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John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): Will my hon. Friend accept that many people in my constituency—myself included—consider that allowing terminal 5 to go ahead is an error of judgment? They will bitterly regret that my right hon. Friend did not include the condition that there should be no third runway. Will my right hon. Friend make a commitment to meet me and local community representatives to consider a package of environmental and financial measures to protect my local community against the worst effects of terminal 5? My constituents have sacrificed their environment for the future of the aviation industry and the strengthening of the British economy. I think that they deserve to be protected and compensated.

Mr. Byers: I am fully aware of the strong views held by many people and, in representing his constituents, my hon. Friend has expressed his. As I said in my opening statement, we must strike a balance in this matter: the development of terminal 5 is in the national interest, but we must also safeguard the interests of the local community. When my hon. Friend is able to consider the decision letter in detail, I think that he might agree that the right balance has been struck. However, we are always willing to listen to Members of Parliament expressing and representing the views of their constituents. That will apply in this case, as it does in others.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): As you probably know, Mr. Speaker, the terminal 5 site is a few yards from my constituency boundary. Is the Secretary of State aware that I and a big majority of the people whom I represent welcome his decision announced this afternoon? As he said, it will help protect the future of Heathrow and the United Kingdom economy. Above all, it will help protect the interests of my constituents.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that we will never again subject a planning application of this sort to an eight-year delay and a four-year public inquiry. That was utter madness, and must never happen again. Now that the decision is behind us, will the Secretary of State try to ignore the howls of protest that are sure to follow from the self-appointed and self-opinionated few who seem hellbent on putting tens of thousands of my constituents out of work? Those people must not be allowed to succeed. Heathrow must flourish, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his decision.

Mr. Byers: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's words in response to my decision, and I am pleased that his constituents will also welcome it. I take the point that it is unacceptable for a decision on a major project such as this to be delayed for eight years. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, when he sees our proposals for change in respect of major infrastructure projects, will see that we are serious about changing the planning process.

There will be people who will, quite legitimately, disagree with the decision that we have taken today. I simply ask them to look at the decision letter and

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consider the balance that we have struck between the national interest and the interests of the local community. I hope that they will agree that the inspector and I have done a reasonable job in the circumstances. Even if they do not agree with the decision, I hope that they recognise that it has been made in an open and transparent way.

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall): I have been a long-standing supporter of T5 for many years, since I was elected in 1992. I know that the environmental lobby has expressed concerns, but I believe that the Government have taken those issues into consideration and addressed them.

My constituency is very close to the airport and thousands of my constituents work in its terminals. The decision will bring business and employment benefits to my constituency. Will the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions provide a good transport service for people who have reason to go to the airport? I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the problems that workers and businesses have regarding access to the airport, so I hope that he will deal with that when it is raised with him individually.

Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is right. He has been a strong supporter of terminal 5 and a powerful advocate for the interests of his constituents in terms of the benefits for business and employment. Many people in his constituency work at Heathrow, and I am sure that they will welcome the decision that we have taken today.

The issues to do with public transport which are relevant to the planning application are addressed in the decision letter. If there are other issues to do with public transport links and new demands placed on the system, they will be considered in the same way as we would normally consider new demands for public transport. We will certainly take my hon. Friend's point into account.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Although I agree that the decision should be seen as being made in the national interest, does the Secretary of State recognise the increased financial and environmental burdens that will be placed on my constituents and the council tax payers of the London borough of Hillingdon? Will he agree to a meeting with the local authority as soon as possible to discuss those implications?

Mr. Byers: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being so quick off the mark in representing Hillingdon's interests. I am not sure whether we can do anything for the local government settlement to be announced in a week or two. However, on a more serious note, the hon. Gentleman is right that any major development is bound to have implications for a local authority which are separate from the planning process. We will consider those implications as we would do concerning those for any local authority. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me, we will facilitate a meeting between the relevant Minister and representatives of Hillingdon to discuss the detail of any issues of concern.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): May I put it to the Secretary of State that the terminal 5 decision was a golden opportunity to phase out the 16 night flights at Heathrow? Did he consider making his decision conditional on the phasing out of those flights? I am not

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in the least reassured to hear that he will commission a lot more research on the subject. In my 18 months as Minister with responsibility for aviation, it seemed that we had research coming out of our ears. Most of it led nowhere, and I am sure that this new lot will lead nowhere too.

Mr. Byers: My hon Friend has raised two issues. With his inside knowledge of the way in which the Department works, he has given the House an insight into the operations of government.

I know that my hon. Friend has looked closely into night flights, and the inspector makes clear comments about them. As I said in my statement, I cannot change the night flight regime unilaterally. I have to consult, within the statutory provisions and consonant with aviation law. The consultation will begin, and we will complete it by the end of 2003. That is the decision that I have taken within the powers that I have. I hope that people will understand that it would have been unlawful for me to have taken a decision without consultation. When the consultation document is published, we will consider what we can do about night flights.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Does the Secretary of State realise that, although he has talked about striking a balance several times this afternoon, what he has actually done has weighted the scales very, very heavily against the environment and against the quality of life of the people of south-west London? Could he perhaps offer a crumb of comfort to those people who regularly have their air polluted and experience the deafening noise that comes from the skies all day long, and most of the night on some occasions, by saying that, if there is a third runway in the south-east of England, at least it will not be at Heathrow? Can he also say that the alternation of runways will continue? Will he give a categoric assurance that it will continue? That at least gives peace at some time during the day. Will he also give us an assurance that the ultimate attention will be paid to safety in the skies over a densely populated part of London?

Mr. Byers: I understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Lady on behalf of her constituents. When I considered the inspector's report, it was not an easy decision. It was not merely a question of signing up to the inspector's recommendations, but of giving detailed consideration to the balance between the needs of local people—safeguarding local communities—and the wider national interest. I felt that on balance the development of terminal 5 was in the national interest.

The third runway will be considered in the context of both the south-east of England study and the aviation White Paper, which we shall publish next year. I am aware of no proposals to change the alternation of runways that gives some respite to the hon. Lady's constituents. I understand why that is important.

I should like to think that the westerly preference decision that we have already introduced is bringing real benefits and is making an improvement to the quality of life of people living in the west of London. We shall certainly want to ensure that those benefits are retained.

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I appreciate that there will be strong feelings. This was one of those occasions when whatever decision the Secretary of State had taken—whether to give approval or disapproval—there would have been disagreements from one side or the other.

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