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Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman has asked a number of questions, and I shall try to answer them in the order in which they were asked. He mentioned the very good work of the inspector, Mr. Roy Vandermeer QC, who I think has done a very thorough and effective job. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is able to associate the Opposition with my opening remarks on the work that he has done. The report has taken a long time, but I should say that it has not been gathering dust on my desk. I should have liked to take a decision on the matter soon after I entered office, but we had to wait for BAA to come up with the changes that it wanted to the twin rivers scheme. That has delayed today's announcement.
I think that the hon. Gentleman was right about contraction in air travel. There may certainly be contraction in the next two years, in the light of events on 11 September, but the experience of the Gulf war was that, after no more than six months or so, air traffic took off again and numbers began to increase. Although I had to consider that issue in relation to the inspector's report and the forecast to 2016, it was not an issue that affected the inspector's report. The important point for Heathrow is that it goes to quality and is considered around the world to be a first-rate airport. It is a quality airport that we can provide in the United Kingdom.
No decisions have been taken yet on the detail of the consultation document in relation to the issue of night flights; they will have to wait until we embark on that particular process. I am perfectly willing to accept the hon. Gentleman's proposal that we should extend the number of factors such as noise that are taken into account, to include sleep disturbance, for example, which is clearly a very important issue. When flight paths are agreed they should be followed and we shall ensure that that is done stringently.
The inspector's view was that 480,000 flight movements annually was striking the right balance. It is worth reflecting on the fact that he strongly believed that with 480,000 flight movements annually and other changes, such as the move to larger aircraft which are still quieter than current aircraft, 90 million passengers annually at Heathrow is the potential that could be achieved.
On public transport, the hon. Gentleman was right to point out the importance of the Piccadilly line and the Heathrow Express, which we will want to see extended to terminal 5. As the decision letter makes very clear, the number of people using the Heathrow express is a particular issue in relation to possible problems at Paddington. That issue will have to be addressed.
We do not expect the 480,000 flight movements to be in any way detrimental to regional services. Indeed, one would have thought that the increase of 20,000 flight movements annually offers potential from which regional airports can benefit. An aviation White Paper will be published in 2002 that will address some of the wider issues, over and above the planning application, affecting Heathrow airport and the terminal 5 application.
I have not seen any proposals from the Mayor on congestion charging at Heathrow. I have seen newspaper comment on such proposals but no detail from the Mayor. It is not an issue that he has raised in the regular meetings that we have with him.
On the wider issue of infrastructure projects and a streamlined planning process, I am very clear that, when it comes to planning, our responsibility is to take people with us in the process. I do not want people to feel that they have to resist change totally. The real challenge facing us is to put in place a planning process that enables people to feel that they are partners in change, not victims of change. What that means in practice is allowing people to articulate their own concerns, either through their Member of Parliament or without having to do so through very expensive lawyers. I do not believe that the current system allows individuals to do that.
I may be overly optimistic, but I believe that we can propose a better process that allows Parliament as a democratic body to have a say on the principle of policies and also allows local people to express their concerns about the local impact and detail of any particular planning application. It is streamlining, not stifling, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that has to be the objective of any reformed and changed system. However, I am also clear that change must be made. Terminal 5 is a lesson in how not to plan major infrastructure projects that are in the national interest. The current system does not help our competitive position in a global economy.
Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston): I have lived within six miles of Heathrow airport for nearly 40 years, and for the 13 years before I was elected in 1992, I worked only half a mile from the touch-down point. Therefore, I know and have experienced the problems that Heathrow causes, but we are very proud of the air transport industry. I wish to raise what will seem a small problem to other people but is a large problem for those of my constituents who face the worst of the noise and who live close to the touch-down point in Cranford ward.
At the poorly designed junction between the A4 and the A312, the local people who face the worst noise sometimes have to queue for 20 minutes to join the traffic jam. The Mayor says that he cannot find the money to help, but if anybody deserves assistance it is those people who live so close to Heathrow. I could make an hour-long speech about many other issues, but if the Secretary of State would consider the point I have raised, my constituents and I would be most grateful.
Mr. Byers: On the question of noise, when my hon. Friend has had a chance to read the decision letter, he will see that that issue is addressed, and the inspector gave proper consideration to it. If he can provide me with the details of the issue that he raisesit is separate, in a sense, from the planning decision that has been taken todaywe will be happy to consider it as part of our local transport
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I also wish to thank the Secretary of State for providing the statement in advance, and to commend the planning inspector on the work that he has done. We have waited a long time for the decision, but unfortunately it is the wrong one from our point of view. The Secretary of State has imposed some welcome conditions, but several areas of uncertainty remain. I have a few simple questions that I hope the Secretary of State will be able to answer.
Can the Secretary of State rule out a third runway, in a way that would be legally enforceable? Can he confirm that the figure of 480,000 flights a year is a permanent and legally enforceable limit? Can he guarantee that as a result of the construction of terminal 5 no additional road wideningfor example, of the M25will be necessary? Can he confirm that no erosion of safety standards will be allowed? One of the concerns is that more flights will equal shortened distances between planes, with the consequent risk to safety. Finally, can he confirm that the changes he proposes to the planning process will ensure that it is more streamlined and that communities will be able to have their say, with an independent appeal process available to them?
Mr. Byers: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for the inspector's work. This is a difficult issue, especially for people who live nearby, and we are trying to strike a balance between the national interest and the need to safeguard the quality of life of people living nearby. The decision letter and the inspector's recommendations strike that balance, which is why I agreed with the majority of the recommendations made. We will address the issue of a third runway in studies being carried out on the needs of the south-east of England and in the aviation White Paper.
With regard to the limit of 480,000 flight movements, I was very aware of the concern expressed about terminal 4. Planning conditions were not laid down with regard to the number of flights. The view was expressed that there should be a limit on the number of flights, but that was not part of the planning decision. Importantly for people living nearby, we are making it a planning condition that there will be a limit of 480,000 flight movements a year. That means that the limit cannot be changed, even by my successor, unless a fresh planning application is made and new consideration given to the matter.
The decision letter makes clear our approach to the question of road widening. As for safety standards, safety cannot and must not be compromised, as that would be no way to run a project that will have the support of the public. As I said earlier in regard to the changes to be introduced to infrastructure projects, a consultation document will be published in the next six to eight weeks on the role of Parliament in such matters. Most important, we must not deny local communities the opportunity of having their say