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Heathrow Airport: Public Consultation

Volume 635: debated on Wednesday 24 January 2018

I beg to move,

That this House has considered public consultations on Heathrow airport.

It is a privilege to introduce this debate. The whole issue of Heathrow expansion is of course massive and will be debated extensively in the next six months, but I want to focus on the various consultations and ask the Minister how they fit together, how the Government are responding to them, how responsive the Government are to evidence and how far they have committed themselves to fundamental decisions.

I will refer to three specific consultations. The first is the major consultation on the national policy statement—the basic strategy document—which finished in May and was reported on by Sir Jeremy Sullivan. The second is the more recent consultation on the adaptation of the NPS, which finished in December and related to new bodies of evidence on air quality and passenger numbers. The third is the consultation that is taking place at the moment. A glossy document came through my door a few days ago, and it is probably going through hundreds of thousands of others. That raises a fundamental question, because the proposal in it is different from the Government’s. How do the proposals fit together, and how many residents in London are supposed to respond to that consultation?

I will concentrate on the second consultation, and the main document I will refer to is the response of the four councils—Richmond, Wandsworth, Hillingdon and Windsor. It is worth mentioning in passing that those councils between them incorporate the constituencies of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the shadow Chancellor and me, among others, so they are not totally devoid of political interest. Let me focus on the two main respects in which the questions in December’s revised consultation were framed—air quality and passenger numbers—and how they change our perspective on this subject.

Air quality is important because it involves not just aesthetic considerations but matters that directly impinge on human health and mortality. We start from a position where NOx emissions and particulates are at dangerous and illegal levels according to internationally recognised standards, and the most recent evidence suggests that emissions are rising, not falling. That is the context in which we have to look at the new evidence on air quality.

Since the original NPS consultation, the Government have produced their own national air quality plan. One of the problems with that is that it does not specifically take into account Heathrow. Will the Minister say how it would differ if it did? It also does not take into account the plans of the Mayor of London, who is in the process of formulating proposals for what I think he calls an ultra-low emissions zone. There are issues with how that will be implemented, given that the Government will not give special consideration to funding it. The arithmetic of London government suggests that the Mayor’s plans for reducing emissions will be almost entirely offset, if not worse, by those originating at Heathrow.

The bigger question is whether those emissions need to be produced at all. On the basis of the Government’s original estimates, it is possible that there might be such a switch to public transport that there would not be any additional cars on the road. I believe the Government used the phrase “no more cars on the road” in the original formulation of their NPS. However, to achieve that, they would have to achieve an enormous change in modal split: something like 70% of vehicle journeys would have to be by public transport.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and apologise for arriving just after he had started. He is right, but does he acknowledge that, according to Transport for London’s own statistics, to accommodate the projected increased traffic to and from Heathrow would cost around £18 billion? That assumes that current trends would continue—in other words, that the same proportion of people would drive to and from Heathrow. Even based on those status quo assumptions, we would require £18 billion of additional investment, which Heathrow will not pay, the Government have said they will not pay, and TfL is unable to pay.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I want to dwell a little on that £18 billion figure which, as he says, is based on rather conservative assumptions. Where that will come from is one of the big unanswered questions. The Government say that they will not provide financial support. The airport itself has come up with £1 billion towards the £18 billion, but it is already a highly leveraged company. Questions have been raised about its balance sheet, and particularly about the large-scale tax-avoidance schemes that have enabled it to finance its debt so far, so how will it raise yet more to fund the infrastructure? The only way that could happen is if the airport very substantially increased landing charges. One of the reasons why major airlines such as British Airways have turned against Heathrow expansion is that they realise that that would be a necessary consequence. The other potential source of funding is TfL, but it is highly constrained by public sector borrowing restrictions and the need to fund Crossrail, which will be a major burden on its balance sheet in coming years.

TfL has spelled out in detail how the public transport infrastructure would have to be provided, and much of it is highly problematic. It would have to go a lot further than some improvements to the Piccadilly line and the Elizabeth line. It would involve, among other things, improving southern rail access. However, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) well knows, that is problematic. The southern rail route runs through my constituency and his. If the route to Heathrow ran through his constituency, there would be serious problems with prolonged closures of level crossings, and the line through Kingston and Wimbledon is already congested. It is not at all obvious how that improvement is feasible— it has not even been sketched out—and there is a big question for the Government about how it would be funded.

The other question that the revised consultation raises is about increased passenger numbers. It is important to stress that the revised figures—the Government’s own numbers, not anyone else’s—suggest that the national economic benefit of airport expansion would be significantly greater at Gatwick than at Heathrow. That is a reversal of the Airports Commission’s analysis. Do the Government accept that conclusion? If they do not, perhaps they will explain why not. If they do, how do they propose to respond? They could say, “Well, we don’t care, because we’re not really interested in national economic benefit. We’ve decided we’re going to have a hub airport.” However, that would raise two big questions: why proceed with a national hub airport if it is less economically beneficial than the alternative, and why not ask or expect Gatwick to provide its own hub facilities, which it is perfectly keen and anxious to do?

The other factual information that has emerged from the new passenger numbers is that Heathrow airport will fill up very quickly. On current assumptions, it will start in 2026 and be full by 2028. That has knock-on consequences. There will be very little resilience, the airport’s authorities will be tempted to switch from domestic routes to more profitable international routes and it will make it much easier, given the monopolistic position, to push up fares even further.

Then there are the consequences of the higher passenger numbers, which are new. There is the impact on noise, which I think is of concern to all the constituencies whose MPs are in the Chamber. The original assurance given by the Secretary of State was that, when Heathrow was expanded, no more people in London or the areas around it would be affected by noise. The current numbers suggest that an additional 90,000 will be. Again, do the Government accept that?

What is important is not simply the aggregate numbers, but how that very large number of individuals—we are now talking about 1 million people—are directly affected. That relates to take-off and landing routes and the trajectory of the aircraft. At the moment, we have no information on flight paths, which is crucial to making an informed decision on how the project will affect our constituencies.

My final point on the data is that, although connectivity is one of the major reasons why Heathrow expansion is being considered, the new data suggests that connectivity to other British cities will decline with Heathrow expansion, from eight major destinations at present to five, and will be smaller than were Gatwick to proceed. I ask the Minister to consider how the Government regard this new evidence, which casts doubt on the feasibility of the proposal.

I will round up by raising the more basic question of how the Government are approaching consultation. Have they come to a conclusion, in which case we are going through a ritual, or are they meaningfully engaging in dialogue, listening to evidence and seeing it as a genuinely iterative process? One important step is how we are to see the consultation that Heathrow airport itself is now engaging in. It is important for our constituents to understand that what Heathrow airport is proposing seems substantially different from what the Government are proposing.

One of the options the airport is looking at is moving and substantially shortening the runway. I understand why it would want to do so, because that avoids all the horrendous problems of tearing up the M25 and rebuilding it under a tunnel, with all the costs involved. If it is changed in that way, that substantially affects the noise contour; I think there are 20,000 people who would face much more intense and intolerable noise levels, many of them in the constituency of the shadow Chancellor. There is a question how that would be dealt with.

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. This is a timely debate. I have to confess that I have not received the same volume of consultative literature in the north of the borough of Ealing as he has, for various reasons. I wonder whether, among the data of the passenger and transport movements to and from the airport, there has been a disaggregation that identifies the cargo and freight movements—specifically because the economy of Northern Ireland is almost entirely dependent on cargo freight movements into Heathrow airport. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is talking about passenger movements, but is there a disaggregation that identifies cargo movements to and from Heathrow?

I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I hope the Minister will be able to. There is a specific issue about freight, not just in the air, but on the ground. One of the contributing factors to a lot of the worries about air quality relates to freight on the ground, which is linked to air journeys.

I have one minute left for my presentation, so I will conclude by trying to probe further how the Government see this consultation. The Secretary of State said in July that the Heathrow expansion project, along the lines that were originally identified, would definitely go ahead. We are left with the question of whether that is inevitable if the evidence changes? We now have evidence based on the Government’s own numbers to suggest that Gatwick is a more economically attractive alternative. Does that matter? How much more attractive does it have to be before the Government might consider the fundamentals around the location? If the air quality evidence is so damaging, at what point do the Government reconsider their options?

Fundamentally, going back to the intervention by the hon. Member for Richmond Park, we are potentially talking about large Government subsidy if the airport is to avoid a very large increase in landing charges or funding from sources that we cannot yet identify. Is there a level of subsidy and Government funding that is unacceptable? We have new evidence, which is emerging all the time and is becoming progressively less favourable to the case for Heathrow, so I will leave this question with the Minister: how open-minded are the Government to that new evidence, and how will they progress the project?

Order. I have four Members standing, and it might be of interest to the House to know that I plan to call the Scottish National party spokesman at eight minutes past five. If you could bear that in mind, that is about five and a half minutes each.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I thank the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) for securing this debate. I am minded to speak positively about Heathrow expansion, but I must initially mention the issues affecting the four councils, so eloquently described by the right hon. Gentleman, which include air quality and ground-based infrastructure.

Heathrow expansion is a UK-wide issue, and the ripple effects of expansion will go far and wide throughout the United Kingdom. All parts of the UK have a stake in it, and in this consultation. The need has been clearly identified for greater airport capacity in south-east England, so that we can have not only more international but more domestic flights, including—this may be a selfish statement—to and from Scotland. In recent years, flights between Scotland and London have been restricted due to a lack of capacity. Improved connectivity would also benefit Scotland’s economy.

Expansion will allow our airports to turn that situation around, restoring services that existed previously and introducing new ones. More opportunities to get to London from Scotland and vice versa will make travel, be it for business or pleasure, far more convenient. That is why I welcome Heathrow’s commitment to a £10 million fund to support new domestic routes as part of its expansion plans. With more domestic and international flights, Heathrow expansion will help link Scotland to emerging global markets. Heathrow’s recent reduction in landing charges for domestic flights will make domestic flights more accessible, and I am convinced that it will incentivise more flights in the future.

It will therefore come as no surprise to right hon. and hon. Members that Heathrow expansion has the support of most Scottish airports. When I say most, I understand that Edinburgh airport is not enthused by it, but I think there is a commercial link between the ownership of Edinburgh and Gatwick. The Scottish Chamber of Commerce and the Scottish Government are fully supportive of the expansion, and I hope that their voices will be heard and taken on board in this consultation.

The benefits of Heathrow expansion will be felt particularly strongly by residents and businesses in Ayrshire. South Ayrshire’s very own Prestwick airport, which is not in my constituency but the neighbouring constituency of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), is one of six airports expected to be added to Heathrow’s domestic network by 2030 as a consequence of the third runway. Flights between Heathrow and Prestwick, in addition to being good for Prestwick, will make travel to London and around the world much easier for my constituents and for people across south-west Scotland.

I am also pleased to note that Prestwick has been included on the longlist of potential logistics hubs serving Heathrow expansion. The four successful sites will pre-assemble parts of the expanded airport for delivery to Heathrow; I am looking forward to Prestwick being selected as one of those, bringing new jobs and investment to Ayrshire. I am optimistic for Prestwick and for the Ayrshire communities, where the aerospace park is a major employer. The Ayrshire growth deal, which is in the pipeline but not coming as fast as I would like, will include plans for Prestwick to become an aerospace hub. Heathrow therefore has good reason to work with Prestwick. As a site with great access to air, road, rail and sea, it is an ideal candidate for a logistics hub, and I hope Heathrow will give due consideration to Prestwick’s bid.

It is a pleasure to serve under you, Sir Henry. I thank my constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable), for securing the debate. I also thank the Library, which released this week an excellent summary of where we are and how we got there. It is neutral, dispassionate, but factual, and pulls together all the references that we need for such a debate. I also thank the No 3rd Runway Coalition for its help in briefing some of us for the debate.

I will not cover, as we have covered between us many times before, the details of the impact of a third runway; the net cost to the economy, according to Department for Transport figures; or the increased air and noise pollution. We have had, and will have, many other opportunities in this House and other places to raise those issues. I want to focus on the current public consultation, but I will just give the context. My constituency, Brentford and Isleworth, lies immediately to the east of Heathrow airport. Two thirds of my constituents live underneath the approach path for the two runways on westerly operations, and the other third of my constituency will be underneath the approach path to the third runway, so this is a massive issue for my constituents.

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way so early. I would compliment her on her speech, but she has not given it yet, although I know it will be brilliant, because she is an absolutely stalwart campaigner on this issue. Does she agree that one problem with the consultation is that we know that hundreds of thousands of new people will be affected by noise, but we do not know which hundreds of thousands, because the Government and Heathrow have yet to tell us where the new flight paths will be, which renders the entire consultation process entirely disingenuous, if not dishonest? It is a bit like saying, “We’re going to put a new incinerator in your constituency, and we’d like to ask people their opinion, but we’re not going to say where it’ll be put.” Surely the entire basis of the consultation’s legitimacy has a question mark hanging over it.

The hon. Gentleman, another constituency neighbour, has stolen one of my key points; I will come on to that.

As I was saying, my constituents live under either the current or the proposed—or inevitable—flight paths. Also, living between central London and Heathrow, we have the traffic congestion and the associated air pollution, so this is a really big issue for us. I have been dealing with the issue for more than 15 years—before coming to this place, I was a lead member of Hounslow Council— and it feels like we have been involved in perpetual consultation. Again, the Library report lists a lot of those processes. In the autumn, there was the Government consultation on the draft national policy statement on airports, and I felt sorry for DFT staff in that consultation, because the answer to so many of the questions that local residents asked them were, “I’m sorry; I don’t know,” or, “I’m sorry; we don’t have that information yet.” I see the same thing happening with Heathrow airport staff in the newly relaunched consultation. Last week, Heathrow Airport Ltd launched its consultation on a slightly different proposal from that covered in the NPS consultation, but as far as my constituents are concerned, there is not a lot of difference.

What is clear in the Heathrow consultation is what is not clear; so little is said. I have to read out a key quotation from the consultation document:

“we have been assessing the design options for developing a scheme which meets the government’s requirements for an expanded airport, whilst responding to the needs of local communities and mitigating environmental impacts.”

That makes it look like we will see some detail, but the document goes on:

“We are still working through this process, therefore there is not yet a fixed master plan for the expansion of Heathrow.”

If it is not yet possible to map the detailed impact on local communities, what is the point of consulting right now?

What my constituents want to know is this. First, where is the approach path to the third runway? There is no reason why that cannot be mapped now, because the runway is there. We are within 6 miles of the airport, and all flights will be locked into final approach; it is basic physics. So why cannot we be told where the approach path is, how high the planes will be and how wide the approach path will be? We are not in one of the areas where there can be concentration or spreading out. We are so close to the airport that all planes have to be locked in, at least on approach. I think it is deliberate that we are not being told. The thinking is, “It’s okay, because we’re going to tell people that they are going to be underneath the flight path.” I challenge Heathrow airport or the Department for Transport to tell us that we are wrong.

There is very little information on respite. We have a marginal improvement on previous situations, in that there will be no night flights for six and a half hours, but in the real world, no night flights does not actually mean no flights overhead for those night periods. It means no scheduled night flights, but there might be emergency flights, VIP flights, medical flights and so on. There is probably a good reason for all of them, but at one of the busiest airports in the world, there is seldom a time when there are actually no flights at all during those periods, and certainly the rules are not as strict in the UK as they are in other jurisdictions.

What will the air quality implications be if there is no diesel scrappage scheme? How will a congestion charge affect the many local businesses and residents that need to travel around the airport even if they are not actually using it? What will the new transport infrastructure be? There have been many questions about that. And of course nationally we are all concerned about who will pay for this. There is no clarity on how the runway, terminal buildings and essential work will be paid for, and there is certainly no clarity or agreement on the essential traffic impacts. The issue of traffic impacts is not just about passengers or people who work at Heathrow. It is not just about freight. By the way, the aim is to double the amount of freight going in and out of Heathrow with no additional freight vehicle movements. There is no clarity about how that will work, and I challenge any transport engineer to map it.

The issue that no one ever seems to mention is the additional flight servicing. There will be 47% more flights with runway 3. That to me means 47% more journeys in and out of the airport servicing those flights. I am thinking of the catering vehicles and the long-haul flight crews, who stay at our local hotels and are bussed in. There is nothing about that, but of course it will put additional pressure on the local transport infrastructure. I can see that I do not have any more time. I have deliberately focused on the omissions from the consultation and the issues that most affect local residents in Brentford and Isleworth.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. This consultation is really just the latest consultation for Heathrow—the fruit of the poisoned tree. The issue has been heavily politicised over a long time, under successive Governments, but things really went wrong during the period of the Airports Commission. Prior to 2010, David Cameron made promises, which he then decided he did not want to keep, and we had the protracted and rather embarrassing saga of the commission stringing out the process, using assumptions that were already out of date, and producing a report that in the end said what the Government then wanted it to say and allowed them to change tack. Those are tactics that Heathrow has used for more than 30 years, and nothing really surprises me, but both the NPS consultations and the latest one are tarnished by that.

Nothing in this consultation, as my constituency neighbour to the west, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), has just said, tells us about flight paths. That is the key point that people want to know. Without that, it becomes an almost vacuous exercise. Yet we are not to know the flight paths, we are told, until 2021, after all the major decisions are made. There is nothing in the consultation about who will pay—particularly, as has been mentioned, who will pay the estimated £18 billion for public transport. Getting these glossy pamphlets through the door, as one does on a regular basis from Heathrow, sends the subliminal message, “This is a done deal. Get used to it. Get what you can out of it by way of mitigation.” It simply is not good enough.

The point on mitigation is interesting. We hoped that campaigns such as the one the Mayor of London is fighting; the action he is taking to improve air quality; advancements in air transport, which can lead to noise reduction; and planned improvements—such as Crossrail and upgrading the Piccadilly line—to public transport in London, would improve quality of life and enable Londoners to go about their business better, but they will all be sacrificed to mitigating the additional burdens, inconveniences and health hazards that Heathrow intends to inflict on us. Why should that be the case? Why should Londoners have to pay financially, through their health and through the inconvenience in their daily lives for this white elephant project to go ahead?

We are still talking about hub airports here, which to a large extent have had their day. There are alternatives. We are talking about London as if it was going to have a single airport, rather than a number of airports, each serving different areas, because of the size of the community in London and the south-east that they serve. It is no more than propaganda. It is out of date.

We have heard today that the financial figures have been looked at again. Let us see who we are serving here. We are serving a company that is 90% foreign-owned, that is debt-laden and that, as far as can see, pays no tax other than the VAT it pays on the sales from shops— increasingly it is a business in that way. We have opposition from the airlines that are unwilling to pay the greatly enhanced landing charges that will be levied in order to pay for this white elephant project. Everybody seems to pay except the shareholders of Heathrow Airport Holdings. Yet at the same time we are being told that Gatwick is a better option, not only, as we have always known, in relation to congestion, noise and pollution, but in terms of financial effects, both locally and on the national economy. There is very little left to recommend Heathrow as an option. Once again, as has been set out, we are going through a farce of a consultation.

I will end on that point. We will be here again, probably in another month, having another debate on Heathrow. We will be here in 10 years, wondering why London does not have additional airport capacity, as we wondered 10 years ago. The sooner the Government grasp the nettle, the better. I wait to hear with interest the speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) on the Front Bench. Very wisely, the Labour Front-Bench team has set a series of tests and not prejudged the issue. As time goes on, we will see that those tests will not be met. I hope to hear encouraging noises from my hon. Friend, as I often do.

I am so sorry; I will not give way, as there is a further speech to come. I will end on that, and I wait to hear what the Minister has to say.

I call Jim Shannon. It might be helpful if the Member was aware that I will call the Scottish National party spokesman to wind up at 5.8 pm.

Thank you, Sir Henry. I thank the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) for bringing the issue to the House. I put on record that I am a very vocal supporter of the Heathrow extension, as is my party. We supported this to enhance the connectivity of Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom. It is for this reason that we are also, in our relationship of confidence and supply with the Conservative party, looking at the end of the air passenger duty for Northern Ireland flights, which we hope will go further than that. Certainly it is our intention to look across the rest of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) put his marker down. I am putting my marker down.

Let us be quite clear: we are not in decline mode; we are in build-up mode and we can do better. The key for us is the enhancement of connectivity in routes and flights. The Democratic Unionist party was the first political party in the United Kingdom to back Heathrow. We have always maintained that expansion will support growth in Northern Ireland and strengthen our great Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. More cargo travels from Belfast through Heathrow than any other UK airport. We need to continue the vital link and the supply chain between Northern Ireland’s businesses and their clients in every corner of the globe. That is a clear issue.

A 2017 report produced by the Freight Transport Association found that air cargo and night services in the United Kingdom is currently worth some £5.5 billion per annum or £20 million per working day. It estimates that the customs value of the typical export item shipped on a night service is two and half times that of standard air freight. The vast majority of the £5.5 billion, let us be clear, is achieved from productivity gains. In the wider economy, we all gain from connectivity—Northern Ireland gains and the rest of the United Kingdom gains —rather than just the operators of the service. These impacts are also spread geographically across the United Kingdom, with express and priority cargo services used by businesses based in all regions of the country. Northern Ireland is an integral part of this business and we rely on this service, the build-up in this service and the ability of the airport to carry that out at the correct times. Things go from Belfast City and Belfast International airport, to Heathrow, to the rest of the world. That is an example of connectivity. We are all gaining.

I am sorry, but I am constrained by time.

The issue now arising is the question of who will pay for the £14 billion project. It cannot be the airline user in its totality, as this will clearly and undoubtedly take away from the viability of routes by upping the price and putting people off the service. I mentioned earlier about the air cargo. I had a quick conversation with a member of my staff, who was looking for the cheapest trip. That was the trip to Heathrow and it was also at night time, so for a girlies’ weekend away they were able to do that. I suggest to hon. Members here that, if they want to reciprocate and go to Belfast, we are very happy for that to happen.

The price very much indicates what happens when it comes to who pays. Heathrow passenger charges have trebled in the last decade. We cannot afford any increase. I look to the Minister for a very careful response. I support the expansion and register concern about the cost going completely to the end user. That is why I am asking the Government to step in and ensure that, as opposed to a little increase, simply no increase is acceptable.

To conclude, as a Northern Ireland MP who seems to be continually fighting to have parity with the rest of the mainland, I am fighting again for my corner of the wonderful United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to be allowed to benefit from this expansion and not penalised with greater charges, which put businesses off from investing in Northern Ireland due to the connectivity, and which put tourists off from sampling the beauty and wonder that is found on our shores, as many hon. Members know. I ask the Minister gently to make clear that the costs should not and must not be at the expense of connectivity for Northern Ireland. We can all gain. Let us do it together.

I now call Alan Brown from the SNP. It may be of interest to know that I want to call the Labour spokesman after five minutes.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. Hopefully I will not take the full five minutes.

I suspect that, as always with any debate on Heathrow, there is a divide between for and against. It would seem that those against would be the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable), who introduced the debate, and the hon. Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter). My neighbour the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke in favour of Heathrow expansion. I must say that I fall into the “for” camp as well because of the potential benefits it can bring to Scotland.

In supporting the principle of a third runway, air quality considerations, noise considerations and other potential neighbour nuisance aspects still need to be considered and cannot be ridden roughshod over. I look forward to the Minister responding to the issues brought forward by the right hon. Member for Twickenham. I also thought the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth made some valid points in terms of actually identifying what the approach paths are and making them public. Clearly, the people near the airport need to understand that and it is a valid question. The comments on respite and night flights are valid, as are the points about flight servicing requirements and how that could impact air quality. The Government need to take those aspects into account.

The SNP is in favour of the third runway because of the potential benefits it could bring to Scotland, including up to 16,000 jobs and connecting Scotland to a more global market. Ideally, the expansion will allow Scotland to open up and increase connectivity.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. This is the same point that I was going to make earlier. BA has announced that later this year it will be cutting half its routes between Leeds Bradford and Heathrow. Does that not show that the economics of domestic flights and domestic connections just does not stack up? The promises on greater connectivity between Scotland and Heathrow can be delivered only with the help of Government subsidy, and as far as I know there are no promises relating to that.

I disagree. Clearly, the Government can have a role in terms of public service obligations—that can be considered. Heathrow has offered to guarantee slots to Scotland, and therefore I am not sure. In the existing climate, it is clearly much more difficult because Heathrow is so congested, hence the whole premise of a third runway to open up that connectivity.

It is clear, as the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock said, that all the airports in Scotland bar Edinburgh are in favour of this expansion. Northern Ireland is in favour of it. The hon. Member for Hammersmith mentioned hub airports. The reality is that hub airports want this. In my ideal world, if Prestwick and Glasgow could expand and pick up some of these new world markets, that would be great, but they are saying that that is not a reality and that they need that connectivity to Heathrow. That is where the critical mass is—that is just the reality of the situation. I also clearly support the idea that Prestwick could become a hub in terms of service delivery for the construction of Heathrow and off-site fabrication, which would be a welcome addition to the Ayrshire economy.

On the consultation, I am aware of some of the asks of the Englefield Green Action Group on statutory noise limits, which my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) has campaigned for and which I support. Air quality targets obviously need to be considered. They have suggested considering targets on a reducing, tapered basis, which is reasonable, and possible Civil Aviation Authority enforcement powers for airline operational performance on matters such as ascent angles—they appreciate that Heathrow is doing a name-and-shame process with airlines at the moment.

Overall, the Government need to consider these measures and respond accordingly. They need to look at air quality and produce a coherent air quality plan that looks at diesel HGVs, transport refrigeration units and construction vehicles, which will clearly be an issue in the construction of a third runway at Heathrow and need to be considered. I look forward to the Government’s response, how they will accommodate the revised proposals that Heathrow is now consulting on and how they will take this forward in the foreseeable future.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) on securing this important debate. He has been a long-standing campaigner on Heathrow expansion.

The Labour party supports the expansion of airport capacity in the south-east, subject to our four tests being met. However, the Government’s draft airports national policy statement, published in October last year, and the responses to it have raised more questions than they have answered. The updated passenger demand forecasts show an increase in passenger growth, with a third runway at Heathrow to be full by 2028. The third runway will open in only 2026. That means that all take-off and landing spots will be full just two years after opening, which is a point made by the right hon. Gentleman. Does the Minister agree that that limits the potential benefits of increased airport capacity?

The NPS states that none of the cost of a third runway will fall on the taxpayer, and that it will be met by private funding. Yet it does not provide any evidence to support that. There is a reference to an independent assessment that has been carried out, but it has not been published. There seems no reason not to publish that assessment unless there is something to hide. Will the Minister agree to release that document?

The commitment that there will be no net increase in airport-related traffic is essential to ensuring that expansion is sustainable. Transport for London has estimated that to achieve that, between 65% and 69% of passengers would have to travel to the airport by public transport. The NPS sets an unambitious target of 50% by 2030, going up to 55% by 2042. TfL has said that that will lead to a substantial increase in vehicle trips on the already congested networks. Furthermore, the western rail access and southern rail access are essential for expansion, but TfL is concerned that the NPS gives no firm commitment on that. The Department for Transport has estimated that costs will be about £5 billion, but TfL puts the figure closer to £15 billion. The difference seems to be TfL costings for southern rail access.

Given the difference between the NPS and TfL estimates on both costing and public transport targets, and the fact that TfL is the highways authority and public transport authority that completely surrounds Heathrow, I find it absolutely astounding that it has been excluded from the service access steering group for Heathrow by the Department for Transport. Will the Minister explain that decision?

We all recognise that air pollution is one of the biggest health crises facing the UK, leading to an estimated 50,000 premature deaths each year. On air pollution, the Government have frankly been found wanting. They have failed to give local authorities the powers they need to protect air quality and failed to support sustainable transport. Those failures threaten not only public health, but future investment. Will the Minister take this opportunity to explain how he will ensure that legal levels of air quality will be achieved if Heathrow is expanded? What resources has he or the Government directed to that important task?

The revised NPS has increased the estimate for carbon emissions from the third runway, but it does not explain the national implications. Will that lead to the sacrificing of growth at regional airports or more challenging limits for other sectors? Can the Minister shed some more light on how the UK will meet carbon emissions targets with the expansion of Heathrow?

Noise is another area in which the revised NPS does nothing to alleviate the concerns of hundreds of thousands of people who are affected by the issue. I think that point was made by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). The noise assessment in the NPS uses indicative flight paths, and the actual flight paths will be published only after the decision on Heathrow’s development consent order application is made. There is no requirement for them to bear any resemblance to the flight paths published in the NPS. The revised NPS uses 2013 as a baseline, which allows the airport to bank technology changes when they should be used to alleviate the noise impacts of the airport. Given the importance of the issue, I would be grateful for the Minister’s thoughts on whether the noise assessment in the NPS gives an accurate account of the noise impacts.

The Minister will be all too well aware that right hon. and hon. Members from all parties have strong views on both sides of the argument regarding expansion at Heathrow, so any decision must be based on hard evidence with transparency. As we have seen today, many questions seem to remain unanswered.

It is an honour and a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I greatly admire the way in which you have steered the debate to—I hope —a satisfactory conclusion and allowed a number of hon. Members with different voices to contribute. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) on securing this important debate.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows—indeed, as he indicated—the consultation on the revised draft airports national policy statement closed on 19 December. I am the new Minister with responsibility for aviation in the Commons, with the rich experience of 10 days in the job and the accumulated expertise that goes with that. The debate gives me the opportunity to thank the tens of thousands of respondents to the February and October consultations.

As the debate has shown, the Government are not afraid to take controversial decisions when they deem them to be in the national interest. I note the diversity of views around the Chamber and the voices that are supportive of the Government’s strategy, as well as the concerns that have been indicated.

For decades, the UK has failed to build the capacity needed to match people’s growing desire for travel. The revised aviation passenger forecasts published in October show that the need for additional capacity in the south-east is even greater than was previously thought. There is a significant cost—tens of billions of pounds—to failing to act, and there are potential benefits to acting.

I will come to the many issues that have been raised, but I start by reiterating why, for additional capacity in the south-east, the Government’s preference is for a new north-west runway at Heathrow. The revised analysis shows that the north-west runway scheme will deliver the greatest benefits the soonest, and that it will continue to offer the greatest choice of destinations and frequency of vital long-haul routes. It has been asked how that relates to revised numbers for Gatwick, and I emphasise that the decision is not purely an economic one. It is also a question of when those benefits are delivered, the strategic nature of the location and the vastly greater volume of freight that goes through Heathrow.

That is the Government’s preference at present, but I emphasise that no final decision—indeed, no decision of any kind—has been taken on the matter. To that extent, to answer the right hon. Member for Twickenham, the Government are absolutely open to contrary arguments and considerations, within their stated preference.

I will finish the thought, if I may. I have relatively little time remaining, and lots of questions have been asked.

As the right hon. Member for Twickenham knows, not only is the whole process governed under statute by the Planning Act 2008, but an independent former lord justice of appeal, Sir Jeremy Sullivan, has the specific job of advising on the consultation process. That is designed to give the public comfort, and to support the importance and independence of the process.

It was found that a new north-west runway would deliver benefits of up to £74 billion to passengers and the wider economy over 60 years, and that it would offer the greatest benefits for at least the first 50 years. That will secure the UK’s status as a global aviation hub. This is a national project in the national interest that enhances the country’s ability to compete with other European and middle eastern airports. It will help UK businesses to connect with markets by delivering an additional 43,000 long-haul services from across the UK in 2040, and it will provide the kind of domestic connectivity that will fuel regional growth across the UK—the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown).

There is a wide range of views, which is why the matter has been the subject of one of the largest consultations ever undertaken and why the Government have been keen to ensure that the consultations were full and fair. Hon. Members have mentioned the enormous amount of literature that has been posted out, and rightly so; a very keen effort is under way by the Government, regarding the NPS consultation, and by Heathrow—an entirely independent, separate entity—to gather public information. On the Government side, that includes delivering 1.5 million leaflets and holding dozens of information events and other such consultations.

It is also worth noting that, as the right hon. Member for Twickenham mentioned, Heathrow airport launched its own consultation on 17 January. Of course, there are differences between the aspects on which Heathrow has been consulting and the proposals in the NPS. That is to be expected from a system that is run in a non-judgmental and independent way. That consultation is set to run for 10 weeks and will close on 28 March, with 40 public information events to be held. For what it is worth, all hon. Members should thoroughly encourage the public—those affected and those with a wider interest—to take part in it. It is the first opportunity for the public to comment on and inform the proposals of Heathrow Airport Limited directly, and potentially to shape them.

As the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable)—my neighbour—has said, we know that the economic benefits of the two options on the table are broadly in the same area, in terms of connectivity. Heathrow is already the most polluting airport in Europe, and it will become more so. It is the noisiest airport in Europe, and it will become more so. It is the most expensive option, and the most legally difficult to deliver. Does the Minister at least understand why people who question the Government’s decision suspect that it may be born not of a rational process of elimination, but of a form of crony capitalism? It is hard to understand why the Government would opt for the option that has so little going for it.

Given the minuscule amount of time remaining and my desire to allow the right hon. Member for Twickenham to speak at the end, I will be very brief. I absolutely register my hon. Friend’s point. Air quality has been extensively discussed today. I remind him that the Government have assessed the impact of the Heathrow north-west runway scheme on the air quality plan. Within that analysis, it appears to be compliant, and that is before taking account of any mitigation measures that Heathrow could apply. That is the basis on which the Government are proceeding.

I will pick up on a couple of other quick points in the minute or so that remains to me. There has been some concern about different costings over surface access. The Government do not recognise TfL’s numbers, which appear to include schemes that are not directly related to Heathrow. The infrastructure contribution that the Government make will be related not to the airport, but to the other incidental benefits that transport has for users.

In response to the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), it is worth mentioning that he should recognise that Heathrow is substantially better equipped to handle cargo volumes. To take non-EU cargo alone— the wider world, as it were—Heathrow handled about £130 billion of cargo to those countries in 2016, compared with less than £1 billion out of Gatwick. Such significant differences play a part in the wider economic picture that is being built up.

Finally, on the detail on flights, proposals to change the UK’s airspace need to follow the Civil Aviation Authority’s airspace change process, which is the regulatory process that the Government have adopted. It is not in the Government’s hands to vary that in this context. As with other aspects, we will follow due process.

I will wind up quickly. I thank hon. Members, who have given their diverse views and argued their cases extremely well. I want to reiterate a few points. As far as the responsiveness of the Government is concerned, I am gratified that the Minister said in his concluding remarks that they still have an open mind. Many past comments cast some doubt on that. I am also grateful that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) said that the Opposition are approaching the issue pragmatically and in terms of tests, and that they have not come to a final conclusion on it. Those responses give me some encouragement that there is a lot more to argue for.

I emphasise the basics of the argument: the NPS revisions—the new round of evidence that has been produced—point clearly to the fact that the Minister’s initial comment is simply wrong. There is no suggestion any longer that this is the best economic option; it clearly is not. The Government’s own figures and analysis show that Gatwick would be better for the national economy. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) said in his last intervention, it is not just that Gatwick would be better for the national economy, but that Heathrow would be far more polluting, would have a far more damaging noise impact on people under the flight path and would be very much more expensive for Government and passengers. I welcome the responses that we have received.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered public consultations on Heathrow airport.

Sitting adjourned.