In Our Programme for Government, the coalition announced the cancellation of plans for a third runway at Heathrow, and the refusal of permission for additional runways at Stansted and Gatwick. However, we recognise the need for a long-term airport capacity solution to ensure continuing international competitiveness in the coming decades. Therefore, Sir Howard Davies was asked to chair the independent Airports Commission, which will submit its final report in summer 2015.
My Lords, it is absolutely important that as a Minister in the Department for Transport I make sure that the commission is always recognised as having full integrity and independence. Therefore, even when pressed with this question at my own party conference, I have always refused to give any answer other than that the Government will comment after the final report is submitted in 2015.
My Lords, in view of the improbability of any new runway capacity being constructed in the south-east during the lifetime of most Members of your Lordships’ House, does the Minister not agree that this is the time to look very seriously at the role of regional airports such as Birmingham, which will be only 47 minutes from central London by High Speed 2?
My Lords, does the Minister accept that her position has moved significantly? I welcome that, but does she appreciate the importance of airports to Britain’s success in global markets? If she does, can she please accept that we ought to give at least as much attention to airports throughout the UK as we do to the rest of the transport infrastructure, most notably rail and road? We have to put airports up there or we will not succeed.
My Lords, I respectfully point out to the noble Baroness that she may not be aware that the current arrivals and departures procedures used by civil aviation mean that it matters not whether we have one extra runway at Heathrow or 10. The fact is that we cannot land enough aircraft at the moment. Will the noble Baroness inquire of the Davies commission whether it will review the standard arrivals and departures procedures and the adoption of GPS technology, which I know the CAA has just started to use, to allow further arrivals at airports?
My Lords, my noble friend will remember that after Terminal 5 was approved, we were assured that there would be no further development at Heathrow Airport. I wonder if she can give us any insight into what will happen should a third runway be built at Heathrow Airport, and how much more development we shall see there?
My noble friend knows intimately the history of airport development in the south-east. I am afraid that I can make no further comment until the final report comes from the Davies commission in the summer of 2015, at which point I will be delighted to comment.
My Lords, are the Government sustaining pressure on Sir Howard so that an incoming Labour Government will be able to consider the report immediately after the general election? Another easy question for the Minister: how much did the unrealistic and abortive idea of “Boris Island” cost?
Does the Minister agree that there is bound to be a substantial delay between the publication of the report and the building of a new runway? Meanwhile, the costs will inevitably rise, and British aviation will have to pay those costs, among others. Does the Minister agree with that?
My Lords, I am sure that everybody would want a major decision such as whether to build a new runway to be made with the best information available. It is important in those circumstances to make sure that the issue has been fully explored. That may be called delay by some. I think that others would say that it helps to inform appropriate decision-making.
My Lords—third time lucky. May I ask the noble Baroness whether she agrees that one of the things that have bedevilled this issue over the past two decades has been delay? Does she believe that when the Davies report is finally published, it will be implemented? I declare an interest as a supporter of the Stop Stansted Expansion campaign. If she looks at that example, she will see the restorative effect of lifting the blight on an airport and the countryside coming back to life.