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2 July 2008 : Column 266WH—continued

Many breeders have located to Newmarket simply because they were attracted to the peaceful environment. A baseline noise survey conducted on behalf of the Newmarket Horseracing and Breeders Group to investigate noise implications concluded that stud farms in Newmarket were located in areas significantly quieter than the average rural area. That is no coincidence. A further
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survey conducted by the Newmarket Stud Farmers Association, completed by 30 of the leading studs, showed that Newmarket’s peaceful business environment was considered one of the greatest attractions of Newmarket after the availability of equine services and land with ideal soil and topography. It is clear, then, that because of the tranquillity of the area, it is a very attractive location for the industry’s activities and a significant reason why investment continues to flow into the area.

We nearly lost the racing industry with the introduction of the Single European Act in 1993, because our VAT rate of 17.5 per cent. was hugely higher than the special low rate negotiated by the French and Irish. That was a potential catastrophe for my constituency—I was a new Member of Parliament at the time. Mercifully, we found a way round it, something that racing has not forgotten. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his role in that.

Sadly, the breeding industry is once again on a knife-edge. Many fear that the horses will react negatively to the increased noise. Let me spell this out in crystal clear terms. Thoroughbred racehorses are hugely expensive to breed and rear, and very sensitive to the prevailing atmosphere. That particularly applies to young foals. Every racehorse trainer will say that a peaceful and calm atmosphere is the fundamental prerequisite for successful breeding and training, so the threat is both to human beings and their tranquillity and to livestock.

The owner of the Denham estate in my constituency, which is one of the largest deer farms in Europe, believes that the proposed flight changes will have a great impact on it. Deer, like racehorses, are highly sensitive to aircraft noise, and Mr. Michael Gliksten, owner of the estate, predicts that, as a result of the noise, the deer

Indeed, several years ago, the RAF was thinking about flying helicopters over the area, yet it fully appreciated and understood Mr Gliksten’s concerns and it diverted its flight paths after he had expressed them.

The change most likely to have a significant impact on the Newmarket horse racing industry is the formation of a new holding pattern above the Newmarket area. Elaine Taylor of Newmarket makes a valid point in her submission to the consultation process, in that there is no clear indication of the number of flights that will use the hold, how often it will be necessary for planes to fly at 4,000 ft, and what the intention is after 2014.

Altogether, 33 per cent. of the population in the south Newmarket area will see a difference as a result of the proposed changes. More than 7,000 thoroughbreds are cared for by 2,000 people on stud farms underneath the proposed stack. It is estimated that 90 per cent. of the stud farm area around Newmarket will be affected by the planned changes. According to a survey of Newmarket Stud Farmers Association members, 77 per cent. of studs expect some change to their businesses as a result of the NATS recommendations.

Dr. Charles Boulton of Newmarket recently wrote to me to highlight the fact that a key element of the East of England Development Agency’s strategy is to stimulate foreign investment in the region. As he rightly points out, considerable foreign investment in horse racing in the region is threatened by the proposals. As well as
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discouraging potential new investors from investing in the area, there is the real possibility that one or more of the big global players will withdraw their investment. Five of the largest studs account for 83 per cent. of the stallions. The racing industry depends on the tens of millions of pounds that the big racing owners invest in Newmarket each year. Stallions can be worth many millions of pounds each, with additional income coming from stud fees. The temptation for them to redirect their investments and move to France, Ireland, America, Australia or the middle east may prove irresistible. Most worrying is the fact that 63 per cent. of the studs surveyed believe that the NATS proposal will influence their future investment decisions. Make no mistake, the French and Irish continue to bid hard for breeding activity to be located in their countries. Any decision to withdraw investment would be disastrous for the British breeding industry as a whole.

The racing industry is inextricably interlinked. The breeders, trainers, auctioneers and the ancillary activities all work together in Newmarket. The departure of one element would have an impact on everything else. When I met NATS, it was clear that no consideration had been given to the problem. Racing in Newmarket is a brilliant success story, giving much pleasure to many. It is tragic that the future of such an important employer and exporter, a great British success story, should be put at risk. It is essential that NATS comes up with an alternative solution.

NATS must reconsider the location criteria so that areas of tranquillity are preserved. No alternative location for the holds have been proposed. NATS should consider stacking over the North sea, raising the lowest level of the stacks to a higher altitude or introducing direct flight paths. Frankly, there was no field-based evidence for those areas of potential impact. The criteria appear to have been based on desk-bound analyses alone.

Many of my constituents cannot understand why the option of stacking over the sea was not seriously considered. A campaign for that has been commendably led by the save our silence action group. A large proportion of the routes into Stansted come from continental Europe, which presents an opportunity for adjustments to take place over the sea. As Mr. and Mrs. Warner of Newmarket said, the coast is less than 50 miles away. The Newmarket Horse Racing and Breeders Group, under the chairmanship of Alastair Watson, has also recommended a number of viable alternatives, which were submitted as part of the consultation process.

I have received many letters from constituents who believe that genuine public consultation has not taken place. Many have told me that even though they live directly under the flight paths they did not receive notification that consultation was under way. Many parish councils tell me they were not fully informed; they did not receive adequate information. Although I have held meetings with representatives of NATS, parish councils were apparently denied the opportunity to meet NATS officials. I believe that that was the pattern everywhere.

Mr. Andrew Ince, also of Newmarket, wrote to me complaining that the consultation process relied on people having access to the internet. As he points out, that is not necessarily the norm in rural areas. The alternative for those without a computer is to travel 7 or 9 miles to the nearest library. A constituent of mine,
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Ms Susanna Leoni-Smith of Wickhambrook, sums up the mood of many in West Suffolk in her letter to the Suffolk Free Press. She says:

The situation that I have described cannot be allowed to happen. An alternative solution must be found on the ground of tranquillity for the county’s residents, human and equine alike.

2.53 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I shall be brief, as I know that other hon. Members have a clear constituency interest. I shall concentrate on the consultation with regard to the Heathrow flight paths.

The NATS proposals for Heathrow narrow the flight paths. As a result, it calculates that 39,000 fewer people will be affected by noise. There will be an overall fall in numbers. The estimate from NATS is that the number of people in the 50 dB area around Heathrow would fall—these are precise figures—from 442,651 to 249,057. That is to be welcomed, but the problem is that there will be a more intensive use of those flight paths, and as a result those under the narrower flight paths will suffer more. The more intensive use of the air space will result in more noise. That will cause problems for a number of constituencies in London, including mine.

However, there is a fear that that coincides with Government thinking on the development of Heathrow. In advance of any development of a third runway or a sixth terminal, the question of runway alternation is being examined. If the idea of runway alternation is to be abandoned as an incremental development, in advance of a major decision on a third runway or sixth terminal, I would welcome a full and extensive consultation on the implications by NATS, to be instituted by the Government. The Cranford agreement on runway alternation at Heathrow provides respite for the constituents of many west London MPs. The shifting use of the two existing runways at least enables some of our constituents to have a break from the noise.

Hon. Members may think that they have problems now, as a result of the present consultation, but if the third runway and sixth terminal go ahead those problems will pale into insignificance because of the scale of projected growth. Growth at Heathrow is predicted to rise from the present capped level of 480,000 aircraft movements to more than 700,000, and some predict that it may rise to more than 800,000. With expanded flight paths, and with the runways being used more intensively, predictions are that the number of people suffering noise would increase by at least 150,000. As a result, those people and others would be subjected to an aircraft passing overhead every 90 seconds.

My concerns are about noise and air pollution, but after our recent experience at Heathrow I am concerned also about safety. It was a near miracle, when the last aircraft came down early at Heathrow, that it did not cause a major accident and that there was no injury or loss of life. Increasing the intensity of flight paths and narrowing them will bring us to the edge of asking questions about safety itself.

My main concern is about the development of Heathrow, the third runway and the sixth terminal. From what we know of the Government’s consideration so far, that
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development will not go ahead if it does not meet the strict environmental limits set by the Government and the European Union. However, we now know more about the impact of air pollution.

On the potential expansion of Heathrow, will the Minister confirm that the Government are preparing to seek derogation from the European Union limits on air pollution, which will enable them to expand Heathrow without conflicting with those limits? Because it comes into the calculation on flight paths and the scale of development, I also ask whether any assessment has been made of the cost of the damage to local communities, the cost of compensation resulting from the impact of noise, and the relocation of homes, schools and communities that might be affected by the expansion? What consultations have taken place or are planned on that?

I have sympathy with hon. Members who have raised points about stud farms, but in my area we do not breed horses. We occasionally back them, but we do not breed them. There is a clear need for much more detailed analysis and research into the health consequences of the intense movement of aircraft above people’s heads and the resulting noise and air pollution. I ask the Minister whether further studies have been commissioned on the health impact of such an extensive development, in connection with expansion at Heathrow and existing operations?

I caution hon. Members about the process. If we take Heathrow expansion as an example, the concern that we have expressed over the years about consultation is that, even if we feel that we are getting verification of the figures about the intensity of use of the flight paths, and even if we feel that we are getting substantive information, we have always found that calculations about expansion have been severely underestimated. The consequences of expansion and the more intensive use of flight paths have never really been taken into account when considering the impact upon our local communities.

3 pm

Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr. Bercow—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

3.15 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Gauke: As I was saying, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow—that is now the third time that I have said that this week.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) on securing the debate, which is of considerable interest to many people in his constituency and certainly in mine. He set out very well not only the general background to the consultation undertaken by NATS, but the case as it applies specifically to his constituency. I am sure that the horse breeders of Newmarket and the surrounding areas will be grateful for his diligent work.

My involvement in the matter dates back to the publication of the NATS consultation. In The Times of that day, there was a map showing the noise preferential routes—to use the jargon—proposed in the NATS consultation. It was noticeable that the new noise
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preferential routes in the proposals would go through my constituency and between the towns of Tring and Berkhamsted, covering villages such as Northchurch, Aldbury and Wigginton. The article noted that the area of the country that would suffer most was the one that I have the privilege of representing.

I immediately looked through the proposals in the consultation document and wrote to NATS. To be fair, it responded very promptly, and I had a meeting with senior representatives in March. I told them—they did not particularly doubt my analysis, which extrapolated from the figures in the consultation—that the proposals would disadvantage many of my constituents in the towns and villages that I mentioned. I include Tring and Berkhamsted because although they are not overflown by the noise preferential routes, they will none the less suffer as a result of a number of the changes. The representatives of NATS accepted that there was an issue.

I warned NATS that my constituents were an able and articulate lot and that they would address the proposals in a thoughtful and intelligent way, and I am pleased to say that my constituents have lived up to that prediction. In a relatively short period, the various groups have come together, and there is now an umbrella organisation called the Chiltern countryside group. I pay tribute to the work that it has done in producing a detailed analysis of the proposals—we are not talking about a knee-jerk reaction, with people saying, “This is bad news. We don’t like it.”

The Chiltern countryside group contains people with the most extraordinary expertise, who come not only from my constituency, but from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), and I dare say that one or two also live in the constituency of Buckingham, Mr. Bercow. They include former air traffic controllers, pilots and people with great expertise regarding the Chiltern conservation area. The group has analysed some of the proposals, and I will return to that in a moment. It has made some quite constructive suggestions, and I hope that its technical submission will be examined by NATS and, where appropriate, the Civil Aviation Authority.

The consultation raises one or two issues, one of which is the timing. I am pleased that the end of the consultation period was extended from 22 May, as in the initial proposal, to 19 June. In my constituency—I suspect that this is not untypical—there has been a build-up of momentum as public interest has increased. There are certainly criticisms that NATS did not publicise the initial consultation as well as it might have. I have, as I have said, been involved in the issue from an early stage in my area, and have publicised it in the local newspaper. The Hemel Hempstead Gazette has done sterling work in publicising it, and public awareness has increased. There has been a range of meetings in Tring, Berkhamsted, Northchurch and Wigginton, some of which I have had the opportunity to attend. I wonder about the adequacy of the time frame, even if extended. There have been some excellent submissions from local groups, but I wonder whether more time would have allowed a stronger response to be made.

I want to make a couple of technical points about the consultation document. First, the question of the depiction of heights was touched on by my hon. Friend the
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Member for West Suffolk. There is great uncertainty. Various height figures are given in the document, generally designating ranges such as 3,000 ft to 4,000 ft. However, it is not entirely clear what is being talked about. Paragraphs 11.6 to 11.9 state that the heights of routes are

They go on to state that the measurement is taken

That is somewhat ambiguous, and it is a significant point, because by and large the flights that are of concern to my constituents are those that depart from Luton. Luton is 525 ft above sea level, but the villages that I represent tend to be higher. Wigginton, for example, is 690 ft above sea level. In the case of Wigginton, are the relevant heights measured from sea level, in which case the actual minimum height will be 2,310 ft, or should we be considering the Luton figure, in which case it is 2,835 ft? At such levels, there is quite a big difference between the two—a difference of 500-plus ft or so. One way or another it is quite significant.

Another criticism of the NATS proposals is that it is not obvious that it has taken into account ground levels when assessing particular routes. That point was touched on in the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. He also represents several villages that are very high up. Clearly flights overhead will create more noise for those villages than they will for villages at the bottom of a valley. That is a significant practical point.

My other criticism about the consultation document is about the issue of decibel levels. Several projections are included, but they appear to be very wide. It is helpful that the consultation document gives some examples of the noise level to which various decibel levels relate. I do not know about other hon. Members, but I do not really know what 60 dB means. One example in the document is that 85 dB is the equivalent of the sound made by a heavy diesel lorry at 25 mph, 23 ft away. That is precise and helpful. Another example is that a busy general office makes noise at a level of 60 dB. There is clearly a wide gap between those two noise levels. However, the noise range for flights by the noisiest aircraft at a height of 3,000 ft to 4,000 ft is 65 dB to 83 dB. There is clearly a big difference between the noise from a busy general office and that from a heavy diesel lorry 23 ft away travelling at 25 mph. Yet the ranges given, from which people are to assess what the noise levels from the flight paths will be, are not far short of a comparison between those two noise levels. That makes it difficult to assess what the impact will be.

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