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Local Authority Airports

Volume 114: debated on Monday 6 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport what is the total of capital allocations to local authority airports since 1979.

Since 1979 we have authorised local authorities to spend in excess of £220 million airport development. This compares with £16 million spent on capital investment at local authority airports during the period of the last Labour Government.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he contrast the figure that he has quoted with the increase in the traffic at, for example, Bristol airport?

The figure for Bristol since 1979 is 79 per cent. I am sure that that is a very much higher rate of increase than the increase under the previous Administration.

Does the Minister agree that expenditure on capital developments at regional airports would greatly assist the development of the depressed areas of our country?

Will my hon. Friend say how much of this investment has taken place at Manchester airport?

Between 1981 and 1986 the figure for Manchester airport was £80 million, which is an enormous figure.

I thank my hon. Friend for his confirmation that the creation of a plc for Hurn airport in my constituency will in no way change the planning aspects thereof. Will he please confirm that it is the Government's view that once these plcs have been set up the companies should no longer have the automatic right to get their sticky fingers on taxpayers' and ratepayers' money, as many of them have done in the past? Will he also confirm that county councillors who are directors of these companies will be required not to vote in county councils when these companies come along asking for money?

My hon. Friend's second point is about county councillors. Under the terms of the new Act any councillor or county councillor who is a member of the board of the company will not be allowed to vote on council airport matters. My hon. Friend asked about subsidies. It is our clear intention and desire that these airports should be privatised, but as long as they remain in local authority hands it will be for the local authorities to decide what subsidies to provide for their airports. The accounts will now clearly show the ratepayers what they are contributing towards their airports.

Arising from the supplementary question by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) and the Minister's comprehensive reply, does the Minister agree that the economy of the west midlands might well be boosted in the context of capital allocations from central Government by the granting of gateway status to what is, after all, on his Department's own figures the fastest growing provincial airport in Britain?

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to ask about figures, and I was about to give him the figure of £63 million as the amount spent on Birmingham. That is also a case where we have spent massive sums—about four times as much as the Labour Government spent in total. The hon. Gentleman asked about gateway status. I imagine that he is talking about American carriers. If they wish to come forward to apply to enter Birmingham, of course we will listen to their requests very seriously.

Will my hon. Friend pay attention to those successful and profitable local authority airports, like Southend, that do not want any money at all? We have been trying to persuade the Government to persuade the German authorities to allow us to run one bus to connect Ostend with Frankfurt. We have been trying for two years and have not been able to persuade the Germans to agree to what we were told was agreed by the Common Market 15 years ago.

My hon. Friend is quite right when he says that Southend airport does not cost his ratepayers any money. It balances the books very largely because private companies come in and help with the management of that airport. My hon. Friend asks about the bus that the Germans will not allow. With the great encouragement of my hon. Friend, we have made many representations to the German Government and no doubt they will have heard what he has said in Parliament today.