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12 Dec 2007 : Column 103WH—continued

12 Dec 2007 : Column 104WH

Heathrow Expansion

2.30 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): May I say how grateful I am to Mr. Speaker for granting me this Adjournment debate? The fact that so many Members are here on a Wednesday afternoon indicates how much it is needed. The reason for wanting to debate the subject today is that we have yet to hold a proper debate on the Floor of the House. The Secretary of State decided to issue only a written statement about the consultation, although much was said and done outside the House, which I thought was very insulting to Members.

At Transport questions recently, I asked a topical question, but to be honest I was appalled by the complacency and the lack of interest with which the subject—not only is it a major decision but it affects hundreds of thousands of people—was dismissed. I am therefore incredibly grateful to have secured this debate. Although it will be one of the first parliamentary debates on the subject in coming months, it will be a useful start. Because many other Members want to speak, I shall try to keep my comments relatively short, Mr. Benton, so that others can join in if they catch your eye.

I have lived within a short distance of Heathrow all my life. By and large, those who live in the area have always been quite proud of Heathrow. It is certainly something that we have lived with. I am always a little concerned when people say, “Why do people live there? Surely they knew there was an airport there.” It reminds me of the story—is it apocryphal?—of the American wondering why they built Windsor castle so close to Heathrow. Some informed comment is less than informed if it suggests that people do not have to live there if they do not like the problems.

Having an airport nearby can have a positive impact. It has economic advantages, although they are not 100 per cent. positive. If one were to ask the people of the London borough of Hillingdon whether they would still want Heathrow within its boundaries, I think we might get quite a mixed answer. It has brought many other problems to the borough. However, that is as it is.

Those who have lived in the area have seen expansion over the years, but the appetite for expansion seems to grow year by year. I was not sufficiently active in politics when some of the previous developments were proposed to have been in the forefront of campaigns for or against. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has an honourable tradition in opposing much of the expansion at Heathrow, particularly the fifth terminal. With hindsight, I wish I had been alongside him earlier because I think he was right. I hope, Mr. Benton, that he will catch your eye. He may be on the other side of the fence politically, but he is certainly on the same side on this subject.

We have seen an insatiable appetite for expansion, but we have also discovered what happens when we are promised it is to be the last piece of expansion. It never is. Having Heathrow on our back doorstep is almost like having a bully there. No sooner is a fifth terminal agreed than we are told that that is it—that that is all
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that is needed. There is no question of there being any more—no more runways, no more terminals, that is it. But almost as the ink was drying—perhaps, cynically, I might say before the ink was drying—plans for future expansion were well ahead.

We were told that a third runway was needed. We had been consulted and were told that a third short runway would be necessary; but there was no mention of a sixth terminal. Now there is a third runway, with a sixth terminal. I would be very surprised if the new runway was short—I cannot quite see the point in that; if we are going that far, we might as well go the whole hog. If we are now being been told that that it is all that is needed, then other plans are already afoot for more.

We have been told—I am sure that this applies to Members on all sides of the House, because the subject crosses the party divide—that if there is no further expansion at Heathrow, somehow the airport will die. There will be no third runway; there will be tumbleweed blowing down the Great West road; somehow, we will be living in an industrial desert. The fact is that very few businesses say that they would leave if Heathrow was not expanded. I have a certain amount of experience and knowledge as a local businessman, and I do not think it would make that much difference. I do not think that Heathrow will die.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman speaks about the sixth terminal and the third runway, but he should equate it to what happened in the east end of London with the docks. We were told that expansion did not matter there. Why then did we have complete closure of the docks in the east end of London? As someone who travels regularly through Heathrow, I can say that it is more and more the case that I prefer to use Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle or Frankfurt airports. I believe that it should be taken into the equation. If the hon. Gentleman does not wake up to the need for expansion, in the global sense, Heathrow will indeed end up as a desert.

Mr. Randall: The hon. Gentleman gives me a great deal of ammunition. The example of the docks is interesting. One problem with dockland areas—the Minister represents a former docklands area—is the same as what is happening at Heathrow. The danger is that it will become a one-horse town, a one-industry town. If aviation has problems, as it did with the Gulf war and 9/11, when a delegation of MPs saw Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, to express their worries about the downturn in aviation, local industries could be in serious peril—everything is connected. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is one reason for diversifying. We should not be so reliant on one section of industry.

As for using Schiphol or other airports, I would say—it is the view of many—that BAA ought to get Heathrow running more efficiently, making it a nice airport to use. People would then want to go there. But that is not their experience at the moment. In fact, Heathrow is regarded by many travellers as being a very unpleasant experience. We will have to see whether everyone can get their act together with the fifth terminal. By the way, the fifth terminal was given permission by
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the inspector on the express condition that there was no further expansion. You can see, Mr. Benton, why we are all so angry in my part of the world. As for the hon. Gentleman using Schiphol, he will find it rather difficult getting to the Houses of Parliament from Amsterdam. It might be more appropriate for him to use the train—a subject that someone else can take up.

I have not seen any hard evidence—the Government have not provided any—to back up the mantra that business will disappear if there is no expansion. The aviation industry seems to have a hold on the Government—Governments of all party persuasions, as far as I can see. If they say they need it, the Government of the day have to fall in with it. It is about time that we challenged that. If there is positive evidence—proper hard evidence—I will look at it.

The reason why I got angry and had a rare outburst in the Chamber—I am normally a quiet sort of person, sitting there loving all my fellow MPs and thinking that they are jolly and nice, but I was very upset—is that the expansion is not a project that will not affect people. It is not just a piece of land, whether brownfield, greenbelt or any other kind. By the Government’s own figures, which I think are underestimated, 700 homes will be destroyed, representing whole communities, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. I do not want to steal his thunder, but I must say as a local person that there are villages and homes there in which people have lived for centuries, yet because we must have a wonderful new runway and another terminal, somehow we must say that it does not matter and move them out. It is like Ceausescu’s Romania, Stalin’s Russia or the highland clearances. We could put sheep there. That would be a good idea.

That is what it is about—putting business before people’s lives—and quite frankly, we are a bit sick and tired of it locally. The Government also refuse to tell us where those people will go. The simple answer is that in an already overcrowded area where housing is a problem, the idea of suddenly rehousing all those people—never mind those who will be working there building the expansion—is absolutely potty. Why do the Government think that they can just remove people, flatten their homes and send them somewhere else in the country—to the virgin lands near Tselinograd, perhaps? What is the matter with them? It is appalling.

We hear a lot about climate change. Today in Bali, world leaders are speaking—wonderful sentiments about how we must reduce our carbon emissions. The Government say that they will be at the forefront, that they are introducing a Climate Change Bill to set real targets and, by the way, that they will be actively encouraging the growth in air travel and ensuring that it is not curbed. I am not suggesting stopping air travel, just curbing its growth.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con): On the question of curbing the growth in air travel, I commend to my hon. Friend the extension of the high-speed rail network to Heathrow airport. I come from the north country, and many people who come from the north country are forced to transit through Heathrow because rail service terminates in central London. It is inadequate. If the high-speed rail service went via Heathrow, it would save many internal flights.

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Mr. Randall: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are lots of internal flights. For some short-haul flights within Europe, I would much rather go by Eurostar than through Heathrow, even though Heathrow is only 15 minutes from my home. It is much simpler to go city-to-city. How can the Government expect me to tell my constituents that they must change their light bulbs and put in a bit of insulation or they will somehow cause the death of numerous polar bears and penguins? This is a serious point, because it is about leadership. If the Government are serious about curbing emissions and being leaders in trying to stop man-made climate change, they must show leadership and say, “Enough is enough. We must look at alternatives to this mad scheme.”

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Joe Benton (in the Chair): Order. Before I call the next speaker, quite a number of people wish to speak in this debate. Obviously, I shall do my very best to get everybody in, but I propose to start winding-up speeches at 3.30. I ask hon. Members to bear that in mind.

2.44 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I thank my neighbour the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) for securing this debate, as well as the other Members who also applied for it. It is the luck of a petty bourgeois shopkeeper to be called, but there we are. This is a scene-setting debate. We shall apply regularly for debates on different aspects of the matter, so I warn the Minister not to plan any lengthy holidays next year, and certainly not to plan any via Heathrow.

The issue is fundamental to many of us. The Minister is held in affection in all parts of the House—I remember him as a youthful member of the Socialist Workers party—but the issue comes with a blight warning. He could be the Minister who not only wipes out a third of my constituency but contributes, by his decision on this matter, to the impact on climate change in a way that no other Government decision could.

On Second Reading of the Planning Bill on Monday, I explained my background and involvement in relation to the development of Heathrow. I was at the terminal 4 inquiry, gave evidence to the terminal 5 inquiry and have been involved in virtually every planning issue involving Heathrow for the past 30 years, because I live near there. In 1983, when I was a Greater London councillor for the area, I held the first meeting to protest the proposals for a third runway. At that meeting, local historian Philip Sherwood showed a slide of a planning map from the 1940s for Heathrow airport. On that map was a third runway in almost exactly the position now intended. That confirmed in my constituents’ minds and in my own that over the years, an incremental plan has been systematically rolled out for Heathrow airport that is swamping the Heathrow villages, and the Government have schemed with BAA and other bodies in the aviation industry to enable it to happen.

The third runway and terminal 6 are the latest development in that incremental roll-out, but to return to what the hon. Member for Uxbridge said, I was at the terminal 5 inquiry when BAA’s barrister got up and
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promised the inspector, “If we get the fifth terminal, there will be no third runway and no further terminal expansion at Heathrow.” BAA wrote to me, stood on platforms with me and wrote to my constituents. The inspector, Mr. Vandermeer, then made his decision—terminal 5, but no further. He did so on several grounds, including an assessment of the environmental impact of any further expansion in terms of both air pollution and noise.

Debates at the inquiry also involved reference to the social impacts—the devastation of our local communities. In the 1990s, the Government undertook a study on runways in the south-east that identified that the expansion of Heathrow airport by a third runway could impact 10,000 people and up to 3,500 homes. Now that further development has taken place, 4,000 homes could be affected either by demolition or by being rendered unliveable. Since then, a further argument has arisen in the form of climate change. Science has moved on and we know more about the impact of emissions, particularly aviation emissions, on climate change. The report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, published two weeks ago, warned us that we have six to eight years to reduce emissions or face climate chaos.

What has changed since the terminal 5 inquiry? We are told that a sixth terminal and a third runway have the potential, with mixed-mode use and runway alternation, to expand the cap on air traffic movements from 480,000 a year to 720,000, and then upwards to 800,000. At the same time, we are told despite the warnings of the terminal 5 inspector about the potential for increased pollution and noise that the expansion will result in no increase in noise or air pollution. It is laughable, is it not?

Project Heathrow, the process set up by the Government for examining the scientific consequences of what would happen as a result of a third runway and a sixth terminal—basically, an impact study—was elicited only by our campaign to get some truth and, to be frank, was rigged. There was no access to all the information or all the partners available. In fact, environmental and local community groups were excluded from that process. On the science, we agreed the assessment techniques, but had no access to the modelling upon which the results would be churned out. We then discovered that BAA supplied most of the information and doctored it as part of the overall inquiry.

I pay tribute to hon. Members who had to use the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to get information out of that supposedly independent assessment process. It was a public relations exercise more than an independent study. I expected some form of independent commission with experts, including international experts, acting as observers to ensure veracity in the process. It was no such thing. No social impact assessment was undertaken by the study. All we have in the consultation document is a reference to the number of homes that will be affected, which has gone up from a few hundred to 700 homes. In reality, we know from the South East and East of England Regional Air Service study that 3,000 to 4,000 could be affected.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the other concern about the work done before the consultation is that no formal
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assessment was made of the public health impact of any of the proposals? I would have expected that to be one of the first issues to be addressed.

John McDonnell: Interestingly enough, the hon. Members for Uxbridge and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), and I, met with our primary care trust last Friday to ask it to undertake such work. They had not even been invited to submit evidence on that basis, which I find fascinating, because that was one of the key issues addressed by terminal 5 when we presented surveys of the respiratory conditions of my constituents that resulted from the impact of the airport. We also presented the Chicago research on the cancer impact on those living and working at airports in America. There has been no contingency planning or social impact assessment.

I want to put on the record what the proposals would mean to my community. I believe that they would result in the forced clearance of 10,000 people and whole families. Furthermore, three primary schools will be either demolished or rendered unusable: Harmondsworth, Heathrow and William Byrd. There will also be an impact on the secondary schools in the surrounding area owing to the massive extension of the road network. Whole communities will be wiped out. And what about community centres? I have looked at the flight paths in relation to our two churches—St. Mary’s in Harmondsworth and the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Harlington. When the planes take off from the expanded runway—we were told that it would be a short take-off—they will virtually scrape the roofs. We know what will happen—those churches will be rendered unusable. I predict that we will return to the scenario three years ago when we had to dig up our dead. And there are war graves in those churches’ grounds.

We know from a freedom of information inquiry made by the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) that the supposedly most-credible road system—this does not apply to all the options for road systems—will literally run through the gardens and within yards and feet of people’s homes.

Mr. Donohoe: How many people in my hon. Friend’s constituency rely on Heathrow for their livelihoods?

John McDonnell: Interesting. We have looked at those figures and we think that it is no more than about 15 per cent. of the population. However, interestingly, we have been talking to airport workers, and those who live and work in the area oppose this scheme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen), with whom I have worked over the years, is a good example of this change of heart. A number of us accepted terminal 4; others, including airport workers, accepted terminal 5, but enough is enough—that is the expression now coming from many airport workers.

Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend knows very well that I was one of the strongest supporters of Heathrow airport and the air transport industry. I supported expansion within the current boundaries, including for terminal 5. Like him, I have decided that enough is enough. Take that as a
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strong indication that the time has come to draw a line under the expansion of Heathrow airport.

John McDonnell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support, which has been principled and honest throughout the debates on different levels of expansion.

Let us consider the economic argument. We will return for a further debate specifically on the economic argument, which is incredibly one-sided. In my community, the airport has created jobs, but it has forced some out as well. Land prices have gone up and I have lost skilled manufacturing work. Skilled and trained people have lost their jobs and are now working at Heathrow on unskilled jobs and not necessarily with the same recompense. As the hon. Member for Uxbridge said, my community has become increasingly dependent on the airport, so when the aviation industry catches a cold, there are lay-offs and redundancies and we become almost like a mining town in some areas. I have been at each inquiry at which BAA has promised my constituents that if it gets the new terminal and the development, more jobs will follow. However, I have seen job cuts and losses time and time again, largely as a result of the way in which processes have been changed and of mechanisation. It does not necessarily follow that further expansion and the depletion of our local environment will bring increased employment opportunities.

This process has angered me, my constituents and anyone involved with it all the way through. The consultation was derisory. The consultation document has not been distributed as widely as we were promised. It is difficult to obtain the full documentation. In fact, at one point, when people were phoning up and trying to get hold of it, we were told that copies had run out. There will be no exhibition on the expansion and terminal 6 in Sipson village—the very village that will be obliterated off the face of the earth. I received a note on this matter today. Here are some more examples: the Cranford village exhibition venue is not in Cranford, but close to Cranford cross on the Bath road; the Colnbrook venue is not in Colnbrook, but in Harmondsworth beside the detention centre, which is inaccessible; the west Drayton venue is unsuitable with inadequate parking, and there is no planned consultation or exhibition in Hayes itself, which is in the centre of my constituency, and therefore affected. I believe that the consultation is just a front and public relations propaganda exercise.

There have been no opportunities for Ministers to visit the area and respond to questions from local constituents. There has been no resourcing of community organisations or environmental groups so that they can participate in the consultation. I think that this makes a mockery of demo-cratic government. It might well be that the decision will be taken under the new planning legislation. We have been told that the Government want to convert the aviation White Paper into a planning policy statement. That is unacceptable, because it will not follow a full consultation process, which we are promised planning policy statements do. If the infrastructure planning commission is established it will mean unaccountable bureaucratic decision makers for this major project.

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