§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me tonight to raise a matter of great concern to a large number of my constituents.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) on his appointment as Under-secretary of State for Trade and Industry and his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. I wish him every possible success in his first office, though I feel it is a little hard on him that on his first day in office he should have to reply on this very contentious matter. I am sure he will be more than equal to it. I hope he will show the same sympathetic concern for the problem of aircraft noise as has been shown by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade over the past two years.
In Twickenham we are grateful for the recent decision to ban night jet flights taking off from Heathrow Airport for the coming summer season. Since1970 I had written to my right hon. Friend on dozens of occasions on behalf of aggrieved constituents. On 30th September last year he visited Twickenham at my invitation to meet representatives of local amenity societies and other local representatives. We had an outspoken discussion and six weeks later he banned night jet take-offs. I like to think that we in Twicken- 990 ham played some part in setting the scene for that important decision. The Minister had decided most courageously to place the peace and quiet and health of the people above powerful commercial interests who wanted a different decision.
On environmental grounds, we also warmly welcomed the Government's decision to site the third London Airport at Foulness
However, I hope the Government will not rest on their laurels. Aircraft noise as a cause of grievance cuts right across the community.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Rossi.]
§ Mr. Jessel
It affects many people of all ages and both sexes, and of every occupation. No one should make the mistake of seeing the protest against aircraft noise as a cause espoused primarily by cranks and fanatics. It is a major grievance of ordinary sensible people.
Here are some quotations from letters which I have received from constituents. The Secretary of the Strawberry Hill Residents' Association wrote:Aircraft noise in our area has become so intense that it interferes seriously with most civilised activities. Concerts, musical evenings, teaching and speech days at schools, debates, church services, listening to radio and television, just plain relaxing in gardens, or conversation—it has all become hellish.Our Committee, which decidedly does not consist of old fogies and backwoodsmen but of people who travel by air quite frequently, maintains that if the country's economy depends on permitting such excrescences throughout society, there will be no place worth living and no life worth living before very long.A lady in Teddington wrote to me last month:We left Richmond, at considerable inconvenience, as my husband works near there, largely in order to escape the incessant noise of aircraft landings. Do we now find ourselves under a new route for take-offs? I am writing in exasperation and despair as my 1½-year-old son wakes screaming each time yet another jet takes off overhead.An old-age pensioner in Twickenham wrote to me two weeks ago:It seems this last few weeks to have become incessant and unbearable every day, from early morning till late at night, Sundays included.991 Another lady living in Teddington has written:Please, please, do all in your power to remove the curse under which we in Teddington are suffering. I refer to the aircraft screaming out of Heathrow, right over the roofs of our houses. We live in a flat only 50 yards away from Teddington Hospital. The noise from the planes nearly drives us up the wall. So God knows what effect it has on the sick folk in the hospital.The Twickenham constituency is badly affected by aircraft taking off from Heathrow on about one day in three when, due to a prevailing east wind component of five knots or more, aeroplanes take off towards the east before turning towards the south or south-west. As an east wind is often accompanied by good weather, we tend to get the noise when people most want to be in their gardens.
There are two routes which pass over our area. First there is the Dover Two route, which passes over Whitton and west and south Twickenham and Ham towards the coast at Dover. Second, there are the combined Ibsley and Seaford routes, which part from the Dover Two route at Strawberry Hill, where they turn southwards over the middle of Teddington. The path of the second of these two routes was changed in November, 1971. Previously it had gone over Hampton Village in my constituency and onwards into the vicinity of Esher and Walton, which lie beyond and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), who shares my great concern on this matter.
There were numerous complaints from those places, and the Minister decided to alter the flight path so that aircraft could pick a more accurate line along the valley of the River Mole between Esher and Walton, avoiding Hampton Village entirely. Since November complaints from Hampton have stopped, but there are now a great many from Teddington and the south side of Twickenham. I expect that my hon. Friend will have found that his Department has had a similar experience.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
My hon. Friend is making an excellent case, which, I can confirm to the Minister, is endorsed by many residents of the area, including myself. He has said that things have improved in Hampton, but the trouble is that aircraft appear 992 now not to be adhering to either route. The trouble is still bad in between the two, and there seems to be no control whatever over where these aircraft are going.
§ Mr. Jessel
I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for his intervention. He lives by Taggs Island, halfway between Hampton Village and Hampton Court. There is some evidence of aircraft not adhering strictly to the lines which were determined for them, but the fact is that for the first time there is an official route passing over the centre of the densely populated part of the town of Teddington and this is causing distress, which seems likely to increase as the summer season goes on unless some action is taken by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.
What do we ask him to do now? I feel very strongly that the route should be taken right away from the present line through Teddington town and Strawberry Hill and Twickenham Green where such a large number of people live. Whilst, of course, I would like aircraft noise to be removed entirely from my constituency, I must be realistic. I know that aircraft have to take off sometimes towards the east for safety reasons and that, therefore, they have to turn towards the south or south-west, but if we must have aircraft going over my constituency, and there is a wide angle from Twickenham Bridge north-east of Hampton Village and to the south-west, I hope they will be compelled to follow a route which I have proposed in writing to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and which was worked out by a constituent of mine, Captain C. E. Moss of Whitton, who is a senior pilot in a famous airline and who trains other pilots to fly Boeings and so he knows what is feasible. I am grateful to him for producing a constructive suggestion.
The route which he has proposed and which I have forwarded to the Department over flies open spaces as much as possible and built-up areas as little as possible. Within my constituency aircraft would take the Ibsley and Seaford routes over Fulwell Golf Course, Hampton Hill Crossroads and Bushey Park to near Hampton Court Palace where they would curve into the line of the Mole Valley.
993 The line for the Dover Two route would follow the same line to the centre of Bushey Park where, instead of curving south, they would continue to the southern extremity of Hampton Court Park, crossing the Thames between Surbiton and Long Ditton. These last mentioned places are much farther away from the airport than Twickenham or Strawberry Hill where the Dover Two route is across at present, so that aircraft would fly at a much greater height and raise less noise than they do at Twickenham now.
Both these routes which I am proposing are over or near my own home close to Hampton Court Palace. I dislike aircraft noise as much as anyone, but I believe that these routes would affect as few as possible of my constituents, and I am therefore proposing them in the interests of the greatest possible number. I can only hope that this thought may be some comfort to the minority who may be affected by the proposed routes. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will act, and act soon.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Cranley Onslow)
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) for the kind remarks with which he introduced this subject. I must tell him that there is nothing worse than sitting in the pavilion all day with pads on, and so I am grateful to him for arranging for me to be called, even if a bit unexpectedly, and I am particularly grateful to him for his kind advice.
I think it is a matter of great selflessness in him to have volunteered to have aircraft over flying his own house, but let me, as someone who has just the same experience, tell him that I think that it is necessary that we should recognise that somebody has to be overflown, and why should it not be Members of Parliament as well as anybody else? There is no doubt that aircraft noise causes considerable concern, and my hon. Friend has recognised this in previous speeches in the House. He has in this speech recognised also the close and sympathetic attention that the Government are giving to this difficult problem. The Government's general intention is to contain and reduce aircraft noise in areas where it is 994 a serious problem, as it is in the London area, as far as is reasonably possible.
It is nevertheless a difficult and complex problem, and there is no immediate or complete solution. The question is to find a reasonable balance between the undoubted claims of those who, as in Twickenham and other areas around Heathrow, are so unfortunately disturbed and the valid claims of commerce, the air transport industry, employment and those who want to fly or must fly. Very often the same people fit into two different categories. It has even been known for pilots to complain about aircraft noise. I am encouraged to see the constructive attitude which my hon. Friend's constituent, Captain Moss, has adopted.
I will briefly sketch in the background. The problem of increased disturbance at Twickenham stems from two main sources over and above the element of disturbance which must be expected given that Heathrow is where Heathrow is and Twickenham is where Twickenham is. When the wind is in the west, as it normally is for about 70 per cent. of the time over a year, there is little or no disturbance to Twickenham, which lies four miles or so to the east of Heathrow, from take-offs in a westerly direction and no very great disturbance from landings. But areas lying to the east of Heathrow are particularly affected when easterly winds are prevalent, as they are usually for about 30 per cent. of the time over a year.
During the first three months of this year there has been a high incidence of easterly winds. In January 55 per cent. of departures had to be in an easterly direction because of the wind that prevailed. In February 54 per cent. of the departures had to be in an easterly direction, and in the first three weeks of March 57 per cent. This gives a proportion much in excess of the normal, which, as my hon. Friend has said, one might expect to be one day in three. The high levels of take-offs to the east must have contributed greatly to the recent levels of noise at Twickenham which lies under three of the main easterly departure groups, including the one leading to the Mole Valley.
It is difficult to see what can be done to alter this beyond the measures which are always taken to reduce noise to a 995 minimum at take-off in whichever direction it may be. As the year goes on I hope that the normal expectation of westerly operations will bring some relief and that the proportion will revert to a more usual level.
The second cause of disturbance at Twickenham may be found to arise from the revision of the routes last year to which my hon. Friend referred. This was carried out after careful consideration and after consultation with the Heathrow Consultative Committee. It involved a small change in the first few miles of the route that is flown immediately after take-off, and the purpose was to cause aircraft to overfly fewer people than before by taking advantage of the open space of Bushey Park. There was no intention of reducing noise in any other area at the expense of Twickenham.
Nevertheless, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) pointed out—and I envy him his residence—it began to appear that the revised route was not producing the effect intended and that the route was not being flown as accurately as one would have hoped, so that aircraft were over-flying some areas to the south-east of Heathrow in much greater numbers than before. It is fair to remember in this context that the few short minutes from the start of roll to the final attainment of a cruising altitude are probably the busiest minutes in the course of a pilot's day. There are stresses on the flight deck at that time which we need to bear in mind, and there is always the overriding consideration of safety which must determine the pilot's actions. Nevertheless, in the circumstances I have described, and as my hon. Friend knows, an undertaking was given to carry out an investigation to get to the root of the problem and to find out what could be done about it. That investigation was begun on 20th January and a considerable amount of work has now been carried out to establish the extent to which aircraft are deviating from the optimum track and to determine what remedial steps can be taken.
Meanwhile, my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham has put forward proposals for a possible revision of routes to avoid over-flying Twickenham. He has been kind enough to show me these, 996 and I can assure him that they are being considered in parallel with the general investigation. The final results of the evaluation of these proposed re-routings will not be available for a few more weeks, but I can at this stage say that in part—and I stress the phrase "in part"—they appear to be feasible and I am hopeful that they might yield some benefit in reducing noise disturbance. I will keep in touch with my hon. Friend about the progress of this evaluation.
Perhaps I can end by stressing again that, although at this moment our attention is concentrated on one particular problem, the Government in general are determined to contain and reduce disturbance from aircraft noise. In the short term the use of operational procedures which may help to reduce disturbance are under continuing review. We are also looking at the problem of night movements. In the longer term the Government are giving full support to efforts aimed at making new types of aircraft quieter. The noise certification regulations, which were recently passed by the House, is designed to ensure that they will be quieter. The House may like to know that the Government are also undertaking work and research on the difficult and complex problem of making current aircraft quieter. In particular, in regard to the engine most widely used by British operated aircraft, the Spey, the Department is funding immediately a programme of work in industry aimed at identifying the main noise sources of the engine and finding out how best to quieten them. In the long run the development of the third London airport will make it possible for the pressureon existing airports to be greatly relieved.
I hope that what I have said briefly on this important subject will give my hon. Friend the encouragement he asks for and his constituents some real hope of relief from the burden of noise which they have been undergoing recently. I hope that, above all, it will demonstrate the Government's determination to continue to play their full part in coping with a problem which is a matter of so much concern to so many.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Eighteen minutes past Ten o'clock.