§ 11.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
I am very grateful for the opportunity to initiate this Adjournment debate and I thank Mr. Speaker for making it possible.
I want to dwell on the need for a national airports policy. The subject is of constituency interest, not least as evidenced by the motion to be submitted this autumn by the Bradford, West Conservative Association to my party's annual conference, urging the Government to formulate a national airports policy to encourage the development of regional civil air transport facilities at airports like Leeds-Bradford in view of Britain's impending entry into the European Economic Community.
There is also country-wide concern. This is clear from the determined efforts on the one hand of progressive local airport authorities like that of the East Midlands airport, which is seeking to expand facilities to an inter-continental scale, and on the other hand from the much-publicised efforts of so-called environmentalists like the various campaigners against aircraft noise, whose most notorious achievement to date has been almost to drown the plaudits for Concorde's highly successful Far East sales tour with their protests, regardless of the mammoth employment implications inherent in the project. These campaigners have also been able to bring about the political overturn of all the principles of airline economics, regional planning and nature conservation through the political decision which they induced to locate a new intercontinental airport on a remote and unspoilt stretch of coastline, of rare and exceptionally wild beauty, in the south-eastern extremity of the country at Foulness.
As one of the leading protagonists of the extension of intermediate area status to Yorkshire, I yield to no one in my keenness for an active regional policy. 2219 Conservative Party policy always emphasises the importance of infrastructure and communications as concomitants to industrial development. To reinforce this view with regard to civil air transport, the evidence presented to the Edwards Committee by various regional bodies was unanimously of the opinion that—improved air services are an essential element of the policies needed to increase the rate of economic growth in the areas with which they are concerned. Views of this kind have been expressed not only in the evidence submitted to this Committee but also in official reports published by the Economic Planning Councils.Quotations from what has been said by two of those planning councils will exemplify the case. The North-West Economic Planning Council said:We think also that insufficient attention has ben paid so far to the development of 1st class air transport services in the North of England, as part of a national and international system.The Yorkshire and Humberside Economic Planning Council said:No other comparable concentration of population and industry in the country is so inadequately served by airports and air services as this region.The Edwards Committee suggested at paragraph 757:We are, moreover, predisposed to believe that good air services are important not only because of the direct use of them which may be made by businessmen in the pursuit of their trades, but also, and perhaps even more important, because of the psychological effect which the existence of air services will have on the willingness of executives and technicians to live and work in areas which might otherwise seem remote parts of the country.It is to the credit of the Government, and not least at the instigation of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, that the civil aviation policy guidance of February, 1972, to the Civil Aviation Authority explicitly directs in paragraph 20 that the CAA take accountof the contributions which both international and domestic air services may make to the regional, economic and social development in the United Kingdom.The limitation and constraint in these matters is contained in paragraph 25 which delineates the environmental criterion to be observed:The Authority will need to take full account of Government policies on the control of aircraft noise and the safeguarding of the environment and to advise the Government on these matters. It should assist 2220 the industry to meet and adapt to such requirements as may become necessary and should also assist the Government to implement them.In other words, before decisions such as the development of Foulness become irreversible there is at last the opportunity from a CAA review for a broad, nation-wide appraisal to be made by one expert body of the airport requirements for civil air transport in the United Kingdom. These will be the requirements that will be necessary for the whole of the last quarter of the twentieth century. Such a study must be expedited and it is my hope that, being served by informed, professional opinion rather than dictated by political pressures, the review will resolve many of the outstanding issues of current controversy.
First, the terms of reference should be wide enough to reverse the unbalancing effects of the South-Eastern geographical limitation of the Roskill Commission's terms of reference. For example, with the East Midlands airport so strategically located it would seem to make sense seriously to examine the possibility which its development could bring ]of offloading from the congested South-East many of the pressures in that overcrowded region. Since the Roskill Commission reported on the third London airport early last year we can now better assess the growth of air traffic. For example, we are in the jumbo jet era, soon the era of supersonics and air buses will be upon us and the time of restricted take-off and landing and quieter short take-off and landing operations is not far ahead.
Fully computerised air traffic control in terminal areas will increase the number of movements by at least 10 per cent. it has been estimated. The development of retro-fittable hush kits for existing power plants in airline service is not just a designer's dream. The practical impediments to production are now solely financial, from the point of view of the engine manufacturer and the compensation to airline operators. Quieter aircraft coming into service are already receiving special treatment which indicates that the noise bogey has been much exaggerated.
For example, although night movements at Luton Airport are to be cut by 25 per cent. next summer, this does 2221 not preclude an extra 340 night movements by Lockheed TriStars. In these current circumstances of growing congestion in the South-East and practical technical developments in aero-engineering, much fuller use must be made of regional airports for direct scheduled links with Europe, primarily to serve the business community, to provide services like the Leeds-Bradford-Amsterdam service or the East Midlands-Paris service, and also for inclusive tour and charter traffic. Business and executive aviation facilities should also be encouraged and I would be interested to hear my hon. Friend on this point.
Why should residents in the vicinity of Luton and Gatwick suffer from the noise of holiday charter traffic generated by a demand from the industrial North and the Midlands? Why should holiday-makers from those areas suffer uncomfortable extra hours on their journey by road in an all-too-short holiday instead of leaving from their own neighbourhood airport, particularly if it is an airport like Liverpool Speke which has every facility but is starved of traffic and consequently of revenue?
Let us, then, be positive. Instead of spending the equivalent of the British share of Concorde on Foulness and superimposing concrete on the sands at Maplin where the Brent geese winter, and necessarily building motorways and railway lines across country to serve it, let us at least consider using the same funding to give Britain a world-wide lead in quieter engines and short take-off and landing technology. This would provide all the beneficial implications for environment nation-wide and also give employment and export possibilities for the British aerospace industry.
Let us also develop existing airports, both regional and those belonging to the British Airports Authority, to the full. This surely is preferable to building on virgin land or on open country when in the foreseeable future aircraft demand for concrete will lessen and aircraft noise disturbance diminish, which will make, I believe, much more acceptable the development of airports nearer to city centres, as the Chicago experience has exemplified. In this respect the British Airports Authority's sound-proofing grants for property in the vicinity of Heathrow which are soon to be extended to Gatwick 2222 and possibly emulated at Manchester and Luton will be invaluable in the interim and could be emulated by local airport authorities with alleged aircraft noise problems which temporarily inhibit development at places like Leeds-Bradford.
I hope that more attention will be paid to the regional development aspects of airport policy. The Civil Aviation Authority and the Government must take a bold initiative in this regard. For example, to be parochial once more, it seems very strange that the Department of the Environment should initiate excellent motorway schemes in Yorkshire and special improvement areas and introduce 75 per cent. improvement grants for housing, largely for regional development purposes, and that the Department of Trade and Industry should be introducing intermediate area status to Yorkshire to stimulate employment and yet it does not encourage authorities like the Leeds-Bradford airport authority to develop its airport to the extent necessary for modern jet airline operations. In Germany, for example, every major city has a modern jet airport close at hand.
The Government, the CAA and local authorities must concert their efforts to encourage civil air transport in the regions while taking into account future technical developments in aviation, which the Metra survey for an airport for Yorkshire completely, and the Roskill Commission partially, failed to take into account. At the same time, from the environmental point of view, it should surely be unnecessary to gobble up any more large tracts of good farming or building land to lay down concrete for new airports in the last quarter of the twentieth century when the demand for concrete for aeroplanes will probably diminish. It must also be realised that it is impossible to quantify—as the various consultants and commissions, like Metra and the Roskill Commission, have done—in mathematical model form those incalculable aesthetic values which are ultimately only effectively judged in the analysis of human judgment.
§ 11.35 p.m.
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I want in my few remarks to 2223 support what my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) has said and to make a plea to the Minister to look at the national asset of Liverpool airport. We have the labour. We have first-class rail and road communications. We also have an area which even the environmentalists will not consider will be spoiled if it is developed further for air transport.
If it cannot be part of the national network, I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will give encouragement for Manchester and Liverpool to get together in some form of joint airport, because in terms of transport we are less than 20 minutes away from each other.
§ 11.36 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Cranley Onslow)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) for raising this subject and for his persistence in pursuing it. He has made a number of interesting points. He knows that we share the desire to see an effective national airports strategy. This must embrace airports and air services, although it is not necessarily my view that all will be solved at one stroke by the provision of a national plan. Experience does not suggest that that is necessarily the best answer.
My hon. Friend has given me a lot of ground to cover in a short time. At the outset, perhaps I should stress that the primary responsibility for airport planning now rests with the Civil Aviation Authority. Under Section 33(2) of the Civil Aviation Act, 1971, the authority is required to make recommendations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the provision and development of aerodromes over the country as a whole.
It is clear that the authority's considerations and decisions need to be co-ordinated. They have to be related to the conditions and plans of aviation as a whole and to other means of transport—roads and railways, especially when such developments as the advanced passenger train are taken into account. Both have an obvious effect on the continuing demand for internal air services and the viability of aerodromes. When one comes to consider the international factors, they 2224 seem even more imponderable. The Channel Tunnel, the competition of the new Paris airport at Roissy and the effect of developments at Schipol or Frankfurt illustrate the extreme difficulty of formulating one national plan and sticking to it.
It is important to establish demand, and here the basic research capability is now vested in the CAA, as well as the important connected responsibilities for route licensing and fare structure. This has been so onlysince 1st April of this year when the authority came into being. But I believe that the authority will prove a more effective means of meeting the need than perhaps we have had before, especially since the decisions associated with the location of the third London airport have removed some of the major uncertainties from the planners. When my hon. Friend asks for the decision to be unmade, I have to tell him that it is impossible. It would create an even greater degree of uncertainty than that of which he complains. He may not think that we are building on the right ground, but at least we know the ground on which we intend to build.
I assure my hon. Friend that the CAA is giving its task in respect of airports high priority. I am in close contact with it and the British Airports Authority about it. Earlier today I had a discussion with a member of the board of the CAA on this subject, not simply because of this debate but in the ordinary course of events. A number of points arose, and I hope to be able to follow them up with the two authorities.
I take up my hon. Friend's point about general aviation, which we also discussed. Many people see this as a problem most acute in London and the South-East area, especially with the growing pressures of general aviation movements at Heathrow and Gatwick. The CAA is working closely with the Standing Conference on London and South-Eastern Regional Planning. They are discussing the commissioning of consultants to examine and report on the future needs of general aviation in South-East England.
The important point is that it illustrates the fact that decisions cannot be put into cold storage. Certain other decisions are coming which will have to be taken—in this case about the future 2225 of such general aviation fields as Blackbushe and Wisley. We must try to get overall consideration of these things started as soon as possible. I therefore welcome the initative of the CAA in appointing consultants, the more so because I recognise that its resources are not unlimited and it is under specific instructions from Parliament to prepare and submit a report and a plan for the Highlands and Islands airports and air services, which is a matter of high priority. Indeed earlier today, in the course of a debate on another subject, I recall Scottish Members stressing the importance of the development of certain airports north of the border.
In other areas it is important that local authorities should be able to get on with airport development where there is urgent need, subject to any necessary planning permissions. This brings me to the particular point about aerodrome development in the Yorkshire area, in which my hon. Friend reminded us he had a constituency interest but which is of considerable importance to a significant part of the country.
I must tell my hon. Friend—I hope he will agree—that I think the local authorities concerned have taken the right step, after consulting other planning authorities in the region, in commissioning a study by consultants into air transport facilities in the area. Now that the consultants' report has been published the CAA, which is in direct touch with the aerodrome authorities, is considering it, and I understand the authority's advice is expected shortly. I have no doubt that it will take note of my hon. Friend's comments, which may not go down the same lines as the consultants pursued, but the matter needs to be considered. I assure my hon. Friend that my Department, the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Defence, so far as they are concerned, are ready to give all the help and advice they can to the local authorities, on which the financial burden for any aerodrome development will eventually fall, to assist them to reach a decision on the development they would like to see.
Once the local authorities have decided on their preferred solution to the problem they will have to obtain planning permission. The final decision on any plan- 2226 ning application for substantial aerodrome development will fall eventually to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and in advance of the planning issues being settled I cannot comment on the merits of the alternative courses considered by the consultants. When the planning question has been decided, the aerodrome development proposed will be subject to consideration of the financial aspects. In other words, somebody will have to find the money. Tedious though it is to mention this point every time we talk of development, it is essential to bear it in mind.
The Government welcome the development of viable air services in the regions, but provision must in the first instance be a matter for the commercial judgment of the airlines concerned as well as that of aerodrome operators. Here a great deal depends on the responsiveness of passengers and customers. I note with interest what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) said about the possibilities at Speke, and also the devastating frankness in his description of the environment in which that airport exists. I also notice his mention of a conflict with another local authority. It would be wrong for the Government to seek to intervene but it must be part of the Civil Aviation Authority's desire to resolve this matter so far as possible so that there is not expensive duplication. I assure my hon. Friend that in that area, as in the Severn and Solent areas where there appear to be overlapping airport facilities, the CAA is conscious of the need to see that there is not wasteful duplication.
To return to the pressure on facilities in the South-East, not least the demand on air space, we can see an additional reason for re-examining the present deployment of aviation activity of all kinds in the United Kingdom. This matter concerns both the CAA and the BAA, and it would be wrong of me to seek to intervene in a responsibility which is theirs.
However, there are one or two ways in which the Government have an obvious, direct and legitimate concern. First, there is the question of airports as generators of employment. The specific case which comes to mind in this context is Starsted, where the failure of two small 2227 independent operators has created a particular problem which I know is of great concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) who has had discussions about this matter with both the BAA and the CAA, and I have been concerned in efforts to find a solution to the immediate problem which is serious but, I hope, relatively short-term. I hope it will reassure my hon. Friend's constituents who are concerned to know that there seem to be good prospects of pick-up again in 1974 from the growth of traffic and improved surface communications. In the interim the British Airports Authority is doing all it can to promote the airport and to find other users for it.
Another question which has begun to be discussed with BAA and CAA is the possibility of creating work in areas of relatively scarce employment by transferring subsidiary activities associated with aviation from the crowded air space of the South-East, and I have in mind particularly training activities. Prima facie there must be a good case for gettng Concorde training flights concentrated at Prestwick where it would make jobs, and if there is a degree of forward planning involved it does not seem too soon to begin discussion with the airports authority and BOAC to secure this.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West mentioned the quiet engine. This is coming into service soon, and we need to anticipate its effect and the profit from the technological progress which it represents. The situation at Luton does not necessarily set a precedent. We agree that TriStar has to fulfil expectations to the satisfaction of all concerned. I hope that it will, and if it does it will provide evidence on which we may be able to make important fresh plans.
My hon. Friend may have seen recent reports of anxiety on the part of IATA about curfews, and in particular the one which says: 2228The widespread introduction of curfews means concentrating traffic in a relatively few hours of the day, thereby aggravating peak loads, endangering air safety, causing greater congestion in terminal areas, and heightening the already serious problems of airport capacity.This is a matter which needs to be taken seriously, but the quiet engine provides the greatest hope of overcoming the dangers and I look forward to an early opportunity to discuss with CAA and BAA the best ways of using the new developments to the advantage of us all.
The Government have the responsibility at British Airports Authority airports to set limits on night movements. Elsewhere we have a reserve power of designation which can be used if voluntary agreement is unobtainable. I hope that this situation can be exploited in such a way as to provide an incentive to the airlines to re-equip themselves with quiet aircraft. One possible way, with a restricted number of movements, is to count two quiet movements of aircraft like the Lockheed 1011, the DC10 and the A300 as equivalent to one noisy movement. We need to examine such possibilities in detail in consultation with all concerned, and not least the airlines.
It is true that the techniques of quiet operation are becoming increasingly available, and I was lucky recently to see something of this in the work being done at the National Gas Turbine Establishment at Pyestock. It seems to be a vital part of any national airport strategy to ensure that airports cause the least possible disturbance to the communities they serve whilst at the same time allowing the industry to maintain and increase its economic strength, and I look forward to continuing support from my hon. Friend in my efforts and those of the Government to achieve those ends.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at eleven minutes to Twelve o'clock.