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Olympic Games 2012: London Bid And Airport Capacity

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 10 March 2005

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11.8 a.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to avoid the conditions at Heathrow Airport, particularly of Terminals 1, 2 and 3, affecting London's bid for the Olympic Games.

My Lords, Heathrow Airport is one of the many positive selling points in London's bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. The bid document makes it clear that Heathrow is the best connected airport in the world and that it has ample capacity to cope with the arrival of the Olympic family. It will be further enhanced with the opening of the new state-of-the-art Terminal 5 in 2008.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am not going to bore the House with a whole litany of broken down jetties and bus trips enforced. I would just like to ask the Minister whether any pressure could be put on the British Airports Authority at least to maintain better the buildings that it has.

My Lords, that is an important consideration, but the British Airports Authority has extensive plans for Heathrow. In addition to the construction of Terminal 5, to which I just referred, there is massive investment in Terminal 3 to enable it to take the new large aircraft, the A380, and substantial improvements to Terminals 1 and 2. Some £8 billion will be spent over the next decade. There is a great deal of investment in Heathrow. I agree with the noble Lord that of course it could do with improvement, but certainly by the time of the Olympic Games Heathrow will be well equipped to cope with the traffic.

My Lords, I was slightly surprised to hear the Minister say that Heathrow is one of the best airports in the world. How often does he have occasion to use it?

My Lords, I am rather too busy with my obligations in the House to go to Heathrow very often. The House should recognise that Heathrow is the busiest airport in the world, and it will maintain that position over the next decade. Of course it is important that the modernisation should take place, although there are one or two modern airports that have had significant difficulties with their construction. Heathrow is an important link in British travel plans. Reverting again to the original Question, as far as concerns the Olympic Games, Heathrow will be a leading airport in 2012.

My Lords, it is worth pointing out that today, despite its shortcomings, Heathrow is working thanks not least to the labour reforms brought in by the previous Conservative government; whereas Paris is not working and is afflicted by a lightning general strike on the day when the Olympic Committee is visiting Paris. Should not the committee take into account the stable economic conditions that we enjoy in Britain when deciding between London and Paris?

My Lords, I am surprised that the noble Lord is not aware of the rule of the International Olympic Committee that one bid city does not comment on a rival bid while the process is going on. So I do not intend to do that.

My Lords, will my noble friend reflect, without remotely criticising the Parisian Olympic bid, that at Heathrow bits do not tend to fall off the buildings, whereas I gather that it is quite dangerous to go to Charles de Gaulle these days? That might well affect the performance of various countries in the Olympics.

My Lords, it may be thought that I can resist temptation on only one occasion. I can do it twice—I am not going to comment.

My Lords, I can at least say that I wholeheartedly support the London bid. To support that bid, can the Minister give the House any more hope that Crossrail may be completed in time for the Olympic Games to take place in 2012?

My Lords, the House knows that the timetable for Crossrail is 2014, so it is not related to the Olympic bid. Other improvements to transport are destined to be in play by 2012, of which the most significant is being able to transport passengers from King's Cross St Pancras to the Olympic site in seven minutes through the "javelin" route, which will be using the developed Channel Tunnel rail link.

My Lords, having waited 25 minutes this morning for a tow into the cul-de-sac at Terminal 4 on a flight from Dubai, may I ask whether consideration should be given to lifting the early-morning noise restrictions for just before and during the Games, if London is successful in the bid?

My Lords, for every passenger in the air, there are many hundreds on the ground with different interests as far as concerns noise.

My Lords, for those who find Heathrow too much of a strain, I point out that the runway at Stansted Airport is operating at about only half its capacity at present. The British Airports Authority has a planning application in preparation to develop the buildings along Stansted airport to the point where they can handle that runway at full capacity, which will increase capacity there by 20 million passengers per annum, with far superior access to east London than Heathrow. Does the Minister agree that Stansted might make a useful additional facility, which ought to help the Olympic bid forward if access is considered to be a problem?

My Lords, certainly Stansted plays a part in the bid as regards the transport arrangements because it is well connected with east London, and improvements to that line are being planned. We should not exaggerate the extent to which there will be pressure on airports from the Olympic Games. I merely cite that at present Heathrow accommodates 50,000 passengers an hour. Only 55,000 in the Olympic family would come here, including all those associated with the Games and the athletes, so our airport capacity can well cope. When our bid is successful, the Olympic Games will be going on at a time when others who are not interested in the Games will be taking holidays elsewhere.