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Column 815Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House takes note with approval of the Government's assessment as set out in chapters 4, 5 and 6 of the Financial Statement and Budget Report 1995-96, as updated, for the purposes of section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Dr. Liam Fox.]
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East): May I make it clear from the outset that the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) will participate in the debate because the airport under discussion is in his constituency?
I take this opportunity to thank Madam Speaker for granting me this debate on the safety of airports outside the capital. It is not necessarily about regional airports but the category that one might call "feeder airports", into which Coventry airport falls. I appreciate the fact that the Minister for Transport in London has come along to reply to the debate and I hope that he will answer some of the points that I shall raise. I have corresponded with his Department from time to time. Will he confirm that the Government have made proposals regarding small airports and that it is purely a matter of parliamentary time before those are implemented? This matter has been a consistent theme over the past 18 months, during which time I have tabled a number of questions regarding problems associated with Coventry airport. I even tabled, and hon. Members signed, an early-day motion in that endeavour. It could be said that it was a bipartisan approach because the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth signed it to demonstrate that I was not trying to hype up a political situation but rather deal with a problem that affects his and my constituencies.
Many residents in those areas have no choice whether they live beside an airport. After the war, council houses were built in Willenhall and the airport was used mainly for pleasure flights, with just one or two heavier aircraft using it a couple of times a month. Over the years, the airport's status has changed, so it must be considered in regulatory terms.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the air crash that happened a few days before Christmas in my constituency, killing three crew members and two handlers. It had a dramatic effect on residents not only in Willenhall but in Baginton and Coventry as a whole. Anyone who visited the scene that day would have been awestruck by the response of the emergency services. Neither the residents of the area nor I could criticise their response, but, as the day developed, the traumatised residents felt frustrated about the fact that, over the years, they had predicted what could happen at that airport. It is not for me to apportion blame. That will be done at another inquiry, the report of which we will probably receive in about six months. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that.
The residents of Willenhall and Baginton, as well as those in other parts of Coventry, have complained for a long time about the frequency of flights, particularly at night; the height of aircraft on their approach to landing; whether aircraft stick to the flight path; the occasional dumping of fuel; and the general problem of aircraft noise.
The problems at the airport have been exacerbated by the export of live animals. As a result of a recent accident, a young lady who lived in my constituency was killed. No doubt we will hear in coming months about what
Column 817happened. I was not there and I am not aware of all the facts, so it is not for me to apportion blame, but no doubt all those facts will be established. The export of live animals, particularly at weekends, has aggravated the problems experienced by the residents. A public meeting about them is scheduled for Friday night. The export of those animals has introduced another significant factor--the larger aircraft used for that transport.
Although the controversy surrounding the export of live animals remains unresolved, the cost of policing that trade is expected to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Given the precarious state of Warwickshire county council's budget and all its other problems, it could well do without that cost. I will not dwell on that now, but I should be interested to know whether the Government intend to help the county to meet that considerable cost.
Some weeks ago, a public meeting was held which was attended by 500 residents not just from Coventry, but beyond, and organisations representing other residents who were unable to attend. They expressed their concern about the issues I have raised tonight. I accept that the Government have prepared their own proposals about the use of smaller airports, but questions about the size of the aircraft using those airports, the age of the aircraft and the frequency of safety checks--the Government say that they are conducted every three years, as well as being conducted periodically--were unresolved. I do not agree with the Government's approach, because I believe that the number of hours flown should be the key consideration.
It is also important to consider the possible relocation of Coventry airport. All sorts of costs have been bandied about. It would certainly cost a great deal to re-site the runway, but, given the additional factors that have exacerbated the problems at the airport, one hopes that the Government will consider that proposal. The Government's proposals also did not make it clear who would pay for the noise amelioration schemes. The onus has been put on captains to make on-the-spot safety checks of their aircraft. I am sure that the Minister will elaborate on that further. I hope that I have not taken that matter out of context.
The local authority lacks the ability to refuse operators the use of Coventry airport as long as the freight operator has a proper licence for the use of the airport, although it may be in the public interest for the authority to be able to refuse certain types of freight operators the use of airports such as Coventry. Had the local authority been able to intervene in the issue of air freight transport of calves to the continent, perhaps some of the problems would not have arisen in relation to that airport. Those aspects should be considered by the Secretary of State for Transport or a proper public inquiry so that we can introduce proper regulations. The Secretary of State has produced the Department's document or its proposals, depending on the way in which one chooses to interpret it. The proposals are:
"Department to commission and consult on guidance to create a national framework to assist preparation of noise amelioration schemes.
Department to encourage aerodromes to review existing noise amelioration measures and their enforcement, and arrangements for local accountability.
Department to open discussions with BAA and local consultative committees about making Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports more responsible and locally accountable for their noise control measures."
Column 818Why cannot we do the same thing in relation to airports such as Baginton airport?
"New enabling power for aerodromes to establish and enforce noise control arrangements, including for ground noise.
New power of designation to replace existing sections 5 and 78-80 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 and replace them with new power for the Secretary of State to have the discretion to compel aerodromes to prepare noise amelioration schemes.
Designated aerodromes to prepare noise amelioration scheme, consult locally and agree it with `lead' local authority". Where disputes take place, the Secretary of State will have the power to settle them.
"New powers of enforcement to enable local authorities to take action against designated aerodromes who do not enforce schemes. `Call-in' power to be available for Secretary of State to approve schemes himself.
These new powers to be applied to all other aerodromes from largest airports to smallest private sites, including those used by helicopters."
In conclusion, it is noticeable that no help has been given to residents outside London, with the possible exception of Birmingham, with noise prevention schemes. The residents in Coventry and the surrounding area hope that the Secretary of State, bearing in mind the representations that Members from both Conservative and Labour parties have made, will announce a date and a time for the debate on his 1993 proposals, so that the House can amend them and vote to make those proposals law.
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth): I thank the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Cunningham) for allowing me the courtesy of intervening in the debate. I am grateful to him for the time that he has given me. I also acknowledge the attendance at the debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher), and the hon. Member for Coventry--
Therefore, three Coventry Members and one Warwickshire Member are present for this important Adjournment debate.
Coventry airport, as the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East says, is in my constituency, and has been since boundary changes in 1983. The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East spoke with considerable knowledge. That does not surprise me, as I am aware that he is the former leader of Coventry city council and obviously his experience and knowledge has shown through in the debate that he opened this evening.
In the past 10 years, I have experienced, together with hon. Members on both sides of the House, a substantial increase in the number of complaints about the noise and nuisance that has been caused by aircraft flying in and out of Coventry airport. I must make a special reference to the night flights. For my sins, I happen to live some distance away from Coventry airport, but none the less from time to time I hear the aircraft passing over my roof. At times they seem to be coming through the roof, not over it --although no doubt that is something of an exaggeration. But it is not an exaggeration to say that the number of night flights
Column 819has grown substantially over the past few years. Coventry airport is now one of the busiest freight airfields in the United Kingdom. Part of the problem has been caused by the fact that many houses were built reasonably close to the airport during the years when it was enjoying very little popularity and only a small number of light aircraft were landing on and flying from the strip. The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East was right to draw attention to the problems recently caused when an aircraft crashed in his constituency, killing members of the crew and two animal handlers. That was a disaster that could easily have been a catastrophe--had the aircraft been only a few feet lower, it would have landed in a densely populated housing estate at Willenhall, with severe loss of life. It was only by the grace of God that a disaster did not become a catastrophe. The problem is further worsened by the fact that there are now a substantial number of live animal flights from the airfield. As the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East said, there has already been one fatal accident in which a young woman was killed. The demonstrations and protests continue on the site. I am concerned about the growing risk to public safety. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the high cost to Warwickshire taxpayers of policing the site and I have been advised that the police operations on the site currently cost about £27,000 a day-- a substantial sum. The animal flights should be halted before there are further injuries or fatalities.
I am well aware of the consultative committees that have been set up to supervise airfields--there is one at Coventry. But they lack the necessary teeth and do not have sufficient bite. If my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London is unable to say that he would like to strengthen or beef up the consultative committees, perhaps he might say a word about the increased powers that his Department should take on. If we cannot strengthen the consultative committees, we should be looking to introduce legislation to give the Department greater powers to deal with growing aircraft noise and nuisance, and to study the size and type of aircraft using the smaller provincial airports and the number of hours that are being flown.
My constituents suffer acutely from the problem. I have constituents who live in the villages of Baginton and Stoneleigh, and there are many other adjoining villages such as Binley Woods, which are outside my constituency, where residents are also affected. Clearly it is time that proper controls were exercised.
The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Cunningham) for raising the important subject of airport safety. I have noted that all three of his neighbours--the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) and my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) and for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey)--are here tonight. I appreciate that their presence underlines the importance that the people of Coventry and the parliamentary representatives attach to the issue.
Column 820I want to assure the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East that, in safety terms, airports outside London are treated no differently from airports that serve London. I note what he said about the control of airports lying in the hands of local authorities. He mentioned the local authority's frustration at not being able to intervene in determining which flights should use the airport. I hope that he will appreciate that it is important that responsibility for technical and operational safety issues relating to civil aviation safety in the United Kingdom rests with the Civil Aviation Authority.
Under the Air Navigation Order 1989, any aerodrome used by aeroplanes flying for the public transport of passengers or for flying training must be licensed by the CAA. Before the CAA grants a licence for an aerodrome, it needs to be satisfied that the aerodrome is safe for use by aircraft, having regard in particular to the physical characteristics of the aerodrome and its surroundings. It must also be satisfied that the person applying for the licence is competent to ensure that the aerodrome and its airspace are safe for the use of aircraft. In addition, the Civil Aviation Authority helps to safeguard the safety of both aircraft passengers and people on the ground by ensuring that aircraft registered in the United Kingdom are maintained and operated to the highest possible standards. I understand that the hon. Gentleman's immediate concerns about airport safety, and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth, originate from the recent crash of an Air Algerie aircraft at Coventry airport. As the hon. Gentleman stated correctly, that accident is now the subject of a formal investigation by the air accident investigation branch and, therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on it at this stage. The air accident investigation branch will publish a report of its investigation in due course.
I am sorry that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise date for the release of the report, simply because I do not have that information to hand--I am not sure that the inquiry team would be able to give a final date at this stage. The report will, if appropriate, make safety recommendations based on the lessons learned from the accident.
I appreciate the concern that my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth and the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East expressed about the export of live animals. I hope that both hon. Members will understand that I cannot come to any conclusion this evening on issues which derive from incidents which occurred on the ground at Coventry airport. However, the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East made some important remarks about one very sad incident.
Although I appreciate that the Air Algerie crash on the approach to Coventry airport has caused considerable concern to local residents--and to all of those living in the vicinity of major airports--the reality is that aircraft pose a very small risk to people on the ground. The House may be reassured to know that, since the Civil Aviation Authority started recording data on aviation accidents and incidents in 1976, no one on the ground has been killed or injured in accidents involving aircraft taking off or landing at United Kingdom airports.
Anticipating the topics of discussion at the public meeting which the hon. Gentleman mentioned in his speech, it might be helpful if I confirm that the aircraft involved in the accident at Coventry was foreign registered. That obviously raises some particular questions on which
Column 821he touched. As with any foreign aircraft operating in the UK, it was required to comply with the internationally agreed minimum safety standards set out in the annexes to the Chicago convention. Where we have concerns that a particular foreign aircraft is not complying with those standards, we will continue to arrange for the Civil Aviation Authority to carry out a safety check on that aircraft. For example, in view of concern about the safety of aircraft involved in the transport of livestock from Coventry airport, my Department has taken the additional measure of asking the Civil Aviation Authority to conduct inspections of non-European Economic Area aircraft used for such operations. The inspections are aimed at ensuring that those aircraft are airworthy. My Department will not issued permits for such flights until it is satisfied that the aircraft meet international safety standards.
Because of general concerns about the safety of some foreign aircraft, we welcome recent international activity. In particular, we endorse the US Federal Aviation Administration view that the safety standards laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation should be applied as effectively as possible. In all honesty, the ICAO system is the only practical way of ensuring global aviation safety standards, but there is a need to ensure that system operates effectively. I am delighted to report that as a result of our intensive lobbying, the ICAO council has agreed to establish a safety oversight programme. We will maintain our strong interest by participating in ICAO working groups.
We are participating also in the task force set up by the European civil aviation conference to consider further arrangements to improve the overall safety standards of foreign aircraft flying to Europe. That task force's first report is due shortly.
Protection of the public on the ground near the busiest airports--this applies to the constituents of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East and of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth--is addressed by the Department by the establishment of public safety zones. Those are funnel- shaped areas, extending outwards from the ends of runways, within which development is controlled through the planning system. Experience has shown that, although the risk of an aircraft crash is small, accidents are most likely to occur near the ends of the runways during landing or take-off.
Where public safety zones have been established, the statutory requirement is that local planning authorities are required to consult the Civil Aviation Authority before
Column 822granting permission for the development of land within a zone. The objective is to limit the number of people who may be in those areas at any one time and so be at greatest risk. If it is considered that a proposed development will increase unduly the number of people at risk, particularly in the part of the zone closest to the runway ends, advice will be given to the planning authority that the development should not be permitted.
Not all airports have public safety zones. The risk generally increases with the amount of traffic. At airports where traffic is relatively light, the risk is considered insufficient to justify zones. Traffic at Coventry airport is currently below the level that triggers establishment of zones. Even had public safety zones been established at Coventry airport, the recent crash would have occurred just outside them.
As I announced to the House on 21 July last year, a review of policy on public safety zones is currently under way. That commenced by updating previous studies of accident data to cover the years 1989 to 1993. Worldwide data are used because, fortunately, UK aircraft accidents are relatively rare. No conclusions have yet been reached, but I shall let the House know the outcome of that review when it has been completed.
The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East and my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth mentioned particular concerns relating to night flights. I understand how difficult it is to balance the economic growth that airports and airport activities generate with the considerable annoyance to local residents caused by flights at night. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about that disturbance, and are keen for the Government to bring forward the Bill on the control of aircraft noise that we outlined in the March 1993 report to which my hon. Friend referred. My noble Friend the Minister for Aviation and Shipping assured the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East that the only reason for delay in bringing forward a Bill is the pressure of other business. That remains a clear statement of the Government's position. We appreciate local concern that there is a need to apply greater regulation. We continue to believe that represents the right way forward. We will-- The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order. Adjourned accordingly at twenty-four minutes past Twelve midnight.
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