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Airport Capacity (South-East)

Volume 547: debated on Thursday 28 June 2012

2. What recent assessment she has made of airport capacity in the south-east; and if she will make a statement. (114041)

It will be quite a job to follow the Minister’s last remark.

UK Aviation Forecasts 2011 provides an assessment of how demand for air travel in the UK is expected to change in the future. We will shortly launch a call for evidence to look at how we can tackle that challenge of emerging demand. Let us be clear, however: the coalition agreement stands. This Government cancelled the last Government’s plans for a third runway, and we will be sticking to that.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and I know my constituents will be grateful, too. Does she also agree that talk about expanding Heathrow so it becomes a competitive international hub is wildly misplaced? A third runway would fill up almost at once—and where would a fourth runway go, unless we were to look at possibly knocking down parts of Hounslow and Staines, which I am sure would be entirely unacceptable?

My hon. Friend raises some of the very difficult issues we have already run up against with Heathrow as a hub airport. She also points out that these discussions and decisions matter massively to residents on the ground, and she is right that the question is not just about a third runway at Heathrow—about which we have been very clear—because expanding that airport further would pose significant challenges to local communities, which should be taken extremely seriously.

Airport capacity in the south-east has been studied in great detail for the last 50 years, and there is no further information to be found. Is not the reason we are not getting a third runway the deal done between the Prime Minister and Boris Johnson to try to secure votes in west London, as a result of which the entire economy of the United Kingdom is suffering? I believe the Prime Minister wants to do a U-turn on this, and that he will do a U-turn.

I am not sure whether that was actually a question, Mr Speaker, but what I do know is that we need to approach this discussion with maturity and from a long-term perspective. Given how much this decision affects many people, not just in the industry, but on the ground, it is not good enough to have a headline-driven, pub-style debate. What I have called for now is a much longer-term debate to get some answers that are not just right in the next 10 to 15 years, but will be right for the next 50 or 60 years. I very much welcome the fact that companies such as BA and people such as Willie Walsh are now starting to step up to the plate and join that debate. I look forward to their response and those of many others to the call for evidence over the coming months.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government will stand by the whole of the coalition agreement in this area? Will she confirm that they will stand by the cancellation of the third runway at Heathrow, as she has said, will refuse additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted, and will rule out mixed mode at Heathrow?

I think I have been very clear: the coalition agreement, in its entirety, stands. That is the position.

I represent a constituency where the people on the ground are affected directly by Heathrow, and welcome the jobs and prosperity that the airport brings them. Will the Secretary of State improve access to Heathrow by investing in improved rail access to it from the west as soon as possible? It is a shovel-ready project—will she deliver it?

I know that the hon. Lady has been very passionate about that project. Indeed, a number of weeks ago I was at a reception on it organised by her and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson). We are looking at it very closely. I have to say that a Westminster Hall debate on rail-air transport links in the south-east took place earlier this week and not one Labour MP turned up to it.