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Airports: Runways

Volume 773: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their plans for the future development of runways at Gatwick and Stansted airports, in addition to their plans for Heathrow airport.

My Lords, the Airports Commission shortlisted three airport schemes in its interim report—two at Heathrow and one at Gatwick. The commission did not include a scheme at Stansted on its shortlist. The Government accepted the commission’s shortlist in December and have since been undertaking a programme of further work to support a decision on a preferred scheme.

My Lords, for one magical moment I thought I would get a substantive reply. But I quite understand that the Government are putting a brave face on an emerging crisis that could be made worse if we are heading towards a recession. Will my noble friend have a quiet word with his Secretary of State and ask him whether he will put the question of Heathrow direct to the Cabinet—because they might be so busy sorting themselves out that they might say yes? Failing that, will he accept that those of us who have taken an interest in this matter will add to our list of good causes Stansted and Gatwick? Those airports are now filling up and running out of space—and it is only 30 years ago that I turned the first sod for Stansted.

My noble friend has been assiduous in beating the drum on this subject, and today is no exception. The Government are fully committed to delivering the important infrastructure projects they have set out—including runway capacity—on the timetable set out in the Airport Commission’s report. My noble friend will know that my right honourable friend Patrick McLoughlin in the other place made a Statement on 30 June. I have no doubt he is in close touch with the Cabinet on this issue. He made it clear that he was not in a position to make a decision on airport capacity this summer.

My Lords, what guarantees have been received from Gatwick Airport that the current operational disruption and operational scheduling will be permanently resolved?

On the question of Gatwick or Heathrow, the noble Viscount will know that three shortlisted schemes have been put forward—two at Heathrow and one at Gatwick. That continues to be the main focus. At some point an announcement will be made—but the Statement from the Secretary of State on 30 June was very clear.

When do the Government expect to make a decision on this issue? It has been delayed for so long, and every delay results in grievous loss to this country in world markets. What are the Government going to do about it?

It is fair to say that the expression “long-running saga” can be redefined. On a serious note, the Government made it clear that rolling out the new runway was extremely important. In December 2013, the Airport Commission’s report stated that the need was acute and that by 2030 we needed to address the capacity issue. Failing to address it could cost passengers £21 billion to £23 billion in fare increases and delays, and £30 billion to £45 billion for the wider economy. I am unable to give a timetable at the moment, but the noble Lord will be aware that there are issues such as air quality that are being analysed at present.

My Lords, is it not clear that the Government cannot direct international airlines to which airport they will go? The alternative to Heathrow is not Gatwick, Stansted or Boris Island but Frankfurt, Schiphol and Paris.

I am very aware that airports in Europe have been developing, but the transport network within the UK is exceptionally good, and we should always remember that. There is now a great opportunity—even more so after the result of the EU referendum—to spread ourselves more to markets abroad, and that is exactly what we are doing.

My Lords, BA operates the majority of Heathrow services. Recently, Willie Walsh stated that the costs of a third runway were prohibitive. He suggested, instead, that we look again at extending the existing northern runway, which the commission suggested was an option. Have the Government taken that into consideration or will they do so now, given the financial and economic emergency we now face as a country?

I can confirm that there has been no change and that the three schemes remain on the table. We will continue to roll out this programme of looking at the schemes, including analysis on issues such as air quality. That is very important if one thinks about the number of employees at Heathrow and Gatwick: 70,000 at Heathrow. We must get these things right—which is why we are not yet at the stage where we can make a decision.

My Lords, I know that the Minister is a naturally calm person, but he sounds rather complacent about the seriousness of this problem. We were told that the decision was delayed because of the election and the referendum. We are now told that because of the leadership campaign it cannot be announced. Does the Minister understand that British business is feeling very insecure and nervous and needs reassurances? If the Government cannot make a decision on this we will start to wonder whether they can make a decision on anything.

Yes, I fully understand. I am sure the noble Baroness will agree that it is very important that such a major decision is made properly and with all the facts. We are not at that stage. I have already explained that there are matters of great importance that are being looked at, and I have laid them out. We must get this right.

My Lords, does the outcome of the referendum have implications for the decision that my noble friend is telling us about?

I refer my noble friend to the announcement made by my right honourable friend Patrick McLoughlin. He said:

“I had hoped that we would be able to announce a decision on airport capacity this summer. Clearly, any announcement on airport capacity would have to be made when the House was in session … given recent events, I cannot now foresee that there will be an announcement until at least October”.—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/16; col. 452.]

My Lords, I draw attention to my interest in the register. I may have mentioned to the Minister’s colleague the strong growth and expansion plans for London Luton Airport, which is just 22 minutes by train from London and serves some 23 million people within a two-hour travel time from the airport. Notwithstanding the Government’s prevarication on Heathrow or Gatwick, will the Minister confirm their continued support for Luton’s expansion and the funding which has been allocated?

I can reassure the noble Lord that Luton, as well as other regional airports in the south-east, is very much being considered. I have already mentioned the three preferred schemes, but Stansted and Luton airports are incredibly important for providing a south-east hub with links to Europe and further abroad.