Skip to main content

Airports: Stansted

Volume 690: debated on Monday 5 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they will take to ensure that BAA’s latest plans for the expansion of Stansted Airport are consistent with government policies on environmental protection and carbon emissions.

My Lords, BAA is taking forward expansion plans for Stansted Airport in accordance with the Government’s White Paper on the future of transport. In the 2006 progress report on the White Paper, the Government made it clear that major decisions on airport capacity need to take into account not only their local environmental effects but also the wider context of aviation’s climate impact. All planning applications will be subject to the planning inquiry process.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. He will be aware that his predecessor and other Ministers have consistently denied that the Government are pursuing a predict-and-provide approach to airport expansion or to any other form of transport infrastructure. Does he agree, however, that BAA’s rationale for the expansion of Stansted Airport is based entirely on that rather discredited planning model, as the language of its public documents reveals? Is he aware that if Stansted Airport is expanded, carbon emissions there will rise from the present 5 million tonnes per annum to 12 million tonnes per annum? In view of everything we now know about the urgency of addressing climate change, not to mention the devastating impact of the expansion on local communities, will he explain why the Government are still supporting BAA’s ambitions in this arena?

My Lords, we support airport development in the right circumstances, which means making better use of existing airport capacity as a priority ahead of building the targeted additional infrastructure supported in the White Paper and ensuring that where new capacity is required, its provision is in line with our environmental obligations.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with Sir Nicholas Stern’s report that aviation is responsible for only 1.6 per cent of global emissions? Do the Government agree with Sir Ron Eddington’s report that there is a strong economic case for additional capacity at UK airports while tackling the environmental case?

My Lords, we recognise the need to address climate change, as the Stern report makes clear. We have to balance the important economic driver that airport development is with our environmental obligations. We fairly set that out in the response to the 2004 White Paper in the follow-up report that was published last December.

My Lords, the Minister is really saying that we are going to go on emitting and hope that someone else is going to stop emitting to allow us to expand airports. Will the Government commit themselves to embarking on a programme where visits by Ministers and officials in this country or in close Europe are transferred to the railways as a concrete step to reducing aircraft emissions?

My Lords, Ministers take great care in deciding their choice of transportation for visits. From personal experience, we think very carefully about these matters. It is obviously important that we set a good example in terms of using the most sustainable forms of transportation available. The fact is that Ministers are required to make long journeys and the most efficient and effective use of a Minister’s time is surely of great importance. One would expect that that is how they would behave.

My Lords, will my noble friend admit that the Government, or, indeed, any Government around the world—or opposition political parties for that matter—have no serious policy to stop the growth of air travel because it is too popular? Would it not be better to seek global agreement on setting up a major fund to seek to try in some way to find technological changes to prevent aircraft emitting these emissions?

My Lords, that is precisely what the Government are investing in. We have international commitment, and we are committed to working through the International Civil Aviation Organization to achieve that very point. Clearly, we need to ensure that we reduce emissions and that any expansion in civil aviation is reflected in an increased commitment to protecting the environment long term because we know of the impacts of emissions over the longer term.

My Lords, have the Government taken into account the great increase in stacking, which would undoubtedly take place, with a very bad effect over Cambridge, for instance, which, last time the whole matter came up, objected fiercely to an increase?

My Lords, of course there will be impacts from any increase in journeys and visits through Stansted Airport. We clearly have to take very careful account of those. The planning inquiry process does exactly that.

My Lords, the Conservative Party has a policy on Stansted Airport; it is “no second runway”. My leader and the shadow Secretary of State for Transport for the Conservative Party announced a policy for no second runway at Stansted; I make that quite clear to this House.

Last week it was announced that there would be a new runway on the M11, costing something like £50 million. Yet we desperately need infrastructure for other things in Essex. Would the Minister support investing in that roundabout rather than in other infrastructure in Essex?

My Lords, I am rarely completely puzzled by questions from the Opposition, but did I hear the noble Lord correctly? I thought he asked whether we would invest in a new runway on the M11. I do not know if that was the question, but it seems a bit wide of the mark if it was.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the 1,000 year-old Hatfield Forest is already being damaged—I cannot say destroyed—by current emissions from the M11 and Stansted Airport? If the M11 is widened to four lanes each way, if there is a new runway and if the number of aircraft take-offs and landings increase, it will be totally destroyed. Will the Government support that?

My Lords, I do not know Hatfield as well as I did when I was younger and lived in Essex, but I doubt very much whether, even on current projections, Hatfield Forest will be completely destroyed. The noble Lord makes a very important point: that we have to consider very carefully the impact on the environment of aircraft emissions or, for that matter, emissions from motor vehicles. Clearly, those things are very important. They feature in considering these things and of course we look very closely at such issues at all times.