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Mr. McDonnell: One matter that does not appear to have arisen during the consultation process is the power of compulsory purchase, which the BAA inherited from the nationalised industry. The BAA uses that power ruthlessly to pursue its objective of developing the airport beyond what the local community believes to be legitimate environmental parameters.

Mr. Raynsford: As I understand it, the proposals being considered at the inquiry concern land within the existing curtilage of Heathrow airport, so no compulsory purchase powers are required. As for the time scale for inquiries, the long-running inquiry into terminal 5 at Heathrow is very much the exception rather than the rule.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) mentioned Northolt. I reiterate what my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces said in a recent Adjournment debate, when he made it clear that early proposals on the future of RAF Northolt were highly unlikely. In any case, the concerns of the local community, which my hon. Friend rightly aired today, will be an important consideration, as will matters raised by the White Paper on integrated transport when my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister publishes it in the near future.

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Noise is of great concern to my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Putney (Mr. Colman), whose constituents are much affected by the noise of aircraft flying over them. Planning policy guidance 24 on planning and noise advises local authorities in England on the use of planning powers to minimise the impact of noise, at aerodromes and elsewhere. It sets out criteria for permitting both noise-sensitive and noise-generating developments, and it advises on the use of conditions to minimise the impact of noise. I am well aware, from my mailbag and from the views expressed by my own constituents who are affected by aircraft noise, of wide concern about noise in the vicinity of aerodromes. We will review PPG 24 and will take action, if necessary, to ensure that its principles are followed by local authorities and developers.

Regional planning guidance will apply national policies for airports at the regional level, taking full account of the Government's objectives for sustainable development, integration with surface transport and regeneration.

Mr. Colman: My hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the Heathrow express, which has just opened as extra access to the airport, access to which by public transport is difficult. Does he support the Sweltrac--South and West London Transport Conference--concept of a dedicated line from Waterloo through Putney and Wimbledon to allow direct access to the airport from the south-west?

Mr. Raynsford: I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend about the merits of the Heathrow express, but I cannot be drawn into commenting on a matter that is not strictly my responsibility. I am sure that he has been assiduous in pressing the case for the Sweltrac proposal on my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London.

The Government recognise that it is essential that the potential impacts of development options, including airport development, are rigorously appraised as an integral part of the RPG preparation process. To that end, we have proposed that RPG should be subject to a sustainability and environmental appraisal from the outset. We have let a research project which will produce good practice guidance on the application of this technique, which is in its infancy, to RPG.

The Government are directly responsible for certain noise control requirements at Gatwick and Stansted, as well as at Heathrow, under section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982. Under this power, we set night restrictions, noise limits and routes for departing aircraft, and regulations relating to arriving aircraft. Noise insulation has been provided.

The Government are engaged in a two-stage consultation on night flying restrictions, which were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, at the three airports. A preliminary consultation paper was issued at the end of February which sought views on all aspects of the current arrangements. All responses to it will be considered before specific detailed proposals for night flying arrangements are drawn up. These will be consulted on in the second stage paper, which we intend to issue at the end of September. Hon. Members will appreciate that I cannot comment in detail on this matter while the consultation process continues.

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Proposals to reduce the departure noise limits, by 3 dB(A) for daytime and 2 dB(A) at night, were made by the previous Administration. Following representationsby the International Air Transport Association, the Department has undertaken to issue a supplementary consultation paper on these proposals. When this paper is issued, eight weeks will be allowed for consultation.

Noise preferential routes for departing aircraft are of long standing and have been designed to minimise--subject always to the need of safety--overflight of the more densely populated areas. In a city such as London, it is impossible to avoid overflight completely; even in the vicinity of Gatwick and Stansted, it is inevitable that substantial numbers are directly overflown. Efforts are being made to improve compliance with the routes.

The Department, through its aircraft noise monitoring advisory committee, is also examining noise from arriving aircraft and the feasibility of operational limits, and the scope for improvements in operational practice by airlines and air traffic controllers. That issue has assumed increasing importance, not least as the noise climate attributable to departing aircraft has improved over the years at Heathrow, Gatwick and some other airports.

Ground noise is subject to separate arrangements, managed by the airports. It comprises a range of activities, including taxing, ground engine running and movement of airport vehicles, which can cause significant nuisance to people living in close proximity to the airport, including constituents in Hayes and Harlington. The Department's technical advisers, the department of operational research and analysis at National Air Traffic Services, have recently undertaken a study of ground noise at night at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, and intend to publish the results soon. BAA, partly in the light of this work, has taken steps to improve practice--for instance, by the increased use of fixed electrical ground power supplies instead of noisy auxiliary power units.

Returning for a moment to Heathrow, we have given a commitment to do everything practicable to ensure that the noise climate there continues to improve, even though, after the phase-out of chapter 2 aircraft, this will be more challenging to achieve than hitherto. Because of uncertainty about the future aircraft fleet mix at Heathrow and retirement dates for Concorde, we cannot be sure of achieving such improvements year on year, every year. However, we have offered a further assurance to local people around Heathrow that the Government will take all practicable steps to prevent any deterioration in the noise climate after the chapter 2 phase-out is complete.

The regulations made in the UK implementing agreements made through the International Civil Aviation Organisation for the limitation of noise and emissions from aircraft also bear closely on the environment around airports, both large and small. The Government participate actively in the international forums responsible for developing environmental standards for new aircraft, and we are pleased that the older, noisier chapter 2 jet aircraft will be withdrawn from service by March 2002. We are pressing for a new standard, quieter than the preset ICAO chapter 3 requirements, to lock in advances in technology, and work on that will start shortly.

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The only other issue that I wish to discuss is that of environmental limits, the case for which was eloquently espoused by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. He made some interesting suggestions, not least on the role of the mayor and assembly. We will

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consider those points. I hope that I have assured him that the Government are actively considering the issue of noise and the environmental impact of airports and doing our best to improve matters.

Question put and agreed to.

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