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Heathrow Airport Expansion: Elmbridge

Volume 623: debated on Wednesday 22 March 2017

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the effect of Heathrow airport expansion on Elmbridge.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall, and I am grateful that the Minister has taken the time to be here. This issue is very important for my local constituency, with the publication last month of the Government’s draft national policy statement on Heathrow. I will take this opportunity to speak about the impact of the proposed airport expansion on my constituency.

I should say at the outset that I live under one of the flightpaths, so I appreciate at first hand the issues that raises. Constituents who live in neighbourhoods in certain parts of the constituency particularly feel the impact, especially those in Molesey and parts of Walton-on-Thames. It is true that the impact is felt variably in different parts of the constituency. Residents in those communities are especially concerned about the current operations in and out of Heathrow and, naturally, the implications that a third runway might have on their quality of life. I will set out some of those concerns, and I would be grateful if the Minister addressed as many of them as possible. However, given the number of questions I have and the time available, I gently and respectfully suggest that he takes the opportunity to follow up the debate with a letter, if he feels unable to address any points of detail today. I hope that is a reasonable request.

I support the expansion of Heathrow airport in principle because I recognise its importance for the future competitiveness of the UK economy. Ideally, I would have preferred both Heathrow and Gatwick to be expanded, partly because of the economic case, but also to spread some of the impact. Nevertheless, I recognise that the economic case for expanding Heathrow is strong, both nationally and locally. Heathrow airport directly employs 1,000 residents in Elmbridge. An expanded Heathrow would not only guarantee those jobs, but create more local employment opportunities. It is welcome that, as part of the expansion plans, Heathrow has promised to create 5,000 new apprenticeships around the airport, which will create additional skilled employment opportunities for the communities that will benefit from that.

The Airports Commission estimated that the third runway expansion will create 77,000 jobs in the local area by 2030. In that local context, will the Minister set out what private and public sector measures he anticipates will be taken to improve transport links to support the increased footfall through Heathrow? Will he explain how local road and rail infrastructure will be reinforced to cope with the estimated additional capacity? Surrey and Elmbridge, in particular, are already under strain and we need to know in advance how we will deal with any additional congestion.

Beyond the local economic benefits, the longer-term boost to the UK economy and our international competitiveness that will accompany expansion is also highly persuasive. The Airports Commission estimated that the third runway will deliver a £61 billion boost to the British economy. In particular, it will increase connections to the fastest-growing markets in the world, improve our domestic connectivity and greatly expand our capacity for international trade. That is vital for our future prosperity, so expanding Heathrow offers the clearest signals that Britain is open for business, open to the world and, as the Prime Minister vowed, intent on becoming a global leader in free trade.

That is the economic good news, but I also hope that if expansion is delivered properly and carefully—with all the assiduous care that the Minister is well regarded and reputed for—it can also improve the wellbeing of Elmbridge residents, particularly those of us who have to live with the constant noise overhead. On a personal note, as a constituency MP I have been contacted by hundreds upon hundreds of concerned residents. I have hosted a range of public meetings, particularly in Molesey, where there is enormous frustration and concern. I should say that that goes beyond the understandable irritation of middle-class residents who prize a peaceful suburban life.

Let me give an illustration of what that can mean—this example is particularly troubling. At one surgery a constituent came to me whose sleep is so disrupted that he suffers from anxiety attacks, and who eventually even lost his job. We are not talking about dealing with tolerable levels of noise—levels that people can or should reasonably be expected to endure. Many are fearful, not just based on current practice, of what expansion will bring.

I share a constituency border with my hon. Friend. He will know that there is not a flightpath on the border, but residents are disturbed by stacking. Does he understand the concerns felt by people at the other end of my constituency—in Kingston and New Malden—about the prospect of a whole new flightpath, where there is not one already, and the disturbance that will cause?

As ever, my hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituents. The stacking issue is very important. I raised it in the Chamber on 2 February and, as he will know, the Transport Secretary gave me a clear set of assurances; I will ask a few questions about the detail of that later. As ever, my hon. Friend is absolutely bang on point. For me, the important thing is that those affected know what they can reasonably expect once a third runway is open for business. That will not only provide residents with a reasonable level of expectation, but mean that they know how to hold Heathrow and the Government to account for the assurances that are being offered, particularly on noise and air quality.

When the draft policy statement was published on 2 February, the Transport Secretary reassured me in the Chamber that there would be binding limits on noise and air quality, independent verification of both, a change of policy away from concentrated flightpaths and changes to the current stacking of flights, which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) mentioned. Those high-level assurances were warmly received by my constituents and by the communities as a whole, so I thank the Minister and the Secretary of State for those. My critical task now, as the constituency MP, is to follow up those high-level assurances and nail down what the specifics will mean in practice and what the tangible impact will be for people living in Elmbridge. That is why I secured this debate. Although we might not get all the answers today, I hope that the Minister will consider this to be the start of a fruitful dialogue over the months ahead.

As a condition for expansion, we have the Government’s commitment to enforce new and legally binding noise targets on Heathrow. The Government also propose the creation of an independent body to monitor noise levels. I sought that in previous correspondence with the Ministers, so it is very welcome. It helps to build confidence that those high-level assurances will materialise at a more tangible level.

The independent commission on civil aviation noise—ICCAN—will be set up within the Civil Aviation Authority. That should allow it to become operational quickly and enable it to benefit from the expertise of its parent institution. The creation of the body can help reassure my residents, who have had their trust in the airport rather dented by the 2014 flightpath trials and Heathrow’s inability to monitor accurately the volume or trajectory of local flights. I say that notwithstanding my intense engagement with Heathrow at a very high level and its desire to get this right for the local community. However, I suspect that this has clearly not worked to the satisfaction of Heathrow, and certainly not to that of my constituents, so we need to take that forward.

ICCAN’s credibility will be critical to achieving its objective of holding the airport to account on aircraft noise. I am also reassured that one of its key principles is to help to build up community engagement and understanding. However, it would be useful to get greater clarity and detail on the legally binding noise performance targets. A legally binding noise envelope would be better still, so I urge Transport Ministers to consider that approach, which could allow a reduction in stipulated noise levels over time. What statutory role will ICCAN have in monitoring noise levels, and what penalties will it be able to impose on the airport if noise targets are not met? My constituents will expect an effective verification mechanism in which ICCAN is more than just an advisory body and in which it has teeth to ensure compliance.

I must also raise the plans for future flightpaths around the expanded airport. There is a clear opportunity to shift away from the rather arbitrary and unfair current policy of concentrated flightpaths and towards a policy of dispersal over a wider geographical area. I have looked at this issue, thought about it and talked to my community about it, and I always come back to the conclusion that it is wrong for a small but significant minority of residents to bear so disproportionately the brunt of flights overhead. The case for a more equitable dispersal is overwhelming.

The Government are committed to lowering the overall noise impact, so we should see a reduction of it in Elmbridge. In fact, the Airports Commission concluded that by 2030 fewer people would be affected by noise than at present, because the greater flexibility that additional airport capacity will permit in aircraft operations should allow better management of overall noise impacts. I ask the Minister when he will commit to a policy of dispersal and what that will mean for Elmbridge residents in practical terms.

When I raised noise levels with the Transport Secretary in the Chamber on 2 February, he indicated that the forthcoming changes to the stacking arrangements south-west of London for Heathrow would improve the experience for my local residents. That was a hugely welcome and important positive assurance to take back to my constituents. I would be grateful if the Minister gave us further details on what those changes will be—or, at least, when we will know what they will be—and how they will reduce noise levels for my constituents.

I would like to move beyond noise levels to the important issue of air quality. I am assured by the Civil Aviation Authority that an increase in flights would have no direct impact on air quality in Elmbridge. That is welcome news, but how will that assurance be achieved? What limits on air quality will be put in place to deliver it and how will they be independently verified?

There are also concerns about the indirect effects of the expansion and the third runway on air quality. In particular, the increase in road traffic caused by a growth in the number of passengers travelling to and from the airport risks a negative impact on local air pollution. I note that Heathrow has committed to ensuring that there is no increase in road usage related to the airport and the expansion, and to expanding public transport to mitigate the extra road use. That will be important for reducing the airport’s carbon footprint and ensuring that our existing road network is not put under undue strain from an even greater volume of traffic, as I mentioned earlier.

However, it is vital that there is proper independent verification of that rather high-level and, if I may say so, abstract commitment. Unless the Government have a better means of achieving that—I am open-minded about the means—I suggest, as one possibility, that the Environment Agency be mandated and resourced to monitor the full environmental impact of the expanded airport, including from the additional volume of traffic in surrounding areas such as mine.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech on behalf of his constituents. Does he agree that the likelihood of a family of four with all their bags using public transport instead of a family car or taxi is minimal, unless there is a massive increase in the quality of public transport in both our constituencies?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point in his habitually eloquent and convincing way. If the commitment is to be met, there will need to be a step change in investment in the means of getting people out of their cars. We both live in our constituencies and we know what the traffic is like, particularly around peak times and rush hour. If the commitment is not met, I fear that traffic will come to a standstill. We have to avoid that. That high-level commitment has been made, and I am interested to know what the means of achieving it will be.

As I said, I would like to see the Environment Agency or another body mandated to monitor the full environmental impact of the airport, and not just from the extra flights overhead, but from the additional congestion. That is an aspect of the Heathrow air quality debate that I do not think has been fully addressed in the draft national policy statement. I would be grateful if the Minister at least sought to address it today and if he assured my residents that Heathrow will be held to its promise that expansion will lead to no increase in local road traffic.

The assurances that I seek today, or something equivalent, are sorely needed for the people and communities living in the vicinity of Heathrow. I am certainly not trying to stop or scupper the expansion; I want to work with Heathrow. I pay tribute to its director of external affairs, Nigel Milton, who has been absolutely terrific at engaging. I welcome the positive assurances that I have had from the Transport Secretary and other Ministers. The assurances that I seek on behalf of my community are reasonable and proportionate, and they will be necessary if we are to carry local communities with us as we proceed with this major and vital infrastructure project. With that in mind, I must say that it is regrettable that the Government’s local consultations will not include a public meeting in my constituency, given the problems that we had with the flightpath trials in 2014. I respectfully but firmly urge the Minister to take that point away and to think about the impression created in communities such as mine that already feel that their concerns have not been properly taken on board.

In summary, before I can credibly vote for the expansion of Heathrow, which I am well disposed to do because I support it as a matter of principle, I need to be able to give my constituents a more detailed and concrete reassurance, based on the Government’s proposed mitigation package, that the roads in Elmbridge will not be clogged up; that noise levels will be limited and independently monitored; that we will move towards dispersal of flightpaths and overhaul the current stacking arrangements or find equivalent means to reduce residents’ experience of the disproportionate noise levels currently felt in places such as Molesey and Walton; and that local air quality will not deteriorate as a result of the extra flights or the extra vehicles that may grace our roads, because there will be prescribed and independently monitored limits to ensure that that does not happen. Those are reasonable, common-sense assurances that I seek on behalf of reasonable constituents with common sense who have constructively expressed their reservations and concerns. The sooner the Government can provide the detail that I seek, the sooner we can provide the answers to my constituents in Elmbridge and give them the reassurances that they need to get behind the expansion of Heathrow airport.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on securing this important debate. I must immediately apologise, because I am covering for my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Transport. He would have responded to this debate, because it is in his policy area, but he is opening a factory in the west midlands. This is a bit of an away fixture for me, but I will be able to answer some of the questions raised by my hon. Friend, and I can guarantee that I will take them all back to the Department and make sure that he gets the fullest answers that we can provide. All his questions were entirely appropriate for a Member standing up for his constituents.

My hon. Friend asked whether this could be the start of a fruitful dialogue. I can confirm that indeed it can. This debate is certainly timely, because on 2 February my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary laid before Parliament a draft airports NPS—national policy statement—under the Planning Act 2008 and published an accompanying consultation. The draft NPS sets out the framework against which an application for a development consent order will be judged in respect of a north-west runway at Heathrow airport. Right now we are in that important period of public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny. Before I address the specific issues raised by my hon. Friend, I want to remind the House of the process in which the debate sits.

On 25 October 2016, the Transport Secretary set out in his statement the Government’s preference for a new north-west runway at Heathrow airport. Some of the key points he made do bear repeating. The need for additional capacity is clear and paramount, and that has driven the entire process. A north-west runway at Heathrow airport would provide economic and employment benefits, delivering tens of thousands of additional local jobs by 2030, including, as my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton said, in the area of Elmbridge. It would also provide new global connections and better connections for domestic customers, new capacity for freight imports and exports, and reduce fares for passengers.

The benefits of the scheme would be felt by businesses and passengers throughout the UK. Therefore, while we are dealing with an issue that is acutely local for my hon. Friend and of great importance for the south-east of the United Kingdom, it has relevance for the entire United Kingdom. For example, my constituency is at least 220 miles from my hon. Friend’s, but its chamber of commerce came out in support of the application, recognising its impact for the UK as a whole. There is a further point: in our post-Brexit world, a new north-west runway sends out a clear message that Britain is open for business.

The publication of the draft NPS was a significant milestone. It sets out the case for additional capacity as well as the reasons why a north-west runway at Heathrow has been selected as the Government’s preferred scheme. It specifies the requirements that the promoter will need to meet in order to gain development consent. Those include important requirements on air quality, noise, carbon and community compensation.

Last month, we also published an appraisal of sustainability for the draft NPS, which assesses the potential economic, social and environmental impacts of the proposed policy in the draft NPS. It incorporated a habitats regulations assessment, equalities assessment, and health impact assessment, and it includes analysis of the reasonable alternatives to the preferred scheme: the Heathrow extended northern runway and the Gatwick second runway.

In the light of the issues we have been discussing, it is important to note that, in parallel to the draft NPS consultation, we are also consulting on UK airspace policy, which impacts on the entire country. The airspace proposal aims to strike a balance between unlocking the economic and social benefits of modernising airspace and addressing the local impacts of aviation, which is a hard balance to achieve. People around an airport are split because the economic opportunity benefits are significant in employment provided, but there can also be an impact on quality of life. In particular, in the consultation there is the creation of an independent commission on civil aviation noise, which is required to help to build trust in how noise is taken into account when airspace decisions are made. The policy principles set out in the airspace policy consultation will inform decisions taken later in the planning process for a north-west runway at Heathrow, including how local communities can have their say on airspace matters and how their impacts are taken into account.

The Planning Act 2008 places a requirement on the Transport Secretary to consult appropriately on a draft NPS and publicise it. There has been a significant number of events. My hon. Friend’s point about a consultation in Elmbridge was well made and has been noted. There have been 20 local and 12 national information events, which have provided an opportunity for residents and people who are affected to contribute their opinions. We have had 1.5 million leaflets delivered to households and businesses in the areas, and there has also been advertising on radio, digital and social media channels and print media.

Scrutiny is taking place outside the House, and scrutiny is taking place within the House, too. At the same time as the consultation period, a period of parliamentary scrutiny has commenced, which will end at the start of summer recess 2017. Members will be aware that the Select Committee on Transport has been nominated to provide formal scrutiny of the draft NPS. To assist Members of both Houses, there will be a draft NPS parliamentary information event on 3 May. Following consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, we expect to lay a final airports NPS before Parliament for debate and a vote in the House by winter 2017-18. If the House approves the airports NPS, the Transport Secretary will decide whether to designate it. If the NPS is designated, the airport promoter can then submit its application for a development consent order. That is the process we will go through.

I will address some of the points raised by my hon. Friend. I have got and will take back the message about Elmbridge. At least one event was arranged in each local authority area that either borders the airport or falls within an indicative 54dB noise contour as assessed by the Airports Commission. Those were the criteria used for selecting where events took place, but I have received his message and will take that further for him.

Noise is a big factor, and my hon. Friend raised that powerfully on a couple of occasions. We recognise that aircraft noise is a significant concern for communities close to airports or under flightpaths. That is why the draft NPS requires an applicant for development consent to demonstrate that measures will be in place to take effective action to address the noise impacts of the scheme. Such measures have to be finalised through the planning process, or the exercise of statutory powers, and are subject to public consultation. The draft NPS does not exclude such measures as a 6.5 hour ban on scheduled night flights, but the whole point about noise was well made and I will ensure that my hon. Friend receives detailed answers to his specific questions.

Night flights are when noise is at its most acute. The Government understand that point and recognise that they are perhaps the least acceptable form of aircraft noise. We have recently consulted on the restrictions for a new night flights regime, which will begin in October. Our proposals seek to ensure that the benefits of night flights are appropriately balanced with the impacts that they have on local communities. The phrase my hon. Friend used was “equitable dispersal”. I have noted that and will take that back and follow through on that.

One of the proposals we are making is to maintain the current movement limits at Heathrow and then reduce the amount of noise the airport will be allowed to make. We are currently analysing the consultation responses and will announce a decision later this year. Again, the draft NPS sets out the Government’s expectation for a 6.5 hour ban on scheduled night flights at an expanded Heathrow.

Access points have to be a consideration. That was raised by both my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry). It is clearly a major concern. As part of the proposals for Heathrow, we are looking at how to improve public transport access to the airport. The proposed Southern rail access scheme has the potential to greatly improve access to Heathrow airport from Surrey and Hampshire and from the South West Trains network. That could include, for example, direct trains to Heathrow from Weybridge or Woking. Although that scheme is still at an early stage of development, we are looking at options to maximise the benefits for both airport and non-airport users. It is clearly appropriate that access to Heathrow airport is a key part of all of the decision making because of the impact on quality of life from traffic and the impact on air quality.

It is fair to note that the Government are putting significant emphasis on improving the emissions from our vehicle fleet. Air quality is shooting up the political agenda, which is a very positive thing. In this Parliament we are committing £600 million to encourage the use of, for example, electric vehicles. That is a positive agenda, which is at its most acute where we see interventions that will increase traffic.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton again on securing the debate. It is the start of dialogue. The consultation to which I have referred closes on 25 May. There is a drop-in event on 3 May, which is taking place in the House of Commons terrace pavilion between 1.30 pm and 4 pm. The Transport Secretary is attending and will address the consultation at 1.30 pm. I am sure it will attract a lot of interest, but I hope to see my hon. Friend at that event.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.