Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 543-559)



  Q540  Chairman: What are you saying? Is it that automatically safety is going to clash with the environmental needs of a particular airport?

  Mr Hamblin: I am not saying that they automatically clash, no. Technological improvements and changes to flight paths can provide safety and environmental benefits, but at the moment we have a regulator which is primarily an economic and safety regulator. Really, our perspective is that, given the framework within which the CAA is working where it has the Government Transport White Paper, which is saying, Let us expand", where it has guidance that says, Avoid aircraft over densely populated areas but also protect tranquilly", that there are real problems in trying to meet all of those three. Part of the problem lies with the framework within which it is working. Regarding the Air Transport White Paper, which we believe should be reviewed, we believe that the CAA has a key role in providing information back to the policymakers about the environmental limits which are being breached.

  Q541  Mrs Ellman: It has been suggested to us that environmental issues should be decided very locally and internationally, but not nationally. Do you have any views on that?

  Cllr Cadbury: There are a range of appropriate measures. If we had national policy, and we already have international policy, set around, for instance, noise levels in WHO standards, that would set the policy framework and the regulatory regime could work within that. Could I pick up the point on the public inquiry? We do not believe a public inquiry is the place to sort out these issues. From our experience of Terminal 5, it was very expensive and very lengthy. For a borough like Hounslow, which is not the planning authority, we got no benefit from the outcome of a public inquiry.

  Q542  Chairman: You are not saying you should not have a public inquiry unless you feel they come up with the answers you want, are you?

  Cllr Cadbury: No, but in terms of dealing with the regulatory regime for noise and emissions and so on, a public inquiry is not necessarily the place to set those. A proper regulatory regime that is able to be implemented nationally is what is needed.

  Mr Hamblin: May I just add from CPRE's perspective that we believe that addressing environmental concerns needs to be integrated from an international, European, national, regional and local. If we have inconsistency between those levels, then we are going to run into problems. We have experienced the Air Transport White Paper at the national level and the only comment it makes on the tranquillity of the countryside is that its loss will be in some ways inevitable". That creates real problems when you are trying to address those issues at a local level, if that is the framework within which you are working.

  Q543  Mrs Ellman: How well do you say the CAA balances economic and environmental concerns?

  Mr Wojtulewicz: From what I have seen, and obviously they say they take into account environmental considerations in balancing them, I think their priorities still remain with safety and economic issues. I think more weight should be given to environmental considerations and the CAA should be given that duty to give it more weight.

  Q544  Mr Leech: If you think they do not put enough weight on environmental considerations, I do not quite understand how that marries up with you all suggesting that the CAA should have a specific role in environmental considerations and that that it should be a separate organisation that is looking at the environmental side.

  Mr Wojtulewicz: At the moment, they look at it but the weight they give to it is probably very little, or less than perhaps other safety and economic issues. That might well be what the Government wants and what they should be doing. Safety is important but I think the balance needs to be fine-tuned a little to give a bit more balance on the environmental issues.

  Cllr Cadbury: The CAA has environmental aspirations but it has very little detail and it has no regulatory regime to back up those regulations. It is working in a policy context which itself is very weak on environmental considerations. The Aviation White Paper made some small remarks about the environment but it did very little. For instance, it said nothing about noise insulation in homes, and so the whole policy context is very weak on the environment in the Aviation White Paper.

  Q545  Mr Wilshire: For the purpose of the question I want to ask you, can we agree that we all want greater environmental concern about this? This is the basis on which we will work for the moment. If that is what we want, is there not a danger that if you give it to the CAA to do that, you are inviting them to give greater weight to environmental issues at the risk of them giving less weight to safety? If that is so, above all else from my perspective nothing must undermine their safety considerations. Therefore, is not another body charged with what you want the best way of ensuring that the CAA does what it is supposed to do and that the environment is considered more by somebody else?

  Mr Hamblin: I do not think there is a contradiction in what we are saying. Certainly from CPRE's perspective, the CAA's commitment to safety is paramount; it is enshrined in the Transport Act. We do not see a need to change that. However, there is an awful lot which can be achieved once one has taken into account safety in terms of environmental improvement and reducing the environmental impact. We believe this is not being done. To use an example, the South-West Airspace Consultation generated a significant response from councils, members of the public and other bodies. The CAA, in examining the responses it received, frequently said it was not within its remit and it was not within its objectives to look at the particular issue raised. This is where we see a real weakness.

  Q546  Chairman: Do you want to add to that, Councillor Cadbury?

  Cllr Cadbury: Yes. I refer back to the Federal Aviation Authority model in the United States, which is hardly restrictive to the growth of aviation and yet has, as I said before, a very strong regulatory environment regime and a very generous series of mitigation packages.

  Q547  Chairman: In comparative terms, as the committee will tell you, they are rich runs in rather concentrated areas, are they not? Their interest frequently will mean, for example, and I do not want to traduce them, that they would accept a rural airport in an area which would not be acceptable in this country because of the different terms of reference under which they operate?

  Cllr Cadbury: I do not know enough about the detail but certainly they seem to have quite strong rules for major built-up areas. We believe it is worth pursuing more. One example where safety does take precedence over the environment is that there is little regulation on noise of departing aircraft because safety has to take precedence there, and we accept that.

  Q548  Mrs Ellman: The evidence from Hounslow suggests that the CAA is taking sufficient regard of the local environmental impact. Are you saying that the decisions are wrong or that they are not showing how they got to that?

  Cllr Cadbury: It is not within their remit. They have no need to take an interest because their remit does not include the impact of aviation on local communities.

  Q549  Mrs Ellman: You are asking for the CAA to publish local mitigation issues?

  Cllr Cadbury: No, we are asking for a much stronger regulatory regime which allows for generous mitigation packages. It seems appropriate, as the CAA is already an aviation regulator, that it might well be the body to enforce it. We are starting from the fact that the mitigation packages we get are small, inadequate and generally voluntary, and we believe they should be the opposite.

  Q550  Mr Wilshire: Can you not see the risk that if you tell the CAA that they have got to fund mitigation packages, that has a financial price tag attached to it? Would you not be concerned that there is a danger that they will compromise safety to keep the cost of mitigation down? This is not an argument against doing it. It is an argument against the safety regulator doing it.

  Cllr Cadbury: I do not believe the two are contradictory.

  Q551  Mrs Ellman: The evidence from Leicestershire suggests that you are not content with the current consultation arrangements on airspace. What would you like to see changed?

  Mr Wojtulewicz: At the moment, from our experience at Leicestershire and the East Midlands Airport in particular, all the consultation was done by the airport operator themselves. They collected the evidence from the consultation process and they handed it over to the CAA as part of their request to expand the airspace. The CAA looked at it and I think they commissioned their own environmental analysis, which was not revealed to anybody, but they came to a view that the airspace would go ahead and they felt there were environmental benefits. Perhaps it would be helpful if the CAA were a bit more transparent and explicit in their reasoning about why they did that and what way they looked at those factors. Our experience was that we did not really have an opportunity to question them very closely on that.

  Q552  Mrs Ellman: You want there to be a statutory obligation to consult with local authorities. You feel that local authorities are ignored then?

  Mr Wojtulewicz: I am just going by our experience. There was one round of consultations which did miss out a lot of local elected bodies. The airport had to do it again, I think from advice from the CAA. I would welcome a more statutory requirement for them to consult to ensure that those who represent people affected by the airport have their proper say.

  Mr Hamblin: To follow on from that point, it is extremely important how one defines who is going to be affected by an airport and flight path. One of the concerns CPRE has is that at the moment the definition of who is affected is obviously defined by where the aircraft are going to be flying sufficiently low or whether they are flying over an area of outstanding natural beauty or a national park. I would ask of all the constituencies that you represent what proportions are designated as national parks or AONBs, and yet, surely, there are many people in communities within your constituencies who are very concerned about protecting peace and quiet and tranquillity. So we think that this is an artificial way of delineating whether one should consult or not and that the present definition perhaps should be re-examined by both the CAA and by the Department for Transport.

  Q553  Mrs Ellman: Is there a danger, though, that the consultation procedure will become unduly long and unduly complex?

  Mr Wojtulewicz: I do not think so. I think in natural justice people who will be affected or are potentially affected ought to have a right to be consulted on matters that may affect them, particularly if there are changes that are, say, outside the planning system, as I mentioned previously, and changes which are purely in the remit of the CAA. I think there has to be some kind of way to engage the community and show that justice is seen to be done and is done.

  Cllr Cadbury: In slight deference to Mr Hamblin's perspective, we are speaking from the perspective of a large urban community that has been next to the airport for over 50 years and is seldom consulted when we are faced with an incremental increase in flights. Another example is that in the drafting of the White Paper we were not consulted on the detail, which we would have contributed had we been asked about for instance the Community Buildings Noise Insulation Scheme which, as I said before, is completely inadequate. This is the kind of example of the Department for Transport and the CAA not considering local authorities to be relevant or appropriate. We find that unfortunate.

  Q554  Chairman: Is there not a fine line to be drawn between what is a legitimate involvement with the local authority, which must protect schools and those areas of residences where people have the right to enjoy proper quiet and their own homes, and the sort of complicated involvement in the expansion of a particular airport? Is there not a delicate line that needs to be drawn between consultation with the local authority and the right to interfere in, for example, the process of airspace changes, which would give local authorities an extra right to hold up the process, which is already fairly complicated?

  Cllr Cadbury: I would suggest that, for instance, we are about to face a consultation on the loss of runway alternation with the introduction of mixed mode as a way of expanding Heathrow with the existing two runways. That will make a major change to the quality of life for residents in West London who currently have peace and quiet before 3 pm or after 3 pm, or from the perspective of schools which generally are closed after 3.30, and they have a week of noise and a week of quiet. Clearly, that is going to make a major change in people's quality of life. I think that I as a local authority representative have every right to make major submission on that issue.

  Q555  Mr Donaldson: Can I ask Mr Hamblin: in what way is the CAA's Sustainable Development and Aviation Environmental Policy Statement unambitious and what would you like to see in it?

  Mr Hamblin: I think it is unambitious both in terms of its aspirations and in terms of how it is implemented. This goes back to the discussion that we were having earlier about the framework within which the CAA operates. The 57 dBA limit has been used as the threshold for community annoyance. Information from the World Health Organisation, which has looked at this, has shown that that threshold is too high and that it should be lowered, for example, to 50 dBA. It has not looked at the impact of aircraft in tranquil environments. The last research which the CAA has done on this topic is over 20 years old, so the statement needs to be refreshed to ensure that it is looking at environmental factors in the context of the Government's sustainable development strategy which has as one of its five principles living within environmental limits. The policy statement was written a number of years ago. It is important that it keeps up to date with the process of changes in environmental policy.

  Q556  Mr Donaldson: The Environment Research and Consultancy Department at the CAA exists in part to provide technical advice and guidance to local planning authorities. What is your relationship with them and how much help are they, particularly the two councils?

  Mr Wojtulewicz: The county council actually has no planning remit or locus in determining anything to do with the airport. The county council has become involved with the general governance issue because its constituencies have been pressing them to see what we can do to help them mitigate the effects of the airport. I cannot really help you on that particular guidance.

  Cllr Cadbury: We have had virtually no contact with the Civil Aviation Authority, and in fact we have had to ask them for their recent consultation documents. I can see it in the context of their remit and their core regulatory powers. Yes, you are right: they do have some staff working on environmental issues, but I would say, looking at their business, that it is not part of their core business.

  Q557  Mr Donaldson: If the Environmental Research and Consultancy Department were cut back or indeed responsibility passed to Europe, what, if any, would be the consequences for local authorities?

  Cllr Cadbury: If the CAA is to lose some powers to Europe, I would suggest that it gives its additional scope to reallocate that resource, to the kinds of things that we are suggesting should be done. I think there is an opportunity there for the CAA to boost its role on environmental and sustainability issues and its regulatory framework.

  Q558  Mr Donaldson: You would welcome a closer liaison between your council and the CAA?

  Cllr Cadbury: I would welcome a closer relationship between us and the CAA, and also between us and the Department for Transport, yes.

  Q559  Graham Stringer: I would like to ask Mr Wojtulewicz this. I understand your points about consultation. What I am not sure about is what the actual problem is at the end of the consultation. If you were not consulted, I understand your complaint. What is the complaint about the decision the CAA came to?

  Mr Wojtulewicz: We have to accept the decision that they came to because that was their role. What we would like to see is a bit more transparency in how they came to that view, what weight they gave to particular factors, and what weight they gave to our views or other views.

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