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Airport Expansion: Road and Rail Upgrades

Volume 771: debated on Wednesday 27 April 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, as part of their decision on expansion of airports in the South East, they are considering the figures from Transport for London that upgrades to rail and roads will cost £16 billion more than estimated by Heathrow.

My Lords, the Airports Commission assessed the surface access requirements of each shortlisted scheme as part of its work published in July 2015. Transport for London’s views were considered by the commission as part of this work. The Government have been clear that we expect the promoter of any airport expansion scheme to meet the full cost of any surface access proposals that are required to enable the expansion and from which they will directly benefit.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is a balance to be struck between responsibility for general improvements to London’s transport and those improvements required specifically for Heathrow Airport, if it were decided to expand it? But the striking thing is the dramatic difference between the figures given by Transport for London and the price put on the improvements by the Airports Commission. Do the Government accept that they need to bottom out these figures and the difference between them, and who will be responsible for building new infrastructure, and that they need to do so before they make their decision on airport expansion?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point out the difference between the figures from TfL and from the commission itself—and indeed the figures that Heathrow Airport itself presented. One thing I would say is that the figures refer to the different content in each proposal, and different timelines.

On her second, more substantive point about who is responsible, the Government’s 2013 aviation policy framework makes it very clear that developers should pay for the costs of upgrading, and that where the scheme has a wider impact and benefit the Government will look at it on a case by case basis.

My Lords, could not the cost of Transport for London be significantly reduced if so many of its executives were not paid excessive amounts compared with, say, the salary of the Prime Minister? What can be done to reduce the costs of congestion caused by the policies of Transport for London?

It is for the Mayor of London to review both those issues. But I say to my noble friend that with any salary paid to any public servant serving in any government—central, devolved or local—public scrutiny is important and needs to be reflected.

A newspaper report today said that the Government’s decision on airport expansion in the south-east could be pushed back to September at the earliest, and possibly later, because of a government decision-making log-jam caused by the EU referendum. Do the Government stand by their position that a decision will be announced in the summer, and, if so, can the Minister say on what date the Government consider that this coming summer will end?

I say to the noble Lord, who has wide experience, that you should not always believe what you read in the papers. The Government’s position, as I have said, is that we intend to conclude the additional work around the issues and the concerns rightly raised about the environment and noise pollution in the summer. He asked for a specific date but, as I have said, I cannot give that at this time.

Have the Government given up the idea that somehow high-speed trains to the Midlands are a substitute for expanding Heathrow? If so, they are very wise.

As my noble friend will appreciate, the Government are making the biggest investment in transport infrastructure not just for a generation but, in the case of the railways, since the Victorian age. Aside from the HS2 project we are making more than £60 billion of investment in this Parliament alone, which underlines the Government’s commitment to ensure expansion of the transport infrastructure across all modes of transport.

My Lords, the environment committee in the other place has today called for urgent action to stop 50,000 premature deaths a year from air pollution-related illnesses. Is it not mad to expand Heathrow Airport when we are already in serious breach of European air quality laws? Would it not also be mad to pull out of the protective umbrella of EU pollution rules?

I am sure that the noble Baroness was not suggesting that I was mad—but I will read Hansard carefully. She is quite right to raise the issue of air pollution. As I said, it will be given due consideration in the wider environmental impacts that the Government are looking at.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that a few years ago, the solution to the problem of emissions around Heathrow was to put the M4 and the M25 in a tunnel, so that the emissions would come out at the ends, away from the airport? That would have reduced the level of emissions. Is that still on TfL’s agenda?

That is an interesting suggestion—but I cannot say that it is something to which I personally subscribe.

Is my noble friend aware that these figures are about as colourful as the Mayor of London? They really ought to be taken with a pinch of salt—and, perhaps, with a declaration of interest behind them.

Again, just for clarity, I am sure that my noble friend was referring to the figures provided by TfL, which are for others to analyse, and not to the commitment that the Government have given to spending £65 billion on transport infrastructure in this Parliament.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interest in the register. On the matter of upgrading infrastructure for airports, will the Minister take this opportunity to acknowledge and welcome the decision of London Luton Airport to invest £260 million in a new passenger transit system to speed transfers between the parkway rail station and the airport terminal? For the UK’s fastest-growing airport it will mean, when concluded, that journey times from London to the airport terminal will be about half an hour.

This Government welcome the investment in surface transport and airports across the country. As I have said to the noble Lord before, I am looking forward to my visit to Luton airport to see the wider facilities and investment.