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Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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planning-gain supplement (preparations) Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6), (Programme motions),

Question agreed to.

Planning-gain Supplement (preparations) Bill [money]

Queen’s recommendation having been signified——

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With the leave of the House, I shall put motions 4 and 5 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Northern Ireland

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Stamp Duty Land Tax

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

Sustainable Use of Pesticides

Question agreed to.


Mr. Deputy Speaker: With the leave of the House, I will put motions 8, 9, 10 and 11 together.


Environmental Audit

Public Accounts

Communities And Local Government

Science And Technology


Post Office Network

7.29 pm

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): rose—[ Interruption. ]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. May I ask hon. Members to leave the Chamber as quickly and quietly as possible?

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Mr. Browne: I wish to present a petition about post offices. The post office network makes a major contribution to urban and rural communities in my Taunton constituency, and it is particularly valued by people without transport, so closures have a particularly detrimental effect on people who live in the surrounding area and on local businesses. The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

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Helicopter Flights (London)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Tony Cunningham.]

7.30 pm

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): First, may I reassure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that although this debate could last for three hours, I do not intend to make it last any longer than it would in other circumstances.

I sought this debate because I received many complaints from local residents in my constituency about the noise of helicopters overhead. To provide a flavour of those complaints, Mrs. Wisdom of Barnes said:

Mr. Keers of Barnes—hon. Members will realise that Barnes is an Achilles heel in its vulnerability to helicopter noise—said:

I sympathise with the concerns of Ms Le Poer Trench, because I have had a similar experience to hers. She said:

In reply to our letters urging the Government to try to find a way of tackling the problem of helicopter noise, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron), told us in October 2006 that

We were provided with contact details for the British Helicopter Advisory Board, but it appears that existing bodies do not take responsibility for the environmental impact of helicopters that fly across our communities, and certainly not for the noise that they create.

I very much welcome the investigation into these issues that was published by the Greater London authority last October, entitled “London in a spin—a review of helicopter noise”. The Minister met members of the GLA and staff who produced it to try to begin to develop a response. We are delighted that she did so, and my role tonight is to engage in a pincer movement, and keep up the pressure to secure action to deal with an increasing annoyance.

I would love to tell the House the number of helicopter movements across London, but there is no comprehensive database that keeps count of such movements. Battersea heliport, which is the main heliport in London, has planning permission for 12,000 commercial movements a year, but police, air ambulance and military helicopter movements are not included. The GLA estimates that about 13,000 flights were made to and from Battersea heliport in 2006. There were 11,000 flights in 2003, so the trajectory is for a significant increase every year. The Civil Aviation Authority produces data on helicopter take-offs and
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landings, but it does not include flights into or across London from airfields around the capital such as Biggin Hill, Denham and Fairoaks.

The pattern of flights is particularly annoying. We suspect that corporate entertainment is a major cause of aircraft movements, as there are clusters of flights during events such as Ascot and the Farnborough air show, causing disruption for several days. National Air Traffic Services does not keep data on low-level traffic over London, as it focuses on safety and does not think that it should keep track of movements. The British Helicopter Advisory Board, which the Government recommended we contact to achieve action on the problem, does not collect data at all. Each organisation seems to regard the others as data-collecting agents, and they disagree about increases in flights and who is responsible for those flights. As the GLA was forced to conclude, there is no joined-up collection or monitoring of data.

There is a lack of standards, too. There is an attitude in government that anything that business wants in aviation it gets, regardless of the impact on the community. My constituency suffers significantly from noise from Heathrow, and my residents believe that the Government’s approach to aviation is one of predict and provide, particularly in the expansion of that airport. There are genuine fears that many more helicopter movements will be permitted in future. There is no incentive to reduce helicopter noise, because there are not any regulations to encourage the use of newer, quieter helicopters. Many fleets are 30 years old and have little new technology, so they continue to disturb people.

When we raised the issue of expansion and additional helicopter movements across the city, we were told that business needs those things. That argument is always made about anything to do with aviation but, interestingly, my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) told me that when he entered the House, there were several helipads in his constituency, including one by the Oxo tower in the middle of the river and one at Chambers Wharf. The argument was repeatedly made that it would harm business in London if those heliports were closed. Following pressure, public inquiries and general activity, they were indeed closed, and the economy of London and Southwark did not collapse. Many spurious arguments are made to justify the constant expansion of helicopter capacity which, it is claimed, is necessary for the survival of London as an economic centre.

New proposals have been made for increased helicopter capacity in east London, perhaps at City airport, and many people believe that we have a growing helicopter culture. Regional Airports Ltd has told the GLA that it wants to be able to shuttle people to and from the London Olympics by helicopter from Biggin Hill. There is a great fear that that practice would set a precedent for regular shuttles to the City.

Residents are disturbed by helicopter noise, but it is hard to determine that objectively, because there are not any standards by which to measure it. In testimony to the GLA, Phil Roberts of the CAA is reported to have said that data on the human response to helicopter noise are limited, so it is difficult to define an
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objective measure. We have managed to find methods of measuring noise from fixed-wing aircraft, and I urge the Minister to make progress on defining a standard for helicopters. It is important, however, that we do not repeat a key mistake in the measurement of fixed-wing aircraft noise, which determines average noise. No one ever hears average noise—people are disturbed by individual events. If the Minister concedes that point, and helps us to make progress on a standard for helicopter noise, I believe that we will not import the problem of averaging, which makes it almost impossible for residents to engage in a reasonable discussion about aircraft noise with the Government, BAA and other parts of the aviation industry.

There are concerns, too, about consultation, the history of which is not a happy one. In 2004, when the CAA reduced the minimum altitude for helicopter flights over London from 1,500 ft to 1,000 ft, it conducted an extensive consultation. The only problem was that all the consultees were from the aviation industry. We must start to consider residents and to understand that they have a vested interest in a good environment for the city. That means that they must be listened to on issues such as noise.

The designated route in the London control zone is essentially the route of the Thames, although the police and ambulances obviously have greater freedom. What enforcement is there of that route? The comments that I quoted earlier reflect a great deal of helicopter activity around Barnes, which is a holding point. It is also where there is a loop in the Thames. As a resident, I frequently see helicopters abandon the route and start to take what they think is a clever short cut, which takes them across the Wetlands centre—the largest urban waterfowl sanctuary in Europe—as well as disturbing people under the flight path.

As I was coming into the Chamber for the debate, I was approached by various colleagues. Apparently, there have been three complaints recently from Kingston and Surbiton about helicopter noise. What helicopters have been doing in that area, disturbing residents, is beyond me. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) constantly receives reports of helicopter noise over Hampstead heath and experiences it directly over her own house, so she is conscious that that traffic is increasing and increasingly disruptive. The GLA received many reports from residents in Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs, so the problem is widespread over London. Anywhere that the Thames happens to wander, there seems to be a helicopter noise problem. The Thames is at the heart of this city, so the impact is not just in one or two isolated places.

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