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15 Dec 2009 : Column 944

It might be helpful if I explain briefly the procedure for making changes to airspace in the UK. Airspace planning and regulation is the responsibility of the independent regulator, the CAA. The process for making changes to airspace is governed by the CAA's airspace change process. A change sponsor, in this case NATS, is responsible for developing and consulting on a proposal for an airspace change, ensuring that it satisfies and/or enhances safety standards, improves capacity and mitigates, as far as is practical, any environmental impacts in line with the Department's environmental guidance to the CAA.

Informed by the consultation, the airspace change sponsor must submit its proposal to the CAA. It is the CAA that then assesses the formal proposal against the regulatory requirements, including environmental objectives, which are clearly a concern to the hon. Gentleman and his constituents, and either approves or rejects the proposal. If the CAA considers that a proposal could have a detrimental effect on the environment, it is required to advise the Secretary of State for Transport. It must refrain from making the airspace change without first securing his approval.

Therefore, airspace changes are made only where it is clear, after consultation, that an overall environmental benefit will accrue or where the airspace management considerations and the overriding need for safety allow no practical alternative.

James Brokenshire: I appreciate the Minister's generosity in giving way. As I understand it, he has said that the CAA makes the decision whether there is an environmental aspect that should be referred to the Secretary of State. The CAA appears to be the judge and the decision maker on that. Is there any route whereby the Secretary of State could call in for consideration a proposed change in routing? It seems strange that the CAA can, in effect, require NATS to implement a change and decide on the environmental aspects itself.

Paul Clark: As I have indicated, the Secretary of State vests that power in the independent regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, but it has to make those considerations in conjunction with the guidance-particularly on the environmental side-that is laid out in conjunction with the Government's policy.

I shall now turn specifically to the environmental impact of the recent changes to London City airport. I recognise that the levels of aircraft noise and air quality, and the visual impact on the hon. Gentleman's constituents, will of course be of concern. I understand that point, and that is why I said right at the beginning of my remarks that getting the balance right is a judgment that has to be made.

The CAA's guidance on the airspace change process includes substantive guidance on a range of environmental requirements, including noise, air quality, tranquillity and visual intrusion. With regard to noise issues at London City airport, the hon. Gentleman will recall from my answer to his recent parliamentary question that responsibility for monitoring noise levels of aircraft at the airport falls to the airport operator. There are no statutory governmental noise controls like those that apply to Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports. However, under the terms of local monitoring agreements with the London borough of Newham, London City is required to produce annual noise contours.

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Given that the airport is in the city centre and in close proximity to residential areas, it imposes stringent noise control measures that are designed to mitigate its local environmental impact. Those measures incorporate strict restrictions on opening hours, including a ban on night flights. In addition, the airport produces annual contours, whereby the noise levels at the airport are monitored by a noise and track-keeping system. Further, London City airport's noise insulation scheme has the lowest trigger of any airport in the UK. In developing an insulation scheme to reflect the local circumstance, the airport, I am encouraged to note, is able to set criteria so that properties within the 57 dBA contour can be considered for insulation. The hon. Gentleman will know that that goes beyond the recommended level of 66 dBA in the air transport White Paper.

In terms of noise, there are future initiatives and two key developments. The first relates to the proposed expansion of the airport. The planning conditions imposed as part of Newham borough council's planning consent requires the airport to develop an improved noise monitoring and mitigation strategy. That is expected to include the replacement of the existing noise and track-keeping system and improvements to the noise insulation schemes.

The second initiative relates to the requirement for the airport to prepare a strategic noise action plan under the European environmental noise directive. Under the terms of that directive, the airport is required to develop a draft action plan in consultation with the local community. The airport is conducting a public consultation on its draft noise action plan, and, as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out on his website, the closing date is 15 January. He encourages everyone to participate in it, and that is absolutely commendable.

The consultation process is a valuable opportunity for the airport to work closely with its neighbouring communities in developing control measures that will apply over the next five years. The neighbouring communities are clearly important. Once the airport has completed its consultation and considered the responses,
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it will be required to submit the final draft plan to the Government so that it can be considered for formal adoption under the directive.

The airport is very aware of its local impact and seeks to ensure that local people see the benefit of living near an airport. The growth of the airport has encouraged businesses, investors and developers to locate in east London, bringing new services and facilities to the area.

Let me turn finally to TC north. TC north is one of the most complex pieces of airspace in the world, with routes in and out of the major airports of Heathrow, Stansted, Luton and London City. I must stress that the TC north proposals are not associated with, and do not assume, future development at Heathrow, Stansted or any other airport. As the hon. Gentleman said, the London City airport SID proposals originally formed part of the TC north consultation on a package of measures designed to reduce delay, maintain safety and improve environmental performance. That consultation on TC north was the largest of its kind undertaken; the population in the region affected is just under 13 million.

NATS directly consulted over 3,000 primary stakeholders, including MPs, county, borough, district and parish councils, environmental organisations and chambers of commerce. Before the launch of the consultation, NATS arranged briefings for local MPs and national and regional media. In response to concerns that there was not enough time to consider the details of the proposals, NATS extended the consultation period by four weeks, giving a full 17-week consultation period. Following that, NATS decided to review the TC north design options further. However, any revised designs for the TC north region are unlikely to be ready for consultation before autumn next year.

The CAA considered that further consultation on the London City airport SID proposals was not needed-

12.11 am

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).

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