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Heathrow (Terminal 5)

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Stephen Byers): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement concerning the proposal to build a fifth terminal at Heathrow airport, and to outline our intention to streamline the handling of major infrastructure projects in the planning system.

I am today publishing the inspector's report into Heathrow terminal 5, as well as my decision letter. Copies of both have been placed in the Library of the House. My decision and the reasons for it have been set out in the decision letter itself.

The inquiry into terminal 5 was the longest in British planning history. It opened in May 1995 and closed in March 1999. The inspector, Mr. Roy Vandermeer QC, reported to my Department on 20 December last year. I thank the inspector for his report, and I am grateful to him for the great diligence that he has shown.

The delay in reaching a decision since the report was received in December arises because, since the inspector reported, the applicants—BAA, which owns and operates Heathrow airport—warned in May that they wished to revise the twin rivers scheme, which was a part of the original application. It was August before they put forward any details. That then required consultation, which was completed by the middle of October.

After considering the inspector's report and taking into account all the relevant considerations, I have today given my approval to the development of terminal 5 at Heathrow airport. Such a development is in the national interest. It will enable Heathrow to remain a world-class airport, and it will bring benefits to the British economy. At the same time as giving my approval to the development, I have imposed conditions in order to protect the interests of those living in the vicinity of Heathrow airport.

In his report, the inspector stresses that the issue is essentially one of striking a balance. He identifies clearly the benefits of terminal 5, which are considerable. He sees Heathrow as essential for keeping the United Kingdom air transport industry strong and competitive. However, the inspector sees wider benefits, beyond the aviation industry. He points to benefits for London and for the UK as a whole. He says that Heathrow has done much to attract investment to the UK, and that London's success as a world city and financial centre could be threatened unless Heathrow stays competitive.

The inspector states that by ensuring Heathrow's continued success, terminal 5 would make a major contribution to the national economy. He also says that it would be good for passengers, providing a terminal equal to the best in the world and relieving the pressure on the other four terminals.

I also agree with the inspector that the real beneficiaries if terminal 5 is not given the go-ahead will be Charles de Gaulle in Paris, Schipol in Amsterdam and Frankfurt airports.

The inspector, though, rightly draws attention to the disadvantages of giving the go-ahead. Those, too, are important. There is noise, and the inspector addresses the

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issue at length. He considers matters such as extra road traffic, air quality, intrusion into the green belt and the effects of construction.

The inspector weighs all the benefits and costs very carefully. He says, and I use his words, that he has come to the clear conclusion that the benefits of terminal 5 would substantially outweigh the environmental impact, as long as its effects are properly controlled. I agree with him that terminal 5 should go ahead, but subject to conditions. I shall outline the key conditions to the House.

First, a limit on the number of flights each year has been set at 480,000. The limit has been imposed on a precautionary basis, and because of the inspector's concerns about noise. It was recommended by the inspector himself. Last year, Heathrow handled some 460,000 flights and just under 65 million passengers. Even with a limit of 480,000 flights, the inspector adopted a figure of 90 million passengers each year as the capacity of Heathrow if terminal 5 is built—an extra 25 million passengers at Heathrow each year.

Secondly, the noise effects of terminal 5 will also be limited by a condition restricting the area enclosed by the 57-decibel noise contour to 145 sq km as from 2016. Again, this follows the inspector's recommendation.

The inspector recommends stricter controls on night flights. I recognise that there is considerable concern about night noise, but I am not legally entitled to change the night noise regime without consultation. I shall consult on extending the night quota period when I next make proposals for the night noise regime for the BAA London airports. I have decided that the consultation will take place by 2003 at the latest.

The House should also be aware that we have already announced a change to the system of so-called westerly preference at Heathrow to reduce the number of night flights over built-up west London. That is in line with one of the inspector's recommendations. We have also announced a major research study to reassess attitudes to aircraft noise. That will permit a fresh look at the present LEQ noise index on which the inspector commented.

I have agreed with the inspector on the need to promote the use of public transport, so I have imposed conditions, as he recommended, requiring the extension to terminal 5 of both the Heathrow express and the Piccadilly line before the new terminal is opened.

I have also agreed with the inspector to cut the provision of car parking spaces for the airport as a whole below that in the original proposals. I am imposing a condition limiting total spaces to 42,000 rather than the 46,000 proposed by BAA. Of those, only 17,500, rather than the 21,700 originally proposed, will be available for employees.

The terminal proposals also included widening the M4 between junctions 3 and 4b, but I agree with the inspector that that widening is inappropriate. I have therefore refused approval for it.

As to the timing, I have imposed conditions requiring that work to implement any of the planning approvals should not start until a separate approval has been given to the essential scheme for diverting the twin rivers that flow across the terminal 5 site. That will ensure a proper opportunity for full examination of that scheme.

I should touch on three further points. The first relates to the tragic events of 11 September, and the effects of those terrorist attacks on air travel. In reaching my

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decision I noted that the inspector had based his conclusions on forecasts as far ahead as 2016, and terminal 5 is clearly expected to be in operation for much longer than that. Planning decisions such as this require a lengthy time horizon, and I believe that my decision is well justified on that basis.

Secondly, Members will know of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, delivered on 2 October this year, in the case of Hatton and others against the United Kingdom. The case concerned night noise at Heathrow, and the court held by a majority that there had been an infringement of the European convention on human rights. I am considering that judgment, which will not become final until at least three months after its delivery. Quite apart from my decision on terminal 5, I will of course wish to ensure that the night noise regime at Heathrow complies with the convention.

Thirdly, I am well aware of the time that was taken by the process of the public inquiry into terminal 5. In saying that I mean no criticism of the inspector, but whether such lengthy inquiries are appropriate must be an issue. I announced on 20 July that we were considering a package of measures to streamline the handling of major infrastructure projects in the planning system. That included a commitment to publish up-to-date statements of Government policy before major infrastructure projects were considered in the planning system to help reduce inquiry time spent on debating the policy, the introduction of new arrangements to give Parliament an opportunity to approve projects in principle, and improved public inquiry procedures. We shall publish further details for consultation in the next two months.

Together with the other steps that we shall propose to improve the operation of the planning and compulsory purchase systems, those measures will both safeguard the rights of people to have their say and reduce the time taken in future to reach decisions on major infrastructure projects.

My decision and the reasons for it are set out in full in the decision letter that I issued today. Nothing that I say here today should be seen as in any way a substitute for what is in that lengthy letter. I have decided that giving the go-ahead for a fifth terminal is essential if we are to maintain Heathrow as one of the world's leading airports and bring benefits to the British economy. I have no doubt that the national interest requires the project to proceed, as long as we establish measures to safeguard local people and their communities. I believe my decision achieves that, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): I thank the Secretary of State for giving me a copy of his statement in advance. As he will recall, the last statement arrived somewhat late. I am delighted that this one arrived in plenty of time, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy. Let me also associate the Opposition with what he said about the inspector, who must have spent a considerable part of his professional life preparing for and deliberating on the fifth terminal.

The statement has indeed been a long time coming. It has been eight years in the making, and the cost has been £84 million. Moreover—the Secretary of State explained why this was necessary—the report gathered dust on his

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desk for a year after its completion. It will, of course, be welcomed by the aviation industry as a vital boost in these difficult times, while being received by some residents with a degree of regret.

During the right hon. Gentleman's statement I had sight of the decision letter, which is indeed complex. It is right for conditions to be set: it would be entirely wrong to establish a fifth terminal without setting conditions relating to night flights, to the number of flights, or to noise. However, there is a deep tragedy about parts of the announcement. Instead of its being a triumph for the aviation industry and for addressing the environmental concerns of local people, T5, at least the planning side, will be remembered as the last hurrah of a cumbersome planning system.

Much has happened in the past eight years. Seven terminals have been built in Europe and eight runways have been planned and built while terminal 5 was deliberated on. Heathrow's position as the main gateway to Europe cannot be guaranteed, despite terminal 5, until beyond the end of the decade, but there is a danger— I would be grateful for the Secretary of State's views on this—that we might be reading the wrong message on terminal 5. The points made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) have some merit. We need to draw a balance between competitive decision making and the rights of local people. Communities have a right to a say on regional issues because they have to bear the consequences of those decisions.

It must be said that much of the time was taken up by pointless verbal repetition of written statements on terminal 5. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is important that we see a streamlining, but not a stifling, of debate? We need to ensure that key issues are addressed. Local voices do matter.

Does the Secretary of State agree that this is a vote of confidence in the future, but any contraction in the airline industry will make it more rather than less likely that Heathrow will be used, as airlines start to fall back on Heathrow rather than other airports, and that the terminal will bring nothing more than a catch-up on capacity?

With regard to the conditions, I have a number of points to raise. In his consultation, does the Secretary of State envisage looking towards a reduction of the 16 night flights? On noise, will he ensure that the studies on the effect of sleep deprivation, which I understand have been carried out only in Manchester, will take place in Heathrow and the wider area? Will he in particular ensure that the flight lines are vigorously monitored and that those who fail to follow them are prosecuted? Does the Secretary of State recognise that limiting the number of flights will further squeeze the number of slots available to regional airports? What are his views on that?

On the Secretary of State's conditions on public transport, does he understand that, until that public transport is readily available, the squeezing of car parking places will just make congestion worse? With regard to the Heathrow Express and the Piccadilly line, do his conditions ensure a degree of flexibility, particularly with regard to links in the west, to relieve pressure? I notice that paragraph 55 of his conditions seeks to limit the number of passengers on the Heathrow Express. How does that relate to the squeezing of the car parking spaces? Does he support Mayor Livingstone's suggestion that congestion charging may be introduced at Heathrow?

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The Minister of State, Lord Falconer, has promised a clear statement on national policies on infrastructure. Can the Secretary of State give some indication whether airports will be the subject of the first such statement?

The Secretary of State promises a paper on aviation in the spring. Will that paper give a clear indication whether the Government see the need for an additional runway in the south-east and whether it should be at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted or on the Thames estuary? Is that how he now envisages planning should take place?

We recognise that a lot of hard work has gone into the deliberations, and that this is just the beginning of a very long process before terminal 5 is concluded. We would be grateful for a response from the Secretary of State on those specific issues.

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