asked the Secretary of State for Trade what proposals he has for the development of airports policy following the abandonment of the Maplin airport project: and whether he will make a statement.
Following the decision to abandon the Maplin airport project, an extensive programme of further work was initiated, and preliminary consultations have been undertaken with relevant local authorities and other organisations. As part of this process, the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for companies, aviation and snipping and I have visited more than a dozen of the principal airports in England, Scotland and Wales so that we can see at first hand the situation at the various airports.In the light of this work and these consultations, two comprehensive consultation documents are being prepared. The first will cover the general issue of future traffic, the overall possibilities for diverting traffic to regional airports, and the development of airports in the London area; the second will deal with the possibilities for particular regional airports. These documents will provide the basis for detailed discussions with local authorities, amenity groups and other organisations on the whole range of matters involved in airport development.I expect that the first of the documents will be published in October, and that the second will follow early next year. This is a little later than I had hoped, but it is important that the documents should be as comprehensive as possible. It is my intention that adequate time should be given for all those concerned to express their views on future airport developments in the United Kingdom as a whole.There has been a significant reduction in the forecasts of passenger demand since the decision to abandon the Maplin airport project, and the additional capacity at Gatwick and the provision of a fourth passenger terminal at Heathrow, to which I referred in my statement on Maplin, seem likely to be sufficient to accommodate traffic well into the 1980s. The London consultations will, therefore, be essentially about the options beyond that time. These options should permit capacity to be expanded flexibly and in stages, depending upon the growth of traffic.I consider that it should be possible to develop a policy which, over time, will lead to the development of air services in the regions which increasingly will enable those living outside the South-East to fly direct to their destinations and ease the pressure at the London airports. However, at the present time, over 40 per cent. of the passengers at London area airports are foreign business or leisure visitors, and virtually all these have destinations in the London area. Moreover, about 80 per cent. of all international passengers at London area airports start or end their journeys in the South-East. This obviously limits the scope for a substantial diversion of traffic without involving significant costs and serious inconvenience for many passengers.But, despite this, I recognise the environmental and other problems in the South-East, and the House will be aware of the particular importance which I attach to alleviating aircraft noise. Any airport policy must be related to this problem, and I am determined to continue to work towards a real and progressive improvement. In the consultation documents, it is my intention to publish noise contours to enable those concerned to judge the effect of alternative options for airport developments.