On 23 July, the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions made the most significant Government statement on air travel for a generation. Sadly, at the same time he gave us the shortest possible consultation period in which to reply. There is little time for hon. Members to debate or effectively represent our constituents' interests in this vital matter. That is one of the key reasons why I sought this debate almost immediately after the Secretary of State had sat down in July.
Like you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my constituents have a direct interest in the issue. They were shocked by the sheer scale of the planned development that was announced for Stansted. What is proposed is not simply another terminal or perhaps a few more routes, but the replacement of Stansted as a low-cost, point-to-point airport, with what could be the largest international airport in the worldeffectively twice the size of Heathrow today.
In practical terms, for my constituents such enlargement would mean an eight-fold increase in passenger numbers, a five-fold increase in the number of planes, the demolition of more than 300 homes, the loss of two villages, the destruction of 64 grade II listed buildings and the loss of 1,200 hectares of green fields. It would also mean the blighting by noise of more than 28,000 more homesthe equivalent of a town the size of Bishop's Stortford. It would involve up to 300,000 new journeys per day on an already over-stretched road and rail network. In short, the Government's proposals for Stansted would irrevocably change not only our landscapeimportant though that isbut our community. The development would be wholly unsustainable in that location.
My colleagues here today feel as passionately about the issue as I do, and so we should. It is our duty to stand up and speak on behalf of the communities that we represent. I also feel that we must examine the wider question facing the south-east. Even if the Government can prove that a new hub is needed, how do we ensure that the investment delivers the maximum social, economic and environmental benefits for the region? Regrettably, the Government have failed to establish clearly to those of us who live in the south-east the positive reasons why we need a second hub. In the documents that we have seen to date, there is certainly a lot about the needs of air travellers and airlines, but precious little about the needs of the residents and the benefits to them. In his reply, I hope that the Minister
I do not intend to engage in the argument about future demand for air travel or whether it is desirable for that to be constrained in some manner. Over the past 30 years, air travel has grown at approximately 6 per cent. per annum. As a result, in the south-east, the traffic in the air today is approximately five times greater than it was in the 1970s. The Government's plans for the next 30 years, which are based on average growth of a little more than 3 per cent. per annum for the south-east, do not seem wholly unrealistic. I am not an expert in the field, so I do not know whether the figures are right; they must be examined by the experts. I am sure that the Minister will allow an independent view of the subject. However, I suspect that those views on the numbers and the likely growth in air traffic for the south-east are about right.
Given the likely growth, and the limits of Heathrow's natural capacity, there is a danger that, in the long term, London and the south-east could fall behind their European competitors. If the need for investment is proven, we must ask how and where it should be made in order to maximise the benefits for the country and for those in the south-east.
Let us consider London and the south-east as an economic community. However we compare the two sides of London and the south-eastwhether through jobs, literacy, family stability or crime rateshistorically, there has been an imbalance within the region, an east-west divide. In the past century, London's money and decision-makers, and those who could get up and go, have got up and gone west. In the past 20 years, that behaviour has spread, and people have gone to the north and the south. However, there is still a sense that the area due east of London, along the lower east Thames, is being neglected, and that the decision-makers are facing west and have their back to the east. The result is an overheated, congested region that is struggling to cope.
We are all aware that house prices are rising in London and the south-east. The land values in the west and the east that underpin those house prices often differ by £1 million to £1.5 million an acre. In my county of Hertfordshire, for example, we are desperately short of key workers, and one of the critical reasons for that is that they cannot afford to live there. A hub airport, and all its attendant development, would simply exacerbate the problem if it were wrongly located, but in the right place, it could revive an area. It could act as a vital magnet for jobs, and could induce economic development. I hope that, in the consultation process, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions will make a clear assessment of the attendant induced economic development, which I have yet to see mentioned with any clarity in the documents.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk). I follow his argument, and accept all that he has said. Would he care to reflect on the fact that if another hub airport were built elsewhere and there was no scope for two hub airports, taking hub status away from the existing hub airport could cause serious economic problems for the local community? Might not
Mr. Prisk : I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. There is a danger. One need only see the congestion and the problems in the Heathrow area. The imbalance in the south-east is sufficient for there to be significant advantage in having a similar facility on the east side of London. I understand that those who live in and around the Heathrow area feel, as do many in my constituency, that the area has reached capacity.
If there is to be a new hub, we have to decide where it will be. Having thought about the subject, I think that there is a strong case for considering the lower east Thames and what is now known as the Thames gateway area. I am aware that the Government have chosen to highlight one site, the Cliffe site. I do not take that narrow approach; I believe that there are other options, although, of course, there could be some advantages to locating an airport at Cliffe.
Bob Spink (Castle Point): Given that the Cliffe site would be only about 2000 yd from the boundary of my constituency and would impose massive noise, air and light pollution, as well as environmental damage on my constituency, is it not extraordinary that the Government have not sought to consult my constituents on the matter? Does not that reveal the Government's total contempt for the people of Essex?
Mr. Prisk : I entirely sympathise with my hon. Friend, not least because the consultation period is short and has been woefully prepared. Many of my constituents feel that the documents have been issued somewhat late. When the Government choose to hold an exhibition on the Stansted area on the Friday of the August bank holiday, and fail to inform either of the relevant Members of Parliament about it, it is clear that not only the hon. Gentleman's constituents are suffering; we all are. I hope the Minister will respond to that point later.
If we are to have such a hub airport in the lower east Thames area, we must consider the potential benefits, of which, I believe, there are several. First, it could provide a genuine hub for growth in the poorest part of east London. It could improve transport around London and to and from Europe. It could ensure that, for the first time in this country, we have a genuine 24-hour a day airport, with the significant benefits for freight traffic that that would bring. It could enable significant household development, especially for affordable and key worker housing, which, as I mentioned, is lacking. It would allow us economically to develop many brownfield sites and help to rebalance growth and development in the south-east, not least by reducing pressure on overcongested areas.
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Is my hon. Friend aware that the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, Sir Roy McNulty, has said unequivocally in public that the development of a new airport at the Cliffe site, and presumably any other site reasonably close to
Mr. Prisk : As I said, I wanted us to have this debate so that we could air information. I have not seen that statement and I would appreciate it if my hon. Friend would bring it to my attention. However, contrary views have been expressed, which is why I believe that the consultation period should not be so short. If we are to make the right decision, we need a long period in which to consider the matter properly. Four months is inadequate.
Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): The assumptions behind the hon. Gentleman's propositions may be seriously flawed. He thinks that an airport at the Cliffe site could create extra regeneration for the Thames gateway. There is strong feeling, however, that the burden on the existing infrastructure and increased congestion in that whole part of north Kent would make it difficult for the gateway to operate effectively as a thoroughfare for prosperity between this country and elsewhere, with the result that his constituents, too, would suffer from the damage to the national economy that an airport at Cliffe would create.
Hon. Members have rightly focused on the Cliffe site, although, as I said earlier, that is the Government's option, not mine. A coastal or offshore airport would enable planes to fly over the water and not over our roofs. There are safety issues, although they can, perhaps, be overstated, but we should not ignore the importance of minimising noise pollution. Such an airport would fit in with the Government's regional planning goals, as well as with those of most London local authorities. Indeed, it is an approach already adopted by SASIGthe Strategic Aviation Special Interest Groupwhich represents 75 local authorities and 23 million people, so that option should not be easily dismissed.
I appreciate that an offshore or coastal airport is a more expensive option, although that is more an issue for the investor than for the Government. However, judging by what has happened overseas, that option seems to be the way ahead. In Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, they are building new airports on the coast or offshore. Indeed, we need look no further than Hong Kong and the new Chep Lap Kok airport, which was designed by a BritSir Norman Fosterand developed with the direct support of the British Government. It is stunning airport to look at, only 23 minutes from downtown Hong Kong, and we helped to build it.
I return to the question of Hong Kong and the argument for offshore airports. I understand the point about proximity made by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink). Given that the Thames estuary occupies 400 square miles, there must be a case for considering the option. I hope that, in line with the Secretary of State's remarks of 23 July, the Minister will confirm that the Government's mind is not closed on the matter and that they are prepared to consider all reasonable options. If the British Government can contribute to the construction of an airport of that nature in Hong Kong, I cannot understand why they cannot do so here.
In conclusion, it is widely recognised that aviation policy over the past 30 years has been one of make do and mend. Indeed, many of the decisions cobbled together over the past 30 years by both Labour and Conservative Governments are constraining us today. The Government need to recognise how we went wrong in the past and that the decision about the type of airport that we build has as much to do with the social, environmental and economic well being of an area as with aviation policy.
We are all aware of the problems in the south-east. If the Government make the right decision on airport policy, they will have in their grasp a powerful tool, which could transform the poorest part of London, create a modern transport network and improve the lives of everyone in the south-east. That represents a wonderful opportunity, and I hope that the Government have the courage to grasp it.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It is possible that not everyone present with an interest in the matter will have an opportunity to speak, for reasons of time. I appeal to hon. Members to be as brief as they can so that as many different points of view as possible are represented.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): As hon. Members will know, Heathrow is in my constituency, so I have a heartfelt interest in the subject. Some people want to portray those opposed to a third runway at Heathrow or Stansted as opposed to the aviation industry, but that is not the case. Many of my constituents work at Heathrow; some of those at risk of losing their homes as a result of the third runway work at Heathrow and have a direct interest in the long-term development and viability of the aviation industry.
Our consistent view, which should also be the consistent view of the Government, is that aviation policy should be in the interests of the whole community and should focus on the long-term, rather than on short-term profit. It should balance the economic benefits with the environmental and social impact of any developments.
I shall speak briefly about the consultation process, which was seriously flawed and has excited some anger among hon. Members and members of the community. It is unacceptable to have a consultation period of only four months on a proposal that could have an impact on a population of 3 million people. The period was to be six months, but the Department for Transport, Local
Mr. Wilshire : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has been having the same difficulties as I have. Is he aware that the Department concerned said that it had sent letters, placed advertisements in local newspapers, and done all sorts of other things? If he is, has he discovered where it did all that, because I have not?
John McDonnell : Like the hon. Gentleman, I know of no such advertising. The only advertising of which I am aware in my constituency is that which local residents, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and I generated. Let us be clear: the roadshows were a farce. Even the experts sent to staff the roadshows had inadequate information and were not sufficiently expert to respond to many of the questions that my constituents put to them. May I suggest to the Minister and to the Secretary of State that, to make the consultation real, Ministers should be out in the constituencies convening public meetings so that they can hear the views of constituency MPs and local residents who will be affected. It is time for Ministers to get out on the stump to hear what people are saying. My constituents are coming to Parliament today to express their frustration at not being allowed to have their say. The debate on the future of airport strategy has been restricted, lacks transparency, and appears to be a charade.
We need a genuine and open debate. Is there a need for greater airport capacity in the south-east? Is there a need for a new airport rather than the incremental internal development of existing airports at the expense of our environment and communities? Arguments exist that challenge the need for expansion. There are questions to be asked about the growth figures. I would welcome the Government commissioning an independent and transparent study of the growth projections in the consultation papers. There needs to be discussion and an independent evaluation of the economic benefits provided by the proposals, as they have been contested for some time. It is also time that we revisited the debate about the subsidy that the taxpayer gives to the aviation industry. Estimates published this month identify a £7.5 billion subsidy in taxation exemptions by the Government to the aviation industry in 2000, which is projected to rise to £16 billion in 2020. That means that on average, my constituents and all those in the south-east are donating £550 a year to the aviation industry. That should be part of any long-term and sound debate from which a rational policy for aviation in the south-east would develop.
If we accept that there is a need to expand, there is a long-term need for a new airport. My greatest anxiety is that the Government will plant on us new runways at Heathrow, Stansted, and eventually Gatwick. They may tinker around with Cliffe, but I believe that Cliffe is a red herring. I will return to that point. They will come back for a new airport in 10 years' time, having imposed those new runways. It will end up being more expensive and
I hope that my colleagues will be able to outline the implications for their constituents. Despite what the consultation paper says, the implications for my constituents of the map in the consultation document are that the five villages surrounding Heathrow will be lost. Some 4,000 homes will go. Those figures are not mine, but are from the original Government consultationthe RUCATSE or Runway Capacity to Serve the South East studyin 1992. Some 10,000 local residents will be forcibly moved from their homes. Three primary schools will be closed and demolished, and two medieval churches will be flattened. The largest surviving medieval barn in western Europe will go. Village greens, community centres, swimming pools and children's playgrounds will be lost, as will green belt land. What is most offensive to my constituents is that the path of the third runway runs over Harmondsworth church and cemetery. My constituents are being asked to exhume the bodies of their relatives who are buried in Harmondsworth church. Some are in war graves and that is unacceptable at any price for the aviation industry.
Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford): I am pleased to know how strongly my hon. Friend feels about this matter. He is obviously representing his constituents very effectively. Does he appreciate that whereas increasing capacity at Heathrow would cause the problems he suggests, building an airport at Cliffe would cause significant environmental damage, albeit not on the same scale? It would certainly have a major impact on the local environment and on the local transport problems that we already face?
I shall finish on the implications of a third runway at Heathrow. It will have an impact not only on my constituents, but on 2 million Londoners because of new flight paths, noise and pollution. It will not only destroy their environment, but will undermine property prices. Evidence is coming forward of links with cancer from air pollution and of teachers' inability to teach in west London schools because of noise.
Reference has been made to air traffic control. The skies above Heathrow are dangerously crowded. We have already heard expressions of concern from the air traffic control services about the potential risk from further development at Heathrow. That is why at successive inquiries my constituents were promised, "No more." I was at the terminal 4 inquiry when we were told not to worry because if terminal 4 was allowed, there would be no terminal 5. At the terminal 5 inquiry we were told that if terminal 5 was allowed, there would
The managing director of the British Airports Authority at Heathrow wrote to my constituents and me 12 months ago saying that there was no need for a third runway, that BAA opposed a third runway and demanded that the inspector at the inquiry should say no to a third runway. What happened six months later? The Government allowed terminal 5, placed a cap on Heathrow and then, within weeks, started consultation for a third runway at Heathrow. I shall raise with the Speaker the need for a correction to the Hansard record because the Secretary of State, when announcing the consultation on a third runway at Heathrow, said that a cap had been placed on Heathrow only for the period of terminal 5. That is not true. The terminal 5 inspector said in the context of the Government's review of future aircraft capacity that it should be assumed that no further major development would take place at Heathrow after terminal 5. The Secretary of State should return to the House and correct his earlier statement, which was inaccurate.
We no longer believe what the British Airports Authority or Governments tell us. It is not a party political matter because successive Governments have regularly betrayed my constituents. We are pleading with the Government for at least a proper and rational debate and open, transparent and independent consultation on the process. There is a rush to decision making, which gives the impression that the debate has been decided, constituencies are being stitched up and the aviation industry has a fast track to No. 10 and to Ministers that overcome any concerns of hon. Members and their constituents.
My view, which is shared by other hon. Members, is that there is a need for a rational process to look at where a new airport would provide maximum benefit. Most of us have come to the conclusion that that would be in east London. That is where my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is putting new homes, where the new work force will be and where jobs will be needed. The Government are already putting in new transport links with Crossrail and other developments.
No one believes that Cliffe is a viable option. It is a red herring. It would excite the interest of Greens throughout the planet if we asked them whether they would seek to put an airport on the largest bird sanctuary in western Europe. It is a red herring brought forward as a smokescreen by the Government at the behest of the aviation industry. The realistic option is Marinair. It may be more expensive now, but the Government may not be averse to private sector money being used to build it. I am not in favour of private finance initiatives but the Government certainly are, and the City is already interested in funding such a development.
The development would be in the Thames estuary and its environmental and social impact would be less than that of Stansted, Gatwick, Heathrow or Cliffe. It would generate jobs and, above all else, would increase public safety. Its cost would not be prohibitive because we will have to build it anyway. Let us bite the bullet and put in place a socially and environmentally acceptable new airport in the south-east to look to the long-term future of the aviation industry. The argument that it would
Mr. Prisk : Does the hon. Gentleman share my hope that a new airport, which he has described and I endorse, would provide an opportunity to look at competition not only among airlines, but in the ownership and management of airports?
John McDonnell : Such competition has already broken out between regional airports and airports in London and the south-east, given their competing demands for development. It will be interesting to see the role that competition plays in the development of new airport networks, which is how we should describe them.
Whatever decision the Government take, let us unanimously endorse a policy to set environmental limits on airports in advance of their development to ensure that we do not have an incremental incursion on the quality of life and environment in the communities that we represent. I welcome my constituents' coming to Parliament today and I am with them. The hon. Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and for Uxbridge and I will deliver a letter to No.10 to ask the Prime Minister to take a personal interest because the matter dramatically affects so many people.
Cliffe or any other Thames estuary airport would have a devastating impact on people not only in Kent, but in south Essex. I will not repeat my earlier comments about the lack of consultation, and say only that the Government showed monumental arrogance in not consulting the people of south Essex.
I held a public meeting in my constituency that was attended by 1,000 people. The DTLR told me that it was going to send a representative to the meeting, but it failed to do soit did not even a send an apology. The meeting was addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), who helped to arrange it, and soon he will hold a similar meeting in Leigh-on-Sea.
Joan Goddard, the Kent campaign leader, attended the meeting. She is a remarkable lady who has done so much to bring the matter to the public's attention where the Government have failed so miserably. Following that meeting, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West and I organised a petition, and I shall be presenting it on the Floor of the House tonight. I hope that I will be able to present it because it contains more than 10,000 signaturessignatures are still being collectedand is therefore very large.
I congratulate The Evening Echo, Yellow Advertiser and Island Times on their work in publicising the matterthey have done tremendously well. When the Minister sums up, will he say whether the fifth runway
Cliffe airport would be a disaster for Essex and Kent. It would impose massive noise, air and light pollution, environmental damage and possible, but as yet undefined, flood risks for Canvey island and coastal areas of Kent and Essex. It would be massive overdevelopment in a region that already suffers from too much building imposed by the Government. The possible development of an outer M25 route using the A130 would be a disaster for an area that already suffers massive road congestion.
Without the efforts of local Conservative MPs and the local newspapers, the people of south Essex would not have been aware of the dangers to their environment. The proposal for Cliffe, or another Thames estuary airport, is not a red herring; it is a formal Government proposal and we must fight it as such. If we do not, and other people fight for their communities, we shall be failing our community. How will we be able to hold our heads up high if the Minister then decides to go ahead with his disastrous proposal? I have a final question for the Minister: will he come to Canvey Island personally to face the wrath of local people, or is he afraid to do so?
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) on having secured this important debate. I am reminded of the opening paragraph of Paul Theroux' greatest travel novel. It begins:
That is the basis from which we all extend. Cliffe is in my constituency. It is the most beautiful part of my constituency and I have no intention of entering into a competition of horror. I can take on the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) field for field, SSSI for SSSI and village for village. The village of All Hallows, every bit as ancient as those in west London, would disappear forever together with its church and cemetery. The feelings of the people in that area are indescribable; there has not been so great a proposed destruction of community in the interests of planning since the building of the great reservoirs in the last century. We must understand the full portent of the matter.
I question the premise on which the proposal is advanced, which is that the south-east of England requires greater airport capacity. When one reads the document, one perceives that that premise has no basis in commerce, in common sense or in human nature. It is conceivable that it is grounded in theology, which is a poor start for a planning application, particularly one of this size. The Government's argument is that the future of that great commercial enterprise, Heathrow, the mighty epicentre of work and money, which provides 2 per cent. of our national income and a vast number of jobs, will be threatened if we do not expand further into the south-east. The idea is that if we allow the beastly foreigners in Schipol, Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurtall the usual suspectsfree rein to take
Can the Minister tell us what evidence he has of a need to build a new hub airport, or vastly to extend Heathrow with the phenomenal and fantastic level of environmental damage that that would cause? What study can we examine that suggests that failure to do that would adversely affect the existing provision at Heathrow?
The answer is very simple. People are not containers or goods to be shipped around the world; they make their own individual and commercial decisions about where they wish to travel. People will come to the United Kingdom if we succeed in making it a lodestone, and they will continue to come. If they are unable to come to the south-east because it has reached overcapacity, perhaps they will go to Charles de Gaulle and travel to London and the south-east by Eurostar or other methodsgood luck to them. However, the massive destruction of our environment and communities in the south-east on a false economic premise is an unacceptable price to pay.
As I said, I do not wish to indulge in any form of nimbyism, but I cannot be part of the debate without drawing to the attention of the Chamber the environmental, economic and communal damage that would be done to the Cliffe marshes, Cliffe and the Hoo peninsula if ever the proposal were given life and air. On that site, we have the finest SSSIs in Europe, which are completely irreplaceable. There is no mitigation for the loss of such environments. We would lose entire communities including 1,100 homes in All Hallows, an ancient village in which people can trace back their membership to the community for generations. All of that would disappear.
On the issue of consultation, we had a consultation exercise, the chosen location for which was a hotel in my constituency. It would have been impossible to find an area or a site more geographically remote from the Hoo peninsula than that hotel. It has been suggested that that was deliberate. I do not suggest that, but it was an error.
I can tell the Chamber that my constituents are a sturdy lot. In history, no constituents have given more for their country than those who have lived in the area of Chatham, its dockyards and industries. They are not shy of making sacrifices in the national interest, but they will not tolerate the destruction of their lives and their much-loved environment on the basis of a false theology.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): I echo the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). We are all here in an effort to plead our cases, but we should not do so on the basis of not
The Minister must have heard that the period allowed for consultation is a sham. The Government must immediately extend it for the sake of fair play. I shall not reiterate the statements of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) or my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson); on this matter; we are all friends in Hillingdon. The pollution and destruction is, of course, dramatic, but I shall not ask for it to be dumped in someone else's backyard.
It is obvious that nobody wants the development and, in echo of the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Medway, I should like to question whether the Government have made the case for such a dramatic increase. We should be managing demand and considering what must be done. What about making rail infrastructure more efficient to cut down the number of internal flights? Most people would prefer to go by rail if it were efficient and cheap, rather than fly around the country. That must be looked at.
As many other Members want to speak, I shall cut my speech short. I would simply say to the Minister, and to people outside, that the time has come for us seriously to consider what we want. Do we want to put the environment and quality of life higher on the agenda? If no one wants these developments in their backyard, we must seriously consider drawing a line in the sand and looking at the alternatives, as the hon. and learned Member for Medway said. I am not going to say that the developments should be sited anywhere. I, too, feel passionately about Cliffe. As a bird watcher, I have spent many happy hours there and I shall fight for that as much as for Heathrow.
We do not want to enter a game of each trying to prove why we should not have an airport or expansion in our constituency. We all feel the same. This is an opportunity for the nation to look seriously at what it wants.
I endorse in particular the remarks of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). There is nothing more undignified than saying, "Don't take me, take him." The speech that introduced the debate was balanced. I agree with some parts and disagree with others. I do not have the misfortune to represent a parliamentary constituency containing one of the sites, but mine is remarkably close to one, and villages in my constituency would be adversely affected were the Stansted proposals to go ahead.
I must make it clear that there is a strong environmental case against expansion at Stansted. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford put the arguments very well. We already face a situation in which local people cannot afford to buy local houses. I do not believe that employment expansion is needed in our part of Essex and Hertfordshire. If we had airport expansion, most of the workers would not be able to afford most of the available properties in our area.
The countryside around Stansted has attractive villages set in wooded countryside amid low rolling hills and valleys. It is not, as some would picture it, flat and interspersed with concrete, but very attractive old English countryside. It has already been threatened by speculative house builders. Each time there is an airport expansion, the developer comes jumping on the back of that, to build houses that are allegedly for the work force but that in reality will be sold to those who commute down the motorway to London to work and return in the evening.
The consequence is not only the destruction of the appearance of the countryside, but a substantial undermining of village life and rural ways. I have been told that if one strolls of an evening in certain woods close to Stansted, one smells not honeysuckle on the air, but petroleum. A vast increase on the scale that is contemplated would have a devastating economic effect on our area.
On Cliffe, I propose to say only that I strongly oppose it as an alternative site. Like the hon. Member for Uxbridge, I have been a lifelong watcher of birds and I know how important Cliffe is to anybody who is interested in nature conservation. That is evident when one hears that avocets and little egrets breed therethey were extinct as breeding birds in this land when I was a boy.
Way beyond that is the question of the effect that the proposals will have on the way in which we live our lives. We must start to challenge the figures that have been put forward, which are projections into the future based on what happened in the past, as though nothing ever changes. We were recently reminded that in the 1960s television shows attracted 28 million viewers; now they attract only half that number. As the world changes, people's tastes change. Is it really worth the price of destroying our environment and parts of our way of life just to have a cheap holiday in a country that is warmer for some parts of the year?
On the other side of my constituency, just a few miles from the border, is Luton airport, where a five-fold increase in traffic is proposed, with a realignment of the runway that would push traffic across Letchworth and Hitchin as it turns to land. Again, there will be a low hum all the time, not just intermittently, and 2,600 extra houses and 12,000 extra workers will be needed. One has to ask whether it is sensible to build airport capacity so that arrivals and departures fly over people's homessurely a better solution can be found. I do not like the look of the Cliffe proposals, but, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said, we should examine options in the Thames estuaryperhaps Marinair.
What is proposed for Stansted is an outrage. Seventeen protest meetings have taken place, and I pay tribute to Norman Mead, who has been to every one. He is leading the campaign and understands the issues very well. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he lives in an area that is already badly affected by noise and pollution, and does not want it to be spread out over the whole area. I pay tribute to the Herts and Essex Observer for its "Stop Stansted" campaign. It has been reassuring to have the support of the local newspaper.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I would like to remind the Chamber that it is customary for Front-Bench speeches to start at 10.30 am. I hope that everyone will respect that.
Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): The site of the proposed Cliffe airport is not in my constituency, but right next to it in the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). Gravesend would be directly under the flight path, and the villages of Meopham, Higham and Shorne would be directly affected.
Last night, Gravesham borough council met to consider its view on an airport at Cliffe. It invited the public to the meeting, which was attended by 200 people. As with so many of the meetings that have been held in recent weeks in my constituency, hundreds of
It was perhaps surprising that the representative from the youth forum at last night's meeting stated the objection of young people in the area. One would have thought that the prospect of 50,000 to 80,000 long-term jobs would have been tantalising to young people. In fact, they believe that the environmental impact would be such that they, too, wish to oppose the airport.
Many hon. Members have said that they do not wish to engage in nimbyism or a competition as to who will suffer the greatest damage from the proposed airport. Certainly none of my constituents who have opposed proposals to site an airport at Cliffe have said that it should be put elsewhere. We all understand the devastation that it would create to our communities, and we are all determined to fight for our own communities, but to do so in such a way that we do not damage others.
Dr. Stoate : I am pleased that people in my hon. Friend's community agree with those in my community that this is a proposal too far. I do not wish to get involved in nimbyism either, because that would be wrong. However, it is important that communities work together, therefore, I reiterate that my community feels exactly the same as my hon. Friend's does, and we are working together on this very important issue.
I want hon. Members to understand the scale of the proposal for Cliffe. We are talking about a four or five-runway airport, twice the size of Heathrow, which would operate 24 hours a day. It would cost a minimum of £11.5 billion, not counting much of the infrastructure costs. It would be built on marsh land and would have to stand on a 15 m platform to prevent its sinking into the Thames estuary. We are talking about a massive project.
As other hon. Members have made clearI will not dwell on it because of the timethe site is of international importance because of its scientific value. That is why it is a concern for all of us. Other hon. Members have said that they too will oppose an airport at Cliffe because of the impact on the wildlife, especially bird life. The consultation document makes the point that there is also a very real safety concern. For thousands of years, the flight paths of wild birds have crossed the area, and they would not sit well with the flight paths of jet aircraft.
I shall not dwell on the issue, except to say that the Government are aware that they would be tied for many years in legal wrangling with the European Commission and organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds if they were to choose the site. A decision was made under international agreements to go
I want to dwell briefly on the economic arguments because the environmental arguments have been put very well. Cliffe and that part of north Kent are part of the Thames gateway. The Thames gateway is a thoroughfare of prosperity and employment between this country and continental Europe. Therefore, if we were to drop an airport of this size across the Thames gateway at Cliffe let's not pretend that that is anything to do with the regeneration of north Kent or the Thames gatewayit would draw on the infrastructure investment that has already been made. If we were to drop the airport there, it would become not a gateway, but a blockade.
Paul Clark (Gillingham): On that point, does my hon. Friend agree that the case for regeneration, which has been referred to by many hon. Members in the debate, in the east of London and the Thames gateway areajobs, affordable housing and so onhas actually been made in a balanced way through public and private work through the area investment framework, which will deliver a far more sustainable development than an airport being dropped on to it?
Mr. Pond : I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I pay tribute to him for the work he has done in assisting the regeneration of that part of north Kent through the area investment framework. He will know that the matter under debate is not part of that proposal. I do not plan to dwell further on the matter, except to say that there are no economic arguments for it. It would do long-term damage to not only the prosperity of north Kent and the Thames gateway, but the nation as a whole, as well as having an environmental impact. We must consider alternatives to just meeting the projected demand. We must manage the demand and look at alternatives that will not do such damage to our economy and our environment.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) on securing this topical and controversial debate. There have been useful and interesting contributions from many hon. Members who have eloquently set out the reasons why there should be no airport development on their patch. Some have eloquently set out why that development should take place in someone else's patch. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) expressed great concern about the consultation process. He described it as flawed, and I think that he is correct. The time scales are too short and the consultation was been leading, as I shall illustrate shortly.
That is probably true, but what sort of response would the Government have got if they had turned that question around, and said something like, "Airport development can bring disadvantages to the local area"? What would the responses have been? Question four asks:
If one were to change the bias, that question would ask, "How important do you feel it is to consider the following economic benefits?" The whole consultation points to a presumption in favour of massive airport development, rather than in the other direction, as I think it should.
Where in the consultation document are the tough questions? The Government have admitted that if the aviation industry takes no measures to reduce emissions, the reductions achieved under the Kyoto protocol could be offset by 30 to 50 per cent. by 2012 due to increased aircraft emissions. Where does the document ask whether people want more CO2 emissions from aviation, as opposed to measures to reduce them? There are no such questions. Nor does anything highlight the fact that fast rail links create three times less CO2 than their short-haul flight equivalents.
Mr. Wilkinson : As a fellow London Member, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the possible development location that militates most against the sensible criteria that he has set out is that of the third east-west runway at Heathrow? It would do west London and the capital as a whole the greatest environmental damage. Will the hon. Gentleman and the Liberal Democrat party say so explicitly?
Tom Brake : I am happy to respond. The inspector has made his position clear, and we support the view, which was put in very stark terms, that a third runway at Heathrow is environmentally unsustainable.
I come now to the Government options. The inspector has dismissed the proposals for Heathrow. As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington highlighted, 4,000 homes would have to be demolished to construct the third runway. It is a pity that the consultation document does not spell that number out exactly; it simply says that a number of homes would have to be demolished. Let us include the facts and figures so that people know what they are being consulted on.
Then there is Cliffe. I think that it was Richard Everett, the chief executive of the National Air Traffic Services, who said that the £11.5 billion project was a non-starter. I also understand that the Environment Minister said at a SERAS fringe meeting at the Labour conference that Cliffe was the "joker in the pack". I am not sure whether that means that it can overrule all other options or that it can be completely dismissed; the Minister's position was unclear.
Other hon. Members have talked about the implications of the Stansted option. The airport is in an area with low unemployment and a housing shortage. If up to 80,000 jobs were created there, where would the people who were going to do them live and where would they come from? That has not been clarified.
The Heathrow and Stansted options would create yet more congestion in already crowded airspace. To what extent are the safety implications of airport and runway development being taken into account? Is it sensible to have yet more development and yet more aircraft flying over congested airspace? I have a nasty feelingI suspect that other hon. Members do, toothat everything that the Government are doing points to the Stansted option; they are steering us inexorably towards such a solution.
Rail substitution can play a key role. We do not know whether it could resolve the problem of the massive projected increase in passenger numbers, for the simple reason that the Government have not advanced a policy of using rail substitution to tackle that increase.
I want to ask the Minister a few questionshe asked me whether I had any, and I would hate to disappoint him. First, what is the Government's target for substituting rail for short-haul flights? The Government expect 500 million passengers to be travelling by plane by 2030. By how much could the Government's target reduce that number? What percentage of domestic and international journeys does the Minister expect will be by rail rather than short-haul flight by 2030? To be more specific, what discussions has the Minister had, for example, about the potential for a fast rail link between London and Amsterdam? I met Eurostar representatives last week and they were adamant that they could create the potential for approximately 3 million passenger journeys if the link were established. Therefore, what role would it play in the Government's policy?
What percentage of trips to airports does the Minister expect will be on public transport by 2030? Congestion around airports is clearly also an important factor. If the Government had a sustainable transport policy, the Minister would be able to answer those questions.
The Minister now has the opportunity to confirm that the Government are not going down the slippery slope of predict and provide for airports and runways. Will they go for the joker in the pack optionCliffe or Stanstedor the ace in the pack that is rail substitution? Communities throughout the country will be listening very carefully to the Minister's response.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) on securing this timely debate and recognise the many eloquent contributions that have been made.
Let me first declare an interest. For 10 years I was a Member of the European Parliament, first for Essex North East and then for Essex North and South Suffolk and I still have a property in north Essex. Also, my husband works for Delta Air Lines as a sales director and I own personal equity plans in British Airways and the British Airports Authority.
Our guiding principles were set out by the shadow Transport Secretary in Bournemouth last week. We hope to put people first. We would ensure that transport policy would play its part in improving and safeguarding the environment of our communities and our world. Safety is of critical importance and we recognise the central importance of rail in developing any long-term transport strategy. Essentially, in putting people first, the Conservatives realise that a difficult balance must be reached. Airports are businesses, major employers and contributors to the local economy. Passengers increasingly want to fly on business, for holidays and to visit family, but we must never lose sight of those who live near airports. They may not travel often themselves, but they are exposed to environmental disbenefits such as noise, traffic pollution and the general intrusion of airport activity.
I curtail my remarks and put questions to the Minister. Following the strenuous representations made in this debate today and considering the impact that the proposals contain, does he now regret that the consultation period is so short and insufficient? The consultation procedure, as eloquently explained by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and others, is seriously flawed in its brevity, lack of openness, transparency and the singular lack of publicity attached to it. The short time in which Ministers could make themselves available included a two-and-a-half-month recess.
What guarantee can he give us that such forecasts are accurate? What studies and research can the Minister point to regarding the extent to which railways can eventually compete with airlines, especially on domestic routes and for short-fall European traffic using existing Eurostar services to Paris, Lille, Brussels and Cologne and now Avignon and Nice? It is unbelievable that the Government have not undertaken such studies because our partners in the countries in which those services operate will have done so. The information is freely available to the travelling public in those countries.
What estimate have the Government made of the potential of regional air services? Let us take Manchester airport as an example. In 1982 it was a largely domestic charter traffic airport. It is now recognised as a major international airport. The key to that development was access by public transport. Does the Minister agree that it would be better to improve public transport to existing airports such as Teesside airport and Leeds Bradford airport, as happened with Manchester airport, than to develop a wholly new airport, such as that proposed at Finningley in south Yorkshire?
Will the Government take the opportunity offered by the consultation to end a current anomaly by placing car parks closer to airports? That would reduce pollution. It has been put to me that car parks in Stockport serving Manchester airport are more than five miles away from the airport, and passengers are bussed there from the car park. They are listed in airport statistics as passengers "arriving by public transport". Will the Minister end another anomaly, referred to by several hon. Members today, whereby airport-related housing, such as that in the Uttlesford district, is anything but that, as those who work in the airport cannot afford the prices of those houses?
We recognise the need to increase airport capacity, but take a national view. The focus should not be on the south-east only. I would say that, because I represent a constituency in north Yorkshire that could be better served by having a greater choice of flights from existing airports and better public transport access to them. Could we focus on regional airports, and could we have some information from the Government on the studies that they have done into using rail as an alternative?
One conclusion is that we should think about the three Es: environment, environment, environment. That should be one of the driving factors in deciding where airport capacity should go. The Government must be seen to have an independent, transparent consultation period of sufficient length. Conservative hon. Members think that three months is a gross underestimate of how long that period should be; three months is simply too short. The consultation should satisfy the demands of those with competing interests. We must never lose sight of those who, often unwittingly, go to live near airports sites such as Stanstedone of the airport sites only developed in the early 1980s and late 1970sand whose quality of life will be irreparably threatened by the proposals.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson) : As I was eating my cornflakes at breakfast this morning, I saw the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) on the BBC morning news flagging up today's debate. I congratulate local BBC television on mentioning some of the debates that take place in Westminster Hall, which are too little reported. As I listened to the contributions made in that short part of the programme, I thought it was interesting how much they reflected the debate that we have had, in that there were a wide range of views on the matter.
Mr. Jamieson : I can deal with that now. The consultation will inevitably raise concerns. The proposals will blight certain areas. We have had a considerable amount of correspondencequite rightlyfrom hon. Members who say that their constituencies now feel blighted. They say that we
Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): Despite what the Minister says about the length of consultation, will he accept that there has been no consultation as far as my constituents in Southend, West are concerned? To add to what the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said, will he ensure that a representative from the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions will attend the public meeting arranged for 1 November?
To return to comments made at the start of the debate, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford said that this was a significant statement on air travel. He said that in the past we had had to "make do and mend". I agree with him entirely, which is why the Government believe that, after almost 100 years of aviation in this country, we now need to present to the country some of the clear choices that we must make.
In this country, we have a desire to travel that would have been entirely unexpected 50 years ago. The situation is such that, last year, 50 per cent. of the population of this country travelled at least once by air. That would have been unimaginable even 20 years ago. One third of the value of the freight of the imports and exports into this country also goes by air. Some 180,000 jobs in the south-east alone depend on air travel and air transport. If we continue to increase people's desire to travel, whether internally within the country or to other parts of the world, for business or leisure, we must weigh against that the environmental concerns that hon. Members from various quarters quite properly have raised in the debate today.
We must also consider the effects of noise and pollution on environments and people, as several hon. Members mentioned today. Wherever we stand in this debate, and whatever our beliefs about where a development should take place or the importance of the environment and of noise on communities, the Government did not have the option of doing nothing. We had to place these matters before the public for proper open debate, and I assure hon. Members that we have done precisely that. I accept some of the criticisms that there may be inadequacies in our documents, but I must say that they were drawn up after long and careful consideration. We proposed what we believed were good options. We reduced them to a level that we believed was sensible so that people could make proper contributions to the debate. We had to have the debate. It is a difficult debate. There are many views, even among the 20 or 30 hon. Members in this Chamber today.
With regard to the comments made today, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford talked about the length of the consultation. I believe that I have covered that. The problems of blight would have been considerable if we had extended the debate. I must take him to task for using the phrase "planned development" at Stansted. There is no planned development, just options. It is important in our use of language that we appreciate that these are options, not proposals. On the other hand, I fully understand the important concerns of his constituents that he raised. I assure him that the Government are mindful of those considerable concerns.
Comments have been made about the consultation process, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) questioned whether it had been advertised sufficiently. I believe that it was advertised in the Evening Standard and Metro, and from the amount of interest that we received in response from people in local areas as well as wider areas around the country, it seems to have been well publicised.
John McDonnell : The interest generated in my constituency was initiated by us. It was not advertised in the local paper. The Evening Standard is not our local paper and Metro often does not reach my constituency. Our local paper is the Gazette, in which the consultation process was not advertised. According to the Government's figures, 35,000 of our constituents will be poisoned by nitrogen dioxide levels that go beyond European limits. There were no experts at the consultation meeting and no medical expert was present to answer questions about the effects on our physical capacity to survive.
Mr. Jamieson : I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I should be happy to discuss any deficiencies in the consultation process that he brings to my attention. This is the first time that I have heard about some of them, and if he had told me about them earlier, I could have dealt with them.
Mr. Prisk : The Minister has heard today our complaints about the consultation process and he has heard them before. The Secretary of State made the announcement on 23 July, immediately before the House went into recess, so for many weeks, we had no opportunity to debate the issue in Parliament. Surely, it is time for the Government to give us another two months, at least, to make sure that we have got it right. I am not asking for years, but surely six months overall is not too much to ask.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, as always, argued powerfully the case for Heathrow, but some of his arguments illustrate the difficulties. My hon. Friend has rightly argued strongly in the past for jobs and prosperity in his constituency, but he also talks about the intrusion that would be caused by further development, which I also understand. That is the nub of the problem. We must consider jobs and development while reducing the detrimental effects on local people.
The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) made several helpful points. He asked about the fifth runway at Cliffe, but it would be inappropriate at this stage for us to add any options to those proposed in the consultation document.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) said that he had considered the proposals, field for field and ancient site for ancient site. Of course, that is part of the dilemma because there are conflicting interests in each of the various developments. He questioned whether we need the extra capacity in the south-east, precisely the question that we asked in the consultation document. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) was right to stress the importance of environmental considerations, but if we decide that there should be no more airport development, will he tell his constituents that we are restricting their ability to fly? That is the nub of the question. I think he said that he was in favour of a reduction in air travel, but if that is Liberal Democrat policy, he must answer the question whether we should reduce people's ability to fly.
Questions were asked about rail links and substitution, which are an important part of the consultation. Many of those who, like myself, represent a far-flung part of the country, would welcome better rail links, especially into London for international flights.