Southern EnglandSpeechesTransportation

Huw Merriman – 2023 Speech on Luton Flightpaths

The speech made by Huw Merriman, the Minister of State at the Department for Transport, in the House of Commons on 9 January 2023.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) on securing this debate on London Luton airport flightpaths. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) and for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) for their contributions.

I want to open by acknowledging the effects that aviation noise can have on the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities in the vicinity of airports and underneath flightpaths. It is important to take into consideration the impact of airspace changes. I understand the experiences my hon. Friend describes of his constituents following the implementation of airspace deployment 6, known as AD6. In 2017, the Government provided new air navigation guidance to the Civil Aviation Authority, which is now embedded within the authority’s CAP1616 airspace change process. AD6 is following that process.

The guidance requires sponsors of airspace change to undertake air pollution and noise impact assessments of their proposals, and to actively engage and consult with key stakeholders, including communities, on those proposals. The objective of AD6 is to segregate the arriving air traffic at Luton and Stansted airports. It has important safety and efficiency benefits, as my hon. Friend recognised.

AD6 was subject to public consultation between October 2020 and February 2021. In the light of the feedback received, the sponsors made some changes to the proposals. These included slightly shifting the location of the proposed new airborne holding stack, as well as increasing the minimum height in the stack by 1,000 feet. As my hon. Friend noted, AD6 is now the subject of a post-implementation review by the CAA, which seeks to determine whether the actual outcome of the airspace change is consistent with what was expected.

Mr Djanogly

The Minister mentions that after the initial consultation the height of the stack was increased. What we have been discussing is what happens after the airplanes come out of the stack. What no one realises and what was not in the consultation—a lot of clever people have been looking at the consultation, which is, frankly, unintelligible—is that the planes very quickly come out of the stack and descend. Why can the planes not stay at stack level until a much later time and then come down, thus not disturbing as many rural people?

Huw Merriman

I am about to refer to the airspace modernisation changes, which touch on the impact of lower and deeper climbs. If that does not address my hon. Friend’s point, I will happily meet him and take other points he may feel need to be made. There are wider airspace modernisation changes that also impact on this field, but I am happy to meet him if he does not feel reassured by what I say.

I am pleased to report to the House that the CAA’s review of AD6 allows two opportunities for any concerns to be raised by those who consider they are being affected by the airspace change we are discussing. The first is by contacting London Luton airport before it concludes its impact data collection. Secondly, those impacted can focus on the requirement of the sponsor to publish on the CAA’s airspace change portal its detailed assessment of how any impacts compare with what was set out in the airspace change proposal and accompanying options appraisal on which stakeholders were consulted. Once that assessment has been published, there will be a 28-day window during which anyone may provide feedback about whether the impacts of airspace change have been as they anticipated.

That feedback can be submitted directly to the Civil Aviation Authority via its airspace change portal, which gives local residents the direct channel for complaints post implementation that my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire asked for in his third point. When completing the review, the CAA will take account both of the sponsor’s assessment and of the feedback that the CAA has received on it. The CAA’s own assessment will include an analysis of the actual flight track data to determine whether aircraft are flying the AD6 airspace design as expected.

I also note my hon. Friend’s fourth and final point: namely, his desire for the data to be available to communities. I agree that that would be helpful. As part of their post-implementation review submission to the Civil Aviation Authority, the sponsors must—I underline “must”—provide air traffic dispersion graphics, including both lateral and vertical actual flight track information. Before the completion of the review, residents will therefore get a chance to see the air traffic dispersion picture.

The Civil Aviation Authority will use all relevant evidence to determine whether AD6 has met its objectives and can be considered approved, or whether it must be amended or withdrawn; I hear the points that hon. Friends have made in that regard. I remind the House that the Government are not involved in the review process, which is entirely a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority.

Richard Fuller

I concur with the Minister’s point about the independence of the review. In my earlier intervention I raised a deeper point about airport expansion and the effect that it can have on surrounding communities. Such expansion makes no provision for financial consideration or remuneration for the communities affected. That is a particular issue in the context of Luton airport, because the property owner is Luton Borough Council, which directly financially benefits from expansion and is also the planning authority for the expansion. Will the Minister—as the last aviation Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), suggested when he was taking legislation through the House—look at whether the law can be changed so that communities such as those in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Bedfordshire, which are affected by airport expansion, can somehow be compensated when airport expansion changes are made?

Huw Merriman

I thank my hon. Friend for that point; he has made interesting points as the debate has evolved. I have some knowledge of the issue, in the sense that my constituency is relatively near Gatwick, although not in its flightpaths. It is fair to say that Gatwick provides a lot of economic regeneration for my constituency, but I also know that those who are closer to the airport are affected by airspace noise. It is also fair to say that Manchester Airports Group, which is involved in local authority remuneration, is in a similar situation to Luton airport with respect to what my hon. Friend has described. Yes, of course we can look at sharing the costs, but I also ask that we consider the wider economic benefits for those outside the airport perimeter. However, I obviously recognise that as noise encroaches, it becomes a pollution to them; I will touch on that point further. I recognise the point that my hon. Friend makes and am willing to look again at his ask.

I want to focus, albeit not in order, on the four points that my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire made. His second point was a request to ensure that the post-implementation review period is extended to September 2023. I can give him that assurance. Following the request made to the CAA, it intends to extend the data collection period until September 2023. I ask him to accept that response, and I thank him very much for his suggestion. I hope that extending the consultation period will allow more transparency.

My hon. Friend’s first point—as I say, I am going in no particular order—raised the question of background or ambient noise. In 2018 the Department for Transport commissioned the CAA’s environmental research and consultancy department to examine the impact of aircraft noise in areas with different background or ambient noise. The study, which was published in 2019, found no significant association between annoyance and background or ambient noise when other factors were taken into account. That does not mean that the concerns that have been raised tonight should be dismissed. My hon. Friend has informed the House of some upsetting cases of constituents being affected by aviation noise. It can have a demonstrable impact on a person’s health and wellbeing, but that varies from individual to individual and is not attributed only to the noise itself.

However, my hon. Friend also recognised some of the benefits that aviation brings, and I hope he will not mind my joining him in recognising them as well. London Luton Airport makes a positive contribution to the local and national economy. It indirectly employs more than 9,400 staff, and is a key economic driver for the region. I welcome its continued recovery following the impacts of the covid-19 pandemic. We therefore need to strike a fair balance between the negative impacts of aviation on the local environment and communities and the positive economic benefits that flights bring. That is the challenge for aviation noise policy. The Government are committed to reducing the negative impacts of aviation where possible, and that includes noise. We will be considering what changes may be needed to aviation noise policy in due course, and we will set out our next steps later this year. I look forward to working with all my hon. Friends in that regard.

Mr Djanogly

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Huw Merriman

If I may, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will indeed give way.

Mr Djanogly

I thank my hon. Friend, who is being very generous.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

Order. I should point out that the debate must end promptly at 10.38 pm.

Mr Djanogly

If the noise policy changes are made, as my hon. Friend says they will be, will they be retrospective?

Huw Merriman

I do not wish to make policy on the hoof from the Dispatch Box, but I am willing to meet all three of my hon. Friends to discuss the point from which this should apply. Perhaps we can have that discussion, and I will accept any feedback that they wish to give me.

In the time that I have left—less than one minute—let me reiterate that the Government are committed to reducing the negative impacts of aviation where possible. We also recognise that we live in a fully interconnected, global world, and that the aviation sector is of material value to the UK economy. Airspace modernisation will help the delivery of quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire not only for securing the debate, but—along with my hon. Friends the Members for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) and for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly)—moving this matter further forward. Let me also put on the record how well they represent their constituents on this issue.