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12 Dec 2007 : Column 110WH—continued

The process has been prejudiced already: statements made by the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor,
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documents on last year’s Budget, his speech to the City of London, and speeches made by the Secretary of State for Transport on this matter and to the media generally have all announced that the Government plan to drive this process through. That has prejudiced any public inquiry.

In conclusion, the assessment process has been doctored, the consultation process has been fixed and the planning and decision-making processes have been rigged. People will not put up with that. It is a wholesale sell-out of the demo-cratic process. In the summer, the climate camp came to my constituency. Some 200,000 people turned up, constructed a village and brought the issue to the head of media attention. If people do not have confidence in the decision-making process, the climate camp will be back and there will be further demonstrations and protests, because they believe that the demo-cratic process has failed them. And I will join them.

2.58 pm

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): I, too, welcome the debate, and believe that an oral statement should have been made, because this is a controversial issue. I suspect that I am about to make myself unpopular, but there we go.

Like my neighbour, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), I agree that this is a fundamental issue, not only for his constituents, but for mine and many others. I represent people right at the western end of the southern runway and along the southern boundary fence. Until a recent boundary change, I represented what is now terminal 5—then the sewage works—the cargo terminal and, believe it or not, half of terminal 4. Heathrow is fundamental to the 70,000 people whom I represent.

Again, I welcome the fact that there will be further debate, because so much needs to be said on a range of issues. That cannot be done in 10 minutes on an afternoon such as this. So today, I wish simply to do what I have always attempted: to dispel what I see as a number of myths. The first is the myth that everybody near Heathrow is against another runway.

John McDonnell: Would the hon. Gentleman therefore like the runway to be south of the proposed location? If he wanted to undertake the consultation, I would be happy to see the plans reconfigured so that the runway and the sixth terminal were built to the south—obliterating part of his constituency.

Mr. Wilshire: I have said on a number of occasions that I hope that I would have had the courage to say the same thing—even if the plans had been to the south. I do not know whether that helps the hon. Gentleman.

John McDonnell: So the hon. Gentleman is willing to accept that the third runway should be reconfigured on the south of Heathrow.

Mr. Wilshire: I can only repeat that I hope that my views remain the same wherever the runway goes, and even if it were in my constituency.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): That is an option.

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Mr. Wilshire: It is an option. I hope that I would keep to the same views, for the simple reason that the majority of my constituents support another runway at Heathrow. I have asked them about the location, and the only condition of support that the majority of my constituents would like is to sort out the environmental issues. I do not disagree with anyone that, if we cannot sort out the environmental issues, we cannot build a runway. However, my research on the basis of mail bags, surgeries and more than 100,000 questionnaires, including independent research, indicates that more than 50 per cent. of my constituents would support another runway, provided that that condition was met.

The second myth that I want to dispel is that anybody who dares to speak up in favour of further expansion at Heathrow must, by definition, be in the pay of the airlines or of big business. I resent that. The only people whose pay I find myself in are the 70,000 who send me here and pay my mortgage for me, for which I am eternally grateful. I resent the argument that it is impossible in all conscience genuinely to believe that expansion at Heathrow is in the interests of the people we represent. That is a myth. My constituents believe that it is in their interests for Heathrow to survive and flourish.

The third myth is that one either opposes or supports everything about Heathrow. I want to ensure that people do not leave the debate with the view that there is nothing on which we all agree. I have already said that we have to sort out the environmental issues. I have not read all the documents, so I cannot comment one way or the other on whether the Government have achieved what they said they would, and I reserve judgment for another debate.

Let me make it clear that any attempt to scrap alternation of runways is something that I too oppose and will fight. I suspect that the Government will impose their view, but my response will be that a third runway should jolly well ensure the ability to reinstate alternation. In any event, I do not want to see an end to alternation. Likewise, there is nothing between me and other hon. Members on wanting an end to night flights. However, I have often said that if we adopted double summer time, we would probably solve most of that problem.

There is a list of myths, but I do not have time to go through them all, so I shall mention one or two others to give some indication of what worries me about the national and regional debate. I exempt those of my colleagues who are present from my comments, because all of us have gone through all the facts and understand the position absolutely. There are others elsewhere, however, who keep repeating a load of nonsense, and I shall give a couple of examples of that.

It has been said in newspapers that should know better that transfer passengers do not matter for the future of Heathrow. That is total nonsense; transfer passengers make up approximately a third of passengers who use the airport. Quite a few routes are made viable by such passengers. Transfer passengers are also the reason why some airlines have a presence at Heathrow. It is nonsense, therefore, to argue that people who come in on one plane and go out on another do not matter to my constituents. Transfer traffic provides the justification for routes and for
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airline presence. If airline presence and routes are lost, jobs are lost. I do not want my 70,000 to lose jobs, thank you very much.

There is another example that it is appropriate to mention on an occasion such as this. There was a hint in relation to high-speed rail that journeys carried out via short flights may, somehow or other, be undertaken by train instead. I accept that that should be possible, but it is not. There is a simple answer to the argument that all sorts of flights from Manchester to Heathrow are unnecessary, if only people would get their minds around it. More than half the passengers on such flights are transfer passengers who are going somewhere else. If we told them that they had to get on a train in Manchester, go to Euston, and then fight their way through the traffic on the M25 or on the A4, or go across London, they would not. They would simply go from Manchester to Schiphol or Frankfurt. They would fly just as much, and we would lose jobs at Heathrow.

Mr. Atkinson: The point that I made earlier was that those of us who travel from the north and transfer between flights would be happy to travel instead on a high-speed train—it would be much more convenient for many of us—provided that the high-speed train route included a stop at Heathrow, as is the case at Charles de Gaulle airport. We do not use the train because, as my hon. Friend says, the trains terminate at Euston and King’s Cross.

Mr. Wilshire: That is the point that I was trying to make. I agree with my hon. Friend that it should indeed be possible to make such journeys. It is not, however. Until it is, people will not travel to Heathrow by train no matter how much they are told to do so. They will fly somewhere else, business will be lost from Heathrow and my constituents will lose jobs.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): Is not the hon. Gentleman excited by the Arup proposals unveiled in the House just a couple of weeks ago? They would achieve the very objective that he mentions and link London St. Pancras to a new station at Heathrow via Paddington, with an extension parallel to the Chiltern line to Birmingham, and on to the north-west and Scotland. Would not that alternative be well worth consideration?

Mr. Wilshire: If we reach the stage where that has happened, we can re-open this discussion. For the moment, however, we cannot even get AirTrack built, which should have been built long ago. Until such projects have happened, it will be necessary to make use of short flights.

I have a final example, which concerns the argument on the future of Heathrow if the runway is not built. I happen to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) in that I do not imagine that Heathrow would close tomorrow or even in the medium term if the project did not happen, but it would decline. My hon. Friend made the point that we used to be proud of Heathrow. I hate to say this, although I have said it to the faces of BAA plc
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managers, so my comments in this debate will not surprise them: even if Heathrow does not decline, I have gone from being proud of the airport on my doorstep to being somewhat ashamed of the situation that exists there.

There is a list of reasons why things have changed for the worse. If we try to put 68 million people in terminals designed for 45 million, we must not be surprised if we end up with chaos. That was good enough reason for me, with my constituents’ support, to say that T5 would be an answer. Of course, Heathrow cannot carry on as it is and continue to flourish, because it is going backwards already. We know that, because we use it and we see what happens there. If Heathrow goes backwards, my constituents suffer. The status quo simply will not do. We must solve the problems, and doing so in the best interests of my constituents means, in my judgment, building another runway, provided that the environmental issues can be overcome.

I make no apology for upsetting those of my colleagues who are present, nor do I make any apologies for wanting Heathrow to flourish, as 26 per cent. of the economically active people that I represent—a quarter of them—depend directly on Heathrow for their living, which means that the airport affects their families and children. If we were to calculate the figure for those others who depend indirectly on the airport, it would be even greater. As with coal mining towns, we can argue that such dependence is undesirable, which might be true, but the reality is the way it is: we are locked into dependency on a business that needs to flourish in the best interests of my constituents.

Not only the people who depend on the airport are important. There is growing evidence that house values in my constituency are higher, not lower, as a result of proximity to the airport. Therefore, anybody in my constituency, whether they depend on the airport for their wages or not, depends on it to support their mortgage and avoid the negative equity that would result from a decline.

I make no apology for saying that if the Government can persuade us that the environmental issues can be dealt with—that is a big proviso—I and my 70,000 constituents, who live right against the boundary fence, will want to see Heathrow flourish. Flourishing means expansion with another runway.

3.10 pm

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I want to make a few observations and then urge the Minister and the Government to consider things slightly differently.

First, the position is generally fairly clear. If aircraft were silent and non-polluting and the issue of surface-level access had been completely sorted out, few people would object to the further expansion of Heathrow or of air travel generally, but none of those things is the case. In the real world, there are problems with pollution around Heathrow, and there will be further problems if we increase the number of passenger movements from 480,000 to 720,000, as proposed.

Nor can anyone deny that there are problems with traffic around the airport; one simply has to sit on the M25 near the junction for Heathrow or to move
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around my constituency on a busy day at the airport to see that the roads are congested.

Similarly, I live under the flight path in Windsor and I know that noisy aircraft wake people up and wreck a good night’s sleep. Indeed, if alternation disappears—from the consultation document, that seems to be the way the Government are heading—nobody will get any respite during the day.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that noise is the key issue for millions of people in London and the south-east? Does he also agree that it is sad and surprising that the Government have ignored the findings of the report “Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England”, which they approved and which showed that 57 dB is no longer appropriate for judging serious noise pollution?

Adam Afriyie: My hon. Friend makes an extremely pertinent point. The ANASE study clearly showed that people are now more annoyed with aircraft noise at every level of decibel measurement. I have grave concerns about the Government’s treatment of the report, which indicated that the 57 dB line should be lowered somewhat, but I am sure that we will address that issue in one of our future debates.

I have several observations to make. First, night flights are the great enemy of the people. If there were no night flights, the quality of life of many people around Heathrow and many other airports would improve no end.

Secondly, there will be some changes to flight paths if the third runway goes ahead. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said that property prices near the airport are, bizarrely, going up, but it is clear from all the evidence that prices would go down if a new flight path were created over properties that were not under an existing flight path.

Another point that is constantly raised in favour of the expansion of Heathrow is the economics of the airport, so let us be clear about the issue. About a third of the traffic through Heathrow is business traffic, a third is people visiting friends and family abroad, and a third is leisure travel and holidays abroad. It is equally clear, although this was left out of the Oxford Economic Forecasting report, that British tourists travelling abroad spend more than £15 billion a year, which is more than those coming into Heathrow spend in Britain. Therefore, if we look at the economics—even in terms of the Chancellor’s take at the Exchequer—the arguments are against further expansion, if that means the further expansion of tourist and leisure flights from Heathrow.

It is also clear—perhaps the Minister could address the point specifically—that the inspector at the inquiry placed a condition on the previous expansion and granted permission on the condition that there would be no further expansion at Heathrow.

Is there not a case for an independent body to monitor the pollution and environmental impact of Heathrow, along with surface access to the airport and the noise that comes from it? Most of those matters are monitored by various different bodies, but would it not be a good idea to consider establishing a body with a duty to publish and disperse such information?
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Currently, the information is fragmented, and as hon. Members will know, it is incredibly difficult to discover the details of what has been going on at Heathrow, particularly with regard to noise at particular times of day.

It is clear from the Chancellor’s remarks and the tone of debate in the House thus far that the Government have already made a decision somewhere along the way. Consultations are a good thing, but they can sometimes set up a false expectation. If people think that spending one or two hours of their day filling in the consultation forms will have an impact on the Government’s decision, I feel very frustrated for them. What we have is a consultation on the technical aspects of the decision, not on whether to go ahead, because the Government seem already to have decided to do so.

My final question is, where is the vision? We are in the 21st century, but where is the vision for Heathrow and air travel? We have two different models of air travel. In the US, people have discovered that the hub-and-spoke model, which is being argued for here, is outdated. Most people’s preferred choice is to get on a flight and fly directly, point to point, to their destination.

New models of aircraft can also be a lot quieter. Arguably, the A380 is a third quieter than existing 747s. That is helpful. Why not insist that new standards are brought in sooner rather than later? That would help to deal with the noise issue.

Mr. Wilshire: The difficulty with that argument is that almost no runway in the world can cope with the A380, so flying point to point with the A380 would not be possible.

Adam Afriyie: I can understand why my hon. Friend makes that point, but I should note that the A380 can operate on just over 50 per cent. of the runways in the United Kingdom, as well as on runways worldwide, although I cannot remember the exact percentage. It is only a matter of time before more A380 landings are accepted and we can use the existing number of flights to transport 70 or 80 per cent. more passengers more quietly. The A380 and other aircraft developments in the field are therefore to be welcomed and encouraged.

Again, my question to the Government is, where is the vision? There is so much new technology out there, and many more aircraft will be coming off the production lines in the next few years, so why not introduce new standards sooner rather than later, particularly at Heathrow? Commercial airlines could then decide which aircraft they wanted to use on a commercial basis in and out of Heathrow.

Finally—I just float this as an idea for consideration—the French have been able to move their main airport twice in a 20-year time frame. They seemed to manage that and to sort out the traffic issues around the airport. It was a fairly bold move, but it seems to have paid off. Has the Minister considered showing more vision and perhaps having an airport offshore or on the coast, with a high-speed rail link? Nobody would complain about aircraft noise or lose a night’s sleep, Britain would prosper economically and even tourist flights would be more welcome than they are today.

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