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12 Dec 2007 : Column 123WH—continued

Can expansion go ahead in a way that is consistent with meeting EU requirements on NOx emissions? Can it go ahead in a way that still allows us to meet our targets on climate change and cutting CO2 emissions? Is it possible to meet increased demand with more efficient use of existing capacity or by providing better transport alternatives, such as high-speed rail? Most controversially of all, is expansion consistent with no
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increase in the overall noise footprint of the airport and a progressive reduction in that footprint in the medium term?

There is a particular wrinkle on that last point: the current night-time flight regime was rejigged in 2006 and will end in 2012. During the passage of the Civil Aviation Act 2006, as has been said several times, the Government tried to abolish the combined movement and noise quota in favour of just a noise quota to determine night flights. Conservative peers, working with Liberal Democrats, defeated the Government in the Lords. Had they not done so, night disturbance would have increased considerably.

I shall put some detailed questions to the Minister. Can he guarantee that there are no plans to remove the night cap? What are the plans after 2012? During the passage of the 2006 Act, we tabled a number of amendments to improve the measurement of noise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) said, and to introduce independent verification of noise limits and tightening of the system of fines for exceeding noise quotas, which my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) is keen on. The Government rejected them all out of hand. Are they willing to reconsider?

Do the Government stand by their promise, made in the White Paper and reiterated in the statement to the House, that there will be no net increase in the 57 dB noise contour area of 127 sq km? Following on from that, after commissioning and paying for the ANASE report, which my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) described with his customary vigour and which was six years in the making, have they simply abandoned its findings? In particular, do Ministers still believe that Leq is an appropriate and credible measure of noise?

How many homes would lose their alternate half-days of comparative peace and quiet if mixed mode on runways were introduced? When I visited Hounslow, I got the feeling that communities thought that their half-day of peace and quiet was a bigger issue than the third runway. I note the unanimity on that subject among all who have spoken today. Has the Minister made any comparative studies of noise insulation schemes administered by non-BAA-owned airports abroad and in the UK? Does he appreciate that if Heathrow had to apply the standards that City airport has voluntarily taken on, it would be insulating homes in Kensington?

The Government stated in the 2003 White Paper:


Do the Government rule out seeking a derogation, temporary or otherwise, from the mandatory air quality limits on NOx that will apply from 2010? Does all or any part of the Heathrow site already exceed those limits? Have the Government studied Ove Arup’s innovative Heathrow hub concept and fully considered
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its advantages in tackling real threats to security and hugely reducing traffic flows, the carbon footprint and NOx?

At 14 years, the public inquiry on terminal 4 was the longest in UK planning history. Does the Minister accept that, whatever the decision, we owe it to all parties to arrive at a decision in a timely fashion? At what stage does he envisage the Secretary of State calling in the planning application for a third runway?

Mr. Donohoe: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brazier: I am sorry. I would normally give way, but I have almost run out of time.

Where do the Government stand on the rumours that BAA is about to propose a full-length, rather than short-length, runway? One more question, which was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood: what is the future of RAF Northolt? Is it guaranteed under the planned scenario? Everybody who has spoken in the debate agrees that we need a better service at Heathrow, but the Government must answer those questions before the Opposition take a view on whether it should be expanded.

3.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Benton. I congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) on securing this debate on a topic of such importance not only to his constituents, but to the whole UK.

I have some remarks to put on the record first, and I shall try to rattle through them and get to as many points that hon. Members raised as I can. If I am unable to do that, as I suspect I shall be, I shall write to hon. Members.

We had a meeting with a number of interested local MPs last week and I have promised another one, and I acknowledge the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that this will be only one of a series of debates on specific aspects of the matter. I suppose that, given the generality of opening up Heathrow, that is appropriate.

The Government recognise the breadth and intensity of views on airport expansion, particularly Heathrow. We believe it is time to take decisions about the future of Heathrow, both in the national interest and to end the uncertainty for those who live in the locality.

Hon. Members have asked whether a decision has already been taken. The case for expanding Heathrow was made clearly in the 2003 White Paper, “The Future of Air Transport”, following an extensive study of capacity and likely future demand for air travel in the UK. It concluded that three new runways would be needed in the south-east to satisfy demand over the next 30 years. That is the vision and long-term planning that one or two hon. Members asked about. However, the Government decided to support only two runways—at Stansted and at Heathrow—subject to important preconditions. The article in The Times was completely wrong, and we have said that publicly. We
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think that the Stansted application will come forward shortly, and we support expansion there.

Alternative locations, including a new four-runway airport at Cliffe in north Kent, were examined in depth and consulted on. Despite the obvious benefits of minimising flights over populated areas, they were ruled out on the grounds that they were not viable, not least in financial terms. The Government decided instead to support a strategy aimed at making the best use of existing infrastructure and targeting new runway capacity where it is really needed, in the south-east and in the regions.

John McDonnell: Will the Minister give way?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I shall try to give way later if possible. I apologise for not giving way now. I am not being discourteous; I simply want to respond to as much of the debate as possible in the nine minutes left.

That strategy set out to balance, as far as possible, the needs of the economy, the environment, local communities and the wider population of the UK. Our latest forecasts endorse the broad trends identified earlier. They also confirm that even when the costs of carbon have been fully taken into account, in line with the Stern review, the economic case for developing Heathrow remains strong. That point is covered in some detail in the impact assessment that forms part of our consultation document, to which I shall turn in a moment.

We also want conditions at the airport to improve. Delays, overcrowding, and lost baggage are just some of the frequent complaints, but Heathrow is struggling with ageing infrastructure and volumes of traffic beyond its design capacity. The good news is that the state-of-the-art terminal 5 will open next March and that BAA has plans to invest £6.2 billion in modernising the airport over the next 10 years. By 2012, two out of three air passengers will be using terminals that are not open today.

We need to consider the whole passenger journey, including travel to and from Heathrow. Again, improvements are coming. The Government’s £16 billion funding deal for Crossrail is now in place, which will provide a 25-minute link to the centre of London. From 2014, enhanced Piccadilly line services will add further options for people travelling to the airport, including, very importantly, its work force. Also, AirTrack, if approved, promises to make a significant addition to Heathrow’s rail links, providing direct services from terminal 5 to the south-west rail network via Staines. That point was raised by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire).

All that will improve the passenger experience, but it is not just the terminal facilities that are struggling to cope—so are the runways. Demand for departures and arrivals exceeds capacity on the current two runways, so even the smallest problem in the system can have a disproportionate impact elsewhere, leading to delays from which it is difficult to recover.

Current runway constraints also have environmental impacts. More than 100,000 aircraft had to be stacked over London in 2006-07, emitting more than 50,000 tonnes of carbon. If the current proposals are approved, National Air Traffic Services would look to
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balance safety, which is paramount, airspace capacity, airport resilience and environmental requirements. Depending on any options pursued, there may be some scope to reduce stacking with consequent potential environmental benefit. Ultimately, we have to address the question of runway capacity.

Our support in 2003 for a short, third runway at Heathrow was conditional on strict local conditions, one of which was that there would be a noise limit and no increase in the size of the area significantly affected by aircraft noise, as measured by the 2002 57 dBA Leq noise contour—the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) asked about that. Other local conditions concerned air quality limits and our being confident of meeting the European air quality limits around the airport, and improving public transport access to the airport.

The consultation launched on 22 November also presented proposals for introducing mixed mode operations on the existing runways, both within the flight cap, to improve resilience, and beyond the cap to allow an additional 60,000 movements a year. That would be subject to the same conditions. Again, the consultation document presents analysis and invites views. It also considers existing operational procedures such as the Cranford agreement and westerly preference, which the T5 inquiry recommended should be reviewed.

We want to take full account of the breadth of views and the evidence that all interested parties may have to offer between now and the closing date of 27 February, and I urge all people who will be affected by the proposals to register their views. We have tried to facilitate that by sending summary documents to more than 217,000 households, alerting them to the consultation process and telling them how they can find out more.

I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington—there were a few problems for a couple of days, but they have been resolved. We have set up a helpline number—0845 600 4170—and an e-mail address, heathrow, to enable people to ask questions. The online address is

In addition, we are mounting a series of 11 exhibitions—six in December and five in January, or it may be the other way around—which began last Friday, to give people further opportunities to understand the issues and register their views. Following the consultation, we will take the final policy decisions later in 2008 after we have finished assessing all the responses and accompanying evidence.

I shall now address a few of the specific points that have been raised and then give way to answer questions, if I have the chance. The hon. Member for Uxbridge criticised my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on her approach to the matter, but I assure him that she treats it with the utmost seriousness. She fully explained to the House last week, in Transport questions, why a written statement was entirely appropriate. Consultations are generally launched by a written ministerial statement, and she intends to make an oral statement to the House in due course.

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Mr. Randall: I asked where in the consultation the people who are to be forced from their homes can find out where they are to be removed to.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I shall come to that in a moment. My final point on the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised earlier is that it is not only BAA making the economic case, but London First, the City and other individuals and organisations. I believe that the consultation responses will show that.

On the issue that the hon. Gentleman has just raised, home owners whose properties are required will have statutory protection in the form of blight and compensation payments at the appropriate planning stage, which is normally once a planning application has been approved. In line with Government recommendations, BAA also operates a voluntary scheme, the property market bond scheme, which provides additional protection to home owners in the form of guaranteeing the market value of properties in the intervening period, once the intention to apply for planning permission has been announced.

Other protection includes the reimbursement of legal and moving expenses when homes are sold, and an additional home loss payment of 10 per cent. when planning permission is granted. BAA is already implementing such arrangements at Stansted, ahead of any formal planning application for a second runway there.

The position as far as leaseholders and tenants are concerned will depend on the terms of their leasehold or tenancy. For those in social housing, the local authority will have a responsibility to find alternative accommodation. On the availability of alternative housing, if the proposals are taken forward, the relevant properties will be acquired over a considerable period. We expect those affected to be able to find alternative properties on the open market.

Mr. Randall: I suggest that the Minister come and see for himself that there are no available properties in the area. People want to live in the same area, within a few miles, but there are no available properties and the value of their houses has already decreased. The whole thing is ridiculous.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I move on to climate change—

John McDonnell: Will the Minister give way?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Of course.

John McDonnell: There are already 2,000 families on the homeless waiting list in Hillingdon. There is nowhere for them to go.

Before our next debate, will the Minister provide us with information regarding the costs of the third runway and the sixth terminal in terms of construction and the contingency plans that will be required to relocate those communities? What cost burden will fall on the public purse? I believe that Ferrovial will not pay for it, and that it will squeeze out all other expenditure on beneficial transport developments for perhaps two decades.

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Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend asks me to research a matter for him in advance of the next debate, and I am happy to do that. Obviously, we are in the consultation period and we expect many of these genuine and serious issues to be raised. Answers will have to be forthcoming in due course; that is why we are having the consultation. However, the Government are consulting on the basis that we have stated our policy to expand Heathrow and have a third runway and additional terminal, because we believe it to be in the economic interest of London and UK plc.

The scientific, environmental and economic modelling are contained in the reports that accompany the consultation—

Mr. Joe Benton (in the Chair): Order. We come to the next debate.

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NHS Services (Taunton Deane)

4 pm

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to have a short debate on what is an extremely serious topic for my constituents. Over the autumn, I prepared 30,000 fairly detailed surveys, which were delivered across Taunton Deane by volunteers who were willing to help me. I asked questions on a range of topics to do with the national health service, and I was extremely encouraged by the high response rate. Several thousand surveys were returned to me, and I compiled a digest of the results, which I have shared with the Minister and health professionals throughout the Taunton Deane and Somerset areas, as much for their interest as for their information. The questions dealt with many aspects of the experience that patients have in my part of the country.

It will be helpful if I begin by setting out a little of the context. First, it is important to give credit where it is due and say that the response was overwhelmingly positive. I was not undertaking the survey in an attempt to criticise or to find problems where none exist. It is fair to acknowledge that the Government have dramatically increased spending on the NHS over the past 10 years; in fact, they have increased public spending, full stop. For every £10 that they spent in 1997, the Government now spend £14—a 40 per cent. real-terms expenditure increase over the past decade. Of course, the increases in the NHS have been even bigger than that, so some of the problems caused by chronic low funding do not apply in the same way as they did a decade ago. Whether the money is always spent as efficiently as it might be is another matter, but there are not the same structural funding problems.

It is also reasonable to point out that some of the severe patient problems that existed a decade ago, with people waiting a year and a half and, in some cases, as long as two years for an operation, no longer exist to anything like the same extent. I imagine that it must be frustrating for Ministers who feel that they have gone some way to addressing a problem to find that people in the population at large then turn their attention to another problem and do not necessarily notice the one that has, to a large extent, been resolved.

It is reasonable and fair to say that recognition of the improvements came through in the responses from my constituents. There was a high level of support for Musgrove Park hospital—the main hospital in Somerset, serving Taunton and a much wider part of Somerset as well as some people in Devon—Wellington community hospital and Dene Barton hospital, which is also within my constituency, and for all of the GP surgeries, all of which I have visited. There was a positive sense that the NHS services in Taunton Deane were part of our community. People supported them and felt an affinity with them. They wished those services and the staff in them—doctors, nurses and the occasionally maligned administrators—well, and wanted to ensure that we had an NHS in our part of the country of which we could be proud.

I shall give four examples of the positive feedback that I put in the response sheet, which is the compilation of the surveys that were returned to me. First,

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