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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I was rather hoping that the noble Lord would not attempt to reply. I am rather sorry that he has tried to do so.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we shall have other opportunities to debate these matters. I am

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sure that they will be valuable opportunities. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, in his opening remarks mentioned what he described as the tendency of the Labour Party to claim that the previous government's economic policies were disastrous and that the present policies represent an economic miracle. I have felt that temptation myself. In the past few months I have observed among those on the Opposition Front Bench a temptation to react to any question, however specific, with a generalised claim that the economic policies of the previous government were miraculous and that the economic policies of this Government are bidding fair to be disastrous. So I think that the boot is on both feet, if I may so put it.

Bandying claims about the differences between economic policies of past and present governments will not get us far when considering what we should do next, which I consider to be the most important issue. The noble Lord, Lord Clark, for example, boasts about the inheritance of this Government compared with the Conservative Government of 1979. He should consider the employment statistics as well as some of the other figures before he is quite confident of the change that he describes.

Though I seek to make as small a party point as possible, it is true that over the past period--I do not even describe it as 18 years--the economy has lacked the capacity to grow adequately without setting off inflation. It is true that the gross domestic product per person is still lower than that of any other major industrial country. It is still true that unemployment is above 2 million; and one in five households have no work. It is true that we have inadequate investment in education, infrastructure and new technology. We have a history of large budget deficits, resulting in a burden of public debt which is to be paid off by current and future generations. I do not claim that the Budget overcomes those inherited difficulties. But I claim that it is making a start and moving in the right direction. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time; Committee negatived. Then, Standing Order No. 44 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution of 30th July), Bill read a third time, and passed.

Aerodromes

3.27 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with the range of provisions and facilities at aerodromes.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am delighted to be able to speak on this Unstarred Question and raise certain problems that are occurring within the range of provisions and facilities at UK aerodromes, and I hope that the Government will wish to address those concerns in a positive way. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for being present to answer my questions. I am also grateful to noble Lords who are taking part.

I declare an interest insomuch that I am a member of the Popular Flying Association (PFA) and like many thousands of other members of the PFA I am a pilot

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who flies his own home-built aircraft. My plane is a two-seat Glasair aircraft and, everything working, I shall be flying to Pakistan in late September via Corsica, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Kuwait, Dubai and the Oman. I am also an elected member of the PFA Executive Committee as well as a member of a number of other flying clubs and squadrons.

A number of aerodromes and facilities at aerodromes are being lost to general aviation. Existing aerodromes are being closed or put under pressure to reduce their operations. For example, Hatfield was closed after Welwyn Hatfield District Council used lack of positive government advice as an excuse for failing to support the proposals for Hatfield aerodrome. Another example is that of West Malling aerodrome which was closed and turned into a business park. The local residents of this area would probably prefer the odd plane coming and going to a large grassy aerodrome than the tarmac and concrete business park they now have, with all the associated noisy traffic. West Malling's air traffic has been accommodated at other aerodromes such as Biggin Hill, which has become overcrowded with air traffic. There is often a 25-minute wait for take-off clearance.

The most recent concern is Little Gransden's battle with the South Cambridgeshire District Council, whose Airfields: Supplementary Planning Guidance, published in April 1997, will severely limit the airfield. I shall refer to this as the South Cambs. policy. The policy will have far-reaching consequences for general aviation (GA) where it is implemented. Indeed, the South Cambs. policy has succeeded where Hitler failed. It has grounded all the Spitfires in the Cambridge area except for those at two airfields. Are the Government happy with the South Cambs. policy, which will limit selected aerodromes to certain categories of aircraft and limit aerodromes to shortened flying times? Most importantly, are the Government happy with the South Cambs. policy authorising flightpaths and routes to and from aerodromes? Will the Minister agree that any aircraft, once it has left contact with the ground at an aerodrome, must comply with the Air Navigation Order (Civil Aviation Act 1982) and that the CAA administers that legislation?

Local government is making planning policies that are closing down or restricting aerodromes. These restrictions are dangerous and are in conflict with the remit of the CAA. The South Cambs. policy was produced by the council without proper consultation with the CAA, which not only wished to be consulted but also has a statutory right to be consulted. The guidance was seemingly produced without expertise and has direct safety implications. It also propounds unilateral changes to the Rules of the Air. The end result of the South Cambs. policy could produce a very hazardous situation. Are the Government concerned about that?

Also worrying is how the South Cambridgeshire District Council produced this policy. The council received 1,077 representations, of which five offered no comment; 13 supported the council; and 1,059 opposed the council. The PFA, with its 9,100 members, would have been just one of those 1,059 objectors. Surprisingly, Cambridgeshire County Council offered

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no comment; and Luton airport was supportive. Luton airport, which receives mainly commercial air transport (CAT) traffic and discourages general aviation from using its own area, is now seeking to discourage general aviation outside its own county. It is interesting to note that in 1990, 43 per cent. of all pilots entering CAT did so via GA's flying clubs and private flying movements.

Planning Policy Guidance 13 does not seem to be strong enough. The previous Government declared their support for GA and the importance it placed on flying training. PPG 13 states:


    "small airports can serve local business needs, especially in outlying areas, as well as recreational flying. In formulating their plan policies and proposals, authorities should take account of the contribution of this General Aviation (GA) to local and regional economies and the benefits of having suitable facilities within a reasonable distance of each sizeable centre of population. As demand for commercial air transport grows, GA may find access to larger airports inconveniently restricted. GA operators will therefore have to look to smaller airfields to provide facilities".

Further to that, Dr. Mawhinney, a member of the previous government, said that,


    "The Government consider that strategic and local planning guidance will need to recognise the role that smaller airfields and landing strips play and the difficulty of reopening or providing substitute facilities for airfields that have been closed".

Will the Minister confirm that the Government not only agree with PPG 13 and Dr. Mawhinney's statement but would also act positively where this policy is insufficient? The planning policy guidance has not been strong enough to save Ipswich airport, which has been closed in order to facilitate the building of more houses by the local district council. I am sure that the wide open space of this old aerodrome and its wildlife will be much missed by future urban dwellers.

Today, the planning system in the UK is a "plan-led" system (Section 54A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990). This means that increased emphasis has been placed upon development plan policy by local government officers, elected members and the Planning Inspectorate. It is therefore essential to have clear policy guidance regarding GA issues from central government. A lack of policy inevitably leads to confusion. With no national policy on aerodromes in the UK, it is not surprising that we are losing aerodromes. Do the Government believe that a national planning policy on aerodromes is important, and do they agree that it is disconcerting that the UK is losing aerodromes?

The noise and subsequent awareness of aircraft in the sky creates public hostility. New planes can be produced to be quieter and more efficient. Some older planes can be engineered to be quieter and more efficient, although this can be difficult and expensive. Both these aims can be achieved with motivation and resources. In the interests of aviation and good relations with the general public, we should strive to achieve these goals as soon as possible.

Considerably lower noise levels and better efficiency of planes can be achieved by fitting engine silencers, electric magnetos and multi-bladed propellers. To achieve these goals, modifications and new components would need to be cleared for safety by the existing regulators. Many engineering developments and

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modifications have been tested and approved abroad by well respected aviation bodies but require extensive and expensive duplication of tests before they are allowed in this country.

A number of district councils, such as Huntingdonshire and Suffolk Coastal District Council, seem to be interested in implementing the South Cambs. policy. If this were done, the rules of the air would change depending on the county a plane was flying in and the CAA would lose some of its regulatory powers to district planning officers. Would the Government be happy to accept that situation? Perhaps now is the time for a government national policy on aerodromes, a strengthening of PPG 13, in return for a professional body to come forward with proposals for an improved behavioural code for flyers dealing with such difficult subjects as reducing noise on individual planes and improving flying movements--in other words, a complete code of behaviour for pilots. What are the Government's thoughts on this matter?


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