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Ms Buck: We are conscious of the fact that there could be problems in aerodromes of all kinds, but the principal focus is on licensed and major aerodromes.

Ultimately, the Secretary of State has the power to require individual airports to provide acoustic insulation using his powers under sections 79 and 80 of the Civil Aviation Act, and indeed he has designated both Heathrow and Gatwick airports for this purpose. Currently though, noise insulation schemes are provided on a voluntary basis by airports, sometimes supported by local planning agreements. As stated in the White Paper, "The Future of Air Transport", the Government wish to see a continuation of that voluntary approach, but in addition, for the larger UK airports—those with more than 50,000 movements a year—we wish to see specific measures adopted either as an adaptation of existing schemes or when new mitigation schemes are brought forward.

John McDonnell: I am grateful for the Minister's response, but the purpose of amendment No. 17 is to draw attention to the fact that the existing voluntary arrangements, particularly regarding blight and noise blight arising from BAA's proposals for the third runway, are dividing communities. One side of the street is designated and the other is not. One part of Longford, "The Island", is not designated, but the top of the road is. There may now be time for the Government to intervene more directly in those voluntary arrangements.

Ms Buck: I hear what my hon. Friend says and I am happy to discuss the matter with him further.

We expect relevant airport operators to offer households subject to high levels of noise assistance with the costs of relocating and to offer acoustic insulation to other noise-sensitive buildings such as schools and hospitals. We have also suggested that airports where those criteria may bite may wish to start noise contouring to check their current noise levels, where they do not already do so, so that they can apply the criteria accurately.
 
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As airports develop in future, we expect them to offer to purchase those properties suffering from both a high level of noise and a large increase in noise and to offer acoustic insulation to any residential property that suffers both from a medium to high level of noise and a large increase in noise. Those more generous provisions recognise that residents in such areas may have chosen to live there because they did not expect such development to take place.

Justine Greening: Will the hon. Lady tell us how the Government define "medium to high noise"? What decibel levels are used?

Ms Buck: I will not be drawn on specific decibel levels; we have a clear framework.

Mr. Duncan: Why not? What is the level? Tell us.

Ms Buck: We know that high noise is 69 dB.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): What about medium noise?

Ms Buck: It does not say here, so I cannot tell the House that figure. I will confirm the definition of medium noise. I think that I can safely say that it is below 69 dB.

For the reasons I have given, I believe that we have a comprehensive set of policies in place to deal with noise insulation in a wide range of buildings, and a power of enforcement that we will use if voluntary measures do not prove sufficient. I do not believe that the new clause and amendment are necessary and I invite my hon. Friends not to press them.

I understand that amendment No. 9, and the right of appeal to the Secretary of State against charges imposed using the powers in new section 38 that is inserted into the Bill by amendment No. 8, have been tabled in response to concerns on the part of the airline industry that at some future date they may be faced with unfair charges. However, in reality it seems unlikely to me that an airport would choose to alienate its customers by introducing new measures without reasonable notice, although clearly it has to balance this with the legitimate expectations of those living around the airport that measures will be introduced without undue delay. Any period of notice would inevitably need to reflect the complexity of the arrangements being introduced. If an airline felt that it was disadvantaged by the introduction of a charging regime at unreasonably short notice, the remedy of legal challenge would be open to it. I am sure that airports will have regard to International Civil Aviation Organisation guidance that noise-related charges should be non-discriminatory between users and should not be established at such levels as to be prohibitively high for the operation of certain aircraft.—[Interruption.] It is technical stuff.

Amendment No. 8 would require airports making charges using the powers in new section 38 of the 1982 Act to monitor their emissions and noise levels and publish the figures annually, and to publish their plans to reduce noise and pollution. We do not believe that those reporting requirements need to be statutory. We
 
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believe that charging schemes have a valuable role to play, but they are not the only influencing factor on noise and emissions from aircraft.

The larger airports that are more likely to take up the powers in new section 38 will already have been designated under section 35 of the 1982 Act and have consultative arrangements in place. Reporting on noise and emissions monitoring will take place through those arrangements; as regards noise, the largest airports are covered by the Aerodromes (Noise Restrictions) (Rules and Procedures) Regulations 2003, which implement the European directive on noise-related operating restrictions.

Amendment No. 10 also imposes a reporting requirement, this time on the Secretary of State, who would be required to report annually to Parliament on the impact of airports' charging schemes on reducing noise and emissions, and on the means for monitoring noise and emissions at those airports and along flight paths. I do not believe that that would be an appropriate requirement. The levels of noise and emission at an aerodrome may vary for reasons other than the imposition of charges; for example, because of changes in the type of aircraft using the airport due to changes in the local economy, or improvements in operational practice driven by an airline operator's wish to improve fuel efficiency.

Before "The Future of Air Transport" was published, my Department consulted on a range of proposals to do with the control of noise from civil aircraft. One of these involved giving local authorities a role in non-designated airports' noise amelioration measures. Amendment No. 19 has a similar intent.

Mr. Redwood: Will the Minister give way?

Ms Buck: No, I have nearly finished.

Our conclusion, following consultation, was that such involvement of local authorities in non-designated airports' noise control measures would be too bureaucratic, given the existence of the power to designate an airport should its voluntary amelioration measures be inadequate. The Government remain of that view; local authorities have a statutory right to be included in the consultative arrangements made by airports designated under section 35 of the 1982 Act.

Mr. Redwood: Will the Minister give way?

Ms Buck: I am very conscious of the fact that I have already gone on too long and that people are anxious to move on, but I was keen to reply in detail. We have been in debate for some time and I am trying to conclude my remarks.

On amendments Nos. 21 and 1, the amendment in clause 2 to section 78(3) of the 1982 Act has clearly excited a great deal of concern among hon. Members whose constituencies are affected by night flying at the designated airports. On Second Reading and in Standing Committee, the Government sought to explain their position on the current night flying restrictions regime and on the proposals for a revised regime to run from October 2006 to October 2012. As hon. Members
 
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have mentioned, permission is currently being sought by a number of claimants for a judicial review of the consultation proposals.

Mr. Redwood: Why does the Minister bother to come to the House when she does not listen to anything that people say and has not made a single concession on the Bill, despite a lot of good advice from Members of all parties? What is the point? Is it not a travesty of democracy?

Ms Buck: I think that that was a rhetorical question.

I am anxious that the Government should not intrude on the role of the courts by commenting on a particular dispute concerning the application of the existing legislation on restrictions on night flights—including the way that aircraft are classified for such purposes—at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Consultation on the Government's proposed night flying restrictions closed on 16 September and we are giving careful consideration to the large number of responses received. I am grateful to all those who responded, including hon. Members. I will not be able to announce the outcome of the consultation in advance of completing the full consideration of responses, but I state again that the proposed change to the legislation will not impact on the current process to determine night flying restrictions at the designated airports from October 2006 to October 2012, regardless of whether the Bill completes its passage before that announcement is made, and that the restrictions will involve a limit on aircraft movements.

On the question of Heathrow, and in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, the limit of 480,000 movements imposed by the planning inspector would also not be overturned by way of a future decision to set night flying restrictions without a movements limit. There would still be a total movements limit, and were there to be an increase in night flights, for example, that would be within the cap.

I think that it is the mood of the House that I should draw my comments to a conclusion. [Hon. Members: "Yes."] I have read the mood of the House correctly. Although I realise that I have not satisfied the concerns of all Opposition Members, I have commented in detail on a number of those issues, as I did in Committee. I believe that the Bill strikes a proper balance between the environmental sustainability issues that cause concern to Members of Parliament and the need to maintain a healthy aviation industry.


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