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Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): I am a long-standing opponent of terminal 5, not for the reasons given by some environmental groups, although they have validity, but because the whole process of planning for terminal 5 has never looked holistically at the need for proper transport links in the surrounding area. Will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that those transport links will be considered? I am indebted to the hon. Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) for their comments, in which they have referred to the need for transport links and, especially, for a western rail link to Heathrow that would terminate at Reading. That is vital for the future of transport in the Thames Valley and for proper air and other transport links. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that that will be looked at? Will he also assure me that the crossrail project will also be considered? That, too, needs to have its western end at Reading.
Mr. Byers: The details of public transport in relation to the planning application for terminal 5 are dealt with in the context of the decision letter. When my hon. Friend has had an opportunity to read that detailed letter, she will see how those points are addressed in it.
In a sense, crossrail is a separate issue. Both my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport and I have been acutely aware of the arguments deployed by my hon. Friend on behalf of the people of Reading. One of the options under active consideration is to extend crossrail right through to Reading. Obviously, no decisions have yet been taken as to the precise route that crossrail will take, but a powerful case can be used for that westerly link from Reading. I believe that, as a result of the decision that we have taken today on terminal 5, the arguments in favour of crossrail being extended to Reading may well have been enhanced.
Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): Does the Secretary of State appreciate that my constituents in and around Windsor will be disappointed by one aspect of his important announcement today? Of course, there should be a balance between the vital national interest of the country and the rights of local people, but there is no such balance in his statement. Indeed, he talks about the changes in westerly preferences, but I understand that although they benefit some hon. Members' constituents, they work against the interests of others, including mine.
The European Court of Human Rights judgment is outstanding. The Secretary of State has talked about putting the issue out for consultation, which he is probably obliged to do any way in the next couple of years. That is a long time scale for people who have already suffered for a long time. I do not believe that he cannot indicate clearly what the Government's preference on night flights is now and, therefore, provide a real balance, instead of leaving us suspended.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the time scale, and it is worth reflecting on the fact that, even on the most optimistic forecast, terminal 5 will not be in operation for six or seven years or so, so the changes that we are considering will not be made until then.
On consultation, I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that it would be inappropriate for me to say today what the consultation on the night noise regime will involve; it must be proper, open consultation, and it will be. People would think it rigged if I were to say, "This is the Government's preference." We need to have an open consultation because, as I have said several times this afternoon, the point is that, if the planning process is to command public support, it must be seen to be open and transparent and there must be an attempt to involve people in the process.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): My right hon. Friend will be aware that aviation is just one of the industries that has suffered horrendously since 11 September. His decision today is so vital that it will have an immediate effect. Is he now prepared to accept that some very rapid decisions need to be taken on where a third runway will be built in the south-east, how the air traffic space over the south-east will be organised and, above all, how we shall develop our aviation industry? If this decision had not been taken, not only would many jobs have been lost, but the United Kingdom industry would have been rapidly overtaken. Most people will accept that today's decision is a cost worth paying.
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we cannot over-estimate the importance of Heathrow to our national economy. If we had not given terminal 5 the go-ahead today, there was a real danger that Charles de Gaulle, Schipol and Frankfurt would have overtaken Heathrow as the premier destination airport in Europe, and we simply could not allow that to happen. The decision strikes the balance between meeting those aviation needs and those of the local communities as well.
The aviation industry is important to the United Kingdom. It is one of those industries that has developed through innovation and by taking responsible decisions, giving good customer satisfaction and service, and providing proper investment over the years. We need to consider the aviation industry in the round, particularly in the aviation White Paper, which we intend to publish next year. It offers a good opportunity to consider the future aviation industry comprehensively.
We need to consider the detailed options for an additional runway in the south-east. A south-east study is being undertaken at present, in which that issue will be considered, and it will also be looked at in the context of the White Paper. Both those pieces of work should be viewed as almost complementing the decision that we have taken today in relation to terminal 5, because they will build on the strengths of the aviation industry, not just in the south-east of England, but throughout the whole of the United Kingdom.
May I also point out that aviation is not incompatible with protecting the environment? The measures the Secretary of State has announced for surface transport links will help and the industry is also helping with quieter engines that produce a much smaller noise footprint than those of 10, 15 or 20 years ago.
Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman has many years of expertise in this subject and he makes important points. In particular, he referred to the way in which technology has helped to develop quieter aircraft. Aircraft are also significantly larger than they were. Therefore, although the number of flights will increase to only 480,000, there will be an increase of 25 million passengers a year at Heathrow as a result of the development of terminal 5.
For reasons that the hon. Gentleman touched on, a balance can be struck between the needs of the aviation industry, the travelling public and business and those of the environment. Heathrow is crucial to business, tourism and the competitive position of Britain in the world economy. We should not forget that Heathrow and other national airports play a role, as those of us who have travelled have seen, because they often provide the first impression that a visitor gets of a country, so we must ensure that visitors to this country get the best possible impression. I happen to believe that terminal 5 will be able to show Britain at its best.
Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): Does my right hon. Friend accept that, subject to the important constraints on transport and noise, he has made the right decision not just for the country but for west London? Although I receive complaints from my constituents about noise, more of them recognise that, if Heathrow were to go down the world league of airports, west London would suffer the same fate that east London suffered when the docks closed. It is vital to recognise that there is the equivalent of a high-tech city in west London and that it is keeping the economy of the whole area buoyant. We should maintain it in every possible way.
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend's description of the high-tech city that is Heathrow accurately depicts airports at the beginning of the 21st century. I would like to think that the decision that we have taken has struck the right balance. It will bring benefits to his constituents and will ensure that we do not ignore the environmental concerns expressed by those who live near Heathrow airport.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): As a Member for a constituency near Heathrow, I fully accept that it has been a difficult decision for the Secretary of State to take. On balance, I think that it is the right decision in the national interest. However, if he is to allay the fears of my constituents who live under the flight path, will he accept that we need real action quickly on night flights and on reducing the noise levels of modern aircraft?