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Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and I thank all the participants in the debate, which was very good. The Minister spent a lot of time talking about a ban on night flights. Although many people would like it, my amendment was in no way suggesting a ban on night flights. I was suggesting that enough is enough; we do not want any more. No one living near an airport wants more night flights. I have met lots of people and lots of representations have been made to me. They are concerned about the numbers of flights, not always the noise factor. Obviously they are also concerned about the noise factor, but they do not want the number of night flights increased in any way. I think that I have had the most representations on that issue of any since I have held the transport portfolio. There is tremendously strong feeling about it, as has been indicated by the debate.
People will still worry, no matter when the Government bring those extra powers into force and even if they give a cast-iron guarantee that the Prime Minister will jump from the top of Westminster if they do so. I still think that people do not want the Government to have these new powers at the moment. They would rather the situation remained as it is. Let us see what happens with noise and night flights in the next few years. From my point of view, we should remove the Government's ability to have this new part of the legislation, and leave the thing as it is. I would now like to test the opinion of the House.
Page 4, line 15, leave out from "shall" to second "to" in line 16 and insert "seek the advice and consent of the Airport Consultative Committee before making payments equal to the amount of those penalties for purposes which appear to the Airport Consultative Committee"
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 10, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 13. Managing the impact of airport operations, in particular the question of aircraft noise, has been at the heart of much of the debate during the passage of this Bill so far, and today has been no exception. I recognise that reconciling the needs of national and local interests is complicated, as the Minister has pointed out. However, effective management of the impact of aviation on local communities is essential to maintaining the quality of life and confidence of those living in close proximity to airports. A fundamental part of managing successfully this complex interaction is ensuring the inclusion within the process of those communities most affected.
The Bill has been criticised for its propensity to allow airport operators too much power and local people too little. In particular I remain astonished by the licence it gives airport managers to establish and operate noise and mitigation schemes. At all UK airports except Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, the airport operator is responsible for deciding what the appropriate noise levels are and then monitoring and reporting on them, in effect enabling the airport operator to act as policeman, jury and judge. Even in the case of the designated airports, despite the overarching responsibility of the Department for Transport for ensuring compliance, the actual monitoring is conducted in-house by agents of the airport operator. Consequently there is considerable mistrust among local communities in relation to the fairness, objectivity and transparency of these in-house arrangements for reporting on aircraft noise and emissions, and for the recording and handling of complaints from members of the public regarding aircraft noise and other environmental impacts.
It is no wonder that people feel frustrated and angry. In effect they are rendered powerless. The Minister referred in Committee to the existence of airport consultative committees. However, the reality is that beyond providing the facilities for consultation, the airport operator is under no legal obligation to act on or do anything about what is consulted on. The Minister has assured us that all is not as permissive as it might seem. In Grand Committee he highlighted the vast swathes of international and European law that determine the noise levels considered acceptable. The House already knows our thoughts on whether these noise levels are actually acceptable, but that is another debate. Most important, the Minister confirmed that:
"Where there are problems, efforts should certainly be made to resolve them at the local level if at all possible. This is the best level at which both to monitor and to call attention to the issues that arise. Local monitoring is best".[Official Report, 5/12/05; col. GC76.]
This amendment is in complete accord with the Government's thinking. It seeks to strengthen the role of local communities and address their frustration and powerlessness by granting local authorities a role in monitoring and auditing the noise impact of both designated and non-designated airports. In the interests of public perception and trust, it is important that these types of initiatives are enforced with robust checks and balances to identify issues arising and to deal with them accordingly.
The proposals on noise management set out in the Bill, and the existing noise regime applicable to designated airports, identify airports as the authority best placed to manage policing and monitoring functions day-in and day-out. It is crucial that, in addition to national regulations, the potential role of the local community, which is best placed to react to local noise impact, is not overlooked. Existing arrangements at designated airports include local mechanisms such as a consultative committee and informal arrangements for periodic review, as at Stansted airport, by the local authority of the airport's flight evaluation unit. It is important for effectiveness and public trust that the interface between the airport and the local community is at a more satisfactory level. I beg to move.
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