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London Airport: New Runway

Volume 762: debated on Thursday 2 July 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the start date for building a new London airport runway; and when they expect that it will be ready for use.

My Lords, following the Airports Commission’s final report, published yesterday, we are considering the commission’s full body of work before deciding how and at what pace to respond to its recommendations. In terms of delivery, the Airports Commission’s analysis indicates that the Gatwick scheme could be delivered by 2025, while the two Heathrow schemes could be delivered by 2026.

Is the Minister aware that my Question is a day late? I am sure that he is. Is he further aware that many of us who have spent a lot of time thinking about this subject believe that the Government are to be fully supported in saying that they will take a firm decision this year? I personally think that it should be based on the Davies report but I recognise that there is no commitment on that.

I was going to say that my noble friend’s timing was impeccable—almost. He is quite right to say that now that we have the Davies commission report, as I said yesterday in repeating the Statement of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, it is right that the Government should now consider carefully the very detailed and balanced report. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said yesterday during Prime Minister’s Question Time:

“The guarantee that I can give … is that a decision will be made by the end of the year”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/7/15; col. 1473.]

My Lords, surely the challenge for government in the immediate term is utilising best the airport capacity that we have? Stansted’s runway is only 50% used and it has a useless rail link that is slow and unreliable. Should not the Government be investing in that rail link to make sure that that capacity is used first and used effectively?

The noble Lord raises a very valid point and we are looking at areas of surface transport. He will be well aware that the commission made an interim report. Various recommendations came out of that on improving certain facilities: for example, the station at Gatwick Airport is being improved. Issues were raised about road networks, which is part of our investment strategy, and regional airports such as Birmingham and Bristol are, among others, receiving support in terms of improving the surrounding road network.

Is it not the case that the only reason the Government did not say yes to Heathrow straight away is the bombast of Boris Johnson and the difficulties of that type within the Conservative Party?

I think that it is right to say that the views of the London mayor are important views to consider. However, the report commissioned in 2012 has now reported. Any responsible Government would consider the findings of that report before coming to a final decision.

I do not think that there is a great deal more to be said after yesterday’s very helpful report, and I am sure that everybody wants the Government to get on with it as soon as possible. However, the Government ought also to use the time available to look at the way in which we got ourselves into a mess where it has taken—certainly since my early involvement in this—more than 20 years to work out what we do on major infrastructure projects of this type. The general rule with airports should be that they should be allowed to expand, subject to very stringent noise and pollution issues, which the report emphasises. If we do that, we will add greatly to this country’s chances of economic growth.

The previous Government and indeed this Government have said repeatedly that it is important that we look at the capacity of airports around the south-east. It is a major part of UK plc’s offering on the global stage. As the noble Lord pointed out, this report looks at the key considerations in terms of the environment and community engagement, and due weight will be given to them in our assessment of the report.

My Lords, how long will the extra runway last us before we have to consider yet another expansion of airport capacity?

The commission report, which I recommend to my noble friend, considers all these areas. We are running near to capacity at Heathrow and at Gatwick as well, so the immediate task for the commission was to look at addressing those needs. The report also looks at further needs beyond 2050.

My Lords, it will be 10 or 15 years before any additional capacity is available. Meanwhile, our internal regional access to our one current hub at Heathrow continues to be at risk. Given that Europe controls the slot allocations at Heathrow, will the Minister give consideration to the Government positively pushing Brussels so that we can regain control over our own national, fundamental piece of aviation infrastructure?

I assure the noble Lord that the Prime Minister and the whole Government are fully committed to pushing Brussels to get greater control over a raft of issues concerning national sovereignty.

In 2009, as we know, the Prime Minister said that he would not support a third runway and did so with a certain degree of finality, since he said “no ifs, no buts”. Can the Minister confirm that that still represents the Prime Minister’s and thus the Government’s policy on a third runway at Heathrow? If it does not, could he draw our attention to any statement by the Prime Minister retracting his very clear policy statement that he would not support a third runway at Heathrow?

I suggest to the noble Lord that he might be minded to read the response of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to the acting leader of his party during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, where he gave a commitment that the Government would make a decision by the end of the year. On the noble Lord’s reference to “no ifs, no buts”, as I am sure he is well aware, the Prime Minister ruled out a very different proposition in 2010.

Since one of the key elements of this report is about emissions and noise, will Her Majesty’s Government consult deeply with the aero industry, particularly in the context of quieter jets, more efficient jets and jets that produce far fewer emissions? Certainly, a great many of us on this side think that this is fundamental.

My noble friend is quite right that the development of aircraft has resulted in larger but quieter and more fuel-efficient aircraft. In coming to their final decision on the report, the Government will ensure that all key players are fully consulted.