The Department for Transport’s latest estimates of airport capacity are included in “UK Aviation Forecasts 2011”. These assume that no new runways are built in the UK but, where there is no explicit planning prohibition, airports develop as necessary to utilise their current potential runway capacity. Details of the capacity assumptions used are in table 2.6 of the published report, which is available on the Department’s website.
In November the Chancellor published his national infrastructure plan, committing the Government to exploring
“all the options for maintaining the UK’s aviation hub status, with the exception of a third runway at Heathrow.”
Just a month later, the Minister of State, who has responsibility for aviation, said that the Government would refuse permission for additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted, and in January the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), described suggestions of a new airport in the London area as “irresponsible environmentally” and made clear his opposition. Was the Chancellor wrong to say that all the options other than the third runway will be considered? Which alternative solutions are Ministers genuinely willing to consider?
To be clear, the commitment in the coalition agreement still stands, but we recognise that maintaining a competitive international hub airport is incredibly important, which is why we have agreed to publish a call for evidence alongside the new aviation policy framework in March.
May I urge the Secretary of State in considering aircraft capacity to look first at the possibilities of expanding existing airports east of London, rather than building new ones, and at how the lower Thames crossing could assist with infrastructure?
My hon. Friend is right to point out two things. First, we need to look at our transport system as a whole. It is about getting around, and that can involve not only aviation but railways and roads. Secondly, the matter of the hub airport is incredibly important. It is also a medium to long-term issue. We received more than 600 responses to our original scoping document. We are considering those and will take some of them forward in the strategy document we will publish in March.
The hon. Lady is right that Heathrow has an incredibly important role to play in aviation, not just for London and its economy but nationally, and of course for the many regional airports with connecting flights that hub into Heathrow and have passengers who then travel onwards. We are absolutely aware of that, and it is one reason we need to take a responsible approach to looking at the future of aviation in our country.
If we are not going to build an additional runway at Heathrow but want London to maintain its international competitiveness, is there really no alternative but to build a new airport in the estuary east of London? Should not the Government show to that issue the same commitment that they are showing to high-speed rail?
My hon. Friend, for whom I have a huge amount of respect, demonstrates why we need to have a measured approach to the issue, and he is right to point out that we now have cross-party consensus on the fact that there should not be a third runway at Heathrow. The final point that I make to him, however, is that we need to realise that capacity and connectivity are not exactly one and the same thing. We absolutely need to ensure that we have the connectivity for our aviation sector not only nationally but, in particular, at the hub airport, and in many respects that is absolutely the most important thing—to make sure that we stay competitive.
Given that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) has exposed the Government’s dilemma on aviation capacity, in that they say they want to explore all options but, as she reports, have ruled out all options, and given also the report in today’s Financial Times that Ken Livingstone is against Boris island in order, as he says, to protect east London’s environment and to defend the west London economy, why has the Secretary of State not responded to the offer of my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) of cross-party talks to explore the possibility of a national aviation plan?