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Heathrow brings some benefits to my constituencyI have met quite a few constituents who work at the airport; my constituents use it a great deal for the purposes of air travel; and one of the reasons Hammersmith and Fulham has been attractive to businesses over the years is its location between Heathrow airport and
central London. Nevertheless, the airport has become a major issue in my constituency, but I try to approach the whole question rationally. However, having considered all the benefits and disbenefits, I have come to believe that, on balance, the current set of proposals is most detrimental to my constituency.
My local council is awaiting the result of the official consultation, but it decided to send out its own consultation document. So far, some 4,000 residents have responded. Incredibly, 93 per cent. of those responses are against expansion. Only 6 per cent. are in favour, with a mere 1 per cent. undecided. I praise my local council, which had a change of policy when the Conservatives took over in 2006. It joined the 2M group and became very active in campaigning against Heathrow expansion.
The proposals would have seven main effects on my constituency: extra flights, new flight paths overhead, noise pollution, air pollution, safety implications, night flights and the impact of a larger Heathrow on public and private transport in west London. On extra flights, the case has already been made. There is talk of an increase to 480,000 or 500,000, or perhaps to 700,000.
On new flight paths, in Fulham, where both flight paths go over, the loss of runway alternation on the two existing runways would mean aircraft coming in overhead for a much longer part of the day, as there would be no changeover at 3 pm. Aircraft could join the new approach flight path for the third runway over Fulham. Because of the reduced length of the third runway, it is likely that most of the bigger, noisier planes would come in over Fulham using the existing full-length runways. In Hammersmith, which is not currently directly under either flight path, the approach to the third runway would add hugely to noise there, with perhaps an aircraft every 90 seconds or so. That would impact on people who generally are not directly affected by aircraft noise. The ending of runway alternation together with the addition of the third runway, or even their separate use, would be a total disaster for my constituents. Families living below would endure noise for 18 hours a day rather than nine, as at present.
On noise pollution, an estimated 1 million people live, work and go to school in west London and the Heathrow area, and they are already exposed to noise levels that are above the limits for annoyance laid down by the World Health Organisation. Research shows that noise pollution from planes dominates areas up to 13 miles away from Heathrow, which would include Hammersmith and Fulham.
We have already heard that Government are in breach of the air quality laws and have been threatened with fines by the European Commission. Indeed, there was an article in todays edition of the Evening Standard about the Commission becoming active and interested in the subject again.
I am genuinely worried for my children, and my constituents children, who have to live in an environment where the air quality is as poor as it is in London. London has the highest annual average level of nitrogen dioxide of any capital city, not only in western Europe, but eastern Europe as well. An increase in air movement would inevitably be disastrous for our air quality.
The Government say that extra aircraft and road traffic will not necessarily prevent them from meeting their air quality targets around the airport. But that is because they have assumed that a new generation of
aircraft will be cleaner than those currently flying and that road vehicles will be far less polluting. If technological improvements in engine design and fuels are not as successful as the Government hope, pollution levels will be higher in the immediate vicinity of the airport, and further afield, including in Hammersmith and Fulham. If the Government are wrong, the health and life expectancy of people all over west London will suffer.
Heathrow has a very good safety record, but increasing the number of take-offs and landings over such densely populated areas can only increase the risk of a serious accident, especially when London already has some of the most complex airspace in the world. It is a bizarre system that has thousands of planes flying directly over this countrys largest conurbation and some of its most densely populated areas.
The issue of night flights is ongoing, despite the Government having agreed to extend the cap until 2012. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) and I had a meeting with British Airways a couple of years ago, where it tried to explain why it needed night flights. It all related to the convenience of passengers, particularly those boarding planes in places such as Hong Kong and Singapore, who had to board a plane before midnight. If they could not arrive at 4, 5 or 6 am, they would have to arrive at 7 or 8 am, which would mean boarding a plane in Singapore or Hong Kong after midnight. That is clearly an inconvenience, but we are talking about having a sense of balance and proportion. We have to weigh up the convenience of those few hundred thousand passengers who board planes in Hong Kong or Singapore against the convenience of the millions of people under flight paths in west London or places such as Windsor. The Government have got it entirely wrong.
On public and private transport in west London, it seems incredible that the Government might be proposing an increase in capacity at Heathrow without considering an increase in capacity in our public transport links. Earlier this year, I had a meeting with the managers of the Piccadilly line in which I tried to lobby them to have the line stop at Ravenscourt Park and/or Stamford Brook in my constituency. I was persuaded that there was a strong argument against my proposal, partly because of capacity on the Piccadilly line, the usage of which has gone up enormously since the millenniumabout a 50 per cent. increase, with the line now running at 97 per cent. of capacity. That has occurred despite the introduction of the Heathrow Express, which might have been expected to relieve the Piccadilly line to some extent. We have to do something about public and private transport provision because there will be a detrimental impact on the working lives of my constituents who are trying to board the Piccadilly line if it is already full. I represent more tube passengers than any other Member of Parliament.
Finally, on some of the solutions, I agree with the approach of considering high-speed rail. Every year or so I buy the Thomas Cook European Railway Timetable. That is not because I am a trainspotter, but because I genuinely love going by rail. Every year I see in the map at the front of the book the expanding network of high-speed rail lines going through other countries, such as France, Spain and Germany. High-speed rail is very much the future for this country. I commend our policy on that, and I am very much opposed to the proposals on Heathrow expansion.
Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): To revert to an earlier theme, I am not embarrassed to represent my constituents on the matter that we are discussing. Indeed, I would be embarrassed not to do so. More than 1,000 of my constituents in W4 attended a meeting in Chiswick earlier this year to protest as part of the consultation, and more than 800 of my current and prospective constituents in W12 and W6 attended a meeting at Hammersmith town hall, at which I spoke.
I have received literally thousands of e-mails and letters on the subject and I cannot recall one of them being in favour of the expansion of Heathrowand, with the exception of correspondence from the Mayor of London, I cannot recall one of them calling for the closure of Heathrow. Although those people are angry, their requests are reasonable and I hope that the Government will listen to them. They essentially ask the Government to think again about the proposal to expand Heathrow and, before making a decision, to reconsider the out-of-date and unreliable information on which they currently propose to act.
As for the Government, little appears to have changed since the 2003 White Paper on the subject, yet, on the ground, almost everything has changed. Environmental concerns and policy, and planning policy have changed, the ownership of the London airports is in the process of changing and, thanks to the Competition Commission report, the BAA monopoly will be broken. Not only the economic climate, but the challenges to the economic case for Heathrow expansion have changed. Politics has also changed. By that, I do not simply mean the Conservative partys volte face, which, although welcome as far as it goes, is expressed in shallow and rather questionable terms. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), I mean the absolute groundswell across not only west London but a much wider area, and a coalition of interest that has not been seen previously, which challenges Government policy on the matter.
Given the time available, I hope that I shall not repeat points that have already been made, but I will make a couple of points about the harm that the proposal would cause my constituents and others in west London. A good article in The Economist last week stated that,
Heathrow makes more people miserable than just about any other big developed-country airport.
That is true not just because of air quality and noise, which have been covered at length. Thousands of people in Chiswick, Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush have not experienced those problems to a great extent, but will suffer from them significantly and continually if the third runway is built.
The Piccadilly line has been mentioned. I recently had a meeting with London Underground, after it wrote to me about reconfiguring its services on the Piccadilly line. We all know what that means. As it explained to me, it means longer gaps between trains to fulfil timetable commitments. On interrogation, it became clear that that is partly due to the current expansion of Heathrowtoo many people already use the Piccadilly line. Yet we read in one of the briefings that was sent to us today that, although capacity on the Piccadilly line will increase by 20 per cent. by 2015, the consultation
document on Heathrow claims that expansion requires a 39 per cent. increase on the London underground, making the current position untenable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) spoke about the problems of surface access. That is true of not only the M4 but local road networks across west London. Anybody who tries to drive around Shepherds Bush following the opening of the Westfield shopping centre will find that there is no room for major infrastructure developments on the current road network in west London. Contrary to what my local councillors seem to think, with their grandiose schemes for commercial development, the capacity simply does not exist in that area.
Alternatives to Heathrow have not been properly examined. We have heard that growth in aircraft size will effectively expand the capacity within existing planning constraints by 30 per cent. by 2030, yet that does not appear to be enough for BAA, BA and other large airlines. A broad coalition includes people from extreme unrepentant environmentalists to those who would be perfectly prepared to countenance airport expansion, but believe that, if airports in the south-east are to be expanded, Heathrow is the last airport one would consider for such expansion. Again, I quote the article in The Economist:
Expanding Gatwick is not without difficulties, but these are trivial compared with those at Heathrow.
There is some capacity in high-speed rail, but the Conservatives do themselves a disservice by saying that their plan to build a high-speed link to Leeds-Bradford would solve the problems of Heathrow expansion, when it would in fact take no more than 3 per cent. of current capacity out of the equation. Let us try to be realistic. We should work in a cross-party fashion, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington suggested, but that is simply not happening.
London is a five-airport city that, on current planning constraints, has the potential to go from 137 million passengers to 210 million by 2030 without the planned additional runway. The comparisons that the Government have made with hub airports on the continent do not stack up. There is no airport in a similar location to Heathrow or with the same number of charter and low-cost flights, which could be more appropriately directed elsewhere. I do not believe that the argument about transfer passengers stands up to scrutiny in the long term either, when so many people prefer to take direct flights from regional or other London airports.
This has been a good debate, with the exception, I am afraid to say, of the contributions from those on the Government and official Opposition Front Benches. The Conservatives have performed an extraordinary volte-face over the past couple of months, standing the policy that they have supported for so long on its head. [ Interruption. ] I see Opposition Members shaking their heads, but exactly a year ago the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) said:
We recognise that the economic arguments for expanding Heathrow are much stronger than any other airport in the south-east.
there is an economic need for more airport capacity...somewhere in the South East.
although I recognise this will not be welcome by this audience we have to accept that...things sometimes have to happen that people dont wish.
If the Conservative party has sincerely converted, we need more than the rather trivial examples that we have seen so far or the Mayor of Londons bizarre proposal, which his party leader has rejected.
I make similar criticisms of those on my own Front Bench. I did not feel from what the Secretary of State said in opening the debate that he had been listening to MPs from west London or elsewhere. In the light of the wholly changed circumstances over the past five years, I hope that in responding to the debate, the aviation Minister will indicate that the door is open at least to looking again at both the risks and the prospects if Heathrow expansion does not go ahead. What is to be lost by reviewing this mad proposal for expansion at Heathrowparticularly in the light of the Governments now excellent environmental credentialswhich would cause misery and extraordinary inconvenience to thousands of people in west London, particularly my constituents?
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I gather that the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) is a regular sparring partner of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands), who spoke before him. The hon. Gentleman led Hammersmith and Fulham council and my hon. Friend led the opposition, but such is the proposal that the Government are likely to table that they are now making common cause. The Secretary of State is to be congratulated on bringing together this Molotov-Ribbentrop-style pact across the Chamber against his proposal. What is motivating this atmosphere of reconciliation in the House? First, I sense that there is an atmosphere of betrayalthat is a theme that I draw out of the debate. Betrayals have happened over many years, but it is now a betrayal over alternative runways and the third runway at London Heathrow. That is where I come into the debate.
As a callow youth in the early 1980s, just down from university, I was elected to Matching parish council during the public inquiry on Stansted. The outcome was that we were promised a cap of 15 million passengers per year. As time has passed, that assurance has been betrayed, just like all the other assurances that Governments of both parties have ever made about airports policy in the south-east, to comfort their way through the planning process. We are now looking at the prospect of 35 million passengers a yearor even 65 million passengers a yearand not one but two runways at Stansted.
This is the story that colours the development of London airports. An extraordinary industry has been built up successfully, but from cottage industry airports dotted unsatisfactorily around London. The Government now confront extraordinary choices if they wish to continue with the present policy.
Now, as the Member of Parliament for North Essex, I represent Dedham Vale, which is already suffering the depredations of overflying from Stansted. There has already been a substantial legal case involving moving the overflights to a different part of the country, but I fear for Dedham Vale, which has been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty particularly because of its tranquillity. If Stansted is allowed to expand, the noise pollution in Dedham Vale will continue.
The second theme of the debate that comes over strongly is that, if we had the choice, we would not start from here, and Londons major hub international airport would not be where it is today. I commend the tremendous speech by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford). I do not need to repeat in the limited time available many of the things that he rightly said about the merits of reopening the consideration of a Thames estuary airport. Let me say that the debate is not necessarily about continuing the expansion of capacity, but about the creation of viable capacity and asking whether we are going to expand capacity.
The Mayor of Londons proposal has invited a certain amount of derision from some quarters in the Chamber this evening. However, I believe that he is absolutely right to help to reopen the consideration of a Thames estuary airport. He is taking the matter extremely seriously. He has done what the Government failed to do, namely to appoint a proper person to investigate the viability of the proposal. I have a copy of the Governments consideration of Thames estuary airports for the 2003 White Paper. It consists of one report, on a mere 22 pages, that considers five or six different sites. It was clearly a desktop exercise. There has never been proper consideration of many of the sites that should now be in play.
The Mayor has appointed Doug Oakervee to conduct a preliminary inquiry. As the Secretary of State knows, he is chairman of the Crossrail consortium. He also has an unrivalled record in airport construction. He is a civil engineer and, believe it or not, he was the project manager for the construction of Hong Kong international airport, which is on an offshore island. That was a British project. The British built Hong Kong international airport, yet the Secretary of State says that it is impossible for us to build our own island airport. Mr. Oakervee will consider all the issues, not least the possibility of a new north-south link between Kent and Essex; the opportunity to re-orient the whole development of London to the east, which successive Governments have tried for many years to do, for example through the Thames Gateway; and enabling 24-hour operation without overflying a single residence. Just think about thatnot a single home will be disturbed by overflying to or from a Thames estuary airport. We should compare that to the absolute lunacy of disturbing millions of people every night as planes overfly so many residential homes near the various London airports.
I invite the House to reflect on one final theme. What we have heard in tonights debate is enough to confirm that the third runway at Heathrow will never happen. We have heard about the falsification of evidence designed to get the project to comply with already crumbling environmental requirements, which shows that this is nothing more than the Government parading their pro-business credentials in a very aggressive way to curry favour with certain quarters in the business community. This project will never happen.
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