Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I shall be brief. I simply ask the Minister why, in the case of Luton, he has backed a different proposal from the two options on which consultation was taken? Why, instead of building a new runway, is he proposing to build more than a kilometre of additional runway at the end of the existing one, which points into my constituency? Why has he ignored the fact that the consultants ruled out such an option before the original consultation document? Why has he ignored the fact that the original consultation document stated that if a new runway was built at Stansted and at Heathrow, the proposed additional runway would be twice what was needed and, by implication, should not be built? Why, in the White Paper, have the Government doubled their forecast of the use of Luton if runways are built at Stansted and Heathrow? Why is the Minister proposing that Luton should be expanded to the size of Gatwick, although the surface area of the airport is only 40 per cent. of Gatwick‘s? Luton depends far more on people arriving by car as there is no direct rail access, and it gets a higher proportion of its revenues from parking charges.

    Finally, why do the Minister‘s proposals make no provision for new infrastructure to cope with 30 million passengers being disgorged on to the already overcrowded roads of Hertfordshire, with the inadequate rail infrastructure?

    2.28 pm

    Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree) (Lab): I am grateful to have this brief opportunity to argue against a further runway at Stansted.

    Most hon. Members will have driven through the Stansted area on the M11 and some will have gone to the airport, but many may not be aware of the nature of the countryside and the heritage that surrounds Stansted airport. It is generally recognised as an area of unspoilt countryside and historic villages; my constituency includes Finchingfield, which is often regarded as the most beautiful village, if not in England, certainly in

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    Essex. Nearby is Great Bardfield, the home in the 1950s of a renowned group of artists. This unique area of countryside would be greatly damaged if the expansion envisaged in the White Paper were to go ahead. Until 1998, the throughput of passengers was about 7 million, then came cheap flights and bargain-basement aviation, which has boosted the turn around at Stansted to almost 19 million. The growth is based on the giveaway flight policy.

    In Belgium, there was a recent ruling against cross-subsidy, which may knock cheap flights there on the head. There may be similar prohibitions here in a year or so to prevent cross-subsidy. If that comes about, the number of passengers using Stansted will not grow at anything like the rate that it has in the past few years. In respect of Stansted, the White Paper is based on the use of the motor car and road transport; indeed, it queries the existing rail capacity for Stansted and makes no detailed analysis of how it could be increased if the colossal increase envisaged takes place.

    The reliance on roads is contrary to so many other policies that the Government are bringing forward. The expansion of Stansted is based on that concept, and can only be further detrimental to that part of Essex and Hertfordshire. The White Paper chooses the most expensive option: building a runway a considerable distance from the existing runway and outside the existing boundaries. Consequently, there will be extensive acquisition of land, far beyond what would have been contemplated if other available options had been adopted.

    The White Paper states that

    “The area around Stansted has an attractive, varied landscape, with many villages and smaller settlements, including much valuable architectural heritage. We believe that these characteristics should be preserved as much as possible”.

    The White Paper goes on, along the lines of, “I hear what you say, but at the same time it is important to consider the potential growth of the airport”. Later, it states that the

    “new runway at Stansted would require a substantial land take and the loss of around 100 properties. The loss of two Scheduled Ancient Monuments and 29 Grade II listed buildings was a cause of particular concern in the consultation.”

    The report recognises that problems are there, but has very little to say about how they will be dealt with. It goes on to generalise blight, as other hon. Members have mentioned. It comes up with suggestions?frankly, quite inane suggestions?that people might be helped to relocate before the airport is built. It is very difficult to relocate when one‘s property is blighted. I am pretty certain that such help would not include financial help.

    I understand that those who represent areas adjacent to other major airports have been affected by noise for far longer than we have, but the White Paper anticipates that by 2015, 8,000 residents in north-west Essex and Hertfordshire will be affected and that by 2030, 14,000 will be affected. In my view, the entire judgment is flawed and adds to the overheating of the economy of the south-east. It contemplates a vast increase in Stansted‘s work force, although the unemployment levels are way below the national average. Extra employees could only come to Stansted using the road system. Although that is being improved, the numbers of employees and passengers that would be generated would be immense compared with what we have known hitherto.

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    The thinking behind the White Paper is misconceived. It would be far better if we took a more realistic view of the place of air transport in our economy and if we thought again about the over-subsidy of air transport that takes place in practice, the obsession with cheap flights and the failure to address the taxation question. If all those points were considered more thoroughly, the villages in my area and in the adjacent constituencies, the ancient monuments and the listed buildings could still be there for generations to come.