He draws my attention to another point. Part of the increase in flights from Gatwick has been in long-haul flights, which are a relatively new development and mean much bigger planes. Even if the newer planes are less noisy, residents and groups such as Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions and the Association of Parish Councils Aviation Group—one of its representatives is a constituent—are saying that there has been an increase in noise as a consequence of the new flights. Will the Minister tell us more about the aviation strategy and when that is coming? Specifically, why is there not a plan ahead of that strategy that Gatwick is required to adhere to, setting out metrics for how the increase in passengers and flights over the last few years will be mitigated through noise reduction and how future growth will ensure a reduction in noise? It is no good just saying that there will be a strategy in the future; our communities want action now.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat on securing this important debate. In my constituency, it is estimated that 4,000 people are directly affected by aircraft noise from the planes at Gatwick airport. That figure relates to homes within a 20-mile radius of Gatwick, however many people further afield are also adversely affected. Since being elected in June last year, I have met community leaders from groups such as Pulborough Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions and Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions, representing residents in the villages of Ifold, Plaistow and Loxwood, all of whom are heavily impacted by the airport.
As my hon. Friend said, concerns were escalated in 2013 when the airport moved the minimum instrument landing system join point back from seven nautical miles to 10 nautical miles, which led to an increased concentration of arrival traffic over areas in my constituency. Since then, the arrivals review has led to the minimum join moving back to eight nautical miles, which has only partially addressed some of the residents’ concerns.
As we have all said, the benefits of Gatwick should not be overlooked in today’s debate. Gatwick airport adds £5.3 billion to the UK economy, and that figure is set to grow with the increase in passenger numbers and flights since 2013 that has been discussed already. The increase in aircraft using the airport has of course led to a higher usage of flight paths in and out of the area. Route 1, for example, flies over Plaistow and Durfold Wood, and has seen an increase of 6% in one year alone—2015-2016.
Part of Gatwick’s success has been realised through the growth in long-haul traffic, as my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert said. That growing market, although good economically, brings with it a greater noise burden for communities such as those in my constituency. Larger and louder aircraft have been flying in to land at low altitudes, some at less than 4,000 feet and as far out as 18 miles from the runway. Those same communities suffer arrivals too, turning at 3,000 feet above their homes. There is constant traffic in those areas.
The issue is one of balance. We must ensure that we meet the demand for international and regional connectivity, as that does benefit local businesses, travellers, holidaymakers, employees and the local economy. However, noise mitigation must be a priority to protect the communities that surround our airports. I welcome the work of the Gatwick noise management board, which brings together the community and the airport to share ideas and air concerns. I hope that all parties maintain that working relationship and ensure that it is not just a talking shop, but seeks the best outcomes for communities and businesses.
Continued community involvement is key, so I am pleased that the Government have decided to form an independent commission on civil aviation noise, with the aim of ensuring that all aerospace changes are properly considered, with the needs and concerns of local communities heard. The move to a more transparent air-management strategy can only benefit the airport and the people who live nearby. The introduction of options analysis in airspace will further that, allowing those who will be affected to engage with any changes that airports propose—at least, that is what I understand it will do. I am also pleased that the metrics and appraisal guidance to assess noise impacts are being updated to include a wider radius around the airport which will better represent the impacts of air traffic on the wider community. I particularly welcome that, having been woken up myself by a plane at 6 am last Saturday, despite living more than 30 miles away.
Tackling the challenge of aircraft noise pollution will be helped by developments in technology. Many advances have been made already, such as better air traffic control, which led to a reduction in stacking over airports. There is also a drive to produce quieter aircraft, as my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames just mentioned. I am optimistic that the market will rise to that challenge, but Gatwick also needs to ensure that it is using the latest in the quietest technology.
Having worked in the travel technology sector for more than 10 years, I am more than aware of the growing demands that the industry faces. There is a need for more capacity, and the UK must maintain its position as a global leader by being accessible internationally, particularly as we leave the European Union. However, the skies over the south-east of England are some of the busiest in the world, and as our airports grow to support our economic growth we must put the communities that live in their shadow at the heart of any changes that we make. We seek the support of the Department for Transport to lessen the burden of excessive airplane noise on those local communities.
I came to today’s debate very conscious of the noise problems experienced in Sussex, Surrey and Kent, but I am a broad-minded fellow, Sir Christopher, and I also recognise the difficulties faced by constituents in Edinburgh, particularly when there are flights taking off no doubt to go to Gatwick. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat for introducing the debate. For a debate that is focused on noise-deadening, my hon. Friend is clearly today soft of voice, but as ever loud in impact. I share his frustration and much of his prescription.
I am very conscious that my constituency of Horsham has seen the largest concentration of flight paths since the change to departures originated by Gatwick in 2014. My constituency, notably the village of Copthorne, to the east of Gatwick, is affected, as is a very large swathe of my constituency to the west, which gets no respite, with multiple departure routes and arrivals day and night. I understand the yield management rationale for Gatwick to increase the number of long-haul flights, but as my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert mentioned, that has, in the view of many of our constituents, made a bad noise problem worse. While I am on the subject, I also agree with his comments regarding the noise management board.
There are joint interests right across the swathe of counties affected by Gatwick, but I must emphasise how deeply affected those rural communities that lie close to the airport are. Those communities suffer most from constant noise. Night noise, as has been mentioned, is a major issue. The impacts need to be shared to give communities periods of respite. May I particularly say, at the outset, that it is simply not acceptable for people in communities that already suffer greatly to have their lives made even more miserable through increases in night-time noise caused by a decrease in the joining point for arrivals—a point on which I respectfully, and most unusually, differ from my hon. Friend Gillian Keegan.
Germane to the issue of noise is the overall increase in pressure on our communities from all aspects of pollution arising from Gatwick’s expansion. An increase in passenger numbers of 8%, with an aspiration to 50 million, has an inevitable impact on local road and rail congestion to constituencies immediately around Gatwick, with air and noise pollution adding to the inevitable difficulties that my constituents face daily on our road networks and on Southern Railway, through extra congestion produced by increased utilisation of the airport. For any hon. Member who doubts the ongoing difficulties on Southern Railway, may I recommend the debate on rail franchising that is currently taking place in the main Chamber—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is speaking at the moment. I daresay that many of us will head there next.
My constituents suffer particularly from congestion and noise pollution, but I recognise that they are far from unique, with the number of air traffic movements growing every year since 2013, by 12% in total. I do not object to Gatwick seeking to maximise the utilisation of its current footprint, but what we have every right to expect and insist upon is that it adheres to the spirit and the letter of the aviation policy framework published in 2013, as set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling. It states that
“future growth in aviation should ensure that benefits are shared between the aviation industry and local communities.”
My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs drew the House’s attention to the fact that there has been a significant improvement in Gatwick’s bottom line. I have seen estimates of £350 million to £450 million. Even at the bottom end of that scale, on the basis of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and an amortisation multiple of seven for such a cash-flow generative business, an increase in value of some £2.5 billion would be expected. Those benefits must be shared with the community in the form of aggressive attempts by Gatwick to cut down and mitigate noise pollution. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling referred to Bo Redeborn and Graham Lake, who are in the Gallery today.
Many hon. Members mentioned the arrivals review. There was also promise of a departures review, which we are yet to see. There is so much more that can be done with Gatwick; it is not unreasonable for our constituents to expect to see it, nor is it unreasonable to expect the Department to be rigorous in ensuring that Gatwick observes the Department’s declared policy. I await with interest the Minister’s concluding remarks.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate Tom Tugendhat on securing this important debate.
The aviation sector is one of Britain’s success stories and, as the UK’s second biggest airport, Gatwick is an important factor in that. Gatwick contributes £5.3 billion to UK GDP, as well as generating 85,000 jobs nationally, with around 24,000 on the wider airport campus alone. However, we all recognise that aviation noise can be a source of constant annoyance to those who live under airport flightpaths, and causes tension between airport authorities, airlines and local communities. As well as the annoyance and disruption, there are genuine public health concerns about exposure to aviation noise. In January 2016, the Aviation Environment Federation published a report stating that, in the UK, more than 1 million people are exposed to aircraft noise above levels recommended for the protection of health.
I am aware that Gatwick is trying its best to address the issue through a series of initiatives. In January 2016, it set up an independent noise management board, which includes community groups, industry experts and other stakeholders. Some of the actions it has taken include incentivising airlines through its charging regime to modify aircraft to reduce aircraft noise and increasing continuous descent operations, for which it is the No. 1 performing airport, with a CDO performance level of about 90%. Extending the boundary of their noise insulation scheme by 15 km to the east and west has also been helpful. There is more that could be done, but it needs to be addressed as an industry, with the support of the Government.
In April 2013, Sustainable Aviation produced a noise road map showing how aviation can manage noise from aircraft operations between now and 2050. Improved technology means that aircraft designs today are 75% quieter than they were 50 years ago. As a result, the population affected by aircraft noise around airports has fallen substantially, despite a significant growth in air traffic. The road map shows that continued investment in research and development has the potential to build on that success and reduce noise from aircraft by a further 65% by 2050.
In order to achieve that, the Government need to be doing more to assist the industry and to encourage further research into new technologies. The UK has the potential to be a world leader in the sector. What are the Government doing to support research into new aircraft and engine technologies?
I would also like to ask the Minister about airspace design. There is scope to further reduce noise output through improvements in the way airports, airlines and air traffic management operate. The aviation sector is already investing in new technology and new airspace design to ensure a lower noise impact. However, it has told me it could do more. Improvements such as steeper approaches require additional changes to airspace and operational controls. What are the Government doing to help bring those changes about?
Finally, will the Minister provide an update on the independent commission on civil aviation noise? The Government’s response to the consultation on UK airspace policy states that they intend to set up the commission by spring 2018. We welcome that decision. However, the commission will not have any enforcement powers or an ombudsman role or any other statutory role, which begs the question as to what it will actually do. Given that the issue of an independent aviation authority or noise ombudsman, as it is sometimes referred to, was put forward by the Airports Commission in 2015, will the Minister give us an idea of when the commission will get the statutory powers that it requires?
May I say what a delight it is to have you in the chair, Sir Christopher, especially in your recently dignified form? I congratulate my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat on securing this debate about growth and noise reduction at Gatwick, and all those Members who have spoken. My hon. Friend has proved himself on this issue as on every other to be an indefatigable campaigner—a tribune of his people—and still more strikingly so with a voice that is obviously failing under him. We can only congratulate him on his courage and resolution.
As my hon. Friend acknowledged, this matter falls briefly but unhappily into what might be referred to as a ministerial limbo, and therefore I am responding on behalf of the Government—I should say that I am very far from an expert on these matters, as I fear will become strikingly clear with the passage of time. I also pay tribute and offer my pity, if I may, to my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert for having to put up with me twice in a single day, once on transport for the north and once on noise in the south. Those issues are not necessarily as different as one might think.
As hon. Members will be aware, the Government recognise that noise disturbance from aircraft is a serious concern to local communities. The concern can be still more pronounced when an airport is experiencing growth of the kind that has been seen at Gatwick. The Government’s role is to ensure that the right balance is struck locally and nationally between the environmental impacts and the economic and consumer benefits that aviation growth can deliver. Those environmental impacts of course include noise.
I need hardly say that the value of aviation does not need to be debated in this Chamber. It connects us with the world and allows us to visit our friends and family, to conduct our business and to see foreign countries and further parts of this country. The sector is also, as has been recognised, a very important part of the economy, directly supporting more than 230,000 jobs with many more employed indirectly. It contributes around £20 billion annually to the UK economy. The inbound tourism industry alone across the country is worth a further £19 billion.
Although there has been an aerodrome at Gatwick since the 1930s, the commercial airport as we know it today was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1958. In its first year of operation, just 186,000 passengers passed through the airport. Today, it is the UK’s second largest airport and helps take more than 44 million passengers to 228 destinations in 74 countries around the world every year.
As has been recognised by several hon. Members, Gatwick is a very important local employer—it is important to put that on public record again from the Government perspective. Almost 24,000 people work on the Gatwick campus across 252 different companies, with 2,800 directly employed by the airport. Nationally, the airport supports a further 61,000 jobs and contributes more than £5 billion towards our GDP. As such, it is a key part of our national infrastructure. Its local economic impact and the local economic value of its recent growth are significant drivers of growth and prosperity in the south-east. That means better pay, more jobs, stronger local businesses and growing asset values.
The Government recognise and have made clear that the benefits of airport growth must not come without due consideration and mitigation of the environmental impacts of aviation, in particular those impacts caused by the noise generated by aircraft. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling mentioned, the Government’s policy, as set out in the aviation policy framework, is
“to limit and where possible reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise.”
My colleagues have recently brought forward new policies and measures in line with that aim. It has been suggested that nothing has happened, but I understand that that is not true and I want to put some of the measures on the public record. They can then be discussed and debated and used as a framework for further discussion.
As hon. Members are aware, the Government set noise controls at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports using powers in the Civil Aviation Act 1982. My Department has the power to direct those airports, including Gatwick, to fine for noise infringements. I have no doubt that Gatwick’s management are, or shortly will be, following this debate closely. The responsibility—as matters presently stand, pending a further aviation strategy—lies with Gatwick, as advised, with potential enforcement from the Department.
One of the main controls the Government set is restrictions on operations at night time, because we recognise that noise from aircraft at night is, among many unacceptable aspects of aircraft noise, widely regarded as the least acceptable. In October last year, the Government introduced changes to improve the night flight regime. By introducing a new quota count category for the quietest aircraft, the Government are seeking to improve transparency for communities and to ensure that all aircraft movements will count towards an airport’s movement limit, whereas before such aircraft were exempt.
I reassure hon. Members that the Government have maintained the previous movement limit for night flights at Gatwick, which has been fixed for many years. It will guarantee until 2022 no increase in flights beyond what was already permitted. Furthermore, among other measures, from later this year there will be a reduction in Gatwick’s quota count limit, which should incentivise airlines to purchase quieter aircraft to make use of the airport’s permitted noise and movement allowances.
Separately, last October the Government published our decision on how we aim to support airspace modernisation, which includes new policies to ensure noise is more thoroughly considered in these important decisions. As hon. Members may know, the way our airspace is managed is based on arrangements that are in many cases almost 50 years old. In today’s world, that approach is increasingly inefficient, and can lead to unnecessary delays for passengers and an excessive impact on the environment around airports. We therefore need to modernise our airspace to enable the UK to keep pace with the rest of the world in exploiting the newest technologies. Advances in technologies have provided great improvements in the environmental performance of aircraft airframe design and engines, in terms of both noise and carbon emissions, and that has had a substantial effect on the noise experienced on the ground. For example, new-generation aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 737 MAX have a noise footprint that is typically 50% smaller on departure and 30% smaller on arrival than the aircraft they are replacing.
We expect aircraft noise to continue to fall in the future, compared with today’s levels, and we believe that that trend has the potential to outweigh the noise generated from increases in air traffic. My right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames, who is no longer in his place, discussed the screaming banshee of the BAC 111. There is no doubt that, as it and the A320 indicate, tweaks to aircraft design can greatly improve noise performance. As he said, the noise experienced over the past few years may have actually decreased by some measurements. I respectfully suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling that it may not be correct to measure from just 2013. Possibly the correct measurement for noise is to look at before the recession of 2007-08—the Gordon Brown recession, as I like to refer to it—when noise levels were not quite at the level they are now in terms of the number of people affected, but were certainly significantly higher than in the intervening period.
I am wont to be pedantic with the Minister, but he understands better than anybody, having represented his community in Herefordshire so assiduously for so long, that, although an incremental change downwards is to be welcomed, but should an uptick come, it is hard to remember where we were 10 years ago—it is very easy to remember where we were before the uptick.
I am exceedingly aware of that. It is generally a feature of human consciousness that we ignore the things we benefit from but are extremely angry if things we enjoy are taken away from us. This is an example of that. I would not derogate for a second from what my hon. Friend said.
To say that we believe that the trend has the potential to outweigh the noise generated from increases in air traffic is, of course, not to say that as aircraft get quieter there are not difficult issues that need to be addressed with the implementation of the new technology. One major component of airspace modernisation—some hon. Members touched on this—is performance-based navigation, which allows aircraft to fly their flightpaths far more accurately than they could with previous navigation techniques. That has obvious benefits in terms of noise, because populated areas can be better avoided, but it also poses challenges—I do not need to remind hon. Members that with great power comes great responsibility —particularly in its effect on those directly underneath flight paths that experience a greater concentration of aircraft. That requires proper administration and control, and a sensible and considered approach. That is why the Government have brought about a new requirement for options analysis to be used when developing proposals to change the use of airspace. That will enable communities to take part in a more transparent airspace change process, and it ensure that options such as concentrated routes versus multiple routes and the degree of respite that can be offered, which has been discussed today, can be given proper consideration.
The Government recognise through the 2014 “Survey of Noise Attitudes” that attitudes towards aviation noise are changing. That goes to my hon. Friend’s point. The work carried out during the SONA study shows that sensitivity to aircraft noise has increased. The same percentage of people are registered as “highly annoyed” at lower levels of noise than in a past study. That is what we should see in an increasingly prosperous society. The threshold for interruptions and loss of amenity should go up. That is not a bad thing by any means, although it might be highly distressing for those involved. That is why the Government have introduced new metrics and appraisal guidance to assess the impact of noise on health and quality of life. In particular, it will ensure that for future airspace changes, noise impacts much further away from airports are considered much more than they are at present.
As Karl Turner mentioned, the Government have also committed to creating an independent commission on civil aviation noise later in the spring. ICCAN, as it is known, is designed to help rebuild some of the communities’ trust in the industry that we recognise has been lost, and will ensure that the noise impacts of airspace changes are properly considered. Communities will be given a greater understanding of and stake in noise management.
Alongside the Government’s work, Gatwick, which in this case is the responsible entity, is seeking to address the concerns of the communities surrounding the airport. I welcome the tone of the constructive remarks in relation to how Gatwick is engaging with those around it. In response to the significant concerns raised in 2014 and 2015 about Gatwick-related aircraft noise, the airport has launched several programmes of community engagement, most notably the noise management board, which is independently chaired and attended by representatives from several local community groups. Its role is to develop, agree, and maintain a co-ordinated strategy for noise management for Gatwick on behalf of stakeholder organisations. My officials are actively involved in that work, and all evidence raised at the NMB is considered in the development of Government policy. If it is for Gatwick, as the responsible entity, to take action, it can do so under advisement from the NMB.
Furthermore, and in accordance with its obligations under the environmental noise directive, Gatwick will later this year publish its draft noise action plan for 2019-23, which will provide an opportunity for the public to have their say on what it is doing to mitigate against noise. The final approval of the noise action plan falls to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but my officials will work closely with the airport and officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as the plan is developed.
Finally, I want to return to aviation in the national context and the aviation strategy, which has been discussed. It is subject to a process that is already under way. We seek for it to be comprehensive in its scope. It will seek to address many important issues, such as security, connectivity and skills, and the development of innovation and new technology, which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East raised—I have some experience of our great investment from when I was at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy through the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation programme, and our relationship with some of the big aircraft manufacturers. Hon. Members may be pleased to know that one of its objectives is to consider how we support growth while tackling the environmental impact of aviation. As the Secretary of State said in his recent letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling, one of the issues that the Department wants to consider is whether there should be new framework to allow airports to grow sustainably. That means looking at trends in aviation noise over the long term and how they relate to growth in aircraft movements.
I want to give my hon. Friend a moment to finish, so I will speak for just a second longer. This issue is relevant not just to Gatwick, but to all airports across the UK, and it demands a national approach. We cannot prejudge the process, but one of its outcomes may be that we will want to clarify our existing aviation policy and how it should be monitored and enforced. My colleagues and I recognise the importance of accountability, and that may well be something that needs to be considered as part of a more developed overall aviation strategy framework.
As I have described, that work is going to start this year. It is quite substantial, and there will be several levels of consultation. I cannot tell my right hon. Friend when it is going to end. It is the nature of these things that they are open-ended, but it is very much at the forefront of my colleagues’ minds.
The Government recognise that colleagues from across the House and the communities they serve want faster progress, both at Gatwick and at other airports, but we believe that the new aviation strategy is the best vehicle by which to co-ordinate and implement any potential change in a properly informed and considered way. As I said, there will be a series of consultations. I will relay the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling for a further meeting with my colleague the Aviation Minister, and I am sure she will take it with great seriousness. I thank him for securing this constructive debate, and I thank hon. Members from across the House for their valuable contributions.
I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who has arrived in the nick of time. His presence and support is always gratefully received.
I want to reinforce three very brief points. The Minister responsible should take time out of her schedule to meet the community groups and the noise management board. Gatwick Obviously Not! and other groups have done an awful lot to ensure that their requests are not only appropriate and reasonable, but well argued and practical to implement. I also suggest that, as the London airspace management programme phase 2 is developed, it should take into account the full review of airspace policy that the Government have promised. The policy must not weaken the relationship between growth and noise. Indeed, it should be tightened.
I thank my right hon. Friends the Members for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) and for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Gordon (Colin Clark), for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) and for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), and for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), for their contributions. I thank the Minister for responding for the Government.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (