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Westminster debate on night flights

27th May, 2011

A ‘Westminster debate’ on night flights at Heathrow was held on 24th May.

Westminster debates are short debates, usually half an hour, held in Westminster Palace, ie outside the chambers of the Common or Lords. The debates are usually attended by only a few MPs, but they are recorded in Hansard and are usually attended by the minister concerned. Thus they form an important part of parliamentary business.

The debate on 24th was instigated by Mary Macleod, Conservative MP for Brentford and Isleworth. She introduced the debate, making a strong plea for the people of her constituency who are perhaps the most affected of all by night flights. She called for night flights to be phased out, particularly ones in the ‘core’ period between midnight and 6am.

Also attending and speaking briefly was Adam Afriyie, Conservative MP for Windsor. Both he and Mary Mcleod alluded to economic benefits from night flights, but pointed out that sleep disturbance and health impacts from noise also had economic impacts – costs.

Theresa Villiers, Minister of State, responded at some length. Much of the response was factual, about the forthcoming night flights consultation, Runway 3 and related matters, but the feeling of attendees was that she is genuinely concerned about the “unquestionable effects” of night noise.

Ms Villiers outlined the Government’s approach and the need to “balance” the economic benefits against the impacts. However, in a welcome move, she said that her officials would look at the CE Delft report which sought to evaluate the full economic impact of night flights at Heathrow and included an economic valuation of noise.

She made play, as ministers always do, about planes having got quieter over the years. This may be true for the noise energy from individual planes, but there was, as always, no reference to the fact that perceived noise has, if anything, increased over the years.

Mary McLeod had said “aircraft are becoming quieter, which is welcome and should be encouraged, but should be used to benefit our residents, not as a way of arguing for maintaining or increasing the number of night flights.” The minister did not respond to this point.

Ms Villiers said that a detailed consultation on night flights would be issued next spring. It would also cover Gatwick and Stansted. The present regime is due to expire in Oct 2012 and it might be necessary to extend the present regime a bit longer to give time for the new regime to be implemented. Attendees felt that this was positive, suggesting that the government is prepared to take its time to consider the issue seriously.

The Parliament web site has a transcript of the debate.