[Mark Pritchard in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect of airport expansion on the Anglian Region.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Pritchard. It is an honour to serve under you for the first time, and I am glad to see that you are enjoying being a member of the Panel of Chairs. I also welcome the Minister—if he grimaces at any stage in the course of my remarks, it may well be because he feels he has heard it all before—and I welcome colleagues from the region and others who have come to take an interest in the debate.
I will give a little history, if I may. In 1977, I became very fortuitously the successor to R.A. Butler and Sir Peter Kirk as the Member of Parliament for Saffron Walden. They had fought successfully up to that point against the proposition that Stansted should become London’s third airport. Despite their efforts, the fascination of officials in Whitehall persisted. Here was this very long runway built by the Americans for their bombers in the 1940s; surely it could be put to civilian use.
When I came to Saffron Walden, I had previous, as they say: I had been the Member of Parliament for Middleton and Prestwich in Greater Manchester between 1970 and 1974 and had very much absorbed the findings of the Roskill commission—a long-time predecessor to the Davies commission that had been asked to advise the Government on where to provide extra accommodation, specifically in terms of a third airport. The commission rejected Stansted, even on its shortlist, and by a majority recommended Cublington in Buckinghamshire. There was a dissenting view by Colin Buchanan that there should be an airport in the Thames estuary. That was adopted by the incoming Government of 1970, who proceeded to construct the airport, which was termed “Maplin”.
I had time in those days to fully read the Roskill report, and I also became familiar with all the inland sites being considered. I came to the view that a third inland airport would be a mistake, so I heartily supported the proposition that there should be a new airport altogether in the Thames estuary. Why, I asked myself, should there be a third airport when there were already two?
What was, to my mind, unfortunate was the legal agreement arrived at between West Sussex County Council and the British Airports Authority, when it was still a statutory authority, that there should be no second runway at Gatwick for 40 years, expiring in 2019. In a sense, it had cut off a limb for expansion and was seeking a third site. I did not think that that made any sense in 1979, and I do not think it makes any sense now.
After the airports inquiry of 1981 to 1983, which considered further expansion at Stansted or Heathrow, the recommendation was to allow a terminal at Stansted, limited to 15 million passengers per annum. It took about two years for the Government to reach that decision after the inquiry reported—Howard Davies, please note. The inspector also stated firmly that he would only recommend such a degree of expansion at Stansted provided it was made clear that there should never be a second runway—Howard Davies, again, please note the worth of that type of promise.
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend remembers this, but it is my understanding that Stansted airport was then marketed to the local community as its own airport in the countryside, not at all with the sort of pretensions necessary for a major airport such as Heathrow.
My hon. and learned Friend is quite right. There was an attempt to damp down the feelings locally about Stansted by not referring to it as London’s third airport, but the assumption in its design and construction was that it would, indeed, share an even amount of the traffic coming into London.
What followed? Well, traffic distribution rules were abolished. The effect was that 19 airlines promptly moved from Gatwick to Heathrow, leaving rather a large hole at Gatwick, which made that airport much more attractive at the time than Stansted. The next decision was to give BAA, when privatising it, a monopoly of the three London airports, which of course meant in the circumstances that it had no particular priority for Stansted. It was probably making more money at the other two airports, so there was no pressure from that direction to improve access to Stansted.
One problem that arose from BAA being given control of the major airports was that London Luton airport was squeezed completely out of the picture. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that was a big mistake?
I do not want to enter too much into the undoubted controversy that I know exists around Luton. It has its proponents and its opponents, but I accept what the hon. Gentleman says.
All we got in terms of access from London to Stansted airport—apart from the M11, which had originally been conceived as the London-Norwich motorway but was somehow stunted and ended up close to Cambridge—was a spur off the main rail line. The tunnel into the airport has a single track, so there is an obvious limitation on its capacity. A 41-minute service from Liverpool Street was inaugurated and quickly proved to be unsustainable, because there was not the rolling stock to accommodate the continuing and growing commuter needs, while half-empty trains were going out on a regular basis to the airport. In the end, the service had to slow down over the years in order to deal with the totality of traffic.
In those circumstances, it was small wonder that major carriers were not attracted to Stansted. The day was saved by the emergence of low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet, which had never been heard of at the time the terminal was built. The terminal was not designed for the kind of traffic that it eventually found itself accommodating. The day was also saved for Stansted by the break-up of BAA much later on. There is no doubt about it: Manchester Airports Group is incomparably better than BAA at looking after Stansted. London Gatwick has also become a far more welcoming airport than it ever was in the past.
Relations with the local community improved. Stansted is the largest employer in my constituency. Manchester Airports Group has been active in developing educational and apprenticeship opportunities, and in that direction has been aided and abetted by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment, whose ministerial duties prevent her from being here this afternoon. Passenger throughput is now growing and has reached 22 million passengers per annum. Jobs are being created on and off the airport. Its presence has had a wider regional effect, and we are now seeing world-class businesses clustering close by, notably in Cambridge but also at various points along the spine of that railway and further afield, in places that have access. The whole M11 corridor is attracting high-end business growth and, at the same time, is of course generating housing development.
Thinking about it, that might be seen as a dream scenario for anyone who wants to build and operate a railway and operate trains. The airport is growing its passenger numbers and needs to find employees. High-tech companies, large and small, need to draw in staff, and influential business visitors are coming from overseas. There is a level of housing construction along the line which, although it may be worrying to some in its concentration, is nevertheless unavoidable if we are to provide homes for aspiring owners. However, in all this time, nothing has been done to improve the West Anglia rail line.
Fast, efficient, comfortable surface transportation is essential, and not just for the railway, although I focus on that to a large extent. The volume of traffic is increasing, whether from the north or the south. If the constituencies nearest to the airport have high employment, they have to look further afield for employees for the jobs being created, and those people also need the convenience of being able to travel. Quite a number of people travel out of London to work in Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and so on, as well as those who come in the other direction. There is just a growing volume, which includes airport passengers.
My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point and is giving a very interesting speech. South Suffolk is not far from Stansted, but the commuter transport is very poor. One reason why we want improvements to our local roads—there has been a long-running campaign for a Sudbury bypass—is so that young people in our constituency can get within commuting distance of Stansted.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining my point. There have to be wider connections across the region, and notably with Norwich. Given that it is one of the major cities in the region, it is incredible that the rail link is so insubstantial.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he agree that improved connectivity through rail can really enable Stansted to be a major engine of growth for the whole East Anglia region, including my constituency, which is the most easterly constituency in the region?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Stansted would, of course, see itself as already being that engine of growth. Its presence is undoubtedly a major factor in the investment decisions being made by some very important businesses.
To the right hon. Gentleman’s relief, I do not intend to speak about Luton airport, which is based in my constituency. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins)—my good friend—will talk about it later. To underline the point, in the analysis on east-west rail, one of the most interesting growth pairs between two different places over the next 15 years will be between Luton and Essex. East-west applies both on the eastern and western sides of the region.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I think there is something called “the golden triangle,” and I certainly do not reject the idea of the east-west connections in any way, but we do not have the money to do everything. I concentrate on this line as a priority, simply because, at the moment, it is the main link between the city and the airport and it has had so much neglect over these past years.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend not only on securing the debate, but on his remarkable leadership over many years in fighting this corner for his constituents, and indeed, for mine, given that we are from neighbouring constituencies. A lot of people are concerned about access, which he has mentioned. The airport is very important for the wider economy, but for many of my constituents, being unable to get into London because of the inadequacy of the rail connections is the core issue.
I agree with that, without ignoring the points that other colleagues have made. It cannot just be seen in terms of north and south—there are other considerations—but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. He and I, in neighbouring constituencies, probably suffer the weight of the complaints from quite a lot of rail passengers.
There is also the A120 which, I was told 38 years ago, was to be a critical route across to the M11 for traffic coming from the east-coast ports. The section between Braintree and Marks Tey is still not in place, which is an absolute scandal. We then have the other minor scandal of junction 8 on the M11 motorway. My hon. Friend’s predecessor, Bowen Wells, and I appeared bravely at the public inquiry into the motorway services area. After it was decided that the airport access should be from junction 8, it was then decided that we should have the motorway services area access at another quadrant of it. The result was chaos, and yet, Bowen Wells and I were told in the inquiry—of course, we really knew nothing and were not experts—that they had got it absolutely measured. It has been a disaster. There is consideration even now that perhaps the only way of overcoming the inherent difficulties of that junction will be to shift the motorway services area. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that that might have to happen. There are also the demands from my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for a junction 7A to ease the pressures from people getting to the airport.
I want to feed these points into the bigger picture of airport provision. Stansted undoubtedly has the spare capacity to soak up a lot of the pressures that are going to arise until the decision on the Davies commission has been made and, perhaps more importantly, implemented. Without a decent railway, however, Stansted will struggle to address that demand. The bigger airlines expect a high standard of connectivity and quality rolling stock to go with it, and as local MPs, our concern has to be, as much as anything else, for our long-suffering commuters, who are having to pay more to travel in not very good conditions. There is problem after problem, and they extend across the region to the Great Eastern line—not least already this week.
Even Davies concedes that the quickest increase in runway capacity can be achieved at Gatwick. It has multiple rail access. That is currently being upgraded, which is fine for them, but it is galling that there still has been no upgrading on the West Anglia line. Stansted has absolutely nothing to compare in rail access with either Gatwick or Heathrow, yet to fulfil the role of that airport in our region, four-tracking of the West Anglia line is the minimum needed now. Four-tracking between Tottenham Hale and Broxbourne is needed, not in 2025 or 2030, but now, just to sustain the existing level of demand, let alone what is in prospect from north to south of the line. Four-tracking is also the vital precursor to the Crossrail 2 project, which would naturally follow on from that.
The Anglian region needs to be plugged in better to Greater London, not just to Liverpool Street, but to Stratford and to places that Crossrail 2 will reach. I say to the Government that, if only to buy time on their airport strategy, they need to sort out the West Anglia line.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
If I may, I will continue. If the Government want to underpin the growth potential of the Anglian region, they need to sort out the West Anglia line. If they want the increasing population in our constituencies to travel conveniently to work, they need to sort out that line. It is in no one’s interest to let improvement work slip into what Network Rail calls control period 6 or even control period 7. There has been a 30-year struggle to get this improvement, and if nothing is done soon, the potential of the Anglian region will be severely handicapped.
I am pleased that you are presiding over the debate, Mr Pritchard.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
I was going to say that I was pleased to see the Minister in his place, but he is not there—I am sure he soon will be. I am, however, delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) is in his place to respond on behalf of the Opposition, and I congratulate him on his promotion. This is the first time he has done so in a debate I have taken part in, and that is particularly appropriate today, given that he represents a constituency in the Anglian region.
I agree with much that the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) said in opening the debate. I particularly want to pick up his point about rail access to Stansted from Stratford. Well over 20,000 people in the borough I represent in east London work at Stansted airport. We have a bright and youthful population in east London, with many people looking for rewarding careers. Having a good rail service from Stratford to Stansted will be important for many of those people, as well as giving the airport access to key future talent, which will be very much in its interests.
I want, however, to focus on the potential contribution of another airport on the east side of London—London City airport, which is in my constituency. It is disappointing that the major capacity increase needed at London airports has been delayed yet again, this time to avoid embarrassing the Conservative party in the London mayoral elections. However, the expansion proposals for London City airport, which will be considered on appeal in a couple of months, can help to meet rising demand while we await the decision on Heathrow versus Gatwick.
I have a long association with London City airport. I was at its opening 29 years ago, as chair of Newham Council’s planning committee. I particularly welcome the imaginative and committed way in which the airport, with its “Take Off Into Work” initiative, is ensuring that local residents have access to the expanding employment opportunities it offers. Partly on the strength of that, it won last year’s all-party group on corporate responsibility award for national responsible business champion.
London City airport catered for 4.32 million passengers in 2015. Some 52% travelled on business, but quite a large group now travel on leisure flights. Ten airlines fly to and from the airport, mainly serving European destinations, although British Airways also flies to New York from London City. Some 2,000 people work at the airport, and its development will create 1,500 additional jobs by 2023.
The proposed expansion at London City does not require any increase in the movements allowed under the existing permission or any change to the runway. However, it does require larger aircraft parking stands to accommodate quieter and more fuel-efficient aircraft, such as those in the Bombardier C series, whose wings are manufactured in Belfast. It also requires a further seven stands for aircraft, a new taxi lane parallel to the runway to increase the number of movements per hour on the runway, and expansion of the airport terminal. Altogether that represents a £200 million investment, which will deliver increased capacity for the benefit of the Anglian region and the wider UK economy by 2018.
As the local planning authority, Newham Council gave the development permission last February. However, against the advice of his officials, the Mayor of London blocked the expansion. His letter of 26 March 2015 said that the application did
“not adequately mitigate and manage its adverse noise impacts.”
I am not entirely clear what the Mayor meant by that. The airport is appealing, and the appeal will be heard in March and April. The decision will then be made jointly by the Secretary of States for Communities and Local Government and for Transport, although we do not know precisely when.
I wonder whether the Mayor was concerned that an expansion of London City might dent his ambition for a Boris island airport.
That is possible. I think it might be more to do with his objection to expansion at Heathrow, and a feeling that to be consistent he needed to object to expansion at London City as well, but that is speculation on my part.
London City airport is the only London airport that does not operate night flights. It shuts from 10.30 pm to 6.30 am. It also closes for a full 24 hours from 12.30 pm on Saturday to 12.30 pm on Sunday. Of course, there are people who are concerned about noise from the airport, as is the case with any airport, but quite what the Mayor meant when, against the advice of his officials, he said there was not adequate mitigation and management of noise impacts, I am not sure. The plan includes £25 million for an enhanced sound insulation scheme, and the whole purpose of the plan is to allow the use of newer aircraft that are quieter than those that use the airport at the moment. It includes the introduction of a fixed noise contour enforced by the local authority, which will limit noise impact and incentivise airport operators to use quieter aircraft. I am disappointed that development at London City airport has been delayed.
Everyone recognises that additional airport capacity serving the Anglian region, London and the south-east is needed. Development at London City can provide extra capacity quickly, with the potential for nearly an additional 2 million passengers a year by 2023, while we await the longer-term decision on Heathrow versus Gatwick—I presume that is where the decision will land.
Of course, expansion at London City is a bit of a sticking plaster for the needs of the Anglian region and the wider UK economy, but it will be an extremely valuable step. Its delivery will have substantial economic benefits for east London, which is increasingly the focus for investment from outside and inside the UK, the home to more and more people, and an economic centre. The expansion of London City airport can only help and support it.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) on securing this important debate. I want to speak only briefly, to reiterate the important comments that my right hon. Friend made towards the end of his remarks, that we should view the decisions we take about Stansted airport within a wider economic context, and take a wider strategic overview of the economy in the east of England. He, more than anyone, will know that the airport at Stansted is the largest single-site employer in the east of England, with 11,500 people and more than 200 individual companies working there. He will also know that the Airport Operators Association concluded in its report in November 2014 that as a whole the airline industry in the United Kingdom contributed £52 billion to our country’s gross domestic product, was responsible for employing 960,000 people, and directly contributed £8.68 billion of tax.
My right hon. Friend put the national and local debate about Stansted airport into its correct historical perspective, and it seems to me that all the issues to do with airport expansion essentially revolve around the position of an airport within the economy. The environmental issues are noise, ground access, congestion and pollution, and those things come to the fore when we consider Heathrow versus Gatwick and the so-called Boris island. The decisions of the Davies commission, and the expediting of a final solution to the issue next year or at the end of this year are, obviously, eagerly awaited. It is an issue that has dragged on for at least 10—probably nearer 15—years. It is accepted now that Heathrow is at capacity and Gatwick is not far off it, and across the whole of the wider south-east, including the eastern region, we will be at capacity by 2030.
I want to concentrate on the economic issues. You will know, Mr Pritchard, that the area loosely described as the London-Cambridge economic corridor—I make an oblique reference to Cambridgeshire’s second city, Cambridge, as opposed to Peterborough—is not just about London and Cambridge. It was the Labour Government who identified a London-Cambridge-Peterborough growth corridor, an integral part of which, for sustainable economic growth and employment, was Stansted airport. That is important. On a serious note, the success of Cambridge in particular means the success of Cambridgeshire and the wider eastern region, so we need that level of connectivity, not just on the railways but as a matter of worldwide airport connectivity and a local—if I can use that word—airport that can serve Cambridge and the wider economic area including Suffolk, north Essex and east and north Hertfordshire, as well as London, which is a world city.
I totally accept the point about the Cambridgeshire corridor. Does my hon. Friend agree that surface access to airports is very important—particularly the upgrading of road routes such as the A120, and similar routes to give access to Stansted and the Cambridgeshire area? That is important for the potential expansion in airports and airport use.
Absolutely. One of my bugbears, which I brought up in Transport questions not that long ago, and which I have been raising for years, is the fact that we tend to be slightly London-centric and think about the Stansted Express and the connectivity between east London and Stansted. The right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) touched on that issue in talking about London City airport. However, we should remember that there is also a need for enhanced connectivity between the midlands and the north of England, via a key subregional transport hub such as Peterborough, bringing jobs, opportunities and tourists and other people to Stansted from the north and the midlands. It is just as important in the context of the wider infrastructure picture, which is that the east of England suffers from relatively poor road and rail infrastructure. We might think of the Liverpool Street to Norwich line and road access to places such as Suffolk—particularly Waveney, Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and the very large county of Norfolk.
I have for years pressed for a little strategic thinking about the CrossCountry service from the midlands to Stansted. My constituents want to be kind to the environment. They do not want to get into a car at the crack of dawn to drive down the A14, on to the M11, to reach Stansted. They would much prefer to get a CrossCountry train that began its journey in Birmingham, and to get to Stansted in good time for their flight—perhaps with time for an early breakfast and some shopping there. They could support the local economy of Uttlesford and Essex. However, they cannot do that because the train does not run at the appropriate time. That is something pretty straightforward and simple that goes to the heart of the issue of connectivity.
The east Anglian region has for a long time been the poor relation with respect to airport connectivity. Does my hon. Friend agree that we can up our game? In the Chamber today there are Members representing constituencies with Stansted, London City, Luton and Cambridge airports—and there is also Norwich. We need a strategy for connecting to those airports and making the best use of the facilities and resources that we already have.
My hon. Friend makes an important and astute point that speaks to a lack of joined-up thinking on transport infrastructure. We get it right on the smaller, strategic projects. One only has to think of the guided bus that links St Ives in Mid Cambridgeshire to Cambridge. I used that bus to go into Cambridge over Christmas. It is a fantastic facility and, as I understand it, it is now scrubbing its face financially. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) is campaigning for a better link between Wisbech and Cambridge, and I thank the Minister because we are having an upgrade of the east coast main line. Some £43 million has been spent on Peterborough railway station, for which we are inordinately grateful. However, do we actually join up all those individual projects across a big area? I suspect that we do not. Airport capacity and connectivity is another issue that we need to look at.
I want to talk briefly about air passenger duty. The elephant in the room is the massive generational decision that will be taken about airport capacity, which will centre on evidence for or against Heathrow. It seems that successive Governments have missed a trick by not availing themselves of the opportunity to use air passenger duty as a way of driving, or at least influencing, demand for the creation of new long-haul services at places such as Stansted, Luton and so on. The Minister will say that that lies within the bailiwick of the Treasury and I accept that, but the debate about air passenger duty needs to continue and we need to look at it again.
To conclude, my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden made an excellent case for the importance of Stansted. My contention is that we need to look at the expansion of Stansted as our regional airport. We need to move away from a London-centric, overly prescriptive focus on what is good for Greater London, which I admit is a world city of 8 million people. This needs to be about rebalancing the economy, and that does not just mean the north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside and the east midlands. It also means creating jobs, new opportunities and transport infrastructure in the east of England. Stansted can be at the heart of that but it must be in a co-ordinated, long-term, sustainable and comprehensive infrastructure plan.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) on launching this important debate. Not surprisingly, I will speak about London Luton airport, as I have been doing for a very long time. When I first came into this House 18 and a half years ago, there was a south-east airport strategy. Luton was constantly ignored and marginalised. It was not even mentioned in that report, largely because BAA dominated and had the ear of Downing Street, so Luton was just pushed out of the way. That has changed. Luton is now taken seriously as an airport. I am pleased to say that the Government are accepting that it will expand, and plans are now well advanced for Luton airport to expand.
There is a debate, of course, as to whether Luton is in east Anglia. The airport serves London and the south midlands and it could be argued that it is almost a Greater London airport, but it is in the eastern region so I will speak in those terms. Luton will never be a major hub airport because the topography means that the runway cannot be extended. It is limited in the number of passengers it can put through but it could almost double the number of passengers. There are currently just over 10 million a year and the airport could—indeed, it is planning to—go up to at least 18 million a year. It might even go beyond that with the parallel taxiway, expanded ground handling and, I hope, a fixed link to the mainline railway, which would be a tremendous advantage and something that I have argued for ever since I came to the House.
Rail connectivity has been mentioned regarding other airport areas and it is important for Luton as well. Luton Airport Parkway station has been open for a decade or so now but, unfortunately, only one East Midlands Trains service an hour stops there. East Midlands Trains runs the mainline trains—the express trains—and the airport wants four an hour to stop there. We are arguing strongly for that.
As excellent as the Thameslink local trains are when they are running well—I travel on them every day—they do not run early enough. The airport would like those trains to run earlier so that more people, particularly from London, can travel out to get business flights from London Luton airport early in the morning. They could fly out and back within a day, doing business in continental towns and cities and, of course, within the United Kingdom, but they need those earlier trains to get from London out to the airport to catch those early flights.
Oxford Economics has just produced an excellent report called, “The economic impact of London Luton Airport”, which I recommend to the Minister and his colleagues in the Department. It makes the case for Luton and says what splendid effects expansion will have. In time, London Luton airport could take more aircraft, especially with the modern, composite body aircraft coming through. Those aircraft will have shorter take-off and landing distances, higher load capacity and travel longer distances because they are lighter.
Although London Luton airport does mainly medium and short-haul flights at the moment, in time it could do some long-haul ones. I would hope that it could take some of the long-haul burden from other airports in the region, perhaps even including flights to the far east. Luton has a large population from Pakistan, for example. Why could we not fly to Karachi or Islamabad direct from Luton? I would like to think that that will happen one day. Luton is the base for easyJet and for Monarch, and Wizz Air flies a lot of people to and from eastern Europe. The airport has a good future and can make a major contribution.
I was lobbied recently by a group that argued that we do not need the third Heathrow runway, and that making maximum use of and expanding the existing airports—using them as efficiently as possible—would be sufficient for the future. I was, in part, persuaded by that argument, but I do not have the economic arguments at my fingertips and I know that the business community is keen on a new runway at Heathrow. There is possibly a case that we could just expand existing airports, including Luton, and the Government should look at that. It would be a useful way forward. I want to emphasise that Luton has a serious contribution to make to airport capacity in the east and, indeed, to London and the south midlands. I hope that the Government will continue to be supportive of the expansion of Luton.
I advise Members that the debate is due to end at 4.25 pm due to the additional time for the votes.
Mr Pritchard, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for, like some other Members here, the first time. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) on securing the debate.
I will outline some of the Scottish National party’s views before I sum up. On the ongoing debate between Gatwick and Heathrow, the SNP has been fairly agnostic on airport expansion and the choice of location. Our main proposal would be to secure two-way benefits and sustainable connectivity between Scotland and our global markers. We need assurance that we can enjoy sustainable access to the hub airports that serve Scotland. Clearly, some of the final decisions to be made—the costly and large infrastructure decisions—affect many billions of pounds in commercial activity. Like the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), we are particularly disappointed that it seems to have turned into a bit of a bunfight for political advantage. A quick decision on airport capacity is needed. There is a risk attached: if the decision is further delayed, it is to the detriment of all concerned. We cannot allow the machinations of the Landon mayoral elections to get in the way—that point was clearly made by the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden has made a good case that his local airport is successfully managed. He mentioned the number of apprenticeships and jobs that were created by the airport and the increase in passenger traffic. It is also vital to recognise that where we have a successful airport such as Stansted, we do see a clustering of high-quality businesses. Again, for the long-term sustainability of the economy, these are extremely valid and good reasons to have airport expansion across the UK. However, he made the point that if such expansion was to take place, connectivity to such airports, particularly rail links, would be vital.
I cannot comment on the scandal of the A20, as the right hon. Gentleman called it; I think he was going back 38 years. I might not be chronologically challenged on that one, but I am geographically challenged, because I am not fully aware of where the A20 either starts or goes to. I am sure that is something we can discuss at a later stage.
The hon. Gentleman need not be too embarrassed. It is a devolved matter, so I do not expect to know all the road numbers in Scotland, either.
I take that on board.
The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden mentioned that the rail infrastructure around his airport is not nearly as good as the rail infrastructure around Heathrow and Gatwick. As a Scottish MP, all I can say is, “Welcome to the club.” We have to deal with that daily.
I will quickly address the comments of the right hon. Member for East Ham. Obviously, there is the issue of the Stratford link and ensuring that people in his constituency can gain employment by making it an easy move for them. There is also the promotion of London City airport. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden will already be aware that, as soon as such a debate comes up, we get people from all over the country saying, “Our airport should be the one that is favoured,” or “Our part of the country should be favoured,” and supporting various airports that are close to their heart.
I think I am right in saying that London City airport has more flights to Edinburgh than any other London airport. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in celebrating its contribution?
Certainly. I am a regular user of London City airport in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and I am grateful for the services provided from that airport.
It is also a shame and a great pity that the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) is not here to support the proposal for Boris island. Perhaps he is too busy playing whiff-whaff—I do not know what he does in his spare time. The Boris island proposal is obviously another part of the discussion that maybe has to take place.
The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) helpfully not only highlighted the capacity issues but focused on economic growth for the eastern England corridor. He made the good point that that should also include Peterborough, which is a fine city. He also recognised that, under many parties that have been in UK government, joined-up strategic plans that support our air industry have been missing for a great number of years.
Like other Members, the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) highlighted Luton and the need for a more strategic approach—there seems to be more speed behind that. He also highlighted the weaknesses of the current report, which only considered the Heathrow-Gatwick dogfight. Many more passengers and cargo need to be moved from across the UK in a much more strategic way, rather than just focusing entirely on what he called a London-centric approach.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) on securing this debate. He has been passionate about this issue for many years, and in a previous debate said that,
“the word ‘Stansted’ will be found engraved on my heart.”—[Official Report, 26 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1562.]
His contribution today confirms how strongly he feels about this issue, and particularly about the rail infrastructure linking Stansted to our region. Everyone who has spoken in this debate is united in wanting the best possible outcome for people in our region, a region whose economic prosperity and job growth have perhaps too often been let down by poor transport infrastructure. Alongside those concerns, many of my constituents in Cambridge—I share their concerns—feel just as strongly about the environmental and community factors linked with airport expansion, which must always be weighed carefully against the economic and operational arguments for expansion.
We have had some strong contributions today. I am delighted to say that three quarters of the members of Labour’s east of England parliamentary team are here today—it is amazing what can be done with statistics. I am delighted to hear the kind words of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), for which I thank him. He has always been a good friend to Cambridge, which we have always appreciated. He made a series of points about the important role of London City airport.
Obviously, my hon. Friends the Members for Luton South (Mr Shuker) and for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) also require commendation. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North is always a passionate advocate for Luton—both my hon. Friends always are—but I was particularly struck by his comments on the opportunities offered by new aircraft, which brings something new to the debate.
There were also strong contributions from Government Members, including my regular sparring partner from up the road, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson). On this occasion, we probably find ourselves much more in agreement than on some other occasions. His points about regional connectivity were very well made. It was good to hear some kind words about Cambridgeshire’s guided bus, which has been much maligned over the years, but I agree is now doing rather well.
I think we can all agree that the aviation industry is important to Britain’s economy. As we have heard, it generates some £50 billion in GDP, 1 million jobs and £8 billion in tax revenue, servicing and connecting millions of passengers every year. On Labour’s side there is no doubt that if Britain wishes to remain a global player in the aviation market and to enjoy the subsequent economic benefits, there is a strong case for a new runway in the south-east. Heathrow is operating at full capacity while Gatwick is operating at 85%. The Airports Commission has found that, without action, the entire London airport network would be operating at the limits of capacity by 2040.
As the Opposition, it is our job to scrutinise decisions on airport expansion made by the Government whom we are opposing. That puts us in a slightly difficult position because, of course, the Government have been unable to set out that decision, breaking their own promises and leaving the country effectively on hold. The Prime Minister guaranteed a decision by the end of last year but is now dragging his heels. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Transport has said only that he hopes to make a decision this year. That strategic dithering is not only farcical and weak; it is completely unacceptable. It potentially means years of additional uncertainty for people living close to airports. That tactical indecision is also economically damaging. Furthermore, considering that the Government have claimed that the delay on airport expansion is for environmental reasons, it seems absurd that they are not backing the industry’s attempts to deliver cleaner fuels. Aviation is not included in the renewable transport fuels obligation, thereby damaging potential investment.
In addition to their promise to unveil a decision by the end of last year, the Conservatives also pledged in their 2010 manifesto not to add a runway to Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted, which means there is likely to be yet another promise reneged upon by the Government. It seems that we will just have to wait and see which one it will be.
I do not wish to take away from the hon. Gentleman’s kind words on those matters on which we are in accord, but I am slightly disappointed that he has chosen to bring party political differences into the debate. There is blood on all hands over the years as far as airports policy is concerned. I could somewhat mischievously say to him that, had a Government of his political colour not cancelled the Maplin project in 1974, we would not be in the difficulties we are in now.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that point. As a historian, I always find it interesting to note which point in history people like to go back to in order to attribute blame but, as the Opposition representative in the Chamber, I fear it is my role to make these important points about the potential damage being done to our country by the Government’s lack of decision. We shall see. Probably after the London mayoral election, all will become clear.
Once the Government set out their expansion recommendation, we will be able to examine its relative merits properly based on four tests that the Labour party has set out, including commitments to meet our legal climate change obligations and mitigate local environmental impacts. Only then can we truly assess the impact that expansion will have on the south-east, the wider Anglian region and the rest of the UK.
We know now that, regardless of the decision made, its effects will not be felt quickly. A new runway will take about a decade to come into being, even without further delay in Government decision making. Thus any short-term changes should positively impact the connectivity of our country, including our region. Indeed, the fourth test that Labour set out to inform our response before the publication of the Airports Commission report was that the benefits of any expansion should not be confined to London and the south-east. The Government might be standing still, but the aviation industry will not. We must act to help connect UK businesses and people with new markets and places in the meantime.
The Airports Commission has also called for the improvement of surface access links to other airports, which has formed the basis for much of our discussion in this debate. In its response to Network Rail’s consultation on the Anglia route strategy, the Airports Commission called for a more joined-up approach to meeting the needs of Stansted airport users. Improving rail infrastructure to Stansted is a key request of both Stansted and the London-Stansted-Cambridge Consortium. It is worth noting in passing that the current Stansted Express service uses a relatively new fleet of trains introduced under a Labour Government.
My hon. Friend is making the point that surface access is key to all airports, including Luton airport in my constituency. It sets the airport’s reputational standard. People do not judge an airport based only on the airlines, the airport itself or the journey there but on the whole experience. Certainly in Luton, surface access is letting us down at the moment.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I suspect that we can all agree on that. I assure the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden that we heartily agree with his argument about improving surface access. I am absolutely sure that local commuters would benefit, including those in my constituency. We can agree that the Government should invest in a West Anglia line, making life that little bit easier for many in our region.
To conclude, the Government need to stop dawdling and decide. Until they get their policy off the ground, we will be unconvinced that they are taking environmental concerns and capacity needs seriously. While in this state of flux, the Government could still take decisive steps to improve access to our country’s airports, helping provide short-term solutions to capacity and connectivity problems. Anything less would do a disservice to people and businesses in our region and across the UK.
Before I call the Minister, I remind him that, under the new Standing Orders for this Parliament, as I am sure he is aware, the mover of the motion is allowed two or three minutes to wind up the debate. I remind the mover of the motion that if he wants the question to be put formally, he must allow the Chair at least 30 seconds to do so.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) on securing this debate. I enjoyed his recap of the history of Stansted; I do not think I grimaced even once. He talked eloquently about the importance of airports not only for the Anglian region but for maintaining the UK’s air connectivity and for jobs and economic regeneration across the country. I therefore welcome the opportunity to respond to the debate on behalf of the Government.
I hope my right hon. Friend will be encouraged that we all have the same interests at heart. I acknowledge his specific points about the continued and future importance of Stansted airport. Indeed, I have visited some of the facilities with him to see them at first hand. I made a point of travelling there by train, so that I could experience that journey myself. When I visit airports, I try to travel in the same way as members of the public in order to experience the whole journey that they would cope with in some cases or enjoy in others.
As my right hon. Friend mentioned, Stansted is one of the largest employers in his constituency, employing 11,500 people on site across 200-plus companies. It provides significant economic benefits not only locally but to the wider Anglian region by supporting the globally competitive high-tech and biomedical industries, not least in the constituency of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who speaks for the Opposition.
This is a timely debate, given the Government’s recent announcement on airport expansion in the south-east. The Airports Commission set out a convincing case for new runway capacity in the south-east by 2030, which the Government have accepted. We also accepted the commission’s final shortlist of three schemes. It is vital that we get the decision right so that it will benefit future generations, which is why we will consider further the environmental impacts and continue to develop the best possible package of measures to mitigate the impact on local people and the environment.
Mr Pritchard, I was remiss earlier in not saying what a delight it is to serve under your chairmanship. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in terms of sustainability, it is also important to concede that even during the 10 years that we have been in the House, aircraft have become cleaner and quieter? There have been big technological changes in the development of aviation fuel, for instance. The aircraft industry and airlines are much more sustainable than they have ever been.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that aircraft have become much quieter. Each generation of new aircraft is quieter than the previous one. Of course, the problem with aviation tends to be the very long life of aircraft. Cars might have a 10, 12 or 15-year turnaround, but many 25-year-old aircraft are still flying. Turnaround happens more slowly in the aviation sector, but it is good news that both Boeing and Airbus have thick order books and that companies such as easyJet, which is based in Luton, are buying new aircraft. We heard that, at London City airport, new Embraer aircraft are providing quieter and cleaner journeys.
Of course, air quality around airports is not just about aircraft. In some cases, it is mainly about other sources of pollution, particularly NOx from traffic. I need not remind Members of the problems that we experienced last year with vehicles that did not come up to the emissions standards that might have been expected from the lab tests. That is one factor that we must consider to see how we can improve air quality in areas, particularly London, where air pollution has not decreased as much as we would have expected based on the replacement of old vehicles with new vehicles that perform to Euro 6 standards.
Crucially, the timetable set out by the Airports Commission for delivering additional capacity to the south-east by 2030 will not alter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden will, I am sure, appreciate the importance of airports for businesses and residents in the Anglian region. This debate has shown that it is not just larger airports such as Stansted and Luton that are important to the Anglian region; some of our small airports also play a key role in supporting the economic growth of the regions that they serve. The Government have always made it clear that regional airports make a vital contribution to the growth of regional and local economies as a way to provide convenience and travel choice for air passengers.
Has the Minister, or have the Government, been lobbied by a group that seems to make a reasonable case for expanding all the airports as a better way forward than an extra runway at Heathrow? I leave it with him; I have not definitely made up my mind one way or the other, but there seems to be a case.
[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]
Virtually every airport that I have visited around the country shows increased passenger numbers and investment, both by the airports themselves and by the airlines that use them. I support the growth of regional airports. It is all about choice. We have a fantastic opportunity in this country to provide more choice, aside from the arguments that we will revisit later this year about the main decision on airport capacity at either Gatwick or Heathrow.
The smaller regional airports help to encourage investment and exports. They provide valuable local jobs and fuel opportunities for the economic rebalancing of their wider region or area. In the 2013 aviation policy framework, we emphasised the importance of regional airports for the availability of direct air services. Indeed, I prefer to call them local international airports rather than regional airports, because if someone lives in a region their local airport is their international airport.
Flights from those airports help to reduce the need for air passengers and air freight to travel long distances to reach larger UK airports. The Civil Aviation Authority’s statistics for 2014 show that the UK’s regional airports handled 92 million passengers, which was about 39% of the UK’s total. That underlines the point that the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) made about the importance of regional airports. Services from UK regional airports operated to more than 100 domestic and international destinations.
It is heartening to see that many of the airports that were impacted by the economic downturn a few years ago are now seeing real growth again, like the rest of our economy, and we want to see that growth continue. We warmly welcome the ambition of the UK’s airports. They are responding to local and regional demands by investing in their infrastructure to enable services to more destinations, better facilities and more choice for their passengers. That is particularly true for airports in the Anglian region.
At Stansted airport, passengers are seeing the benefits of a £260 million investment programme. That funding is transforming the airport and the passenger experience, with a terminal upgrade, improved security and immigration areas and investment in car parking facilities. It is not just the passengers who are benefiting from that investment. The airport has recently invested half a million pounds in a new education centre for five to 18-year olds to create an inspirational airport-themed learning environment for the local communities. That will encourage the next generation to consider jobs in the aviation industry. Indeed, I was pleased to hear about similar work being done at London City airport.
At Luton airport, a £100 million investment programme is seeing expansion of the existing terminal, investment in the latest security scanning technology and improvements to the airport’s forecourt.
Southend airport did not get much of a mention today, which I was a bit disappointed about. However, I will visit it in two weeks’ time. Substantial redevelopment of the airport has seen a new control tower, a dedicated rail station, improved terminal facilities and a runway extension. The Secretary of State for Transport had the pleasure of opening the new £10 million extended passenger terminal back in April 2014. Private sector investment at Southend airport has also meant the dedicated railway station being opened, providing direct rail links to the airport for passengers travelling on the line between Southend Victoria and London Liverpool Street.
We have heard from almost everyone who has contributed today that good surface access links to our airports are essential, because getting to and from an airport as quickly and easily as possible is vital for passengers. Also in Southend, investment by the Government is seeing improvements to routes in and around the town, including those to the airport. More than £38 million of funding has being provided through the local pinch point fund and local growth fund. In addition, funding secured by the South East local enterprise partnership will see further expansion of the Southend airport site to create a business park, commercial developments and jobs.
The Government’s plans for the first road period, from 2015 to 2020, include investments that will improve access to many of England’s major airports. For Stansted, that will include a technology upgrade on the M11 between junctions 8 and 14—incident detection improvements, automatic signalling, variable messaging signs and CCTV cameras will all benefit those travelling to Stansted airport. Further improvements are scheduled for passengers travelling to Stansted by rail.
Between 2014 and 2019, which is control period 5, Network Rail will deliver the construction of a third track between Tottenham Hale and Angel Road and power supply improvements on the line, along with a new station at Cambridge science park. Those changes will benefit passengers from the rest of the Anglian region and from London who travel by rail to Stansted.
I am well aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden chairs the West Anglia taskforce, which I understand is looking at ways of improving rail connections between London Liverpool Street, north-east London, Cambridge and Stansted airport. We look forward to seeing the taskforce’s findings when they are presented later this year. During the debate today and on other occasions—often over breakfast—my right hon. Friend has made his own position on the issue more than clear.
At Luton airport, we have funded improvements connecting the M1 spur to the wider motorway network, improving access to the airport and helping to reduce congestion. The South East LEP has also secured more than £21 million of funding to improve road access for passengers and planned development around Luton airport. By the way, we will also consider the recommendations set out in the Transport Committee’s study of surface access to airports when they are published later this year. I was pleased to be able to give evidence to that Committee.
Given the Minister’s remarks, does he recognise the potential benefit of the expansion that is proposed at London City airport? Of course, that expansion is now subject to a planning appeal procedure, but it is a potentially worthwhile and significant addition to airport capacity for London, the south-east and the Anglian region, which could be delivered quite quickly.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. I will be very careful about what I say in the light of the planning inquiry that is scheduled to take place in March. As he mentioned, the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Communities and Local Government will make the final determination on the application, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment. I very much enjoy using that particular airport. Indeed, I timed myself passing through security the last time I used the airport. It took just four minutes, which is just what members of the business community want. They want to arrive very late at the airport but still get on the flight, although I am not sure that the airport management would suggest that as a strategy.
Within the UK, airlines operate in a competitive and commercial environment, and we consider that they are best placed to determine which routes they operate and from which airports. We know that the commercial aviation market brings many benefits to air passengers. However, the Government also recognise that aviation plays an important role in connecting regions, so there may be occasions when aid is necessary to develop air services to airports where local economic conditions prove unattractive to airlines. However, we are conscious of the risk of competition being distorted by Government intervention in the commercial market. That is why we have been careful in balancing the commercial imperative with the need to provide support for new air routes from our smaller airports.
The Chancellor announced in November that 11 new air routes from smaller UK airports would be supported, with about £7 million of start-up aid over the next three financial years. Those routes—two of which are from Norwich airport and one from Southend airport—will begin operating from this spring, and they will provide domestic links between England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as international connectivity to France, Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland.
The Minister is being generous in giving way. Will he undertake to continue to monitor the fiscal impact of air passenger duty, including on the growth of regional airports and on potential new long-haul routes? APD is an important issue, although it does not lie within his remit.
Yes, I almost say without thinking that that is a Treasury matter. However, as my hon. Friend outlined in his speech, we have seen massive investment in road and rail, which has been funded in part by air passenger duty and other taxes. I point out that APD raises £3.2 billion per year, and the Chancellor has responded to concerns about it in a number of Budgets, not least by simplifying the banding so that people travelling on the longest-haul flights are not penalised. Most importantly, however, he has recognised the problems that many parents face with the high cost of flights during school holidays by bringing forward exemptions to APD for children. If there is one thing that I cannot criticise the airline and airport industries for it is making clear their views on APD.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden raised the issue of the A120 from Braintree to Marks Tey. In the July Budget, the Chancellor announced that the Government would co-fund a study with Essex County Council into dualling the last single-carriageway section between Stansted and the A12. That puts the scheme in a strong place for the next roads investment strategy. If funding is secured for the scheme, it could be one of the first schemes at the start of construction in roads investment strategy period 2, which I think is the equivalent of a control period in the rail industry.
The hon. Member for Luton South (Mr Shuker) talked gloriously about Luton airport and its benefits. Luton Borough Council is part of the east-west rail consortium of local authorities, and the rail investment strategy has made funds available for the reinstatement of passenger and freight services between Oxford, Bedford, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury. The infrastructure is expected to be completed by 2019, although the final stage of the electrification between Bletchley and Bedford will not be completed until 2020-21, to coincide with the electrification of the midland main line.
The hon. Member for Luton North also, not surprisingly, talked about Luton airport. Luton airport will assist the Department and Network Rail in examining the opportunity to secure four fast train services an hour to London. Upon completion of the Thameslink programme, the new franchisee Govia Thameslink Railway expects to operate 16 trains an hour between London and Luton Airport Parkway at peak times.
I have received a copy of the Oxford Economics study on the benefits of Luton airport, and I will consider the points made in it. Having visited the airport, I am aware that the short journey up the hill would be much improved were there a rail link, but given that such a link would benefit mainly the airport, it is not a project for which I would expect the taxpayer to stump up most of the money.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) talked about the importance of connectivity to all parts of the United Kingdom, including Scotland. Indeed, part of the assistance that we are providing to build connectivity is helping airports in Scotland. He also said that we must not be London-centric. I say “Hear, hear” to that, coming from Yorkshire as I do. He wisely did not touch on Prestwick airport, which is now run by the SNP—the Scottish nationalisation party, as it is becoming—and he did not update us on how that is turning out. He shakes his head—I am not surprised.
The hon. Member for Cambridge was kind in recognising the high level of agreement on aviation issues, and I am pleased that we will be scrutinised in that spirit. He talked about the sustainability of aviation, which is a subject close to my heart. This year will give us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure a global market-based mechanism at the International Civil Aviation Organisation meeting, so that we can bear down on aircraft CO2 emissions. I hope that that mechanism will be agreed later this year. Of course, airlines such as British Airlines and Virgin do tremendous work on alternative fuels produced from waste and from by-products of the steel industry.
I will give my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden plenty of time to sum up. The Government have established the right foundations for moving forward, gaining consensus and securing the benefits that aviation brings to the whole nation. We are clear about the economic and connectivity benefits that all our airports bring to regions and to business.
I am grateful to colleagues for their contributions to the debate, which, as I anticipated, has covered a wide range of points. In response to the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), I respect the role that City airport can play and I hope that it will not be constricted in its future development. I mentioned Stratford because I believe it will become an increasingly important destination for people coming down the West Anglia line and for those going up that same line to take up job opportunities in Essex and Hertfordshire.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) that I share his worries about the cross-country service. Perhaps we need to consider how we can strengthen it. I plead with him not to refer to Boris island, because when Maplin was conceived and started to be implemented our hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) was probably still wearing short trousers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), in his brief intervention—he had to return to the Chamber—mentioned the A120, and the Minister’s words on that subject were helpful. It really has taken a long time.
The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) understandably spoke, as he always does, in support of Luton airport. Within its runway constrictions, I think that it has to look for point-to-point services, and there are possibilities there with the development of aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787.
I say to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) that I sought to make a speech not wholly about benefits to my constituency but about a much wider area. One has to take a balanced approach, and in that sense I agree with the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). It is about quality of life versus economic prosperity, and we have to get the balance right. It is important to be able to draw employment and benefit from as wide a field as possible, rather than having to concentrate those things in any one particular area and give rise to a lot of popular opposition.
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend the Minister said, but we have no promises yet, and I hope that the West Anglia taskforce will deliver a message that gives the Government confidence that the project must go ahead. That project was my starting point, and I believe it is the key to a major improvement for the whole region. Although the four-track section might have a price tag of £2 billion, it is in fact cheaper than some of the other projects that we need to carry out over time, and it is key if people are to have any kind of decent transportation in their everyday lives, and key to supporting businesses and the airport. I leave that with the Minister, as the kernel of what I have been trying to say.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the effect of airport expansion on the Anglian Region.