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Dr Ghassemlou

11.41 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): Some 5,300 people signed this petition, many of whom come from the UK Kurdish community. The Kurds are a proud and wonderful people, who have suffered oppression and betrayal over many years. They seek justice and a right to remind us of the atrocities, lest they ever be repeated.

The petition states:


15 Dec 2009 : Column 939

London City Airport

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. -(Mark Tami.)

11.41 pm

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity, even at this late hour tonight, to highlight my concerns and those of my constituents about the impact of flight noise, and the increase in the number of flights, from London City airport. It is also a pleasure to debate again with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Gillingham (Paul Clark), on a transport-related matter and I look forward to hearing his response in due course.

In the past 10 years, the number of air transport movements at London City airport has doubled, from just under 21,000 aircraft departures in 1999 to some 42,000 departures in 2008. We are about to see a further significant shift in the use of the airport. The London borough of Newham has now granted the airport permission to increase the number of flight movements by 50 per cent. The flights permission would increase from 80,000 to 120,000 movements a year. London City airport forecasts that it will handle up to 3.9 million passengers by 2010, and there are long-term plans to accommodate up to 8 million passengers by 2030. That potentially significant change in the scale and nature of the operations at the airport has gone largely unnoticed by many people.

This is not simply about the number of landings and departures; it is also about the flight paths that the aircraft will take. Last year, NATS consulted on wide-ranging proposals for the busy airspace above the south-east of England known as terminal control north. The plans covered all London airports, with modifications to landing and departure routings and holding points. In the case of London City airport, one of the proposed changes was to alter the northerly departure routing. Instead of aircraft taking a sharp northerly turn almost immediately after take-off and, thus, over Woodford and Chingford, they were instead intended to take a flight path to the north-east over my constituency in Hornchurch.

In September 2008, I received a letter from the head of external communications at NATS stating that there would be a longer time period for consideration of the consultation, as further options were being considered, including in respect of London City departures over north London. It stated that

adding that

In response to a further inquiry from me about the nature of the revised options being considered for London City, I received a letter on 2 December 2008 stating that a number of options for the wider terminal control north area were being considered and that

It was therefore with some shock and surprise that I discovered several months after the event that on 8 January this year NATS submitted a formal airspace change
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proposal to the Civil Aviation Authority to alter the London City airport standard instrument departure routes, including the change to route more aircraft over my constituency. Ian Hall, the director of operations for NATS, was quoted in the accompanying press release as saying:

I was subsequently informed in a letter from NATS that the CAA required it to expedite an airspace change proposal and that is self-evident when one reads the CAA decision letter of 20 February 2009. The letter stated that the changes were deemed by the CAA to be necessary to accommodate an increase in category C aircraft using the airport rather than following the STOLport configuration-or short take-off and landing airport configuration-that had originally been envisaged. In his decision letter, the then director of airspace policy at the CAA, John Arscott, stated that:

that is, London City standard instrument departures-

He went on to say:

It is interesting to note that that was virtually the last decision Mr. Arscott took as his term of office came to an end a week later on 1 March 2009.

In essence the terminal control north consultation as far as London City was concerned was potentially meaningless-one could say that it was a sham. The CAA had predetermined that change was necessary. I find that unacceptable and believe that I-along with my constituents-was given a completely false impression when the TCN consultation was initiated. The changes were brought into effect in May and are already starting to have an impact.

Both easterly and westerly departures from London City airport to the north that previously took a sharp turn following take-off are now being directed over my constituency following a similar track to the initial route adopted for north-easterly and southerly departures from the airport. Based on the 2009 usage rates published in the original TCN consultation, that will in future result in a near 50 per cent. increase in the number of departing aircraft overhead in my constituency from London City airport.

Although the CAA might have requirements to bring London City operations into compliance with CAA and International Civil Aviation Organisation design criteria for category C departures, that does not mean that my constituents should be forced to bear the brunt of the noise and environmental impact. Aircraft will be
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passing overhead at between 2,000 and 3,000 feet with a typical noise level of 57 to 72 dB and potentially up to 77 dB for BAE 146 or RJ aircraft. The CAA decision letter accepts that residents will experience additional aircraft noise. Having read that letter, I am left with the impression that the TCN proposals, so far as they affected London City, were a done deal, and that the consultation undertaken was effectively meaningless.

This comes on top of the Newham council decision to approve an increase in the number of flight movements at London City by 50 per cent.-from 80,000 movements to 120,000. The combined impact of the changes to the London City departure routings and the proposed increase in flights would, in essence, lead to a doubling of the number of departing aircraft over my Hornchurch constituency. That will have a noticeable and significant impact on environmental amenity for my constituents. The double-whammy effect was never communicated or consulted on; again, I find that utterly unacceptable.

It is not just me, however. Significant questions are now being raised by neighbouring boroughs about the nature of the consultation conducted by the London borough of Newham in relation to approving the increase in flight movements. The London borough of Redbridge passed an uncontested resolution in November condemning the failure to consult it on the expansion of London City airport, and opposing further expansion at the airport or changes to the flight paths or modes of operation at the airport that would result in an increase in aircraft noise suffered by local residents. If my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) was in the Chamber, he would want to refer to that resolution because he has taken a close interest in the issue. However, it is not just Redbridge. I understand that motions in similar terms have also been approved by the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

London City airport is consulting on its draft strategic noise action plan. The draft plan will have to be submitted to the Secretary of State for Transport early next year for consideration before formal adoption under the European environmental noise directive. I urge the Secretary of State not to accept the plan unless the significant complaints and concerns that I have raised in the debate have been properly addressed, particularly the significant impact that residents in east and north-east London will suffer due to departing aircraft from London City as a consequence of the flight routing changes. There should be a consideration of changes to routings, when appropriate, and discussions with both the CAA and NATS, when necessary, so that my constituents are not forced to bear the brunt of what I consider to be a fundamentally flawed notification and consultation procedure on two fronts.

Will the Minister make urgent representations to both the CAA and NATS about the nature of their general approach to consultation? The case raises serious and significant issues, and if their approach is simply to go through the motions by carrying out consultation on a done deal, that is utterly acceptable.

I also urge the Minister to instruct NATS and the CAA to go back to the drawing board, reassess the departure routings from London City, and come back with revised proposals as part of the next round of consultation under the TCN proposals. It is worth making the point that London City was specifically stripped out of the TCN. All the other proposals are
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still subject to further consideration and public consultation. Regardless of what the CAA might say, it is odd that London City was stripped out in such a way when everyone was under the impression that the TCN proposals were still being considered and would be the subject of further consultation.

Given the circumstances of such a significant change and its combined effect with the general increase in flight movements, and the impact that that will have on areas such as Hornchurch, I believe that the regulators have a duty to look again at the damaging proposals that are being fast-tracked through. While there might be arguments for increasing London City's capacity, they need to be balanced against the impact of additional disruption due to noise. I object that my constituents will bear the brunt of the environmental downside without any clear upside, that they are told that they have a voice in a consultation when they are given only a partial picture of the true scale of changes and that, in any event, their views would apparently simply be regarded as irrelevant.

In Hornchurch, we are lucky to have the benefit of significant environmental amenities. We have a significant amount of green space, with a number of large parks and sites of significant scientific interest. Their enjoyment will be adversely affected by these changes.

I therefore urge the Minister to use his influence to ensure that those agencies with responsibility for the planning of our flight paths look again at the design of the northerly routings from London City airport. They should look again at the serious environmental impact of their decisions, and be held properly accountable for their actions to my constituents and the residents of other affected areas.

11.55 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Paul Clark): At the outset, may I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) on securing this debate? I am delighted to face him again and to have a further discussion on transport issues.

Our commitment to sustaining economic growth and protecting the environment is at the very heart of the Department's aviation policy-making process. With specific regard to smaller airports such as London City airport, the Government's 2003 White Paper "The Future of Air Transport" noted that regional and local planning authorities

and opportunities at these airports. However, I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will agree that hard decisions have to be taken to strike a balance between tackling the environmental challenges, enabling people to fly and allowing the industry to compete internationally. Tensions will always arise in such matters, of course, but it is about getting the balance right.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues regarding recent changes at London City airport and I am keen to deal with them. I shall begin with Newham council's decision to grant planning permission for London City airport to increase by some 50 per cent. the total number of air traffic transport movements from 80,000 to 120,000 per year, and the impact that that might have on local residents.

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The decision to grant that planning consent was entirely a matter for the London borough of Newham. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who knows the position of his own Front-Bench team when it comes to the decision-making process at local level, will agree with that. Expansion of the airport is consistent with the Government's view that there is considerable potential for airports like London City to grow, and the airport is well placed to serve a niche business market.

James Brokenshire: It is important for the Minister to understand the Newham council decision, as one concern was whether it consulted properly with all the surrounding councils and all the residents who might be affected by the application. Will he consider that in the context of guidance given to planning authorities with regard to sensitive and significant applications such as this one? People who would have been affected found out about it only very late in the day, with the result that their ability to comment and provide objections was very limited.

Paul Clark: I was just about to come to that issue. A judicial review launched by the campaign group "Fight the Flights" is currently looking into whether there was consultation with the neighbouring boroughs of Redbridge and Waltham Forest, and their residents. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that it would be wrong for me to comment further, other than to say that the guidance as to the routes that should be taken is clear. Obviously, however, the judicial review will make its own decisions, and we wait to see what happens.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of standard instrument departure-SID-routes from the airport, which were introduced in May this year. These changes were brought about in order to bring London City airport's departure profiles up to the international design standards required for the mix of aircraft types that currently operate to and from the airport. Our airport operations have very high safety records, which is due in part to the hard work of all those responsible for maintaining that safety record and following the right profiles.

When the airport was first opened, the departure routings were designed to accommodate short take-off and landing operations. At that time the aircraft being flown from the airport were predominantly turboprops, which operated within certain departure speed categories, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises. Over time the aircraft operating from the airport have changed to more modern jets that require faster departure speeds. Accordingly, the Civil Aviation Authority instructed NATS, the air navigation service provider, to consider changes to the London City SIDs to reflect the International Civil Aviation Organisation's departure design standards for the aircraft types that are operating from the airport.

In practice, the revised SIDs have merely formalised the departure tracks that were already being flown by about 60 per cent. of the airport's traffic. These changes were undertaken independently of the planning decision of Newham council and implemented in accordance with the independent airspace change process. The approval of the Secretary of State was not required in order to implement the changes. Guidance on the airspace change process is readily available on the CAA's website, which I looked at earlier today.

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