I tabled an amendment to the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill. This new clause would place statutory duties on the CAA to reduce, minimise or mitigate significant adverse noise impacts of aviation.
I wish to speak to new clauses 1 and 2 and amendment 1, standing in my name. I will seek to be as brief as possible, Mr Deputy Speaker; with your permission, I will aim to speak for no more than 10 minutes. Over the years, I have tried to use every legislative or policy debate opportunity to place the issues of noise and emissions at the heart of every discussion in this House on the future of aviation policy. These amendments seek once again to do just that.
I think I am the only Member of the Commons who can claim to have attended every major planning public inquiry and court case relating to the expansion of Heathrow airport over the last nearly 50 years. Over the years, I have attended as an interested local resident, then as the local Greater London Council councillor, then as the Member of Parliament for the Heathrow area. In addition to the deeply felt worries of local residents about the demolition of their homes and villages, two issues have been the consistent basis of challenge in these inquiries and legal contests. They are the impact of noise, and the impact of emissions on the community in the immediate area, as well as across large areas of London and now more widely.
At the terminal 4 inquiry, there was general support for limited expansion of the airport, as long as there were conditions attached to any permission to expand in relation to noise. By the time of the terminal 5 inquiry, a great deal of that support had turned to opposition, as the noise agreements had proved so ineffective in guaranteeing people’s quiet enjoyment of their homes, gardens and open spaces. By that time, much more evidence had emerged about the effect of noise on health, and about air pollution as the cause of severe respiratory conditions, vascular problems and cancers. It was because of the environmental impact that the planning inspector recommended that there be no further expansion at Heathrow after terminal 5. Heathrow Airport wrote to me and my constituents saying that if it was granted terminal 5, it would not need or seek a third runway. Of course that was a lie, and within six months it was publicly lobbying for a third runway.
Subsequently, we have also grown aware of the role that emissions play in climate change. I find it hard to comprehend why, despite our facing the existential threat of a climate emergency; despite knowing that 40,000 people a year die from air pollution; and despite all that we now know about the health implications of noise and sleep impairment, consideration is still being given in Government to airport expansion. We need to ensure that all the aviation legislation we consider addresses the critical issues of noise and emissions, which is what these new clauses and amendments seek to do.
I am grateful to the Minister for writing to me explaining the Government’s attitude to my amendments. On a positive note, I see from this correspondence that although the Minister does not support my new clauses or amendments, he does not disagree with the intention behind them. I welcome his commitment to ensuring that the issues raised by them are addressed in any future review of air navigation guidance and noise policy.
Let me briefly run through the new clauses and amendments, and some questions in response to the Minister’s position. New clause 1 would place a statutory duty on the Civil Aviation Authority to reduce, minimise or mitigate significant adverse noise impacts of aviation. The Minister has argued in correspondence that applying a new general duty to all the CAA’s functions is not desirable because safety must remain the primary duty in the context of section 70(1) of the Transport Act 2000. The intention of the new clause is not to reduce safety as a priority, but rather to raise noise and emissions reductions up the priority order. It should be the duty of all public bodies to ensure that we are safe from noise, air pollution and climate change.
The Minister states that the CAA must take account of any guidance on environmental objectives given to it by the Secretary of State, and that is true. However, the effect of the legislation is to subordinate all the environmental matters to section 70(2)(a) and the duty
“to secure the most efficient use of airspace consistent with the safe operation of aircraft and the expeditious flow of air traffic”.
Noise and emissions are always reduced to being second-class citizens in this ranking order.
The Secretary of State has powers under section 78 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 to limit numbers and types of craft active during the night period at Heathrow and the other airports designated under the Act, so one question that needs to be addressed now is whether this section should be amended to include limits on numbers and types of aircraft during the day as well.
The Minister referred in correspondence with me to the consultation on noise caps in the aviation strategy Green Paper, and said that noise reduction would be looked at again as we come through the pandemic. I welcome that, but the Green Paper applied to all airports other than Heathrow, and so does not provide communities under Heathrow flight paths with any certainty for the future. I would welcome it if the Minister considered amending the aviation national policy statement to ensure that a noise cap was considered in relation to Heathrow and potential expansion there.
The Minister has stated that noise restrictions should be placed on airports, and not, as in new clause 1, on the airspace around the airport. He argues that the latter would—I quote—“create a significant burden on the airspace change process and add great complexity to the day-to-day management of airspace.” That response unfortunately highlights my concern that enhancing capacity is prioritised over reducing the harm to overflown communities and the environment. In my view, airspace and airport capacity should be increased only subject to strict noise and emission reduction conditions. That is a role that the CAA should have a hand in playing. Giving permission to expand capacity on the basis of asserted benefits that cannot be translated into conditions, and whose delivery the regulator cannot monitor and enforce, is not consistent with the Government’s stated policy on noise or climate change.
New clause 2 would amend the CAA’s duties, as set out in the Transport Act 2000, to require it to achieve net zero emissions and reduce noise impacts. The Minister has asserted that the Government cannot support this amendment because the word “ensure” would make it difficult for the Civil Aviation Authority to accept any proposal that did not reduce emissions and aircraft noise, regardless of the overall benefits of the proposal. However, section 70(2) of the 2000 Act is intended to list all the factors that the Civil Aviation Authority must consider. None is supposed to have a greater weight than the others, and a variety of language is used for the different objectives—everything from “secure” to “satisfy” and “take account of”. Some hierarchy of responsibility seems to be emerging in the discussions about the role of the Civil Aviation Authority and what should be taken into account. I do not see why “ensure” would be any more problematic than, for example, “secure”. We need clarity about the role that the CAA can play in ensuring that we can move towards net zero emissions, because it plays an important role in tackling climate change by developing an environmental aviation strategy.
Amendment 1 would place a transparency duty on the Civil Aviation Authority to publish emissions, noise and health impact information. The Minister has said that assessments covering noise, health, local air quality and greenhouse gas impacts must be submitted by proposers along with any formal airspace change proposal, and he argues that they are subsequently published on the CAA website. My amendment would simply require this information to be published more clearly, alongside the proposed changes. That would help deepen community understanding of the proposals and the alternative options.
Last week, the Government announced kickstart funding for the airspace modernisation strategy. The Minister must ensure that local communities have a genuine voice in this process. It is vital that the redesign of airspace delivers mutually balanced outcomes for the industry and local communities alike. The Government should commit to publishing assessments of the noise and health impacts of concentrated flightpaths before any final strategy is signed off.
I thank the Minister for the courteous way in which he has responded to my amendments to the Bill in correspondence. He offered a meeting, which unfortunately, due to last-minute business in the House to which I was committed, did not take place. However, the issues we are addressing today go well beyond this legislation, so I hope he will agree to meet me and a few colleagues to take the discussion further, as this is so important to communities living close to airports—and, given the concerns we all have about climate change, all our constituents.