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Airports: New Runways

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 30 March 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of how many new runways will be required at United Kingdom airports before 2050; and how many of those will be needed to serve London.

My Lords, the 2003 Future of Air Transport White Paper supported four new runways, subject to environmental considerations and commercial decisions by airport operators. The Government intend to consult next year on a new draft national policy statement on airports. They will also respond to the Committee on Climate Change’s recent report on options for reducing carbon emissions from aviation to 2050.

My Lords, I thank the Secretary of State for that Answer. Of those four new runways, how many are at existing airports and which are they? How many are at new sites and where would they be?

My Lords, the four were at Heathrow, Stansted, Birmingham and Edinburgh. Since then, the airport owners of Birmingham and Edinburgh have concluded that second runways will not be needed before 2030. Birmingham International Airport is pursuing an extension to its existing runway, for which it received planning permission this month.

As the Minister may be aware, the airports programme is likely to be extended, due to various legal and other technicalities, so will he reconsider the possibility of linking Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross with a proper tunnel? That would create a London north terminal, connected to the Underground at both the Euston and St Pancras ends, so that people making international journeys could do so by rail soon and in much more comfort.

The noble Lord makes an important point about the connections between Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross. As he will know, in the Government’s recent Command Paper on high-speed rail, we proposed that further work should take place on the precise issue that he highlights—that is, how a rapid people mover could be put in place between Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross. The distance between these stations is of course much smaller than that between most airport terminals and, if it were possible to get between these stations rapidly, the benefits could be huge, not least for passengers who arrive at Euston but wish to leave on international trains from St Pancras.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a supporter of the Stop Stansted Expansion campaign. Consequently, I am not a great fan of airport expansion of any kind. However, following my noble friend’s very welcome and far-sighted announcement of a high-speed rail policy, does he agree that airport policy in the future should be realigned so that new capacity is put where the infrastructure will serve it best?

My Lords, we will take account of all these issues when we publish the national policy statement next year.

My Lords, will the Secretary of State tell the House how the recent judgment on the inquiry into a third runway at Heathrow will affect the Government’s policy and, if they are ever re-elected, what plans they will have to reopen the consultation on a proper, up-to-date basis?

My Lords, we will consult on the national policy statement. Under the Planning Act 2008, we are required to have such a consultation and that consultation will take place. However, I should quote the words of the judge in last week’s ruling. He said:

“On the basis of the intentions of the secretary of state and BAA, as presently understood, the 2008 Act provides a complete legal framework for consideration of all the issues on which the claimants rely”.

Those were the words of the judge. A complete legal framework is in place for considering the issues relating to the further expansion of Heathrow. That complete legal framework includes the consultation that will take place on the new national policy statement.

My Lords, why have there always been objections to making far better use of Manston? It already has an airfield; it is, I think, already in use by the military; it could easily be linked up with the railway at Dover; and it is very close to the continent for ease of travel.

My Lords, how can I put this tactfully? There are people for and against the expansion of Manston airport and its use in the way that the noble Baroness described. I have been long enough in this job to know that my best position on these issues is to remain neutral.

My Lords, first, I declare an interest as the president of HACAN and as a veteran of both inquiries into the fourth and fifth terminals at Heathrow. In view of the recent High Court decision on the third runway but the Government’s determination to go ahead whatever, can the Minister say what limits—real limits—he would put on expansion at Heathrow?

As the noble Baroness will know, the decision that the Government took last January included a whole set of conditions that would need to be satisfied and limits on the number of air traffic movements. In particular, there is a limit on the number of air traffic movements before 2020 of 605,000 and a limit thereafter, subject to further conditions being met, of 702,000. Therefore, the decision includes limits of the kind that I think the noble Baroness wishes to see implemented.

My Lords, when my noble friend publishes the national policy statement, will it include an update of the forecasts, which must now be about 10 years out of date, and will it also be airport or runway-specific? Will it recommend particular locations or will it leave that to the operators to decide?

My Lords, is it not the case that, whether the Minister likes it or not, the third runway at Heathrow has been kiboshed by the courts as a direct and predictable result of the Government’s absurd Climate Change Act, which was passed with enthusiasm, acclaim and complete thoughtlessness by all parties in this House and in the other place? If the Minister thinks that the third runway is important—and I agree with him—is not the only possible solution to suspend the Act, not least because even the Government have admitted that it makes no sense without an international agreement, which Copenhagen showed was not attainable?

My Lords, I think that that was a rhetorical question. I am not sure that I need to answer it, since most of its content relates to the climate change agenda and not to airports. So far as the issue of carbon reduction and Heathrow is concerned, when the Government took the decision last year to allow the third runway application to proceed, they also asked the Committee on Climate Change for its advice on the target of ensuring that carbon emissions from aviation in 2050 were below the level in 2005. The noble Lord, Lord Turner, who chairs the committee, reported in December and concluded:

“The Report finds that there is potential for aviation demand to increase while still meeting the Government’s target—in the most likely scenario, a 60% increase in demand is allowed”.

That 60 per cent increase in demand is very significantly more than the increase in demand that would be caused by the third runway, so there is no incompatibility whatever between meeting our climate change and carbon reduction targets and allowing the expansion of Heathrow to take place, which is manifestly in the public interest and the wider economic interest.