1st July 2005

MPs demand airports watchdog

Parliamentary pressure on expansion rises

Stansted Airport should be monitored by an independent watchdog according to local MP Mark Prisk who has slammed the current monitoring system under which airport operator BAA acts as both ‘policeman and judge’.

In a debate this week on the Civil Aviation Bill (27 June), the Hertford and Stortford MP warned the Government against removing the current limits on the number of night flights which were an important safeguard for his constituents.

Mark Prisk called on the Government to appoint an independent watchdog to monitor airport operations, saying that the current procedure whereby BAA is responsible for dealing with public complaints about aircraft noise and track-keeping lacks transparency and objectivity.

“The airport operator both monitors the problem and decides whether to charge and what to fine.  It is not so much poacher as both policeman and judge,” he told the House of Commons.  “That is why the Bill should establish an independent watchdog to monitor, manage and enforce aircraft noise and emissions limits a watchdog independent of commercial interests and therefore likely to attract the full confidence of the public.”

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has commended Mark Prisk MP for speaking out on behalf of the many thousands of local people who have to endure sleep disturbance and deprivation as a result of aircraft landing and taking off from Stansted during the night.

The call for an independent watchdog was echoed by many MPs during the course of the debate but it seems unlikely that the Government will agree not least because the airline industry and airport operators are happy with the current arrangements.  This, together with his comments on night flights limits will be considered as possible amendments to the Bill by the House of Commons Standing Committee which is examining the content over the coming week.

Commenting on Mark Prisk’s proposal, SSE Chairman Peter Sanders said: “Relying upon BAA to provide objective data on noise and emissions for Stansted is like putting the fox in charge of the chickens.  An independent watchdog is long overdue.”

Peter Sanders also strongly endorsed Mr Prisk’s comments about the risk of the Government relaxing controls on the number of night flights. “This is a very serious issue for local people and it is a constant battle.  The industry is constantly lobbying Government to relax controls on the number of night flights and it is vital that the Government also hears from ordinary people who are directly affected by night time noise from airports.”

Two more local MPs, Sir Alan Haselhurst and Oliver Heald MP, have also stepped up the political pressure in recent weeks.  Sir Alan, who chaired part of the debate on the Civil Aviation Bill, has been active in ensuring his party’s Shadow Transport Secretary Alan Duncan MP and Shadow Aviation Minister Julian Brazier were fully aware of the aspects of the Bill which could have an adverse impact upon local people.

Oliver Heald MP, meanwhile, was one of the principal speakers during an important Parliamentary debate on Aviation in the South East (22 June) which preceded the second reading of the Civil Aviation Bill.  His North-East Herts constituency not only suffers from noise from Stansted aircraft traffic but also lies beneath Luton Airport flightpaths.

Mr Heald challenged the Government to justify the whole idea that the focus for cheap holiday flights from Britain should be on the south-east of England.  “Some 65 per cent of air traffic goes from the south-east at present and the assumption for the future seems to be that we should try to suck holiday travel passengers down from the Midlands and the North by road to fly from airports such as Stansted,” he told a packed Westminster Hall. Describing this as a ridiculous situation, he continued:  “The time has come to question seriously whether BAA should be able to demand that the south-east bears the burden of all the extra air traffic and to consider whether BAA should retain its monopoly.”


Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits