§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]2.31 pm
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker (Mole Valley)
The last time that I moved an Adjournment debate was more than 20 years ago, so no one could claim that I am abusing this parliamentary procedure. Hon. Members should use Adjournment debates to bring to a wider audience a matter that particularly affects their constituents and about which their constituents are concerned. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London is to reply to the debate. He was my Parliamentary Private Secretary for a number of years and we are good friends. [Interruption.] He was an excellent PPS, not just very good, and he has been an excellent Minister, one of the Government's most robust defenders on the Front Bench. I wish him well in the forthcoming shuffle.[Interruption.] The fact that a Whip is cheering means nothing.
The possibility of a second runway at Gatwick has occasioned more concern in my constituency than any matter that I can recall. I have had thousands of letters on the matter, and that is exceptional for any hon. Member. There have been huge public meetings at which hundreds of people have turned up not only in Surrey but in Sussex. The councils involved, including my own, Mole Valley district council, which is co-ordinating the campaign by district councils against the runway, and Surrey county council, have also strongly opposed it. The Gatwick area conservation campaign, which is being brilliantly led by Brendon Sewell, has co-ordinated much of the local opposition.
The possibility of a second runway derives from the RUCATSE—standing for runway capacity in the south-east—report, which examined airport capacity in the first 20 years of the next century in south-east England and London. For two reasons, I was appalled to find in that report that Gatwick was even considered as a possibility for expansion. First, in 1981, the inspector at the second terminal inquiry at Gatwick said:There is no prospect of a second runway at Gatwick and it would plainly be an environmental disaster to create one.Following that view of the inspector, the Government issued an airports policies White Paper in 1985. I was then Secretary of State for the Environment, so I remember the discussions on it in the Cabinet. In that document, the Government set out their policy. It said:The Government believes that the provision of a second runway at Gatwick would have unacceptable environmental implications.That is Government policy. It has not been changed, it has not been modified, it has not been trimmed, it has not been qualified and it has not been altered in any way. It is still Government policy and I trust that my hon. Friend the Minister will reaffirm that this afternoon.
Secondly, I was appalled because there is a legal agreement between the British Airports Authority and Sussex county council, which was entered into when planning permission was given for the second terminal at Gatwick. That agreement precludes starting construction on a runway before 2019. I went to see Sir John Egan, the chairman of the British Airports Authority, and his authority sent me a letter, which said:So far as Gatwick is concerned, as you know, BAA has signed an agreement with the Local Authorities under which we have 529 agreed not to construct an additional runway at the Airport for 40 years. That agreement runs until 2019, and we consider ourselves bound by it.That is a very clear, absolutely categorical statement. The British Airports Authority considers that that legal agreement is totally binding. Therefore, if a Government of any complexion decided to go ahead with a second runway, they would have to bring in primary legislation to set aside that legal agreement, which, I must say to the House, would be unthinkable and could not be carried.
I entirely accept that air transport is very important to the British economy, and that we should be very proud of the fact that Heathrow is the largest and busiest international airport in the world. It brings a great deal of wealth and prosperity to our country, although 30 per cent. of the passengers at Heathrow do not come to stay in London but are transiting to other places. It is a major centre of movement and transfer in air travel, and we do not want to lose that.
I also entirely accept that there will be more air travel over the years to come. More people are wanting to travel —there is some doubt about the figures, but that increase is inevitable. How will that be accommodated? Heathrow will certainly have to expand to at least 80 million passengers a year and that is on the cards. Gatwick will have to expand from its present 20 or 21 million passengers to about 30 to 35 million and I have no objection to that. There will be expansion in the existing framework of the airport, a better use of runways and more night flights and I am reluctantly prepared to accept all of that.
At the same time, regional airports will expand. Manchester is an enormous success as an international airport. In the second city in France, Lyon, the airport is tiny and provincial. Manchester is a major international airport with flights going out to all over the world and it is something of which we can be proud. There is shortly to be a second terminal there, as I understand, which will enhance its position. There are other regional airports such as the East Midlands airport, Leeds-Bradford and Newcastle. In fact, since the publication of the RUCATSE report, East Midlands airport has come forward to say that it would like to handle more passengers. All those developments will ease the pressure on the London conurbation as a centre of air travel and that is very important. At the same time, there should be a better use of the existing runways and a greater use of night flights.
What is the proposal to which I am objecting? It is simply that I feel that a second runway should not be built at Gatwick. It would expand the passenger throughput at Gatwick—currently 20 million passengers a year—to 80 million a year. That is a four times increase. Down in Surrey and north Sussex, there would be an airport broadly twice the size of Heathrow. One knows the enormous spread of Heathrow. A great airport such as that involves not only runways but hotels, warehousing, car parking facilities and all the network of commercial activities which take place around it. A quadrupling of size is an enormous change. It would mean a huge industrial and commercial complex, mainly in my constituency, but spreading into the whole of Surrey and Sussex.
RUCATSE said that an airport was needed in the south-east by the year 2010. Now that the figures have been refined, that date looks like extending to 2020 or 2025, which is important in itself. The case against Gatwick is 530 that such an enormous industrial and commercial undertaking would affect an area of considerable environmental beauty.
The whole area covered by the proposal in Surrey and north Sussex is in my backyard. People may say that that is why I am pursuing the matter but if one does not look after one's own back yard, no one else will. Also, the back yard that I am looking after comprises the whole of the southern part of Surrey and the northern part of Sussex —some back, some yard. It is a major and beautiful part of the country. Nearly all of it is green belt, and much of it is occupied by areas of outstanding natural beauty. Some areas contain acres and acres of ancient woodlands that date back to the middle ages, which would have to be destroyed—a proposal to which the Woodland Trust is objecting.
The proposed development would also destroy the villages of Charlwood and Hookwood. Charlwood is a particularly beautiful mediaeval village. It has a real sense of community with a village school, shops, two or three pubs and a cricket team. It is a recognisable living community with a great community feel. That would go. How can one live between two runways when one cannot get to the village?
Hookwood would also go. Charlwood and Hookwood have 55 listed buildings, one of which is a Norman church having the oldest wall painting—it dates from the 13th century—in the country. It is older than any English picture in the national gallery. It would cease to be the active, vibrant church that it is today, and would become an empty, derelict stump. The other villages under the flight path that would go would be Newdigate, Oakwood Hill, Capel and Beare Green. Life would be unbearable in them all.
When one reads the list of villages that would be affected, it is rather like the herald describing the casualties to Henry V after Agincourt—Charlwood, Hookwood, Newdigate, Ockley, Oakwood Hill, Capel and Beare Green. The list has a ring of destruction and despair, and the destruction of those villages must not happen.
The other environmental argument is that an airport capable of transporting 80 million passengers a year will generate an enormous volume of road traffic. RUCATSE acknowledges that new roads would have to be built. The main existing road is the M23, which feeds in to the M25 and continues to Brighton. It is currently a three-lane, four-lane motorway—but would have to become a 14-lane motorway. The M25 is currently a three-lane motorway going to a four-lane motorway—eight lanes in width. The level of traffic generated by a huge industrial and commercial complex would require much wider motorways.
If any Government were to approve a second runway at Gatwick, the M25 would have to be widened to 14 lanes around its entire perimeter. As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, that move would be strongly opposed by all the relevant councils and by Members of Parliament whose constituencies would be affected. An airport twice as large as Heathrow in the south of England would attract passengers from the midlands and the north. They would have to make long journeys there. Some would fly down, while others would take trains or travel by car. A great volume of traffic movement would result, which is a powerful argument against a second runway at Gatwick.
It does not end there. If the M23 were widened to 14 lanes to end at Coulsdon near its junction with the M25, it 531 is impossible to think that that would be satisfactory for traffic from central London. It takes about an hour to travel from central London to the M25 at Coulsdon, and trying to avoid Croydon makes it a miserable journey through a series of suburban roads. Given the amount of traffic that a huge airport would generate, it is unthinkable that the development would be possible without a motorway such as the M4—which goes out to Heathrow—starting much closer to the centre of London.
There is another environmental snag. The development would not take place in a beautiful flat area; there is a hill in the way, called Stan Hill. For flying to be made safe, a cutting nine times the size of the cutting at Twyford Down would need to be driven through the hill—and it is doubtful whether flying would be safe even then. My hon. Friend the Minister knows all about Twyford Down: he bears some of the scars. This particular environmental scar would be unacceptable.
For all those environmental reasons, a second runway at Gatwick is a very bad idea. Help is at hand, however. Unusually, it comes from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who has issued regional planning guidance for the south-east of England. In his guidance to inspectors on the sort of planning needed in the south-east, issued about two months ago, he states explicitly that any major economic development should take place in the north and east of London rather than the south and west, which constitute the most congested part of the country. According to the guidance,In the western counties of the South East"—Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and south Buckinghamshire—while having regard to the needs of the market, and taking account of the changes to the structure of the local economy since the late 1980s"—this is the key phrase—a reducing rate of economic and housing development is appropriate.A sentence or two later, the Secretary of State says:At Crawley/Gatwick, despite infrastructure and services improvements to cope with recent rapid growth, constraints on development, and policy constraints in adjoining areas, make regionally significant expansion undesirable.That is the clearest and most explicit statement of Government policy for the relevant part of the south-east of England. Unless the Government tear up that guidance and forget it, it is unthinkable that they could possibly consider a runway at Gatwick, given the phrasepolicy constraints in adjoining areas, make regionally significant expansion undesirable.I would go further: on environmental and aviation grounds, Gatwick is the least attractive of the three main options.
What, then, should the Government do? They can be helpful. I am sure that they want to be helpful for all sorts of reasons—not just to me, but to a wider body of opinion in the south-east. First, they should accept that building another runway in the south-east is politically and environmentally unacceptable until Stansted and Luton airports are full. Stansted carries just 2 million passengers, although it can take 20 million; it should be full before any consideration takes place. Luton—a much smaller airport than Stansted, but much more reliably managed—carries about 3 million passengers; it, too, could take more. A determined effort must be made to expand the airports before another runway is considered.
Secondly, the Government should accept that there is no need for a runway before the 2025. Thirdly, they should develop the regional airports more vigorously. Fourthly, 532 they should reaffirm their Gatwick legal agreement. Fifthly —this is not really my hon. Friend's responsibility, but I hope that he will consider it—the Government should announce more generous compensation terms when a site is chosen. Many of my constituents now have difficulty in selling their houses, because they are suffering from blight. When my hon. Friends consider the various representations on the different sites, I hope that they will rapidly come to the conclusion that it is not sensible and would be highly damaging and disastrous to have a second runway at Gatwick.
§ Sir George Gardiner (Reigate)
It is with great pleasure that I intervene in support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). I do so to make it clear that he speaks not merely for his constituents, whose communities will be torn apart by a second runway at Gatwick, but for hundreds of thousands of people living for miles around.
My constituents in Horley will be close to the eastern end of the runway. They share with the inhabitants of large swathes of Surrey and Sussex a feeling of utter horror that such devastation should even be contemplated. It is an area of beautiful countryside. It is part of the green belt—the very lungs by which those in the Greater London conurbation can breathe. That it should be punctured to produce an airport twice the size of the present one, requiring 27,000 new homes to be built, ancillary service buildings and a vast programme of additional road building, is unthinkable.
The need for a second runway in the south-east within the proposed time scale is based on analyses and assumptions which are open to grave doubt. It is highly likely that such additional capacity will not be required until much later in the next century, which gives the Government plenty of time to investigate, for example, the Thames estuary option, which will cause far less damage to established communities, but which RUCATSE, to its shame, barely touched on.
I give my hon. Friend the Minister some friendly political advice. Today's debate, useful though it is, is but an initial skirmish. I warn him that unless he or his successors make it clear soon that they are dropping the suggestion, they will not know what has hit them when many Conservative Members make their feelings known. Now that the consultation period has closed, I urge him and the Secretary of State to lift the cloud of fear hanging over many established communities and to make it clear that they have no intention of raping and destroying our environment.
§ The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)
It is a great pleasure for me to have the honour of responding to my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). It was a tremendous honour to have served as his Parliamentary Private Secretary. I fear that he gives me far more credit than I deserve. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley, the Whip on duty, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and I share one distinction: all three of us have seconded the Loyal Address. What unites my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling and myself is that neither of us has achieved the august stature required to be allowed to propose the Loyal Address, which my right hon. Friend has.
533 Commendably, my right hon. Friend has avoided Adjournment debates for 20 years, but I remind him that the idea is that we share the time. I fear that I have about seven or eight minutes in which to respond to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Sir G. Gardiner). I hope that he will forgive me if, to some extent, I merely acknowledge the various points that have been made.
I understand why my right hon. Friend should have raised this subject and I accept the observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate that feelings on the subject in Sussex run high. The simple truth that we all suffer from an extraordinary form of schizophrenia when we contemplate airport development underlies the issue. I register my own interest in that my constituency is not a million miles from Stansted airport, one of the three main airports serving London. We all want to see the economy expand and jobs to be created. I recall offhand that Heathrow gives employment to about 50,000 people, quite apart from the jobs created by the business that the airport generates.
Gatwick, of course, is already a hugely important hub and a hugely important employer. It is the fifth largest airport in Europe, competing with Charles de Gaulle and Schiphol in its own right. As my right hon. Friend said, it already handles more than 20 million passengers, which gives it a considerable position in the league. My right hon. Friend was generous enough to confirm, as most people would, that development of the existing facilities for perhaps up to 30 million passengers a year and beyond is entirely to be hoped for.
It is natural that whenever we contemplate the hugely difficult proposition of where we put a new runway, we should run into the concerns that have been so ably expressed this afternoon. I shall not attempt to debate for a second the relative merits of the various sites that the working group on runway capacity for the south-east—RUCATSE—discussed; that would not be appropriate. I merely say that when my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate mentions Marinair—the estuarial airport option —I conclude only that perhaps some of the enthusiasm for that option derives from the simple fact that it is in no one's back yard. Although I say no more on that, it does not make the discussion of issues such as this one any easier.
It was right for the Government to follow up the advice from the Civil Aviation Authority on the need for runways and to set in hand the RUCATSE work. At that time, the Government acknowledged what was said in the 1985 White Paper, which my right hon. Friend quoted—that second runways should not be built at either Gatwick or Stansted. In its terms of reference, RUCATSE was explicitly asked to have regard to the environmental considerations which led to those views and they are, indeed, as my right hon. Friend stated.
I confirm straight away that I am, of course, aware of the legal agreement between the British Airports Authority and West Sussex county council to the effect that a second runway should not be built before 2019. The extent to which local people have set great store by that agreement has been brought forcefully to my attention by my right hon. Friend, not only today but in correspondence, and I acknowledge the importance of that agreement. In summary, RUCATSE produced forecasts of traffic and asked how those could be accommodated at the various sites.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
My hon. Friend says that he acknowledges the importance of the agreement. Do I take it from that that the Government do not have it in mind to set aside the agreement, but that they will honour it and accept it?
§ Mr. Norris
As my right hon. Friend knows, the agreement is between the local authority and the airport owners—between West Sussex county council and the BAA. As such, it is not an agreement to which the Government are specifically party and, therefore, it is not for me to contemplate its being set aside. The important thing—this is a specific reassurance that my right hon. Friend rightly wants—is that the Government fully recognise the importance of that perfectly legally binding agreement. My right hon. Friend, who is a distinguished former Secretary of State for the Environment, will understand that, in these circumstances, that is as far as I can go.
RUCATSE was asked, first, to produce forecasts of traffic and, secondly, to see how they could be accommodated at the various sites by, for example, looking at possible layouts of runways and terminals. Thirdly, it was asked to assess the implications in respect of a variety of criteria. It is terribly important to stress that the alignments studied by RUCATSE were indicative only. Although some of the features of the analysis would be robust in terms of small or even large changes, others would not. The group attempted as far as possible to address key questions resulting from changes in assumptions through the use of a variety of sensitivity tests.
The forecasts that RUCATSE produced were performed on an objective basis for all the sites that were studied. Naturally, forecasting of this sort is very much long-term stuff and very inexact. We all accept that. We have assumed reasonable economic growth and we have acknowledged that its translation into a rapid rate of air traffic growth—more than 6 per cent. on average in the 1970s and 1980s—is unlikely to continue. The judgment was made that there would be lower growth rates and a maturing of the most developed markets, but that there would eventually be a need for extra capacity.
My right hon. Friend was right about the increasing importance of regional airports. We recognise that, but we cannot put the matter to one side and convince ourselves that a combination of peripheral developments, however relevant, will provide a total solution to the need for this country to be competitive well into the 21st century. Air transport will be an important part of that and RUCATSE's work, unenviable in many ways, but supported—I acknowledge this—by many local environmental groups around each of the airports, has been invaluable.
I give my right hon. and hon. Friends an assurance that we are not dealing here with a specific application. If there were any development attempted to take forward the notion of Gatwick as the location for an additional runway, there would not only be the need for a full and detailed environmental impact assessment, but a great deal more of an extremely long and convoluted process in which I would expect my right hon. and hon. Friends to play a full part.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Three o'clock.