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Volume 730: debated on Thursday 13 October 2011

Question for Short Debate

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the range of provisions and facilities available for general aviation.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who are to take part in this debate, and I declare that I am not only a private pilot but a director of the Light Aircraft Association, vice-president of the General Aviation Alliance, and president of the General Aviation Awareness Council, all of which are non-remunerated positions. In other words, I am deeply engaged with the lighter side of UK civil aviation and I am worried. Our airfields and smaller airports are threatened by the new national planning policy framework. Although there is clearly intent to protect them, I fear that protection will be ineffective without changes to the draft framework.

Britain has a great and historic civil aviation tradition, not just airliners, of which we have about 1,000 registered in the UK, but the more than 12,000 active general aviation—GA—aircraft. With the exception of airliners and the military, GA includes everything else. There are an estimated 4.6 million GA flights in the UK every year, more than twice that of airline and cargo flights. GA is important throughout Europe. In 2009, the European Parliament passed a resolution on an agenda for a sustainable future in general and business aviation. It is a well considered document based on discussion and agreement within the European GA community. The considerable arguments for the importance of GA to economic growth are well rehearsed in this resolution, for which the Aviation Minister has recently expressed her support. GA is a significant UK industry worth up to £3.7 billion annually and employs tens of thousands. It is a growth sector, including hundreds of small businesses. The Department for Transport is currently consulting on Developing a Sustainable Framework for UK Aviation, which, although mainly aimed at commercial air transport—CAT—will also have an impact on GA. A sustainable future for GA will see great improvements in the environmental impact as new, green fuels are developed and electric power becomes a reality for smaller aircraft.

The economic activity associated with GA, both at local and national level, directly and indirectly provides thousands of jobs, often in rural areas. British flight schools provide many of the trained pilots whom we need for our airlines. Aerial survey, photography, agricultural applications and pipeline patrols are just a few of the commercial GA operations carried out every day around the UK. Supporting businesses provide aircraft maintenance and many other services necessary to GA. Police, ambulance and search-and-rescue helicopters are based at GA airfields. Most of all, GA is about travel; across the UK and to neighbouring EU counties, GA gives us transport choices. All this activity depends upon the availability of a national network for GA. The UK has a network of several hundred such aviation sites. They range from thriving aviation centres with many associated businesses down to the sleepy grass landing strips deep in the countryside that my noble friend Lord Goschen flies from regularly.

The larger GA airfields are often small airports as well, shared with CAT. In such places GA and CAT support each other to provide a viable economic base, but this is not all about economics; there are real benefits to society and the community from the recreational opportunities GA provides, such as parachuting and gliding. This vital yet fragile GA infrastructure will be threatened by a national planning policy that does not specifically require local planning authorities to consider the national transportation issues for GA or recognise the economic importance of preserving a national GA network. LPAs that do not have up-to-date local plans may find that developers can assert a right to sustainable development unless the national framework provides otherwise. Airfields and small airports are often very desirable sites for developers, but our national interest requires an infrastructure to support aviation.

We have a perfect example before us. Plymouth airport is to close this year. Plymouth is an isolated city of nearly a quarter of a million people. The airport proprietor has announced its intention to close the airport and this has been permitted by the city council. This shows us what can happen when planners consider only local issues. Aviation facilities will be picked off one by one on the basis of localism, weak local plans and a presumption of sustainable development. Many of our GA airfields are on the edge of towns or cities, or identified as brownfield sites set within desirable country areas. What price could be put on an aerodrome such as Cambridge if it was available for housing development? How about Rochester, Leicester, Fairoaks, Redhill, White Waltham or Ipswich? Actually, Ipswich, recently a thriving airfield, has become a housing development.

Currently, several planning documents provide guidance for LPAs considering applications for airfield development. These include PPG13 for transport, and CAA policy documents concerning the safeguarding of aerodromes and wind turbine locations. I obtained assurances from the previous Government that airfields would not be treated as brownfield sites in their entirety. The Government's proposals will replace our extensive guidelines with a short document containing basic principles, so that we will no longer be able to rely on the documents and the protection that they offer.

It is clear that the authors of the NPPF recognised the problems this will cause for GA aircraft. The draft framework transport objectives includes a clause—paragraph 87—intended to provide protection for small airports and airfields by ensuring consideration of their wider economic and business roles, and of their support for the emergency services. It indicates that such considerations should be guided by the principles set out in the draft planning framework, the relevant national policy statements and the government framework for UK aviation. GA organisations have welcomed the intent of this section, but I am concerned that, despite its good intentions, it gives us no real protection.

The draft framework currently provides no relevant guiding principle. Also absent is an aviation national policy statement. No national guidance is available for LPAs considering airfields or airports. The government framework for UK aviation is in flux. It is currently in consultation as a scoping document that asks fundamental questions, most of them about CAT. It cannot help, either. Without a specific statement in the NPPF of the importance of airfields to our national transport network, the framework will not be fully effective in protecting them. Developers will be able to point to the lack of national policy guidance and take advantage of the situation, especially in the transitional period when local plans are weak or absent.

The solution is simple. All GA airfields and small airports should be afforded planning protection in the NPPF such that LPAs would be required to consider the national infrastructure when determining planning applications. This would also protect airfields in the absence of an adequate local plan.

Does the Minister agree that the NPPF must include more protections for the national GA infrastructure to guide consideration of planning applications involving airfields? I hope he will give us assurances and will actively support proposals so that appropriate planning protections for GA airfields are incorporated into the national planning framework.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Rotherwick for giving us the opportunity to debate this question. I cannot hope to match his expert knowledge or long dedication to general aviation, but I hope at least to emphasise and perhaps develop some of the points he made so forcefully.

I start by saying that in my 20 years as a private pilot, it has always seemed that the general aviation industry has, to say the least, not been frequently on the radar of government. In some—perhaps even most—respects, this has been a very good thing. The industry has grown up and flourished in an atmosphere of self-reliance and without government subsidy. I hope that this self-reliance and absence of subsidy will continue indefinitely. I also hope that in future the Government will take a greater interest in general aviation than has historically been the case. A greater government interest is necessary because the context for general aviation is changing significantly. I will not repeat the excellent analysis of the aviation industry made by my noble friend Lord Rotherwick, but I will emphasise a few key facts.

The general aviation industry is not insignificant. The last CAA study estimated a contribution of £1.4 billion to the UK economy. A more recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study of 2006 put the contribution at £3.7 billion and estimated 50,000 direct employees. General aviation is a very significant element in flying training. Without GA flying schools, the supply of commercial pilots would suffer significantly. GA flying schools are also a source of foreign income. British flying schools have a long and distinguished record in the training of foreign pilots. This flying school activity and success happen despite the fact, as the CAA noted in 2006, British flying schools operate under a competitive disadvantage compared with schools in other countries, primarily because of the higher UK regulatory charges and higher tax charges.

General aviation is not small and is not all about leisure, although of course there is nothing wrong with leisure. There are around 1,000 flying sites in the United Kingdom, around 32,000 general aviation pilots and over 12,000 aircraft. Research for the General Aviation Awareness Council estimates that 70 per cent of general aviation activity has some safety or some business purpose. I should mention the safety record of the UK’s general aviation sector. General aviation flying in the United Kingdom is between three and four times safer than the European average, a quite remarkable tribute to our training system and to our pilots. I shall return to this statistic a little later in the context of the European licensing regime.

Overall, it seems to me that the GA industry now faces two particular challenges and would benefit from more attention from the Government as they try to deal with these problems. As my noble friend Lord Rotherwick has said, the first problem is to do with UK planning regulations, in particular as they relate to wind farms and at least in one case as they relate to High Speed 2. As things stand, the CAA gives guidance on the siting of wind farms. A problem arises because this guidance can be and is ignored by planning authorities. The result is the siting of wind farms against CAA guidance and in what airfields and aviators consider to be dangerous proximity to active runways. Sometimes commercial opportunities presented by wind farms are irresistible to airfield owners, with the consequent loss of facilities to GA and to the wider community.

I am advised by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association that as of today the airfields at Strubby and at Manby in Lincolnshire, at Fishburn in Durham, at Truro in Cornwall, and at Fearn and at Glenbrittle in Scotland are all at risk of closure because of wind farms. There will be more. What is needed, as my noble friend has pointed out, is for the CAA guidance to be given some force. I hope that the Minister can investigate how this may be done.

The problem is not only wind farms, as I have said. In at least one important case, High Speed 2 may also force the closure of an airfield. Twenty-odd years ago, I started to learn to fly at a flying school at Denham airfield in Buckinghamshire. For a very long time, this has been a thriving and busy airfield with easy access to London. Unfortunately, the proposed route of High Speed 2 shows the line passing too close for comfort to the east end of the runway at Denham. Worse, a possible Heathrow spur appears at the moment to pass directly through the runway itself. It would be very sad to lose an airfield such as Denham in order to be in Birmingham 15 minutes early.

The Question on the Order Paper asks for the Government’s assessment of the provisions and facilities available for general aviation. I beg your Lordships’ indulgence to interpret this to cover also the provision of licences for British GA pilots. The conditions attaching to the provision of British GA licences are essentially now determined in Brussels. The European Parliament has very recently approved by a very narrow margin new and onerous conditions for licences. Specifically up until now it had been possible to fly in the UK, as I do, on a foreign pilot’s licence, even if domiciled here. This arrangement is to be terminated. In future, all pilots domiciled in Europe will be required to have European licenses. As General Aviation notes:

“For many pilots, even those who have been flying perfectly safely for decades, this would mean going back to school and studying at enormous expense for a piece of paper they didn't need”.

The International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Association estimates that this will affect 100,000 pilots in Europe, many of whom are domiciled here in the UK where our safety record is already three to four times better than the European average. This development directly threatens the health of UK general aviation and is completely unnecessary. It is an area where a little more active government help would have been, and still would be, very welcome. I urge the Minister to look carefully at the burdens that EU regulation is imposing quite unnecessarily on this self-reliant and unsubsidised general aviation industry.

I close by once again thanking my noble friend Lord Rotherwick for initiating this debate and saying how much I hope we can convince the Minister of the need to give general aviation just a little more care and attention in future.

My Lords, I, too, am very pleased to be able to support the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, who has brought this Question to the House for debate today. He is a far more qualified man to speak on this matter than I, a temporarily lapsed private pilot’s licence holder. However, I am the operator of a small airfield, such as those described by the noble Lord, which all elements of general aviation are encouraged to use. As such I declare my interests, and also the hope that I can offer some experience to the debate. Although my interest is in Scotland, and planning issues in Scotland are devolved, we are talking about issues that are regulated under United Kingdom and European legislation for general aviation.

The noble Lord gave an excellent description of the scope and extent of general aviation aircraft activity in the UK, of the ratio of 12:1 in active registered general aviation aircraft to the larger commercial aircraft that are normally considered when we discuss aviation and of the incredible range of small businesses associated with maintenance and airfield management, and not forgetting pilot training, which was mentioned by both previous speakers. Aircraft make use of everything from an uncontrolled or licensed grass strip a couple of hundred metres long to an airport such as Prestwick, which has a runway of just under 3,000 metres, full instrument landing systems and controlled airspace, where commercial and general aviation work in total harmony.

However, the general aviation influence goes further, and it is just as important that there are other businesses that also benefit from general aviation, such as pubs, bed-and-breakfast establishments, tourist attractions and even sporting events and golf clubs that gain extra business from short-term, out-of-area visitors. They all benefit from pilots and passengers using the extra transport choice of flight to go further in a shorter time bringing much needed extra income into rural, often remote areas, and helping to support small business. I should also mention the emergency use of small airfields, not only by ambulances and the police but where a familiar and safe landing place can be found for the less fortunate non-professional flyer, who may have misjudged the weather or suffered a mechanical, or even a navigational, failure.

This demonstrates the wide variety of reasons for continued support for a network of active airfields across the whole country. Transport of every sort is essential for the continuation of business, and general aviation operations add an extra element of flexibility for business through helicopters and light aircraft. The training of commercial and military pilots also starts with light aircraft, and from the sport and leisure perspective, flying introduces a degree of skill not found on the sports field. Flying is also one of the more complex sports that can be undertaken by those with some disabilities, as the British Disabled Flying Association and Aerobility have shown so well.

I hope I have managed to give the Minister a small overview of why I think that general aviation deserves the support of the Government and special consideration when draft policies, such as the national planning policy framework, are produced. Post war, there was a considerable resource of airfields throughout the country that were available for general aviation, but they were rapidly put to other uses, such as removal for aggregate production, agriculture or development, which was, without doubt, sensible at the time. Many would probably not have been suitable for long-term use anyway. There may be a need for more development ground and a diminished availability of brownfield land for housing wind farms, but there is still a very great need for aviation use as well.

I look forward to the Minister’s reply and hope that he will endeavour to give an assurance that not only will relevant sections of the draft NPPF be reviewed to allow for the inclusion of aviation considerations in all relevant planning issues but local planning authorities will also be encouraged to maintain and protect the facilities that currently exist for GA rather than allowing them to disappear, as has happened in Ipswich and is soon to happen in Plymouth. I am encouraged by listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, sum up the first debate today. I shall look forward to checking my Hansard later.

The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, worded his question for debate very well by asking what assessment the Government have made of the range of provisions and facilities for GA. Therefore, I very much look forward to an assurance that a government framework for UK aviation or an aviation national policy statement will be produced as soon as possible. I also hope that a policy is published on maintaining a viable network of GA airfields, as recommended by the CAA as long ago as 2006, and that we may have an opportunity to debate it as soon as possible after publication.

My Lords, I too declare an interest as a private pilot and aircraft owner. I do not have quite the degree of technical or operational skill as my noble friend Lord Rotherwick, whom I thank for bringing the debate forward this afternoon. Noble Lords should know that not only is his Lordship a distinguished pilot, but he also creates aeroplanes with his bare hands: a lot of clinking and clanking comes from the shed and a couple of years later a sleek aeroplane emerges, which shows a degree of hands-on knowledge that this House clearly urgently needs in so many fields.

Today we are considering the importance of maintaining the infrastructure necessary to support general aviation in this country. Once facilities are lost, they very rarely come back. An airfield can very quickly become a housing estate, and given the difficulty and expense involved in establishing new airfields, these facilities are very unlikely to be replaced. General aviation—everything apart from airline and military flying—is important. My noble friend Lord Sharkey gave clear indications of the value to the economy of maintaining this sector.

It is also important that we have a large flying training industry in the UK, supplying pilots into the commercial sphere. Despite the weather that we enjoy, as it were, in this country, pilots and would-be pilots come from all over the world, sent here by airlines and governments for the very high quality of training that exists in the UK. The UK is still the gold standard for aviation training, arguably the best in the world. We have that reputation and we must keep it that way if at all possible.

Light aviation in this country depends as much on small, grass airfields as on large facilities. Many long-established operations, some hailing from shortly after the dawn of flying, operate from what to the untutored eye would look like a farmer’s field with perhaps a few nissen huts or hangars. The development value of this land is out of all proportion to the activity and viability of the businesses that exist on it. If it were to be considered to be brownfield land and therefore open for development, the consequences would be very serious. The value of a large acreage of a grass field that is suddenly considered appropriate for development would be very substantial. It is highly likely in that circumstance that the landlords—some of them may be local councils, for example—may choose to do away with the aviation facilities and replace them with housing or a supermarket development, leading to an irreplaceable loss of facilities.

With the degree of regulation in this industry, an area that has been touched on, and the high cost of fuel, these businesses are sometimes only marginally profitable, yet they sit on substantial areas of open space. It is worth remembering that if these businesses did not exist as they do now, they would almost certainly be converted into intensive development if planning regulations allowed that to happen. While some people may have legitimate concerns about living in proximity to airfields, they would be wise to consider the alternative and be careful what they wish for. However, the great majority of airfields go to huge lengths to engage with their local populace and neighbours, and to build good relationships.

We have heard today that it is important for the country to retain a healthy general aviation sector in order to generate employment, training and transport links, and recreation to those who fly for pleasure. But these airfields are under constant threat and speakers have given specific examples of where that has been the case. In a way, there is also threat from the cost of regulation and from the Civil Aviation Authority. The CAA is alive to these general aviation concerns and has shown itself to be keen to listen. In recent years, it has put through an increase in charging for inspection for smaller airfields, which has shown rapid growth in the fees charged. The CAA operates on something of a cost-plus basis. That cost of course is determined by the organisation. The plus is its requirement to generate a return on the capital deployed. From memory, I think that it is 8 per cent, although I am sure that the Minister can correct me if I am wrong. It is, perhaps, even 6 per cent.

European regulation is also important. When we look at the strength or fragility of the airport and GA infrastructure, we should consider the effects that regulation, which often these days comes from Europe, can have. I would be the first to say that we are fortunate in this country in terms of our regulatory regime. The CAA knows a great deal about the field and has shown itself willing to engage in the issues. We have a deregulated regime for vintage and home-built aircraft in the form of the Light Aircraft Association, which is a tremendous privilege. It is a high-quality organisation like the CAA. This regime works very well.

However, we need to be vigilant. This may sound like an esoteric subject for the House of Lords to discuss on a Thursday afternoon but it is important. We have heard from noble Lords who have spoken of much greater figures in terms of the economic scale of the industry—more than £3.5 billion—and the employment that it supports. There are strategic and tactical implications, and it is vital that we maintain this infrastructure.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, on securing this debate. However, perhaps I may enter a little caveat about something that the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, said. I am not so sure that this is an esoteric subject. We have been pressing the Government for an aviation policy for many months now, but we have been told in every answer that the Minister has so ably deployed that we must wait until the government policy is formulated and ready. This is an important debate which helps us to probe the Government, and perhaps also to prod them towards an early resolution of these issues, despite the fact that we all recognise that general aviation is a relatively minor part of aviation policy. That does not alter the fact—as has been amply demonstrated this afternoon—of the significant contribution that general aviation provides. The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, who is well qualified as a pilot, also emphasised general aviation’s role in developing the interest of young people in acquiring the skills to become a pilot. There is no doubt that this is a very important dimension of the contribution to our overall success, in circumstances where we must surely recognise our concern about aviation as a whole—a concern that one of the most successful sectors of our economy is, in the current government stance, somewhat being reined in.

I understand the political considerations that led the Government to take their stance on Heathrow—not least during an election campaign when marginal seats in west London were at stake. However, the Government have to face up to the fact that, at present, their record is one of negativity towards aviation. I expect the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, to indicate a somewhat more positive response than he has done in questions and debates.

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. However, does this mean that the Opposition are in favour of the extension of Heathrow? If so, it is a new policy about which many people will be very unhappy on the grounds of both air quality and the environment.

My Lords, as we indicated throughout the whole of the election campaign, there were severe risks to the expansion of our aviation industry as well as potential damage to our economy, particularly a lack of competitiveness against other European airports such as Schiphol, Madrid and Charles de Gaulle. As the noble Lord will recognise only too well, as matters have developed over the past 18 months of this Government’s management of the economy, we can ill afford negativity when it comes to an area where we have previously been conspicuously successful. I wanted to put aviation on the agenda, and general aviation into a context, because it is important. However, I was really responding to the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, in seeking to emphasise that general aviation has its part to play in this important sector of the economy.

The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, went on to identify not only the very significant level of employment in general aviation but also the amount of resources that it develops. He also identified some real anxieties. The anxieties in this debate—expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Rotherwick and Lord Sharkey, and the noble Earl, Lord Stair—are about aspects of planning policy. We all have anxieties about planning policy, not least because the development of government strategy at this stage leaves unanswered as many questions as it answers. However, unless local considerations are assigned significance in planning while being balanced with national strategic requirements, the great danger is that the seed-corn of general aviation will be greatly reduced because, as noble Lords indicated today, some airfields could be closed to aviation and other forms of development. That is an important dimension, and I hope that the Minister will give us some assurances on this front.

The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, made an important point when he identified the safety record of general aviation. We would be in some difficulties if we were arguing about this contribution to national welfare if the safety record was anything other than one of the best in the world, and it certainly compares well with the rest of Europe. That helps to support the argument about the importance of general aviation. While I accept the point made by the noble Lord that no one is looking for a subsidy for the industry at the present time—I am sure that the Government are not looking to give one in their present travails—we should nevertheless expect the Government to take an interest in this important contribution to the economy.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister will respond to the fact that general aviation is increasingly valued by the wider population. Only a relatively small number of people actually train to become pilots, and only a relatively small number are employed on airfields, but people are becoming increasingly aware of the benefit of air support for quite a number of our significant services. I mention the fact that only in recent years has there been an air ambulance service in Hertfordshire, where I live. I do not doubt that public subscription has contributed to it, and Hertfordshire is not the only county. What I do know is how much the air ambulance service is appreciated in the locality, and of course it depends upon the skills available and the opportunities provided.

I accept the point about the anxieties in certain areas of the country over threats to their airfields. There is no doubt that both Cornwall and Devon are two illustrations of the very real anxieties felt in recent years that the airfields they regard as significant to their local economies have been under threat. I hope that the Minister will give an indication of his concern that certain crucial regional airfields are in the mind of the Government in their consideration of their overall strategy.

This has been a most interesting debate. It has asked the Government to come clean on aviation policy. Admittedly it is a relatively narrow area, but it is one of great significance. I hope that the Minister will not be shy in making his points today, as on occasions in the past I have found he has been wont to be.

My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Rotherwick on securing this debate. My noble friend said that he was worried, but he need not be, not least because of his skilful advocacy of general aviation. We have heard about the significant contribution that the general aviation sector makes to the UK economy, and we must not forget the social benefits of GA as well. It provides many thousands of enthusiasts with the chance to enjoy their passion for flying, provides world-class training for pilots, technicians and many other roles, and inspires youngsters to take up a career in aviation. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, rightly mentioned the vital air ambulance services.

The existence of a network of general aviation airfields across the country plays a key role in the success of this sector, linking business centres that are not otherwise served by commercial air services, and providing the basis from which various recreational and sporting aviation activities take place. My noble friend Lord Rotherwick and others mentioned the employment opportunities that can arise. Reference has been made to the current planning system, which, I regret to say, has become unwieldy and complex, making it hard for experts to put into practice, let alone communities to understand. Instead, the Government are committed to putting in place a simpler, swifter system that everyone can understand. This afternoon's debate will, I hope, reassure my noble friend that the policies within the draft National Planning Policy Framework support and maintain appropriate protection for our important general aviation sector.

The draft framework streamlines current national planning policy into a consolidated set of priorities to consider when planning for and deciding on new development. It will help to ensure that planning decisions reflect genuine national objectives, such as the need to safeguard the natural environment, combat climate change and support sustainable local growth.

Did my noble friend notice that the noble Lord the spokesman for the Opposition made it quite clear that the Opposition did not take an interest in the environmental case, which enabled us to say that the expansion of Heathrow was a bad thing, but tried to suggest that it was a party-political decision rather than one of high moral standing?

My Lords, I try to minimise my party-political comments as much as possible and normally manage to confine them to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham.

Planning decisions should support those national objectives while allowing local councils and communities to produce their own plans, reflecting the distinctive needs and priorities of different parts of the country. The draft framework sets national priorities and rules only where it is necessary to do so. The principle of sustainable development permeates the draft: that the actions we take to meet our needs today must not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own. I will not be drawn any further into defining “sustainable development”.

To help support economic prosperity, the draft framework contains polices on planning for business, transport and infrastructure. To support quality of life, there are policies on housing, design and the green belt; and to help protect our environment there are polices covering climate change, and our natural and historic environment.

As my noble friend Lord Rotherwick noted, the transport polices within the draft framework streamline current transport policy contained within PPG 13 on transport. However, it is important to emphasise that the current core policy approach for planning for airports and airfields has not changed. The draft framework asks local councils to consider the growth and role of airports and airfields, which are not subject to a separate national policy statement, in serving business, leisure, training and emergency service needs. Local councils are also asked to consider the principles set out in the relevant national policy statements and the Government's framework for UK aviation, which is under development. So in answer to my noble friend’s question, I do not feel that specific further protection provisions for airfields are needed in the NPPF if they are to be set out elsewhere.

Reference was also made earlier to previously developed land. On this, the Government want to hand responsibility back to local councils and communities to decide which developable land should be used in their areas. The draft framework still encourages the use of previously developed land for development. It states that,

“plans should allocate land with the least environmental or amenity value”.

That means, of course, using derelict land when considering where to develop in the future. But it also allows restored green space that was once in industrial use, such as urban nature reserves, to be protected.

The reforms will give power back to local communities to decide the areas they wish to see developed and those protected away from the interference of Whitehall. The definition of “previously developed land” within the draft framework remains the same as that set out within PPG 3 on housing. It is defined as land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land and any associated fixed-surface infrastructure.

However, in determining the future use of an airfield which is deemed to comprise,

“land with the least environmental or amenity value”,

the local council will need to also consider the role of the airport or airfield in serving business, leisure, training and emergency service needs, and ensure the location of the proposed development is appropriate and sustainable when considered against all of the policies within the national planning policy framework, the local plan for the area and any other relevant material planning considerations.

I note that the General Aviation Alliance has responded to the Government’s call for comments on the draft framework. I can assure noble Lords that during the weeks ahead the Government will consider all the suggestions that have been made as part of this consultation and will ensure that the policy adopted will continue to protect against inappropriate development, while also enabling local people to plan for the sensible and well designed development that provides homes and jobs, on which the future prosperity of their community depends.

I will try to answer as many specific questions as possible. I always look forward to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, and I will of course be positive. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that a policy framework for aviation will not be completed in a few months, as he suggested. The noble Lord will also recall that Heathrow, while very important, is not generally involved in general aviation activities, for obvious reasons, so I will resist the temptation to get involved in debating Heathrow.

My noble friend Lord Rotherwick asked about the supporting aviation infrastructure network. The draft NPPF asks local councils to work with neighbouring councils and transport providers to develop strategies for the provision of the viable infrastructure necessary to support sustainable economic growth. This includes the transport investment necessary to support strategies for the growth of airports. My noble friend also asked about extending the safeguarding to all GA airfields and small airports. This would require careful consideration as there is potential for conflict with other aviation interests and wider government aims. The safeguarding process includes protection against other aviation activity; given the significant number of aerodromes across the UK, there is a real risk of overlapping safeguarding zones. Where this occurred, local planners might be forced to prioritise one aerodrome over another, which may in turn work to the detriment of general aviation.

My noble friend Lord Sharkey asked a number of questions, including one about UK flight training. He will recognise that there are a number of commercial and operational reasons why flight training organisations conduct some or all of their training outside of the UK, despite the observations of my noble friend Lord Goschen about the high quality of UK training. These include increased competition from flying schools in other countries, rising costs—including VAT—and the complications afforded by the weather and congested airspace in the UK. Mitigating some of these taxation issues, even if desirable, could cause considerable problems with the EU state aid rules and the principal VAT directive. However, the UK has implemented the mandatory exemptions for suppliers of education laid down in Article 132 of the principal VAT directive. My noble friend also asked about renewable energy. The coalition Government have made clear their commitment to increasing the deployment of renewable and low-carbon energy across the UK.

My noble friends Lord Sharkey and Lord Goschen also asked about European issues related to pilot licensing and EU regulation. The UK supports the principles of proportionate regulation and the view that new EU regulatory proposals should be supported by a meaningful impact assessment that reflects different types of aviation activity across the sector. A one-size-fits-all approach is not always the best solution. My noble friend Lord Goschen compliments the UK regulatory regime—he should do because he had ministerial responsibility for it at one point.

The noble Earl, Lord Stair, asked about a sustainable framework for aviation. The Government are currently developing a new policy framework for UK aviation. A scoping document was published on 30 March, setting out our priorities for aviation, and the extended call for evidence closes on 20 October. The scoping document asked a series of questions, some of which are specifically directed at the GA sector, including the balance to be struck between conflicting demands such as housing and maintaining a network of GA aerodromes. I can assure the noble Lord that a number of GA stakeholders have already responded and their views will be taken into consideration alongside those of other respondents as the policy development process moves forward. The noble Earl asked about the protection of agricultural land. The policy in the draft framework maintains the agricultural land protections currently set out in planning policy statement 7.

My noble friend Lord Goschen asked about the local impacts of airfield development. The draft framework includes a policy that asks local councils to ensure that the new development is appropriate for its location, having regard to the effects of pollution on health and the natural environment or general amenity and taking into account the amount of potential sensitivity of the area of proposed development to adverse effects from pollution. This policy would apply to planning proposals nearby or next to airports or airfields. Therefore, where noise is likely to be an issue to the proposed site or development, the location is likely to be deemed inappropriate.

In conclusion, I thank my noble friend for his short debate and all his efforts in supporting the general aviation sector.

House adjourned at 5.11 pm.