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Regional Airports

Volume 612: debated on Thursday 30 June 2016

5. Whether he plans to review the effectiveness of the public service obligation for regional airports. (905572)

The Government will soon update their aviation policy framework. As part of this update, the Government will consider the role that public service obligations can play in serving regional airports, which are a vital economic and social lifeline for all parts of the United Kingdom.

For Aberdeen, as an international oil and gas hub, the access that we enjoy to Heathrow as a gateway to the rest of the world is as important, if not perhaps more important, than its access to this fine city of London. Aberdeen has looked at the prospect of a PSO, which would provide access only to a London airport, whereas we need point-to-point access. Will the Secretary of State ensure that that is considered in the review?

I will certainly consider the representations that the hon. Gentleman has made to see whether that is compatible with the overall rules that we want to introduce in public service obligations.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the sustainability and development of regional airports could be much enhanced by the increase in connectivity inherent in the additional capacity plans for the south-east? Given that such connectivity will deliver economic growth throughout the UK, what assessment has he made of the efficacy of any engagement with the regional airports in ensuring that once a decision is made, the proposals in the recommended option of Heathrow will deliver the desired development of our regional airports?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position. I have been in this post for four years, and he is the fifth shadow Secretary of State I have seen and, I think, the 10th person to hold the Labour transport brief in nine years. I congratulate him on that. I also thank the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) for the way in which she conducted herself while she was doing the job. Although at the moment she is sitting on the Back Benches, I am sure that that is only a temporary measure while certain things are sorted out.

If I may now come to the question—I have almost forgotten what it was—I think we all agree that regional airports play a vital role in connectivity. One of the issues about regional airports—this was alluded to in a previous question—is their accessibility to the London airport system. We have to consider such issues and some later questions may address them.

The Davies commission report came out almost a year ago—I think a year ago tomorrow, in fact—and it recommended that the Government take a different view of point-to-point PSOs. Regional connectivity for Scotland could be enhanced by PSOs for many airports, including London City, yet London City’s plans for development are still on hold. Will the Cabinet Secretary commit to releasing that development now, so that it can partake in PSO development?

That is one of the issues for which the Mayor of London has responsibility first, and I think he has already taken a view on it. When a decision comes to me, obviously it will have to go through the proper process. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the opportunities for people to get to London airports.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The Davies commission report also recommended that we urgently consider expansion and that other airports, such as Heathrow and Gatwick, might benefit from PSO connectivity. Can we finally get a decision on airport expansion in the south-east, or will we yet again see more and more fudging of this subject?

I fear that the hon. Gentleman has come in a bit too early. I intend to address the points he has just made in response to question 8 on the Order Paper.