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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 9 February 2005

[Mr. Frank Cook in the Chair]

Nottingham East Midlands Airport

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Gilliam Merron.]

9.30 am

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Frank Cook): Before we start, I think it advisable to tell the Chamber that I am required today to apply a new ruling on procedure. We are debating today a local, rather than national, issue, although I am sure that national aspects to it will be mentioned. None the less, many Members will want to speak. The new ruling on such occasions is that the two Opposition spokesmen will have only five minutes each towards the end of the debate, leaving the Minister with 10 minutes. That will allow more Members with a local interest to make a contribution.

I understand that, at present, probably 10 Members will seek to catch my eye. I therefore ask all right hon. and hon. Members who seek to contribute to the debate to bear in mind the number of their colleagues who will be waiting to speak, not only in the contributions that they make, but in the interventions that they accept and the responses that they make.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I begin by thanking you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for chairing this morning's debate; I also ask you to pass on my thanks to the Speaker for granting it.

You were correct, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in saying that we are debating a matter of great local concern. However, it is local not only to north-west Leicestershire, where Nottingham East Midlands airport is situated; I am delighted to see the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) here today. It is also a matter of huge regional concern, and not only to those who represent Leicestershire seats. I see to my left my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell). The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) is present in the Chamber; but I also see other Members who have a regional interest; the hon. Members for Derby, North (Mr. Laxton), for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) and for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer).

I am pleased also to see the former leader of Manchester council, the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer). You may not know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that Nottingham East Midlands airport is owned by the Manchester Airport company, a company that is owned by 10 or so local government authorities from Manchester and Greater Manchester. Needless to say, I am delighted also that the new Aviation Minister is here. Although she has not yet had the opportunity to visit Nottingham East Midlands airport, she had the benefit, when opening the Rearsby bypass, of learning at first hand what the people of east
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Leicestershire think of the current state of affairs and of the proposals to expand the number of flights in and out of East Midlands airport.

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is a former east midlands Member of Parliament and a Leicestershire resident, so he knows at first-hand about some of the issues that will be raised today. He is also the shadow Minister for Aviation, and I am delighted that he is present. We are also blessed with the presence of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). He has a more distant relationship with the east midlands but, on his weekly flights between Westminster and his constituency, he will have flown over our part of the country. Nevertheless, he is welcome, and I hope that he has an opportunity to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if only briefly.

I want to open up for discussion the subject of accountability. The three organisations that need to be held accountable to the people of Leicestershire, and particularly to my constituents, are the Department for Transport, the Civil Aviation Authority and the airport company. I suggest that the Department for Transport has been careless, to say the least, and recklessly disregardful of the interests of the people of Leicestershire and of my constituency in Harborough, in so far as it has a policy for expanding East Midlands airport.

I accept that the matter of East Midlands airport will have come across the desk of the present Minister and previous Ministers over the past few years. The Department for Transport produced a White Paper, "The Future of Air Transport" in December 2003 which, in part, dealt with East Midlands airport. At paragraph 9.23, it stated:

The White Paper goes on to say that the airport

The White Paper also says that the airport

the Government's figure—

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Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way and apologise for the fact that I cannot stay for the entire debate. It is probably true that, at present, the airport impacts on relatively limited population areas, but that will change with the proposed new flight paths. In my constituency and others, significantly more people will be affected by them.

Mr. Garnier : The hon. Gentleman is right. I shall deal in a moment with evidence that a larger proportion of the population, certainly in our county of Leicestershire, will be affected by the new flight paths. Moreover, the numbers and frequency of aircraft coming in and out of East Midlands airport will continue not only to affect those who are currently badly affected, which might include the hon. Gentleman's constituents, but to aggravate or produce a far worse situation for my constituents and those of my neighbours.

We must bear in mind that my constituency is between 20 and 50 miles from the airport. The Government have concentrated their thinking on those who live within a close area around the airport. They have, in my submission, failed to understand that the aircraft that take off from the airport and come into the airport will damage the quality of life, not only of those who live in the vicinity, but those who live, work and try to sleep further away from the airport. The two new flight paths that the airport wants introduced and which the CAA gave permission to be introduced last July will cause massive environmental and pollution damage to areas well beyond the current official noise pollution area. People do not have to live within a mile of the airport to be affected by aircraft noise, or within five miles of it to be affected by aviation fuel pollution. I wish to speak, and seek accountability, on behalf of people who live well away from the airport but still within the region of it. The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire will speak with great eloquence and force on behalf of his people.

The key to my argument against the Government is their failure to appreciate the needs of those who live that bit further away from the airport. The key to what we need and the protection we seek is to be provided by a remedy, which has existed since 1982, thanks to the Civil Aviation Act of that year. Under section 79, the Secretary of State has power to order the designation of an airport. So far, only three airports are designated under the Act; Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. In 1982, they did not generate as much night flight traffic as NEMA—Nottingham East Midlands airport—does now.

NEMA is the acronym by which the airport is known. However, I say in parenthesis, as it were, that should people be concerned that a Leicestershire Member of Parliament is arguing about an airport named "Nottingham", Nottingham East Midlands airport is wholly within Leicestershire. My council tax payers pay for the policing of that airport. My local transport infrastructure is paid for by Leicestershire county council, in so far as that is the highways authority.
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It is called Nottingham East Midlands airport, and so be it. I will not delay the debate by worrying about that. Its postal address is in Derby. Already, one can see that this is a confused picture, but it is clear that the airport is generating a great deal of public concern. Neither the Department for Transport nor the airport company is fully on board in understanding the public responsibilities that they have to the victims of the airport, and the CAA is not either.

That is not to say that the airport should not exist and that it does not bring economic benefits to the country as a whole, or even to the locality. Clearly, there are people who live in north-west Leicestershire, Loughborough, Charnwood and the city of Leicester who have jobs at the airport. The economic benefits of the airport are primarily for the wider economic benefit of the country; the freight-forwarding world and the wider economy. The economic and other disbenefits affect the people of Leicestershire. There is an imbalance of benefit and disbenefit. My constituents suffer the disbenefits without achieving the benefits.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): The hon. and learned Gentleman touched on designation. I wonder whether he could answer a point that I have often raised. The various operators and the airport have operated within legitimate planning consents granted by North West Leicestershire district council—

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): And others.

Mr. Todd : And others, as my hon. Friend says. Should designation control activities move to a level below that operated by the existing operators at the airport, presumably they would seek compensation for interference in an entirely legal—as it is now—activity.

Mr. Garnier : I do not want to make a flippant point, but this Government have not had a good record in providing compensation for those whose legitimate activities have been banned. At the moment there is an imbalance of power and no equality between those who wish noise and air pollution to be controlled and restricted, and those who are doing the polluting. The Environmental Audit Committee—

Mr. Todd : That is not an answer.

Mr. Garnier : I have not yet finished.

Yesterday, the Environmental Audit Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), issued a very strong report; the Government and the hon. Member for South Derbyshire may care to read it.

Designation is the best idea that I can come up with that would provide the protection required by my constituents and those of my neighbours. At the minute, the only control over noise and air pollution is the powers of North West Leicestershire district council as a planning authority, and it cannot be suggested that that council has the same economic power as the airport company. I have made the point before, but I shall make it again; I very much suspect that the annual turnover of
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the shop in East Midlands airport is better and bigger than the revenue budget of North West Leicestershire district council.

My own two local authorities—Oadby and Wigston borough council and Harborough district council—have revenue budgets of about £7 million a year. I do not think that North West Leicestershire district council's budget is more than £3 million or so more. Local authorities of that size simply do not have the financial or economic—still less political—clout to deal with the issue. More importantly, a planning authority can deal only with what is on the ground; it can control only the development of the buildings and the tarmac. It has no say on the amount of aeroplanes that fly above it; it has no say over the numbers of aeroplanes that chuck noise and filth from the back of their engines. Nor does the county council, whose government area includes the whole of East Midlands airport's real estate, have any say on such matters. It was not even consulted when the new flight paths were advertised and suggested about a year ago.

Furthermore, I am not convinced that the voluntary agreement that NEMA has perfectly properly entered into—its 10-point plan—is enforceable in any way that my constituents would recognise. It is monitored by a thing called the independent consultative committee. As I understand it, and the Minister will correct me if I have it wrong, the chairman of that committee is paid a salary—although not a huge one—by the airport. I fully understand that it is possible to be independent and yet to receive a salary from the very person that one is supposed to be monitoring; it is intellectually possible to achieve that. However, it is difficult to overcome the perception that there may be an absence of independence if one happens to be the paid, salaried employee—even on a part-time basis—of the very organisation that one is trying to monitor.

The independent consultative committee does not include anybody from Leicestershire county council, the biggest local government authority and the nearest economic force of any size to the airport company. I see that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) has joined us. As I understand it, although Leicester city council has a far bigger revenue budget than those of the district councils in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire, its budget cannot come anywhere near the economic might of the organisation that I am discussing.

I want to see designation under the Civil Aviation Act, and I want to see that now. I want the Minister and her Secretary of State actively to engage their minds on the issue and come to understand what it is like to live in Leicestershire with a large, growing airport, whose specialisation is the movement of goods in and out at night; between the hours of 11 pm and 6 or 7 in the morning. You may not know this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the figures for 2003 demonstrate that there are more night flights in and out of East Midlands airport than at Stansted, Gatwick or Heathrow. Those airports were designated in 1982 or 1983, but ours has not been.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will come to the point that I wanted to raise. What does he expect from designation? As he knows, I live under the flight path, so I declare an interest. It is fine to campaign for
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designation, but does he want a full night-time ban as a consequence? As part of an informed debate, we need to know exactly what we mean by designating the airport.

Mr. Garnier : The hon. Gentleman knows full well that I am not asking for a total ban, which would be unrealistic and plain silly. The airport has a right to exist and to thrive, but it must do so only when it does so politely—I say that deliberately—and lives in harmony with its neighbours. The good neighbour principle applies not only to the law of negligence, but to the everyday work of any big business.

Let us suppose that East Midlands airport was a factory, making valuable goods that benefited the nation, including my constituents and those of the hon. Member for Loughborough, but the manufacturing process required it to chuck volumes of pollution into the skies through its chimneys. Would the hon. Gentleman and I expect that nothing should be done to control the pollution? No. Would we expect that factory to be allowed to continue to pollute the atmosphere, whether in the form of noise, toxic gases or any other antisocial pollution, without some control? No.

Would the hon. Member for Loughborough expect North West Leicestershire district council, a tiny financial organisation, to be able, on its own, to monitor and control that pollution? Would he expect an independent consultative committee, composed of people paid by that factory, to keep an eye on its 10-point plan? No, he would not. I ask him a simple question; why should not it be the same for an airport, especially one that already has twice the number of night flights that Gatwick has, twice the number at Heathrow and more than twice the number at Stansted?

I am delighted to have received the Minister's thoughtful and polite answers in correspondence, but she merely repeated the arguments advanced by her predecessors; the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson). They also wrote to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who supports my case, saying that local matters of this sort must be decided locally. I hope that I have exposed the futility and unreality of that argument.

As a Conservative Member of Parliament, I support the free movement of capital. I want a strong private sector and vibrant industry. I want my constituents to be able to travel abroad and I want this country's import and export system, by ship and by air, to work. I say that it is not reasonable to rely on North West Leicestershire district council's planning powers to control the growing leviathan.

So much for the Government. The Minister is also present to answer for the Civil Aviation Authority, but what is it? No one really knows. Is it a quango or a private company that is partly owned by the Government? Its nearest equivalent is the BBC. It is not part of the Government; it is funded by the "licence fees" of those who use the airspace. Its board and members are, to a large extent, peopled by those who come from the air industry, which is fair enough as they know what they are talking about. They know what is going on in the air, but they do not know what is going on in my
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constituency. They do not know what it is like to live in a village in rural Leicestershire and to have aeroplanes flying over their houses at night; all night, as the number of night flights will increase. They do not know what it is like to live in a part of the country where the ambient noise at night is more or less nil.

A group of which I am a supporter, ELVAA—East Leicestershire Villages Against Airspace—and its sister organisation, DEMAND—Demand East Midlands Airport is Now Designated—have used consultants to investigate the noise levels. The noise levels in my constituency and in the constituency where I live are very low indeed at night.

When a large freight aircraft is flown over these rural villages at night, the graph shoots up. The noise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the equivalent of someone using a vacuum cleaner by your ear as you sleep in your bedroom. I do not know what you get up to in your bedroom at night, but I dare say the prospect of having an aircraft flying over your head when you have been used to more or less total quiet would not amuse you. But it seems to pass by the people at East Midlands airport, the CAA and the Ministers at the Department for Transport. "Bad luck," they say. "This is called burden-sharing. Those who live in and around the airport have had to put up with the noise of the aircraft coming in and out over the last few years. Now it is your turn."

It is an argument, but not a very attractive one and it is made all the less attractive when it is said that fewer people will be affected. The county council has done the analysis and says that 60 per cent. more acreage of Leicestershire and approximately 20 to 30 per cent more people will be affected by the two new flight paths in and out of NEMA. So when the Government, the CAA and NEMA say, "This is a wonderful idea. We are going to damage the lives of fewer people, not more" they are, on the analysis carried out by the county council, wrong.

I would rather that the arguments were put forward on the basis of the truth than something short of that. Far be it from me to suggest that they are deliberately not telling the truth; I merely say that the facts suggest otherwise. It is inevitable that my constituents and those of my neighbours will be adversely affected. They are naturally and properly concerned that East Midlands airport, the CAA and the Department for Transport are running roughshod over their rights and interests.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I was trying to see how the hon. and learned Gentleman would apply the principle of Donahue v. Stevenson to the operation of East Midlands airport. He raised the issue of neighbours and residents. Would he be surprised to know that although East Midlands airport held a consultation in Evington in my constituency, which borders on his, few people knew about that meeting and few attended until I had written to everybody? One of the problems with the consultation exercise is that people have not been consulted properly.

Mr. Garnier : The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. Whereas two years ago East Midlands airport's attitude towards his constituents and mine was appalling, it is
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better now. The slope that it has to climb in order to get public acceptance of its case is so steep that I fear it will never recover or gain the reputation for good neighbourliness and for proper consultation that it should have had and it should have tried to have before it set out on this operation.

Since the bad old days of last year there have been roadshows in his constituency, in mine and in others. There have been meetings at the office of the previous Minister with officials from NEMA and affected Members of Parliament. There has been a display in the presence of directors of the airport company in a Committee Room here in the House. I fully accept that the airport is now, at last, trying to do its best to come across as a more friendly neighbour. But why does it not produce maps showing the full extent of the proposed flight paths, both incoming and outgoing, which come straight over the hon. Gentleman's constituency and mine? Why does it not, unless pushed and pushed and pushed, provide us with the raw data that we need? Why do the airport, the CAA and the Department for Transport not insist on that? Why are they reluctant unless made to do it? Why do they not behave with great candour and with frankness? It is much easier to deal with a person who tells the truth voluntarily than to have to extract the facts and information, like pulling teeth.

Because of that, everything that those organisations now say is filtered through the sieve of disbelief that my constituents and I, and no doubt the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and his constituents, feel. That is a pity, because I dare say that there is a case to be made for NEMA and for the Department for Transport's inaction. But we are not hearing it, and when we do hear it, we find it extremely difficult to believe. That is not my fault, but I think that the hon. Gentleman and I know whose fault it is. It is up to those organisations to understand that we, our constituents and our constituency neighbours are not just displaying a nimby attitude.

This is a matter of national, regional and intimate local importance that the Government are failing to address, which the CAA, with all its imperfections and abilities, is failing to understand and which East Midlands airport—wilfully, I suggest—is being slow to comprehend.

I am acutely conscious that I have had the lion's share of the debate, but there is a host of other things that I should like to say that are critical of the Government, the CAA and National Air Traffic Services (En Route) Ltd or NERL. That is another strange body about which we know little and should know more and which should be accountable to us through this Chamber and the main Chamber of the House of Commons.

I should like to say much more about the quality control or noise control arrangements that East Midlands airport implements or does not implement. For example, in the last quarter of 2004, only one aircraft was fined for noise abuse, even though, as I understand it, there were about 170,000 air movements in and out of the airport either last year or the year before. Is it surprising that my constituents, and I on behalf of my constituents, are deeply sceptical that we will get justice from the Department for Transport, the CAA and NEMA, not least because all three
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organisations are wholly unaccountable to the people of Harborough, Oadby and Wigston and wider Leicestershire?

On that note, I urge the Minister to come back with concrete proposals to bring NEMA under some form of democratic control, and I urge all other right hon. and hon. Members present to try to understand the genuine concerns of the people of my part of Leicestershire, because those concerns will not go away until the issues are properly and adequately addressed by the three organisations that I have cited.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : To add to the comments that I made when opening the debate, 36 minutes of uncommitted time remain, and six right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I ask them to bear in mind the advice that I gave earlier.

10.4 am

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my county colleague, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), on obtaining the debate and introducing an outline of the topic in such a detailed, comprehensive and exhaustive fashion. Although the keen interest in East Midlands airport of other Leicestershire MPs here today has come some years later than I would have liked, it is nevertheless most welcome.

Understandably, many local organisations and people have long been happy to experience the airport's undoubted social and economic benefits. Low-cost holiday flights and 8,000 jobs certainly contribute to the regional standard of living, but what about the quality of life for communities around the airport and the people who live under its flight paths? They also have needs, rights and views.

For too long, successive Governments have failed adequately to recognise the scale of unaddressed local problems. The voice of local villages has too often been drowned out by the noisy and powerful aviation lobby. Concern has turned to protest as night noise from the heavens has made East Midlands airport the neighbour from hell. Those of us who have been trying to hold the environmental fort for a decade or more welcome the recent reinforcements from the parliamentary cavalry in the east and the south of the county; they have not arrived a moment too soon.

At East Midlands airport, there are more than 80,000 aircraft movements per annum, of which more than 50,000 are scheduled air transport movements—ATMs—of passengers and freight. Approximately 17,000 of those take place at night, in the eight hours after 11 pm. That astonishing figure is set to quadruple by 2030.

In the past, expansion at the airport has been approved by central or local government, with no specific controls being applied to flying activities. There is no lack of ideas about what an enforceable framework for the airport should contain if it is to ameliorate some of the environmental downsides. Four years ago, independent consultant Rupert Taylor—no relation—published a noise review after North West Leicestershire district council asked him to recommend appropriate controls. He suggested a minimum reasonable framework, with seven constraints, but I shall mention
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just three; banning night movements by aircraft with high noise levels, limiting the annual number of night aircraft movements and a night noise quota.

To local campaigners, and indeed the district council, that framework, including the four measures that I have not mentioned, seemed to be a reasonable compromise, which struck a balance between the needs of the various parties; the stakeholders, in new Labour parlance. In 2002, however, the Secretary of State refused to apply those controls as part of a request by the district council that the airport be designated under the Civil Aviation Act 1982. At the same time, the airport suggested a voluntary package of measures to control night-time noise, which the Secretary of State accepted. The district council and residents groups regarded that package as inadequate and did not agree to it. However, let us move on a year or so.

In December 2003, in the White Paper "The Future of Air Transport", the Government supported the growth of night freight flights at East Midlands airport, but stated: "However this"—the expansion of air freight operations—

The White Paper failed to quantify the possible increase in night flights, to define any acceptable level for night-time community noise, to estimate how many people may be affected or to suggest specific noise control or mitigation measures.

Now that the Secretary of State has rejected the workable, moderate and reasonable operational and environmental controls proposed by the district council, we have been left with the voluntary measures suggested by East Midlands airport to control night-time noise, which are regarded locally as cosmetic and unchallenging. Those voluntary measures include no safeguards as regards future increases in night-time noise. In 2003, the night noise contour was estimated at 8.3 sq km, and there is a proposal to allow the night noise contour and night noise to double by 2011. It is no longer sufficient for the airport to follow other airports in implementing night-time controls or to rely on established industry standards, which have often been established for daytime noise.

If the Minister resists our call for airport designation, I will still urge her to use her powers and her influence with the airport considerably to toughen the present voluntary framework and to put it on a proper, enforceable footing. The first item in the voluntary code is to encourage the operation of aircraft during the day, instead of the night, but that is weak and inadequate. As Melbourne Civic Society—it is not in north-west Leicestershire, but I commend its work—and others have recommended, East Midlands airport must ensure that the minimum number of aircraft operate at night. It is wholly unacceptable for the airport to continue to allow flights at night for any reason and by any aircraft. There should be clear criteria to govern allowable reasons for night flights and they should be incorporated in the airport master plan.

The definition of the quietest aircraft type should be based on absolute noise levels and should allow only the quietest aircraft on the quota count scale; that is, only
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QC/0.5 and exempt. The Secretary of State has established that criterion for the daytime operation of a proposed new runway at Birmingham airport, but there is no justification for a more lax criterion to be applied to night-time operations at East Midlands airport.

I could cover ways of strengthening the other eight objectives of the East Midlands airport voluntary code, but others wish to speak and I can write to the Minister in more detail. All I say in closing is that local communities and those who represent them will not walk quietly away from the issue. Our clamour will eventually match and outdo that of the powerful aviation and airports industry, even though the Manchester Airport Group may be advertising today in The Guardian for someone who can schmooze parliamentarians.

We want the industry to succeed; it is important socially and economically that it does so. However, the lack of environmental controls means that the industry is flying straight into trouble. It should recognise that, as should the Government. We must respond to the requests for help from airport communities. I hope that when the Minister winds up, she will bring fresh ministerial thinking to the topic, as it is long overdue.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Twenty-nine minutes remain, with five Members bidding.

10.11 am

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): I shall try to keep to the implied quota that your mathematics offers me, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I want to focus my remarks exclusively on designation. I am not against the development of NEMA and I am not against air travel, either by passengers or by air freight. However, the core issue is that the Government—this is not a party issue, because the previous Government pursued the same policy—have, in effect if not in law, made a planning decision that East Midlands airport should be allowed to develop as both a passenger airport, which does not mark it out from other airports around the country, and a specialist centre for air freight, with the implied emphasis on night flying.

What is the business purpose of air freight? It is to get next-day delivery of urgent commodities elsewhere in the world, which implies a disproportionate stress on night flying, as compared with the air passenger business. I support designation because I see it as balancing the Government's planning decision, which has been taken in favour of developing air freight, with implied night flying, at NEMA.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), whom I congratulate on securing this debate, quoted from the White Paper on airports. Paragraph 9.28 of the White Paper encapsulates my argument:

If that is not an expression of a planning opinion, I do not know what it is. The paragraph continues:

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I entirely agree with that line. However, when Ministers are asked whether they will designate the airport, to give the powers to act on the expressed opinion about the implications of developing night flying, they remind me somewhat of Pontius Pilate. Their response is to say that the issue ought to be dealt with by voluntarism, by the local planning authority or by someone else; anyone other than the Minister who made the decision to impose the noise constraints that are the subject of the discussion.

My pitch to the Minister is not to stand back from East Midlands airport, and certainly not to obstruct the development of air transport, which is an important part of a modern economy. Politicians make themselves look stupid when they appear to disapprove of something that the rest of the world regards as normal and probably desirable. Of course, the transport of air passengers and air freight has to be allowed to develop, but as my hon. and learned Friend said, that must happen within the principles of good neighbourliness.

In the context of a local planning decision, we regard it as entirely normal that the planning authority should make a decision about what is allowed to go ahead and, if necessary, impose conditions to make that planning decision as acceptable as possible to the surrounding community. The Government are making the fundamental planning decision on the development of East Midlands airport as a freight hub, but they are not engaging in the planning decisions that are intrinsic to the decision that they have made. The Government have made half a decision, but have not been prepared to face up to the consequences of the other half.

My argument is simple. I support the development of NEMA. I am not against the Government making the decisions— those are properly taken by Government, not the local planning authority—but I encourage them to take the whole decision, not just half of it.

10.16 am

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): I have two declarations of interest. First, I live under the flight path of East Midlands airport, and a lot closer to it than some of the hon. Members who have contributed. Secondly, I have spoken on this subject at considerable length and although I will not repeat the points I made, one of my speeches on the air freight sector led to the Industry in Parliament Trust allowing me to spend some time with an air freight operator, one of which operates out of East Midlands airport.

We should put into context the argument over designation. We have had some useful historical analyses of what has happened and heard that, for whatever reason, East Midlands airport has been given planning consent for its growth, with various operators being given planning consent to carry on their activities, which are dependent on night flights. For reasons that are not entirely clear, no proper conditions were imposed on any of those activities at the time. The Government are being asked to act as goalkeeper in the designation and say, "Well, someone's missed the ball several times in this exercise. Let's try to save it and put matters on to a better footing."

It is not surprising that the Government are saying, "Hold on, there is a bill to be attached to this activity, because if designation is to be meaningful"—the
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speeches to date have not suggested quite what that meaning is—"presumably it will imply constraints on planning consents that were previously thought to be exercisable without those constraints." If I were one of the companies involved, I would want to pursue that point with some vigour and associate costs to it. That is why I have always said that although designation would be nice, it is unrealistic and I cannot see the Government buying the argument.

The alternative is to focus on the mechanism that has been touched on in the White Paper, which said that we should have stringent controls on the operations of the airport. How are we to arrive at that? The Government have so far suggested that the airport, like others, should produce a master plan for its growth. I would firmly criticise the Government and, to some extent, take some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), because they have not explained the meaning of a master plan and how it is to deliver the sort of things that are being discussed when we refer to the words "stringent controls". What do they mean? How will they apply in law and how will they be used by those who may enforce those controls?

So far, that has not been set out. I have read the template for the master plan and although it is a useful, interesting document, it does not tell us about its substance and meaning in planning or enforcement terms. The Minister could help us all by setting out more clearly what a master plan means and what it will do.

I should like the master plan to contain a mechanism for moving towards chapter 4 compliance for all aircraft operating at night. DHL, one of the major operators at the airport, has recently modernised its fleet, which has made some impact on the complaints my constituents send to me. However, it is still the case that people are disturbed by night flights; I received a complaint about that yesterday from a person in the village where I live, and the aircraft was a DHL aircraft. There is a long way to go on that.

It is possible to narrow the flight paths. Modern aircraft can fly tighter tracks than those indicated by the airport, and we should try to make sure that they do so, because that might take them away from some of the population centres that are currently being disturbed.

We need a review mechanism of the voluntary code that is currently in place; that point has been taken up by others and was given ministerial endorsement, but what has not been addressed is how we say that that set of controls is now inadequate. We should have a mechanism that addresses the fact that, at a certain point, the growth should trigger a review of that set of controls and an acceptance that they are not adequate for the current purpose. I have attempted to get a response on that from previous Ministers, and I put it to this Minister now.

My next point is about a noise growth matrix, or a noise quota, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) said. We need some mechanism that deals with the question of those who ask, "Look, if you're going to increase freight traffic through the night, how will that then link to the noise that that generates? You should get a score for that so that there is an amount that you are allowed to have."
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We also need a surface transport plan for that airport. If it grows at the rate that is being discussed, its current means of delivery both in and out—remembering that it is a freight airport—is wholly inadequate and needs rethinking.

10.22 am

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): First, I thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) for securing this debate. We are all grateful to him for that, and those of us who work closely with him know that he has worked the hardest of all of us on this issue. The voters of Harborough will appreciate his efforts, as do local organisations such as East Leicestershire Villages Against Airspace, or ELVAA. Although Mr. Charlish, the main organiser of ELVAA, is based in my constituency, I know that he has worked very closely with my hon. and learned Friend.

The basic fact is that none of us is against the airport as such. We are not against the business benefits. However, we are against its uncontrolled and unrestrained expansion, given that it has no proper planning process at present. There seems to be no planning control beyond the buildings that go on the ground, and what we need is an understanding of what is happening in the air. In the absence of that, it appears that the only credible solution to this problem is designation; it is essentially the old chant of, "What do we want? Designation. When do we want it? Now." We do want it now.

Most of the relevant arguments have been covered, so I will focus on two allied and tangential points. The first of them is about the information that we are currently able to get on the state and pattern of existing flights, and the second is about policing. I look to the Minister for a constructive and helpful response today, because we were promised one before.

At present, if one of our constituents is woken up at 4 o'clock in the morning, they want to know where the plane was going. Was it going to or from NEMA, or was it unrelated to any flight patterns associated with NEMA? A former Transport Minister assured us that the facts would be given to us if ever we were to seek them. That has not happened. Let me explain what currently happens. If a constituent is disturbed, he will contact NEMA, whose normal response is, "Not me, guv." Then there will be an attempt to get some definite information about radar or flight patterns or flight schedules, and if NEMA says that the plane was not its, usually any inquiry will hit a brick wall. If we go to the Civil Aviation Authority, it will say it is not really its responsibility, and we are then referred to the National Air Traffic Services, which I think is based in a business park in Fareham or somewhere. It tells us that it only keeps radar records for a month, which is not very helpful when it takes five weeks to reply.

Therefore, we as Members of Parliament face enormous difficulty in establishing the basic facts about what is actually happening now. If a constituent is disturbed, is NEMA to blame or not? Where are the flights coming from and going to? My plea to the Minister is, if I dare use the word again, to designate a specific civil servant who can be a focal point for genuine and proper inquiries, who knows the system and who can give us genuine and proper factual answers. At the
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moment, in trying to find out the basic facts, we are getting the runaround. We do not like it, it is getting very annoying, and it needs a simple administrative solution.

Secondly, because NEMA is a growing airport, the police bill is growing with it. As my hon. and learned Friend explained, although the name suggests that it is a Nottingham airport, it is in fact a Leicestershire airport that also serves Derbyshire. It is something of a hydra-headed hybrid airport, serving the entire east midlands. Someone who sits on the Leicestershire police authority wrote to me saying that even after Home Office funding to cover anti-terrorist work, it still faces a bill of between £500,000 and £750,000 a year to police the airport. That figure is growing for reasons that we all understand. He also said that although his police authority has tried to get Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire police authorities to share the cost, they have not shown much interest. That is hardly surprising, but it places a disproportionate, unreasonable and growing bill on a hard-pressed police authority in Leicestershire.

So I have two specific points. The first is about finding out what is going on. There is a suspicion that aircraft personnel have a measure of discretion in the route that they take, and may choose to put their flight path over rural areas. At the moment, everyone thinks that NEMA is to blame, but let us have the facts. Secondly, designation would mean that the entire police bill would be covered on a national basis, as it should be for such an enormous airport as NEMA, rather than by one poor county where the airport happens to be based.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Thirteen unallocated minutes remain and there are two competitors.

10.27 am

Mr. Bob Laxton (Derby, North) (Lab): First, I do not have any comments to make about a particular local interest or complaint. The only interest I have is that I live probably as close as my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) to the airport. It is approximately five miles away from where I live in the south of the city, and I have been disturbed on occasions by night flights at the airport. However, I am not under any political pressure from my constituents. I receive a small number of complaints from constituents living in the north-east of the city, and I am well aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett) receives a considerable number of complaints from her constituents living in south-west Derby.

However, although I do not have any specific complaints, I do not support the case that has been made for designation of the airport, and let me explain why. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) used the phrase, "That is not to say that NEMA does not bring economic benefits to the area." That is a gross understatement. There are huge economic benefits, not only for Derby, Leicester and Nottingham, but for the east midlands as well as the regional and national economy.

If right hon. and hon. Members have not already done so, they may find it an illuminating experience to visit Royal Mail's night-time operation out of NEMA.
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They may find it even more illuminating to visit DHL's huge complex at the airport, where they will get a good idea of the amount of small, high-value parcel traffic passing through that operation. Everything from parts coming in from around the world for cars that have broken down, to body parts—attached or unattached—and body fluids have passed through its operation. It is fascinating to see; anyone who visited DHL would be astounded by the level of activity. That activity is a job-creator and a regional economic regenerator, and will continue to grow as the airport grows.

As I said, I have some personal sympathy with the calls for the airport to be a better neighbour than it has been hitherto. There are clear signs that it wants to be a better neighbour. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough said that his local authority was not consulted. That is true, but the airport realised that and chose not to introduce the new flight path arrangements, although it could have. Instead, it recognised its omission and sought wider and further consultation. I welcome that.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire spoke about DHL's relatively modern, new generation aircraft, which should be welcomed. There are, sometimes, particularly noisy flights out of the airport in the early hours. It is claimed that they may be generated by Rolls-Royce in Derby using noisy Antonov aircraft to haul huge engines out of East Midlands airport. I do not know how accurate that is, but there are, occasionally, exceptionally heavy and noisy aircraft leaving and arriving at the airport.

I say to right hon. and hon. Members, especially those who have not yet had the impact of aircraft noise fall too heavily across their constituencies, that those who use the sort of language used by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan)—phrases such as, "We want it now"—are, perhaps, squealing before they have been stuck. It will be interesting to see whether the new flight path arrangements are introduced after the consultation process. Frankly, I hope that they are, and that noise levels will be minimised because of the continuing arrival patterns. That should make a sizeable difference to the impact of noise on constituencies around the east midlands. I welcome the CAA's decision to redesignate flight paths over less-populated areas for safety, noise impact and environmental reasons.

To sum up, people should not complain too loudly or too long. Let us see what the new flight path arrangements are like; how they operate and whether they are much better, as I believe that they will be. Let us continue the dialogue with the airport, which has, at long last, decided that it wants to be a far better neighbour than it has been.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Six unallocated minutes remain.

10.34 am

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): This has been a useful debate, and I, too, congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) on securing it. My hon. Friends the Members for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) and for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) and I have spoken in similar debates in this Chamber a few times in the past few years; I hope that the Minister's speech today is not exactly the same as those we have heard in the past.
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One reason that I intervened on the hon. and learned Member for Harborough on the issue of designation is that we all seem to know what people are opposed to, but have little idea of what is an acceptable level of activity. I do not know what level of night flights coming out of East Midlands airport is acceptable and I represent constituents who oppose night flights, but accept that there is a case for them and for the air freight industry at the airport. Today, I hope to tease out what level of activity—if we were talking about designation—would be acceptable for all our constituents in Leicestershire who are affected.

I share some of the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire, including the concern about how we make progress. One of my fears about designation is that it is held up as a panacea for all our ills; as if we achieve all that we want if we achieve designation.

In the meantime, I have constantly proposed a three-point plan. Indeed, I mentioned it again in the House in response to the White Paper. The 10-year strategy—the master plan—is absolutely vital, because unless we really know what the growth of the airport could be, the impact on the Loughborough constituency, on south Derbyshire, on north-west Leicestershire and on other parts of Leicestershire will be phenomenal. The figures in the White Paper are quite frightening; the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned 60,000 night flights a year. The number of passengers has already grown from 2 million to 4.5 million in only three years. The impact will be enormous if that growth continues at its current rate, so the 10-year master plan is exactly what local people are willing to accept. It is vital for the Government to take account of our view of the potential growth of the airport in their 10-year plan and so ensure the democratic accountability that was rightly talked about. We are part of the process, and a new extension, growth in passenger numbers and the introduction of low-cost flight companies at the airport should not come about by stealth.

The White Paper talks about the projected expansion needing

Again and again, I, and others, have consistently asked in the House and in other places exactly what those stringent noise controls are, because without them the master plan is a meaningless exercise and we are simply keeping the current arrangements and adding a few extra bits. We need to reassure our constituents, and those of us who live under the flight paths need to be reassured that we know exactly what we are talking about. It is a nice phrase, but we need to know the details, which I hope the Minister will give us.

We quite rightly talked about the inadequacy of expecting North West Leicestershire council to be the monitoring body and the independent consultation body, and about the need to replace it. We need a proper local body with teeth that can monitor the activities of NEMA and work on behalf of the Government and Members who represent the county and elsewhere in the region. Exactly how will that body be constituted, and does the Minister have any plans to strengthen the existing consultation? If all that fails, designation
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remains the final hurdle to surmount. Again, however, what do we mean by designation? I hoped that we would hear more today about what people expected.

With regard to those of us who already suffer night flights, when did we find them acceptable and when did they tip over into becoming unacceptable? We need an open and honest debate. The current number of night flights might already be too much for those who are most directly affected. Environmental measures such as the new chapter 4 aircraft might mitigate some, but not all, of the impact.

I ask that my three-point plan be considered and that we have an honest and open debate about what we want, because East Midlands airport does provide an enormous number of jobs and great economic benefit to each of us in many different ways.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire mentioned the surface transport plan. My constituency suffers particularly from east-west traffic going through the villages of Wymeswold and Burton and all the way down the A6, the A46 and across, or traffic getting on to the M1 and going south. It is sometimes too much. A lot of freight tries to cut across country and go through the smaller villages in the Wolds. I asked the county council to carry out an impact assessment of that traffic, and it agreed to do so as part of the local transport plan. We need to ensure that we keep on top of that, because it is a big issue for constituents who benefit from the airport but also suffer the environmental impact on the ground as well as in the air.

I hope that the Minister will adopt a realistic and robust approach to the East Midlands airport. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire and I have found its representatives to be most helpful in our discussions with them over the years, but we still hit the barrier mentioned at the start of the debate; accountability is still an issue. We hope that there will be the opportunity to strengthen the existing proposal as part of the White Paper and to make sufficient progress to ensure that the environmental impacts of that necessary airport are minimised.

10.40 am

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) on securing the debate. It is clear from listening to hon. Members' contributions that there is considerable concern about the matter, which is also an important local issue, on both sides of the House.

In his opening remarks, the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the name of the airport, which I have visited only once, about 15 years ago. I was given a lift by a friend in a small private aeroplane after a wedding, at which I was a guest. At that time, I was general manager of the Cliveden hotel, which I set up, and I was able to get back to the hotel in time to welcome the bride and groom, who had driven down the M1.

I did some research for the debate and found an article from the Derby Evening Telegraph of 20 January, which stated that it had asked 20 airports if they flew to Nottingham, and only three immediately replied yes. The other 17, when asked if they flew to East Midlands were able to say that, yes, they flew there. There is clearly some confusion about the name.
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Hon. Members have put a very powerful local case extremely well, and I will leave it to the Minister to answer. I want to make some general points. The first, implicit in the debate, is the tension between those who benefit from the facility—this applies not only to airports but to many other infrastructure and economic endeavours—but are unaffected by the disbenefits, and those who suffer from the disbenefits because they are the hosts, and live near by. It is a critical point and it applies to aviation at any airport.

The industry would argue that everyone has a right to fly and that people have an almost unfettered freedom to fly wherever they want, whenever they want, but that that is not the case. There are two kinds of freedom; the freedom to do things and the freedom to be protected from the adverse effects of whatever other people have the freedom to do. There should be a balance between the rights of those who want to do things, and the rights of those who need to be protected from them. It has to be done with constraint and consideration; the good neighbourliness to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred. In devising a wider aviation policy, it is important to face up to that fact and accept that we must consider both sides of the issue.

My second point is about aviation policy in general. In the past decade, there has been a phenomenal growth in passengers, largely due to the expansion of low-cost airlines, but also for other reasons. What is not often referred to is the equally impressive growth in air freight. It now accounts for 30 per cent. by value of freight imports into this country, although by weight the figure is much smaller; less than 10 per cent. The problem is that we do not consider the true cost of aviation, especially in environmental terms. Aviation needs to address that problem so that it has a fair playing field compared with other modes of travel.

I would like aviation internationally to be brought within the limits of the Kyoto convention. In this country, air passenger duty singles out passengers, but there is no similar levy on freight planes. I would like a move from air passenger duty to an aeroplane tax that would also cover freight planes, and to externalise some of the costs of aviation so that there is a proper balance between its benefits and disbenefits.

A powerful case has been made for designation, although I am not entirely certain that it is the right remedy. Perhaps it might be better to do it through the master plan. However, I leave it to the Minister to answer that case.

10.45 am

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) not only on securing this important debate but on waging a tireless campaign on this issue on behalf of his constituents. He knows that I am well aware of the strong level of feeling not only among his constituents, but among those of other right hon. and hon. Members in the vicinity of the airport, and even wider across Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and parts of Derbyshire.

As the Chamber is aware, the Government produced a White Paper setting out their policies last year. Sadly, that aviation White Paper led to court challenges and
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has left uncertainty hanging over many people's lives. In my view, the Government's policy has failed to live up to its own billing. There are two problems with the White Paper. First, it fudges some key issues and therefore causes blight around airports as legal battles are fought. Secondly, there is little sign of the joined-up thinking that we have always been promised, either between the Department for Transport's aviation policy and the rest of its responsibilities, or between it and other Government Departments.

There have been a few references today to the name of East Midlands airport. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) referred to a report in the Derby Evening Telegraph in January this year. I have to say to him that this debate has been going on for about 30 years. I remember that when I was a Leicester city councillor, the airport was spending tens of thousands of pounds on consultants' fees to decide on what to change its name to. I wish that it had spent as much time on consulting residents about how it goes about its activities as it has on consulting about changing its name for three decades. As all hon. Members here know, the airport is expanding very quickly; the White Paper itself forecast—

David Taylor : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Knight : I have only a couple of minutes left, and the hon. Gentleman had a fair crack of the whip earlier. It is not as if he has not been called to speak.

The White Paper forecast that the airport could attract between 12 million and 14 million passengers a year by 2030. However, in addition to that, the airport is one of the country's major hubs for freight, and is the leading UK airport for freight carried by all-cargo aircraft. The White Paper also forecast that the airport could be handling as much as 2.5 million tonnes of freight a year, possibly more than that by 2030.

The White Paper reveals that Ministers do not seem to appreciate the scale of the problem in the region. It states that Nottingham East Midlands airport is situated away from the main centres of population and, as such,

However, the projected growth of the airport would increase the size of the contour to include more than 10,000 residents; more importantly, many thousands more live on the cusp of that noise contour. The nature of air cargo operations means that many flights take place at night, when, of course, background noise levels are much lower. So this is bad news for residents in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

The Government's own consultation document forecast that there could be more than 60,000 cargo flights a year by 2030, and a substantial proportion of those would be late in the evening or at night. It is clear that this large expansion will continue to have serious consequences on those living under the flight routes. The issue of noise raises two questions; first, compensation, and secondly, what measures can be taken to minimise noise levels. The aviation White Paper states that the Government expect airports

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and acoustic insulation to those who are in an intermediate noise region. Will the Minister say whether those compensation rules will apply to those who live under the flight paths at Nottingham East Midlands airport? We believe that the current scope and level of compensation for noise blight is inadequate to compensate for the serious problems that will be suffered by those who live under the flight paths of aircraft flying at night. What discussions has the Minister had with Nottingham East Midlands airport about improving the level of compensation? If the answer is none, she really should go to the airport and meet the airport operators.

I believe that the people of the east midlands deserve clarity and openness and, where their peace and quiet is going to be shattered, adequate compensation. Does the Minister not accept that our present laws do not give local authorities the power to deal with the sort of problems that we have heard about today, and therefore that there is only one conclusion; we need to see some action from the Minister.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I should like to register my appreciation at the splendid manner in which all present responded to the application of the new ruling; they did so with alacrity and good humour. I call the Minister to respond.

10.50 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Charlotte Atkins) : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) for choosing to debate this important subject. He has raised many concerns, concerns that I have also seen expressed in letters from the hon. and learned Gentleman and other hon. Members here today.

Passenger traffic at Nottingham East Midlands airport has increased dramatically since its adoption as a base by a number of no-frills carriers; annual growth averaged almost 15 per cent. in the five years to 2003. There are signs that that growth is now slowing; in 2004, the airport handled some 4.3 million passengers, which was up 2.9 per cent. on the previous year. Scheduled services now operate to 25 destinations, on a balanced mix of leisure and business routes.

That expansion is in line with the Government's policy of encouraging growth at regional airports. It has a number of benefits, which include supporting the growth of the local and regional economy; relieving congestion at more over-crowded airports, especially those in the south-east; reducing the need for long surface journeys to airports; and giving passengers greater choice.

NEMA's strategic importance, however, arises from its freight operations. It handled some 227,000 tonnes of air freight in 2003, second only to Heathrow. Almost all of that was carried by dedicated freighter aircraft, making it the most important United Kingdom airport for that type of traffic. In the same year, it also handled more than 10,000 tonnes of mail.

NEMA is well suited to such a role. Its central location and its proximity to the M1 enables it to serve much of the UK, and it possesses an adequate runway length and sufficient space for the development of cargo
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handling facilities. That has served to attract the express freight carriers, and NEMA has become the most important regional hub for DHL and UPS. The vast international networks operated by such carriers offer enormous benefits in connectivity for businesses in the east midlands and beyond, and they offer rapid access to global markets.

Mr. Garnier : We are delighted hear a sort of "Down Your Way" tour of the airport's charms, but we want the Minister to deal with the issues that were raised in the debate. I wonder whether she will stop reading out publicity material for the airport and get on and deal with the issues that concern us.

Charlotte Atkins : I would have expected those hon. Members who represent the Conservative party to have recognised the benefits of a regional airport of NEMA's significance. It is interesting that they are very much against red tape and the Government taking commercial decisions; but when it comes to NEMA, it seems that they want the Government to take responsibility for the whole business.

The midlands consultation document on the future development of air transport, which preceded the White Paper, looked at the option of a second, wide-spaced runway at NEMA. The White Paper did not support that option; on the evidence available, we concluded that the economic case for a second runway had not been made. We shall, however, review the case for a second runway should the growth of NEMA prove to be more rapid than our forecasts suggest.

Although hon. Members have denied it, the airport is situated away from the main centres of population, and a relatively small number of people live within the 57dBA noise contour, which is the commonly accepted standard for the onset of "significant community annoyance". The populations around Gatwick or Stansted, for example, are much larger. Some 2,500 people in the existing development of NEMA live within the 57dBA contour. That is expected to grow to 11,700 in 2030. The comparable figures for Luton are 8,000 in the present development and 19,000 by 2030. NEMA is not on a par with the three designated airports in the south-east.

While the White Paper supports the expansion of both passenger and freight operations at NEMA, it is not a licence for the uncontrolled expansion of operations. It states that the expansion on night operations must be accompanied by stringent controls on night noise and increasingly generous noise insulation and other mitigation measures. I have no definition of stringency or stringent controls. We will obviously look to the airport operator to provide an indication of its transport and traffic forecasts and proposals and also its mitigation measures. That is the context in which the airport operates.

Many Members have asked about designation. Like my predecessors, I have written many letters on this issue. Although I appreciate the strong feelings expressed by hon. Members and their constituents, the situation has not changed. As the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), made clear, both at the forum that many hon. Members attended and
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subsequently, the Government's position is that local and regional airports should find solutions for what are local and regional problems.

Mr. Duncan : It is quite clear that the Labour party's policy is to oppose the designation of this airport. May I ask the Minister in the time remaining to address my specific point about monitoring existing flights with a clear focus of attention so that we can get the actual facts, without being given the runaround?

Charlotte Atkins : I am happy to take up the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised. If he is having problems finding out what flight has overflown a constituent, I am happy to look at that. NEMA flights have a noise and track-keeping system. It should be possible to say whether it is a NEMA flight. The hon. Gentleman spoke of his problems with the CAA coming back to him within the period when it was possible to say whether a flight was from a particular direction. He mentioned the problem of having only a month's radar checks. I am happy to take that back and have a look at it, but clearly NEMA should be able to tell the hon. Gentleman whether it was one of its flights. Whether he believes it or not is another matter.

There are well-established procedures for bringing forward airspace change proposals and they are subject to directions and guidance to the CAA from the Secretary of State. These are designed to ensure that proposals are brought to the attention of affected parties; that they are properly assessed and that environmental impacts are mitigated as much as possible; and that changes are only made where it is clear, after consultation, that an overall environmental benefit will accrue. That is the existing procedure that has to be used. There is no reason why NEMA should not also go down that path.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order.

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