§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Earl of CORK and ORRERY rose to ask Her Majestys' Government whether they will consider the advantages of an 776 international airport on Severnside as an alternative to expansion at the London airports. The noble Earl said: My Lords, with a barely repressible sigh of relief and absolutely no discourtsey to anybody, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty's Government the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I apologise for asking it at five minutes to four on a Friday afternoon, and thank those of your Lordships who have been kind enough and patient enough still to be here.
§ I think I should begin by declaring a "no interest". This is relevant, as I think will emerge. I have no interest, practical or financial, in anything that I am about to say. The background against which I speak is sufficiently well known for me not to go into it in any depth. It is simply that, if I may so put it, the situation at the London airports is becoming more or less intolerable. I refer, of course, primarily to Heathrow but also to Gatwick and, at a slight remove, Standsted and ultimately also Luton. As your Lordships know, an inquiry is now in progress at County Hall into the prospect for building a fourth terminal at Heathrow.
§ The Government White Paper, Airport Policy, which is Cmnd. 7084, takes the view that the construction of a new airport is impossible. Following the same line, in a slightly different way, the British Airports Authority in its statement of case before the inquiry—I have it here in my hand—contends that the building of a new terminal at Heathrow is absolutely essential if the London airports are not to run out of capacity by 1990. And 1990 is a number which comes up with mysterious frequency in these arguments. It appears to be a magical date when either the world will come to an end, or oil fuel will run out, or the London airports will become so clogged with passengers that no more flying will be possible. Beyond 1990 there appears to be no planning of any kind. All the arguments that are put before us by the Airports Authority or the Government are about what we shall do in the next 12 years. What will happen after that—God help us! I do not know.
The case for the Airports Authority rests fairly squarely on the fact that only a fourth terminal at Heathrow will solve the problem. I quote now from paragraph 340 of the case:
Only a fourth terminal at Heathrow can provide the London area with the capacity it needs, at the time it needs it".
I could make three or four other quotations of the same kind but I think it would be unnecessary to do so. It is, in any case, a contention which I am about to contradict, as indeed I am about to contradict the Government's contention in the White Paper that it is impossible to build a new airport between now and 1990.
§ The proposal which I have the honour to put before your Lordships now originated within an organisation known as the Haslemere Aircraft Disturbed Action Group, or HADAG for short. This is a body which is not merely concerned with preventing aeroplanes flying over the Haslemere parish pump; indeed, if it were I do not suppose I would be president of it, as I am, because I do not live at Haslemere. It is, on the contrary, dedicated to the universal—and I think universally acceptable—proposition that aircraft, airports and people do not mix, wherever they are. The proposal is not new. It has, in fact, been turned down over and over again, for one very good reason. This reason to which I refer is the one to which we now have found, I believe, an answer, which makes it possible to build a new airport and to build it quickly.
§ The site proposed for this airport is on the South coast of Wales, the North coast of the Bristol Channel, a few miles East of Newport. It has long been obvious that this is a very desirable site for an international airport—what is now called a gateway international airport. It has all the advantages that would have accrued from the building of such an airport at Maplin. It is far away from people—virtually no one lives there—and the ground is flat. It is not particularly desirable land; it is already scheduled, I think, for heavy industrial development. It is bordered by sea so shallow that when the tide runs out at low water one cannot see it. The channel runs roughly northeast to south-west, which is a desirable alignment for airport runways, the prevailing wind being from the south-west. It is possible and indeed easy to construct a pair of runways, which is the number we envisage, off-shore on land which is exceedingly easily reclaimed.
§ The fact of putting the runways in the water not only relieves the people on the 778 ground, and indeed everything else on the ground, of danger from aircraft descending precipitously from the skies, but also makes it possible for all or most of the flying to be done over water. With the prevailing wind being what it is, it seems likely that hardly ever would any aircraft take off on a course which carried it over land. Sometimes it would happen, but not often. The only overflying of land would be carried out by aircraft descending on the comparatively quiet approach route.
§ There are no costly buildings or roads to be constructed of any magnitude either in that neighbourhood or anywhere else. It has excellent access by motorway and by railway, not only from London, but also from Birmingham and Manchester and all the cities of the Midlands and the North. The travelling time from the passenger's point of view, if he was coming from the west trans-Atlantically, would be reduced by 15 minutes, which also represents a great saving to the airline operator, particularly with the Concorde, which would save 120 miles of enormously expensive subsonic flying time. It would also enable Concorde when taking off to go supersonic immediately, a great saving in both time and expense. There would probably be no stacking, as there frequently is at the London airports. There would undoubtedly be a great generation of industry in South Wales, which is an industrial neighbourhood anyway, as indeed is the country on the opposite side of the Bristol Channel, about Avonmouth. It would doubtless provide a great deal of employment for these people in that part of the country which suffers a higher degree of unemployment than most parts of the country. Such a site would result in a reduction of pressures of all kinds at Heathrow, particularly in the air space west of London. There would be much less objection there than at London or near London to flying by night, if this is ever thought to be necessary.
§ The lead time is of some interest. How tong would it take to build this airport? Estimates that I have from engineers on the whole indicate that an airport could be made operational on this site in from three to four years after the completion of planning preparations. It is notable that the British Airport Authority's case said that such an airport could not he built anywhere in less than 779 12 years. If one allows three years for planning permissions and so on, one could still have the airport operational in seven years, which compares closely with the estimate for the construction of the fourth terminal at Heathrow, which we are told could not be fully operational before 1984 at the earliest.
§ The cost of the construction of such an airport would be remarkably low; someone guessed that it would be about half that of such an airport at Maplin. The water, as I have said, is extremely shallow, allowing very easy reclamation of land. There are no elaborate existing structures to be demolished, and the land is flat. It would be, I imagine, an architect's dream, like designing and building an airport in the middle of a billard table.
§ There is one very important factor that I have not mentioned. Your Lordships will have observed that I have said in my Question, as I mentioned in my speech also, that this proposal would have benefits for passengers in various ways over the London airports. If it is to do that, it implies that it is to be in some sense a London airport. Now we come to the reason why this site has always been turned clown. It has been turned down for the simple reason that it is too far from London. It is something like 120 miles, and that is a bit farther away, admittedly, than Heathrow or Gatwick. But to the passenger by air, distance is not measured in miles; it is measured by hours or minutes. I submit that it is totally illusory to say that the distance from an airport to the city centre is so many miles. What we want to know is how long it takes to get there. If we look at it in that way and measure the distance from Severnside to London in hours rather than in miles, we will find that is about the same distance as Gatwick.
§ The argument goes like this. It depends upon the existence of the high speed train, which runs already. It has great efficiency, punctuality and speed from Paddington to Cardiff, a journey which it does, I think —I speak under correction—in about one and three-quarter hours. That railway passes within a mile of the site of the airport, as does the motorway M.4, which also connects with the motorway systems to the North. It is no great engineering feat to run a spur or spurs from this railway and indeed from the 780 motorway underneath the terminal, possibly with the roads running out on to the roof. With passenger handling done on a new method and greatly speeded up, it should be possible to get the passengers in the train—forget their luggage for a moment—in a much shorter space of time than has yet been achieved anywhere in the world, for these reasons.
§ The arrangements of the runways end to end at sea, offshore, has the effect, whatever the direction of the wind, of the aircraft having to taxi always either to or from the inner ends of the runways, those being the ends that are nearest to the terminal, which is obviously onshore. So passengers can come ashore much quicker than one might expect. They can then go straight down by lift, walkway or escalator—clearly there are engineering matters to be thought out here—and get into their train. This can be done, I am advised, by arranging a system by which the passenger leaving, shall we say for the sake of argument, Kennedy Airport in New York, will be allotted a number. The same number will be marked upon his luggage, which is carried by fork lift truck into the aeroplane, taken out at the other end and put straight into the train which is already numbered not only for the luggage but for the passenger, who will find on arrival signposts and numbers corresponding to his ticket and even a numbered seat that he can go straight to. I am told this is a computer operation of quite notable simplicity. The passenger is in the train and his luggage is easily definable and accessible, close to him in the same train.
§ The train goes. It arrives in London an hour and 20 minutes later. What the passenger has been spared so far is what I think most people would agree is the worst part of his journey, that which he experiences at Heathrow or other airports, namely the long walk and the waiting about for his luggage to arrive before he can clear it through Customs. The waiting at Heathrow can often take up to 50 minutes or an hour. So irritation, frustration and fatigue have gone. A quarter of an hour's flying time has been saved and the passenger is on his way on a comfortable train.
§ In the train beside the passengers are Customs officers. Customs examinations are carried out in the train and this is the 781 nub of the whole proposal. Immigration procedures may present slightly greater difficulty. There are difficulties about the Customs. I have caused inquiries to be made to find out whether or not Customs examination in trains; that is, not the small hand luggage but the luggage that goes into the luggage van or the hold, has ever been done. So far as inquiries through embassies have been able to show, it has never been attempted anywhere. So there are no precedents to say that it cannot be done. There are arguments to say that we do not want to do it, or why it should be difficult. Of this I am perfectly aware, and I remain unmoved.
§ So the passenger will arrive at his terminus in London, at Paddington or wherever it may have to be in the end, after a short, quick journey, carried out in comfort without annoyance and fatigue. He would then be discharged upon an expectant city in exactly the same way as he is now. And this proceeding will have been inaugurated in the first place, and for a long time afterwards, I dare say, by British Airways with whom it will be necessary to fly initially which, incidentally, provides a considerable and nice fillip for British aviation.
§ This is the proposal that I wish to place before you. I am sorry that we do not have with us my noble friend Lord Thomas who has written to me to say that he wished he could have taken part, but he is not able to do so. However, he entirely supports the proposal, as indeed does the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, who has written to me with a lot of additional arguments in favour of the whole argument, and has invited me, if I wish to do so, to use them in the debate. They are scientific and industrial. I do not fully understand them and I do not feel competent to put them forward, and I do not think it necessary at this stage because I believe that there will be another stage. But they all add up to a great volume of support for the proposal.
§ The whole idea is, perhaps, surprising. To my mind it is enormously exciting. It is also entirely feasible. It is not in some ways easy. It will require resolution and imagination on the part of any Government to put it through. But I am certain that any Government determined 782 to do this would get it done, and would get it done quickly. They would get it done in time to prevent any further expansion at the London airports. The scheme would end up as a vast benefit to the travelling public and to the people who live on the ground under the aircraft flying just overhead, and among the traffic generated by air traffic and the discharge of passengers at airports. It would benefit the people of South Wales, the Midlands and practically everybody, and, above all, it would be socially acceptable. This is a feature so often neglected. It is not mentioned specifically, I believe, in the Government's White Papers. I think I am right, but I shall not press that point. But it is vital.
§ These airports are getting into a fearful state. We could save this state becoming worse by, I suggest, 1984. In fact, we could make the situation better, and my earnest hope is that the Government will set up as soon as possible a proper inquiry to investigate the truth of what I have said, and the possibilities suggested by it, and carry out a proper study in depth and width. If this is not done—I hope it will be done by any Government and supported by their Opposition—we are in for a desperate time. And perhaps in some ways the world really will come to an end in 1990.
§ Lord WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, may I ask him whether I understood correctly when he said that no Customs inspection was ever done on a train? My recollection is that when I went from Norway into Sweden, the Customs examination was done on the train, and I think also in going from Belgium to France.
§ The Earl of CORK and ORRERY
My Lords, I do, indeed, speak under correction in these matters. What I actually said was that, so far as I could find out, no examination by Customs of a traveller's heavy baggage had ever been done on the train, not the luggage that he carries with him in the compartment but what is sealed in the van. I think that that has always been sealed at one end and unsealed at its destination.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Lord NEWALL
My Lords, this is a very interesting idea, and as the noble Earl said, it is not entirely new and I am 783 sure we are all most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, for his clear explanation of what he proposes. It certainly brings out into the open some of the questions about another airport to serve London after 1990, the magical year which, of course, is only 12 years away.
The question of another London airport was conveniently left undecided by the Government in their airports policy White Paper presented in another place in February this year. I quote from paragraph 160, which states:In the longer term additional capacity will almost certainly be required in the London area"—but it does not say what to do. Knowing the time it takes to prepare plans as well as actually to build, what with public inquiries and further changes of plan, I should have thought that it was high time to start the planning of a new airport which will clearly be necesssry. I think most people agree about that. I think that the Government have shirked their duty in shelving the question of the next airport to serve London.
However, the proposals for another airport at Severnside are what we are looking at today. The first comment I should like to make is that, among the many aspects about which we have heard, one of the most important that has not been mentioned at all is one that I feel should be connected; namely, the Severn Barrage, which is still being studied in great depth. I believe that a further £1¼ million has just been allocated for further study. For this barrage and the building of an airport there will plainly be large quantities of earth moving, great numbers of men both skilled and unskilled, steel, concrete and all the paraphernalia that goes with building. I suggest that it is only economic sense to consider both these enterprises together, so that with proper organisation, large amounts of money can be saved if they are considered jointly.
We are considering here not necessarily only our own money but I am sure that we might well receive help from various Common Market funds, for example, under the regional development funds. Further, we might obtain two lots, one for South Wales and one for England. Another possibility is funds from the social fund in connection with the employment possibilities. Further money might well 784 be available from European investment banks.
Be that as it may, the problem here is that the timing of the proposed barrage, which has not anywhere near reached the planning stages yet, and that of a possible airport, are not altogether in accord. It appears to me that additional airport facilities will be needed, at least in the final planning stages, long before the barrage decision is able to be made and, of course, ready for building. As for the barrage itself, it seems that we must harness this tide which, I believe, reaches an average of 40 ft. in difference, and that it will provide approximately 10 per cent. of the United Kingdom electricity. I believe that that is equivalent to six nuclear power stations.
If the cost is high, and I believe a sum of £4 billion has been mentioned, this is about the same amount that the Government are investing in coal now. Coal will eventually run out whereas the tides are not expected to stop just yet. So the idea looks quite good provided that we can get it off the ground. But the studies undoubtedly will take much longer to sort out and to arrive at a solution, with the large amounts of money involved. If a combined effort is possible, however, I think it will be a definite advantage.
Going back to the airport, we will undoubtedly have reached some sort of saturation point in the London Airport situation by 1990; and with the larger and quieter planes reducing what is, I believe, known as the footprint around airports, this will obviously ease some of the noise round the airports as technical progress makes it more possible.
Another possible advantage of the Severnside plan is the closeness of Bristol, which has very excellent aerospace facilities. I am sure this might be a help. With Rolls-Royce at Patchway and British Aerospace at Filton, we have probably one of the most comprehensive and concentrated aerospace industries in the whole of Europe; and Filton, of course, as well has some of the best flight testing facilities, some of which came from Fairford where they tested the Concordes.
The noble Earl has mentioned that another advantage is the good network of roads and a good rail link. I will come back to the rail link in just a 785 moment. No doubt, there will have to be an air link between this airport and Heathrow and others, and it remains to be seen how many people will want to use it. There is always a possibility that these could be HS146 STOL planes which would give more work for the people in Bristol; but that is really another problem.
Environmentally, the Severn has been found to be extremely suitable. I believe that they have done a lot of research into this as far as the barrage is concerned, and there are not too many birds—in fact, considerably fewer to get into the jet engines than at Maplin. There is a lot of waste land and shallow water and, I believe, about three and a half thousand acres of development land in the area, most of which is owned by ICI. I am sure this makes it obvious that there are not too many people living around there.
So, it appears that this site has many advantages going for it, many of which have been mentioned by the noble Earl. But I think we must also look at some of the possible disadvantages. I said I would return very quickly to the rail link which has been mentioned as a possible 1¼ hours journey. I do not know how often the trains would run, but there was some talk at one point that they might run every five minutes. Every five minutes each way means 30 trains. This is a great many trains. In my view, the trains would have to be rather special ones, with special facilities; and British Rail would have to build these things. Then, have we really got enough track? If we have not, and British Rail have to build another track, the cost would be enormous and there would be many changes from the environmental point of view. I think, in fact, that Maplin died partly because of the rail problems.
We have heard about the Customs possibilities. Well, who knows? It is an interesting idea. I must admit that it is always better if your luggage is with you. The trains would need to be very long, with, as I said, special carriages. Here we have a major problem to overcome; it is not just a matter of sticking any old train on the track and getting it to and from London at high speed.
Another problem could be immigration procedure. The noble Earl mentioned 786 this, but I think there would be great difficulty in persuading the authorities that immigration processes could be carried out with people already moving away from the port of entry. How are you to deal with those who should not come in? They are already on a train, and at that time they are not so easy to sort out. So therefore, in my view, the immigration processes would undoubtedly have to take place at the airport. This is one of the major hold-ups in the whole procedure.
Then there are other possible problems. I am told, but I may be unreliable on this, that the weather is often misty down there. There is a military air base there, RAF Brawdy, which has to be considered, to see whether it will be in the way at all. I am not quite clear in which direction the runways are to be. There was some talk earlier that the runways might converge. This might be a possibility which is not normally acceptable. These are minor points; some of them are rather supposition, but others are fact.
§ The Earl of CORK and ORRERY
My Lords, I could interrupt on all sort of points, but may I pick just this one. There is no suggestion that the runways should converge. I think they should be end to end, roughly North-East and South-West, slightly away at their inner ends from each other, so that the aircraft would not fly from one runway over the other.
§ Lord NEWALL
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl for that explanation. As I said, there are so many little problems which could be looked at and we cannot cover them all exactly. The environmental problems, as well as the practical problems of the rail link, and, in my opinion the economic necessity of combining the Severn Barrage if at all possible with this airport both pose very major problems.
I like the idea of putting an airport here but I fear that the disadvantages probably outweigh the advantages coupled with the current rather limited understanding that we have. Certainly we must discover more facts from the other bodies who are to be involved before we can say whether this is either a brilliant and feasible idea or merely pie-in-the-sky. Airports affect 787 a great many people and the threat or the possibility, of a new airport affects many thousands of other people all over the country. It is very much a national worry, and the uncertainty can cause great anxiety to many. So I hope that the Government will stop procrastinating and will get on quickly with studies for another London airport after 1990, so putting many people out of their misery and allowing them to plan for their retirement homes.
§ The Earl of CORK and ORRERY
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting again but, before my noble friend sits down, may I put a small gloss on his last sentence. He referred to a London airport. I myself have never used that phrase, and I hope it will not be used in connection with this Severnside project, neither a London airport nor a regional airport but simply a gateway international airport.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Lord BOSTON of FAVERSHAM
My Lords I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Newall, in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, for asking this Question, for performing a most valuable service in doing so and, if I may say so, a timely one as well, for airports policy has clearly once again been coming very much to the fore.
Like the noble Earl I have a non-interest to declare. I think that it is only right to say that I have never had any financial interest in either this airport project or any other airport project; but like him I have been involved in a voluntary capacity in airport matters for some 11 years and think it is only right in a debate of this kind to say that I have been associated over that period of time with the two main voluntary organisations which have led the campaign against Foulness or Maplin, as it came to be called.
Before coming to the noble Earl's proposal, I would say something about Foulness, for inevitably, I think, comparisons will be made with that site when plans for any major international airport to serve the London area and elsewhere in the southern part of the country are discussed. I was, of course, absolutely 788 delighted that the Government decided to abandon the Maplin project and that they confirmed that decision in their recent White Paper Airports Policy; and that confirmation has itself been endorsed by the Government here in your Lordships' House this very week. I am delighted, I may say, not just because of an association with the areas which would have been so badly affected had that project gone ahead, but also because it would have been a disaster in national and international economic terms, in aviation terms, in environmental terms and in other ways too.
It is worth recalling, at a time when other airports projects are being considered, that Foulness was under active consideration for some 10 years or more. The project, as we know, was considered and rejected by the Roskill Commission. It was considered by the last Government's extensive and commendable consultation processes, by Select Committees of your Lordships' House and of another place in very detailed investigations and by both Houses of Parliament during the passage of the Maplin Development Authority Bill. It was considered by the further extensive and excellent consultation machinery set up by the present Government, and finally again by the present Government, leading to their decision to cancel.
It is a trifle hard to imagine any more comprehensive and exhaustive system of inquiry than that. It was indeed the greatest exercise in public participation in planning our nation has ever seen and it led to the verdict against Maplin—a verdict which came to be widely supported indeed campaigned for, by people generally, by expert opinion and by responsible organs of the Press, national and local.
One might wonder, therefore, how that project could ever be considered again. The Government's position is perfectly plain and precise. Maplin is dead. But there are voices trying to pretend otherwise, and one might add that they cause unnecessary concern to all those who would have been affected, and who believe the Government's decision saved them and indeed the nation from a disastrous plan. It is against that background that I came to view the noble Earl's proposal, and inevitably, one has been comparing the claims for a Severnside airport with the 789 arguments about Foulness. What I wish to do, briefly, in headline form since time is rather pressing, is to compare some of the claims for Severnside with some of the arguments concerning Foulness.
First, it is, for example, said in favour of Severnside that one of its advantages is remoteness from population. In that, it scores over Foulness, for although in the immediate vicinity of Foulness the population is not large, there are big centres of population within the affected areas. Another Severnside advantage is minimum noise—a further plus point compared with Maplin. In both places it is claimed that by having runways offshore, with take-offs and landings over water, there would be little or no noise nuisance. At Maplin, that was shown to be a fallacy for many people in both Essex and Kent, and indeed it led to the famous Roskill phrase about the county of Kent, that that would have been the uncompensated loser, because it would have had none of the so-called advantages associated with an airport, like employment, only disadvantages.
Again, minimum environmental damage is the claim for Severnside. With Foulness, there would have been enormous environmental damage and surprisingly vast loss of farming land. Indeed, it came top of the list in terms of the value of lost agricultural produce. Again, maximum safety, the runways being offshore, is another of Severnside's claims. At Foulness, another major fallacy was exposed here, with the dangers of bird-strike, to say nothing of the devasting consequences for the Brent geese and other wild life in the area, the notoriously cold and uninviting waters of the North Sea in the event of a jumbo-jet ditching, and Roskill's own dissatisfaction with safety there.
Again, it is claimed that there are almost unlimited possibilities for expansion, both for installations and for runways. That goes for both sites, but at what cost and environmental damage so far as Maplin is concerned. No costly building of roads and railways, either to London or the Midlands, is the Severnside claim, as mentioned by the noble Earl himself. Here your Lordships have one of the most striking differences from Foulness. The 790 cost of road and rail access routes and the damage they would have done to the countryside and through eastern London, with the destruction of homes and other buildings, have been amply proven.
Distance from London and travelling time have already been mentioned by the noble Earl, so I need not mention these in detail, except to underline the point that the Severnside advantages he put forward are lacking at Foulness, which is some 50 miles from London and a remote and rather inaccessible 50 miles at that. Again, there would be no stacking problem at Severnside, which was certainly going to be a problem at Foulness. Then, there is the generation of industry, with benefit to the economy and employment of South Wales, Bristol, and north Somerset. At Foulness, there would have been more environmental harm, vast industrial development in a part of the country which does not want that type of development. There is another fallacy here too about Maplin. Maplin was supposed to be the answer to the needs of the East End of London for jobs. I live in the East End and people there do not want to travel 100 miles to and from work. Indeed, East Enders do not want to move to the Essex coast either.
Again, there would be less objection than at London to night flying—that is another advantage that is claimed for Severnside. That was going to be one of the troubles at Foulness. Night flights were going to be flung down to the estuary from London and cause great nuisance to the large number of people in the affected areas. At Severnside, low construction cost is claimed. At Foulness, on the other hand, the immense cost was one of the major decisive factors against it. Indeed, the overall figure in the White Paper. Airports Policy, is given as some £1,090 million. Some estimates put it at twice that figure.
So what should be the response to the proposal of the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery? I confess that I cannot, at this stage, say that I am able to be an advocate or even a supporter of the plan itself. Much, much more detailed study is needed. But I do feel that the noble Earl has made a convincing prima facie case for having the idea further examined.
791 I would just address one concluding point on Maplin to my noble friend the Minister who I think is to reply to this debate. She will not be surprised—indeed, she may well be heartened—to learn that if any attempt were made to resurrect the Maplin proposal by anyone still not convinced that the Government's decision was right, I can promise her that it would be resisted with all the strength and determination exercised before and, I venture to predict, with precisely the same result. Maplin, I believe, is dead. What that means in reality for so many people, in addition to the national and international benefits, is that the Maplin and Foulness area and its surroundings live.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Lord BALFOUR of INCHRYE
My Lords, I should like to reinforce what other speakers have said and our gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Cork of Orrery, for having raised this most imaginative proposition. I do not wish to detain your Lordships for many minutes, but it is worth examining for a moment the position that we are in as regards airports in the London area. On Monday last, the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, said in reply to a Question that I put:a potential crisis period is 12 years away. I should have thought that it would be valuable to discuss the matter …".—[Official Report, 12/6/78; col. 3.]I submit to your Lordships that the crisis is not 12 years ahead. It is starting now, and will be building up right up to 1990. Therefore the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, in saying that there was no hurry, was scarcely doing credit to the position which we have to face. As the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, said, there is no magic in the figure 1990. After that period traffic will go on building up, particularly with the new era of cheap fares throughout the world.
Last February the Government laid down in this document how, up to 1990, the London area could be dealt with. The noble Lord, Lord Oram, used these words:the expected growth in air traffic demand up to 1990 could be met by the expansion of the four London airports".—[Official Report, 22/2/78 col. 160.]I want to ask whether the Minister, Lady Stedman, will be good enough to reply to this. Do the Government still stand by 792 the clear statement I have quoted that the expansion of four London airports can cope with traffic needs up to 1990?
I must remind the Minister what the White Paper—or the Blue Paper—contained. In order to cope with traffic up to 1990 Stansted was to be developed to take 16 million passengers a year. That development has now been abandoned, according to reports in the Press, by the British Airports Authority. In that document Luton was to take 10 million. Luton's expansion has now been scaled down to 5 million. London Airport was to have a fourth terminal at Heathrow. There is no certainty that planning permission will be obtained for that fourth terminal: and even if it is obtained, delays in design and construction will be such that that terminal will not really be of use until the middle 1980s. Gatwick, which took 5.7 million passengers in. 1976, was planned to take 25 million in this document, and that is dependent upon a new terminal being constructed and the hopes that one runway will be able to cope with such traffic. But Gatwick interests have already said that they will demand the same public inquiry as Heathrow is now enjoying. Therefore, one can say that the Gatwick terminal would not he in use until well approaching 1990.
I think it was clear from the debate in your Lordships' House in March that this great proposal for the expansion of London airports, which has now fallen by the wayside, apart from the figures I have just given, was socially unacceptable to the communities surrounding the various airports. Therefore, my first conclusion is that the February policy has been outdated by events which have occurred since that time. My second conclusion is that, although in March, before these events which have diminished so much the prospects in that document, I had thought that this expansion of London airports might supply the answer up to 1990, I now see that a third terminal airport—a new one—is, I believe, inevitable. Indeed, the Government themselves envisage that possibility after 1990 by talking about the possibility of a new airport or the taking over of a military airport.
Let me say here and now that, having listened to the speech of the noble Lord, 793 Lord Boston of Faversham, I agree with every word he said. Maplin, for reasons we need not elaborate this afternoon, is a dead project. The noble Lord placed a wreath upon the grave of Maplin which is already well below the ground. So I do not think we need consider that when we are talking of the need for a new London airport. We have got to look at a new project. The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, has come forward with Severnside. Like other noble Lords, I am not qualified, I do not have the knowledge, to say whether a new airport at Severnside or somewhere else, or taking over a military airport, is the final solution for post-1990, which we must be looking and planning for now. The experts must evaluate, but the solution must be not only technically feasible but socially acceptable.
There are many problems about Severn-side. As the noble Lord, Lord Newall, said, there are a great many snags. But there are always snags and objections whenever any new project is put forward. There are solid objectors on good grounds; but there are a lot of people who say, "No, no,", to anything which is new. Already I can hear the chattering of the teeth of the "No" army, which always mobilises so quickly when something new is proposed.
What we can fairly ask the Government tonight is to show a willingness to examine the Severnside project as a solution, impartially, unprejudiced; and, if they cannot say that Severnside is the solution, come up with a solid alternative to the project outlined by the noble Lord today, so that we can have a reasonable standard of airport accommodation for passengers during the 1980s. Finally, after 1990, may we as a country be assured that we shall be able to accept the world's traffic and not have it diverted to the Continent, with consequent loss of trade; and take the world's traffic as we have hitherto been able to do, but about which I have fears unless we go forward along the lines such as I have outlined.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord GAINFORD
My Lords, when my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery informed me of the outline of the scheme for Severnside airport, my interest was 794 immediately aroused and I wanted to give him whatever support I could. I shall not use this occasion to advocate a certain form of air transport which I have done in the past, except that there is a very indirect connection. I do not necessarily oppose fast travel, but I certainly give my support for any form that encourages leisurely travel. The arguments put forward today are in favour of the scheme that can provide the public with the answer to what is worrying so many air travellers. From my personal viewpoint of the airports close to London, there is only one that I look forward at all to using, and that is Gatwick. The rail service from Victoria takes you close to the terminal and, provided you are fit enough, if there are no porters available you do not have to carry your luggage very far. The rail journey takes about three quarters of an hour. The scheme for Severnside can offer a comfortable journey just over a third of the time longer, with considerably more comfort and amenities than a suburban train.
There were many pros and cons put forward about Customs service on the train. It is a very advanced idea, but I have every confidence that the problems, whether real or theoretical, can be solved. My main point concerns the airways terminals in London for this new airport. The immediate suggestion is Paddington. From my point of view that would be very convenient because I live quite close to that station. But if there will be difficulties in using that part of London, may I ask Her Majesty's Government, if the scheme does go through, whether there could be any question of using an alternative station? The one I have in mind is Kensington Olympia.
Olympia is a versatile station. There is good road access to it at the moment through the region of Kensington High Street from Hammersmith and the West. There is a branch line of the District Line. The station seems to come into use mostly when there is an exhibition at Olympia. The District Line connects with Earl's Court, where there are other London Transport lines. During the 1960s, when Euston was being reorganised, redeveloped and altered so very much, Olympia was used as a terminus for many main line trains to the north, particularly the night trains.
795 Another interesting item about Olympia: I believe it was one of the stations earmarked for use should the Channel Tunnel scheme come into effect. The railway from the Channel Tunnel to London was to end around Kensington. One alternative to this area is south of Olympia, near Earl's Court, where there are some disused railway sidings, because they are both connected by the same railway. The railway coming out of Clapham Junction, north over the Thames, passes near Earl's Court, goes through Kensington Olympia, and then goes up to Willesden where it joins the North London line which runs between Broad Street and Richmond. When the line comes out north of Olympia, by the time it has got to Willesden it has crossed the western main line and the Regent's Canal by bridges. The difference in level must be about 15 ft.
There was a track which came down from this line to the western main line. It may be only a single track and therefore would need considerable adaptation. The other possibility is that we have a bridge forming a loop line, going over the western line sidings and the canal, then joining on to the North London line just south of Willesden Junction, where the line goes south to Richmond. Just at that point there is a track in existence that descends in a gentle slope to join the western main line at the station named Acton Main Line.
I have had rather a lot of fun in the last few days looking over maps of railway tracks to try to work out how an airways terminal for London could be used. That is why I was pointing out these tracks and junctions. If Olympia is used, a high-speed train would anyway have to travel very slowly out of it and probably would not be able to start speeding up until Ealing Broadway had been reached. Having spoken of the terminal, I wish to reaffirm my support for my noble friend's scheme. I do not wish to detract any praise due to the thousands of men and women who are working as efficiently as possible to maintain a good service at any of the existing London airports, but Severnside, when it becomes a definite fact, will create a service so that international journeys—either into or out of this country—can be done with far less wear and tear to the 796 human nervous system. I should like to adapt a well-known historic phrase, also echoing the words of the noble Lord, Lord Boston. "Maplin is dead. Long live Servernside!".
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I have listened with considerable interest to the noble Earl's exposé in support of the new airport in the Severn estuary as a possible new international airport. I know that, as the President of the Haste-mere Aircraft Disturbance Action Group —or, as he so much more easily put it, HADAG—his main purpose is to mitigate the nuisance caused by aircraft noise, an objective with which I have the greatest sympathy. HADAG previously supported the Maplin project, and they are now proposing an alternative, but not altogether dissimilar, scheme, on the Severn. Both these schemes have attracted support, no doubt mainly because they would physically remove the main source of nuisance to a point remote from the capital. The noble Earl's proposal for Severnside is an imaginative suggestion, and environmentally it has a certain appeal. However, there are other relevant factors which the Government must take into account in determining future airports policy.
In reply, I should like to deal with these policy aspects, and to cover so far as possible the points that have been raised in the course of the debate. The noble Lord himself was kind enough to give me advance notice of the main points that he wished to make, and also to supply me with a note outlining the HADAG project. I am most grateful to him for his courtesy. I should like to comment in particular on one of the conclusions in this note, which states that:We [that is, HADAG] ask that no further developments be permitted at any of our existing commercial airports, but that this proposal should be given priority within a national strategy for airport location and operation".The Government already have a national strategy, which is set out in the White Paper, Airports Policy, which was published on 1st February this year. This policy is the result of thorough and extensive consultations involving nearly 1,000 individuals and organisations, including HADAG, initiated in 1975 and 797 1976 with the publication of a detailed two-part document entitled Airport Strategy for Great Britain. The Government's intention was to lay the whole problem open to discussion and to involve all those concerned or affected by airport development in the policy-making process. A variety of options were put forward and examined, though they did not of course all find their way into the White Paper. The task of the Government was to weigh the arguments and strike what they believed to be the right balance between conflicting interests, in order to provide for adequate airport capacity to accommodate the growing demand. There was virtually no disagreement with the objective—that the demand should be met if the United Kingdom was to retain its pre-eminent position in air transport. I doubt if anyone in your Lordships' House would disagree with that today.
London has been likened to the Clapham Junction of the air, a position which carries undoubted benefits in terms of trade, tourism and foreign currency earnings, and which we do not want to lose to Amsterdam or Paris because, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye has reminded us, our airports may not be able to cope with the traffic. No one denies, however, that the additional airport capacity is needed, although there are differences of opinion as to when and where, and even as to how much capacity should be provided.
The Government's policy as set out in the White Paper distinguishes between two phases of airport development—the period up to 1990 (there is no magic about that figure) and the period beyond 1990. The White Paper is concerned mainly with the first period, covering the short and medium term. It confirms the decision taken in 1974 to abandon the Maplin project which was so ably outlined by my noble friend Lord Boston of Faversham—incidentally, one of my first duties on the Front Bench was to bury Maplin—and it concludes that, on the basis of the forecasts, there is no requirement for a new airport to serve the London area during the 1980s.
That is still the Government view. The current development work at Heathrow and Gatwick, which is nearing completion, 798 should accommodate the demand in the early 1980s, but beyond that, in the period up to 1990, additional capacity will be needed. The White Paper envisages that this might be provided by the construction of a fourth terminal at Heathrow, which is currently the subject of a public inquiry, a second terminal at Gatwick, which may be subject to a public inquiry, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, has reminded us, and modest developments at Luton and Stansted. Beyond that, there would be no further development at Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton. These schemes would raise the global capacity of the London airports in the medium term from 50 million to 72 million passengers a year, which is in the lower half of the forecast range of demand.
The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, expressed some doubts about the adequacy of these proposals, but I should stress that the forecasts of demand are subject to a considerable degree of uncertainty. We shall in any case be monitoring the forecasts closely to detect any new trend in the demand which might affect the timing of decisions for the longer term. This brings me to the second phase of airport development for the longer term. I have already indicated that demand forecasts are inherently uncertain, dependent as they are on a variety of factors which are always difficult to quantify. It is these uncertainties which led to a wide range of forecasts rather than a single figure for 1990. But forecasting is even more difficult for longer periods, and in these conditions of acute uncertainty the Government have concluded that it would be wrong to take firm decisions now about the provision of additional capacity beyond 1990. Nevertheless, despite the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Newall, that the Government had not been very positive about the future, the White Paper identifies three possible solutions; a major expansion of Stansted, the development of an existing military airfield as a civil airport and the construction of a new airport to serve the London area. The White Paper also emphasises the need to examine these options and the Government are pressing ahead with the arrangements to undertake this work.
The Government's airport strategy is clear. It is based on the principle that 799 airport development should be closely related to demand. To summarise briefly, it is that during the 1980s adequate capacity can be provided by the expansion of the existing London airports, but that no further expansion of these airports is envisaged beyond 1990 except, possibly, at Stansted, Secondly, three options are identified for the longer term which will be examined in the light of forecasts for the period beyond 1990. Finally, the Government believe that there is adequate capacity outside the South-East of England and no major development will be required there in the foreseeable future.
Some may regard this policy as deficient, in that it leaves the options open for a longer term. We do not accept this; the decisions will be taken at the appropriate time on the basis of the most reliable projections. In accordance with the conclusions in the White Paper, steps are being taken to establish very shortly an advisory committee to consider the options, on which the Government hope that local authorities will be represented along with other principal interests. It will be for that committee to advise which proposals for new airports would seem most appropriate for examination in detail. Therefore I am not in a position at this stage to advise the noble Lord whether his proposal will or will not make the short list.
However, I can say this: the solution he proposes, whatever its merits, is for the longer term, bearing in mind the time required to plan and construct a new airport on a virgin site. In the meantime, the additional capacity is certainly required to meet the demand for air travel. I trust the noble Lord will accept that the solution he is promoting, while it is relevant to the longer term, is not therefore an alternative to the Government's immediate strategy for meeting the demand in the short and medium term.
If I may, I should like to take this opportunity to correct any misundertsanding there might be about the future provision of airport capacity for the London area. This was referred to in questions to my noble friend Lord Winterbottom on Wednesday. The White Paper on Airports policy outlined the options which the Government believe should be considered for the longer-term handling of 800 London air traffic. The White Paper also explained that these options should be examined by an appropriate formal structure involving local authority, air transport and other interests.
The Government are discussing the form of this machinery and its programme of work with those concerned. Meetings are taking place and we would hope to be able to announce the setting up of this advisory body very shortly. The Government would expect that the detailed proposals for additional airport capacity in the south-east would be the subject of wide-ranging consultations before decisions are reached. Consistent with the conclusions of the White Paper, we would expect that the proposals for a major expansion of Stansted, the conversion of a military airfield for civil use or the construction of a completely new airport, which are the options outlined in the White Paper, would be subject to the statutory planning procedures and it is the essence of the Government's policy, following on practices adopted in the last few years, that all those concerned should have an opportunity to make their views known on these important matters. I hope this explanation of the way in which future policy could develop is helpful to the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, put forward some interesting but rather complicated ways of journeying around London. He may have been poring over his railway maps; I regret, I have been poring over plans for Wales and Scotland for the last couple of weeks, but I will certainly look at what he says, and if we can give him any assurance or any help or any satisfaction on his intervention, then I will certainly write to him.
May I return to Lord Cork's proposals. I would make the following comments. The proposed airport, as the noble Earl has said, would be even more remote from London than is Maplin, more than double the distance in fact, and there is doubt whether even the best road and rail connections, which, as the noble Earl pointed out, already exist in part, would make it attractive to travellers to and from the London area, particularly in comparison with other sites which might be examined. Recent surveys that we have carried out have shown that over 80 per 801 cent. of all the passengers now terminating at London Airport have origins and destinations in the South-East, so is it reasonable to expect these passengers, who account for a high proportion of tourist and business traffic, to travel over 100 miles from the airport to get to London?
The noble Earl has suggested that journey times by rail to central London could take as little as 1¼ hours, and it has been suggested having trains leaving very frequently, perhaps even as often as every five minutes, assuming this were economical and possible for British Rail, and clearing Customs and Immigration on the train, rather than at the airport. I am not suggesting that a sealed and bonded train is beyond the realm of imagination, but it presents serious and practical difficulties which, incidentally, could not be overcome for the much shorter coach journey between Heathrow and Gatwick when we were considering this problem. Moreover, the scheme takes no account of what are generally referred to as the "meeters and the greeters" who would have to travel over 100 miles to collect or deposit their guests. I am not suggesting that any of these matters is insuperable, but they are issues which need to be weighed in the balance in comparing the various options in the longer term.
It should also be borne in mind that Gatwick and Heathrow are thriving airports, in which a good deal of money has been invested, and £100 million development is just being completed at Gatwick. We are also puzzled by the suggestion that an entirely new airport should be built only a few miles from Cardiff's new airport, particularly since the convenience of the high-speed train from Paddington and the motorway network apply equally well to Cardiff, and that the airport has the merit that it is already there. But I hasten to add that I am not suggesting that Cardiff should become the United Kingdom international airport.
During the course of the speeches, some noble Lords referred to the Government's proposal to examine the feasibility of a scheme for the Severn Barrage to 802 produce energy. The Government recognise that this might have implications for the economy of the South-West and South Wales. However, if such a scheme were to be implemented, there are already two airports—Cardiff and Bristol—which could serve the area. A third airport would not seem to be an essential element of that infrastructure. It is difficult to see what advantages the proposed airport could derive from the barrage.
Finally, little has been said about the cost of the project. The first stage of Maplin, not counting the road and rail connections, would have cost £680 million at 1976 prices, compared with an estimated cost of £150 million to provide comparable capacity at the existing airports. Clearly, an airport at Severnside, remote from its catchment area, would also be a very expensive project, and at these times of financial restraint this must also be an important factor.
We are grateful to the noble Earl for bringing this subject to the attention of your Lordships and we congratulate him on the preparatory work which he instigated to make the presentation of this suggestion to interested parties and to make people aware of the projects. I do not deny that what has been presented today could be a vision of the distant future, and it may well deserve to be examined by the experts, though I cannot today commit them to that. But I will ensure that my right honourable friend is aware of the content of our debate today. Leaving aside its feasibility, it cannot be regarded at this time as a substitute for the Government's strategy to accommodate demand during the 1980s.
§ The Earl of CORK and ORRERY
Before the noble Baroness sits down, may I make a small request? She refers to her view that what I put forward is undoubtedly a long-term project, not a short-term project. My request is that she will not totally dismiss the argument that I think brought out—I hope, adequately—in my speech; that is, that such an airport could be made operational in the mid-1980s, a time comparable to that taken to build the new terminal at Heathrow.