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Regional Airports

Volume 478: debated on Tuesday 8 July 2008

Regional airports generate regional growth, jobs and investment, and we support their development provided that environmental considerations are addressed. Our White Paper, “The Future of Air Transport”, invited airports to publish master plans outlining how their future development proposals would help regional economies, and many have now done so.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. She will know the tremendous benefits to industry and commerce not only in Greater Manchester but throughout the north-west of England of having a large regional hub airport based at Manchester. Will she ensure that the vital economic role played by regional airports such as Manchester is properly considered in the current aviation policy consultation and in the current debate about the expansion of Heathrow?

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. In fact, I think that about 35,000 jobs are supported by Manchester airport alone, and businesses choose where to locate in Britain partly because of international connectivity. The economic impact of transfer passengers has been widely debated inside and outside the House, and when we consider the issues about Heathrow expansion, it is important to take into account the impact of such passengers within the UK. After all, one quarter of all transfer passengers at Heathrow come from regional airports. That is one factor that we must take into account, but obviously the decision will be based on local environmental considerations as well as on the overall economic impact.

I agree with the Secretary of State that regional airports make a very important contribution to the economic development of the regions in which they are located, but does she agree that it is also important that, like all other forms of economic activity, regional airports are subject to proper planning controls and constraints in the interests of the communities around them? In that connection, does she think it reasonable for the Government to plan for East Midlands airport to become a major air freight hub, with the implication that there will be an increased amount of night flying, without any controls on night flights in and out of the airport to reflect the balance of interests between night-flying operators and the communities around the airport?

The right hon. Gentleman will know about our proposals in the air transport White Paper. There are clearly issues in respect of East Midlands airport, but he would not expect me to touch on them in the House, partly because they are being contested. The fact is that regional airports are hugely important for regional and UK economic growth, and the provision of specific places for air freight is also important for the country’s economic growth. Clearly, they need to be properly planned, and clearly we need to take into account the local environmental impact, including the impact on noise and air quality.

Could the Secretary of State impress on her Treasury colleagues the concerns of regional airport operators, who feel that they are being asked to set up a cumbersome and expensive bureaucracy to collect the new aviation tax, instead of that being left to the airlines, which currently collect the aviation air passenger duty that the new tax is replacing?

I take that as confirmation that the Conservative party supports the Government’s proposals for an aviation tax that reflects the impact of aviation on the environment. The Treasury is consulting on the detail, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is thinking about the issues with a view to making decisions later this year.