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Airports: London

Volume 726: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to provide for sufficient capacity in the London airport system to accommodate the forecast expansion of passenger demand.

My Lords, the Government are not in the business of predict and provide. We are committed to developing a new policy framework for the whole of UK aviation which supports economic growth and addresses aviation’s environmental impacts. The Department for Transport expects to publish passenger demand forecasts later this year to support the development of the framework.

If, as anticipated, Heathrow cannot take the strain, which London airport will? Perhaps I should add that I ask that Question as a former Minister for Aviation.

My Lords, the Government have set up the South East Airports Task Force to look at how we can make airports in the south-east better, but not bigger.

My Lords, since the Government claim to be the greenest Government ever and have announced the construction of a high-speed railway line, will they also take forward their airline policy by restricting demand so that the CO2 emissions are reduced with the use of less environmentally polluting means?

My Lords, we are indeed restricting demand: we are not authorising a third runway at Heathrow Airport or anywhere else in the south-east.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, with five airports in London, there is adequate airline capacity? Is not the need for high-speed rail so that we can meet the needs of the domestic market, which is what is driving most aviation growth?

What effect, if any, do the Government estimate there will be on British aviation and employment if capacity in the London area, particularly at Heathrow, is reduced or remains as it is? What consideration, if any, have they given to these issues?

My Lords, we have given a lot of consideration to these issues. I have talked about the South East Airports Task Force; there is also a wider, long-term, more strategic study. However, we will not make any significant increase in airport capacity in the south-east.

My Lords, what proposals are there for the expansion of Manston Airport, which has a trunk road running along its southern boundary and a railway line about a mile away?

My Lords, that will be considered in the wider strategy, and no doubt the south-east airport study will look at it as well. I have to say, however, that although Manston has some attractions, it is quite a long way from London.

My Lords, I should declare an interest as a long-term supporter of the campaign to stop expansion at Stansted Airport. The Minister will therefore get great support from me for his statement that the Government are not in favour of a predict-and-provide policy. However, does he accept that the effect of long-term uncertainty about airport expansion at various points, and certainly at Stansted, has been a blight on the surrounding areas? Will he use his and the Government’s best efforts to prevail on the British Airports Authority not to hang on to property that it owns in those areas, thereby making the blight worse?

My Lords, I was delighted to see the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, rise, because I anticipated some support from her. The property issues surrounding Stansted are a matter for BAA. She also asked about uncertainty. During my research on this Question, I could not find 1 zeptogram of a suggestion that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State was going to change the policy.

My Lords, in the Minister's Answer to the Question he referred to the Government bringing forward their proposals for aviation at the end of this year. Will those proposals address the needs of general aviation, and will they bring forward a framework to revise the 1982 aviation Act?

My Lords, most of the study relates to commercial aviation, not general aviation. The noble Lord will be aware that a future airspace strategy study is under way, which will improve the planning of flights from the continent to UK airports. It will also impact on general aviation, but I hope not in a negative way.

My Lords, does the Minister hope that his watchword—that this Government do not project or provide—runs right across Government? Does it extend to other Governments? Does he think, for instance, with regard to airports, that the Dutch, French and Spanish Governments are taking the same negative approach to the question of air traffic?

My Lords, we do not take a negative approach to the aviation industry at all, but we have maxed out the capacity of the population around Heathrow Airport to tolerate further expansion. We also need to constrain aviation-related emissions.

My Lords, will the noble Earl take this opportunity completely to dissociate the Government from the ridiculous plans of the Mayor of London to put an airport in the Thames estuary?

My Lords, does the Minister agree that aviation is one of the most successful industries in this country? In the light of what he just stated, what are the Government doing to grow it, or does he propose to reduce it? Can he also explain how much is saved by forcing more and more business from Heathrow to Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle or Frankfurt? What is the saving in green terms?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord’s first question about the importance of the aviation industry, but we do not want massively to increase the use of aviation, we want to keep it where it is. We must constrain our aviation emissions.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that in all the countries that have constructed high-speed railways, the demand for domestic air transport has declined significantly? Therefore, if the Government are determined to build High Speed 2—as I very much hope they will—they are perfectly entitled to rescale down the projected demand for domestic aviation in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the studies of aviation demand will take the noble Lord’s point into consideration. I understand that domestic aviation in Spain has been drastically reduced because of the construction of a high-speed rail network.

Does the Minister agree that in view of the fact that 90 per cent of freight and passengers will always go by road, it might be sensible to finish our motorway system first, and ease the blockages and the huge amount of pollution caused by them, before we get on with any vanity high-speed rail?

My Lords, that question is a little wide of the one on the Order Paper, but my understanding is that the strategic road network is largely complete.