Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, questioned the Transport Minister about government proposals for expanding Luton Airport.
Peter Lilley said: “I asked the Minister why he had backed a different proposal for Luton than the two options on which consultation was taken. Why, instead of building a new runway, is he proposing to build more than a kilometre of additional runway at the end of the existing one pointing into my constituency? Why has he ignored the fact that the consultants ruled out such an option before the original consultation document? Why has he ignored the fact that the original consultation document stated that if a new runway was built at Stansted and at Heathrow, the number of passengers wanting to use Luton would be insufficient to justify a new longer runway there as well? Why, in the White Paper, have the Government doubled their forecast of the use of Luton if runways are built at Stansted and Heathrow? Why is the Minister proposing that Luton should be expanded to the size of Gatwick, although the surface area of the airport is only 40 per cent. of Gatwick‘s? Luton depends far more on people arriving by car as there is no direct rail access, and it gets a higher proportion of its revenues from parking charges.
“And…finally, why the government‘s proposals make no provision for new infrastructure to cope with 30 million passengers being disgorged on to the already overcrowded roads of Hertfordshire, with the inadequate rail infrastructure.”
The Minister was unable to answer any of these questions. He said: “The White Paper marks the start of the next process and is not its definitive end, especially not…in the case of airports where we start from the premise of optimising exiting capacity. Many of the points…made…are rightly matters of detail for planning applications…”. He added that the government would expect special local infrastructure issues to be addressed prior to development. That presumably means that the Airport owner would have to agree to meet the cost of extra infrastructure needed to cope with the extra traffic and passengers.
Note to Editors: Hansard extract attached.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I shall be brief. I simply ask the Minister why, in the case of Luton, he has backed a different proposal from the two options on which consultation was taken? Why, instead of building a new runway, is he proposing to build more than a kilometre of additional runway at the end of the existing one, which points into my constituency? Why has he ignored the fact that the consultants ruled out such an option before the original consultation document? Why has he ignored the fact that the original consultation document stated that if a new runway was built at Stansted and at Heathrow, the proposed additional runway would be twice what was needed and, by implication, should not be built? Why, in the White Paper, have the Government doubled their forecast of the use of Luton if runways are built at Stansted and Heathrow? Why is the Minister proposing that Luton should be expanded to the size of Gatwick, although the surface area of the airport is only 40 per cent. of Gatwick‘s? Luton depends far more on people arriving by car as there is no direct rail access, and it gets a higher proportion of its revenues from parking charges.
Finally, why do the Minister‘s proposals make no provision for new infrastructure to cope with 30 million passengers being disgorged on to the already overcrowded roads of Hertfordshire, with the inadequate rail infrastructure?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty) : To the extent that I can answer 14 contributions in nine minutes, I shall endeavour to do my best. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) on securing the debate and I welcome the chance to respond on behalf of the Government.
At this stage, I want to take a thematic approach to some responses, and I apologise to hon. Members if I do not deal with every local issue. Before publication, I met
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at every opportunity Members who wrote to ask to see me about any specific or general issues. I have since told them that the White Paper marks the start of the next process and is not its definitive end, especially not, as has been suggested, in the case of airports, where we start from the premise of optimising existing capacity. That brings with it a range of issues before we get on to talking about additional capacity, such as in the case of East Midlands airport. Those matters are worthy of discussion, and I thank everyone for the serious way in which they have been discussed.
I will not dwell on partisan points about the consultation process, which, however flawed, elicited 500,000 responses. Nor will I dwell on the delay to the White Paper that was caused in part by that consultation process. I want to concentrate on some broad themes. Anyone who knows anything about the genesis and history of what used to pass for aviation White Papers will understand that to describe the paper in a dismissive way merely as “predict and provide” is simply wrong. By any token, that description is wrong if one reads the whole piece. It is not simply a matter of “predict and provide”. Indeed, in his own words the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) belied the notion that the paper was so by saying that it forecast 500 million passengers and three new runways in London and the south-east. If he looks very closely, he will see that we are only giving the two.
Mr. Marsden : Will the Minister give way?
Mr. McNulty : No, I will not. I do not understand how that is “predict and provide”.
I say to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West that I am more than happy to see him and discuss further the particular issues. Representatives from The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland have already met the Secretary of State, and there is still much to be discussed by the Department for Transport, Edinburgh and the Scottish Executive. I am more than happy to pursue that.
To dwell on one local issue, there is a particular safety issue in using the crosswind runway, which I have visited, as it will be used only for departures for a limited period. The interaction between the main runway and the crosswind in the limited times that it will be used would not impact on safety. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was in error when he read from the White Paper that all departures would be from the crosswind. Clearly, it does not say that. It says that some departures would be from the crosswind runway “for a limited period.” I am happy to discuss local and wider issues with anyone, and am meeting representatives from the East Midlands airport in a few weeks to discuss its name change. The three real themes that I have picked up on-
Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend the Minister give way?
Mr. McNulty : No, I will not give way, with respect. I have about six minutes left, and I want to do justice to earlier comments.
Three major themes that emerged were: the environment, which is entirely proper; what I would call master planning; and infrastructure or surface access
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issues. Again, in comparison with any other White Paper or substantial policy document on aviation, the White Paper goes some way in trying to redress the balance between environmental concerns and the future of the aviation industry. Indeed, on pages 40 and 41, paragraphs 3.40 to 3.43, we talk about emissions and other issues that hon. Members have raised, and about the adoption by airports, airlines and air traffic controllers of working practices that minimise the impact of their activities. In addition, they discuss research and development by aerospace manufacturers of new technologies to reduce climate change. We will press them on all of them.
The White Paper also talks about voluntary actions by airlines, airports and aerospace companies to control greenhouse gas, the point about the International Civil Aviation Organisation and action at a European level. We say clearly in paragraph 3.42:
“We reserve the right to act alone or bilaterally with like-minded partners if progress towards agreements at an international level proves too slow.”
The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is right in the sense that there are elements of things that one can do at a national level, at regional level and at international level. We need to take the balance and interaction of all three enormously seriously.
The comments made by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and by others about specific local infrastructure are again well made points. Throughout chapter 12-under delivering surface access improvements-we say that we would expect those matters to be addressed.
On some of the other points raised about environment, investment and appraisals-and others too-a strategic policy document, which will be a material planning matter when it comes to discussion of planning applications, should not be confused with the planning applications themselves. Many of the points that are worthy of substantive consideration that are made by hon. Members are rightly matters of detail for planning applications, not for a strategic policy document that lays out where the Government think that aviation should go in future. That applies to the
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points raised by the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) about environmental impact assessments, the issues about blight and everything else.
Mrs. Spelman : I am sure that the Minister will appreciate that the legal opinion on this matter is that the White Paper is very prescriptive and that it goes beyond being purely a strategic document. If a legal opinion on that is not enough, take the view of the public who, once faced with the White Paper, will feel powerless to challenge it.
Mr. McNulty : The hon. Lady should not traduce the planning process in such a way, and her constituents-and anyone else who does not like the absolute detail that is subsequent to any area addressed in the White Paper-should make full use of that planning process. Her point on public consultation in the genesis of regional spatial strategies and the local development framework are well made and it is statutorily in the Bill now in terms of planning and compulsory purchase.
All those processes are not precluded or ignored by the White Paper; it is not a planning document. It says quite clearly where we think that aviation should go over the next 30 years. It is entirely in order, by the by, for anything that we have rejected or something else to drop out of the blue in terms of an application. Nothing in the White Paper precludes anyone from making any sort of application that they want in terms of airport capacity. The White Paper is the way in which the Government suggest that things should go over the 30-year horizon. It will be a material planning matter when it comes to inquiries and applications. Given that it is a material matter, it will be incorporated into strategies. Therefore, the strategic policy document should not be confused with the planning document.
I know that I will run out of time. However-this is for the business managers, not for me-I would welcome a fuller debate on this issue, either on individual matters and applications or in a broader debate than that. I would say, not least because of the 27 documents and because of a range of work programmes, that we have held up pending the publication of the White Paper. However long it may seem to individuals-given their serious concerns- it is a tad premature to have that fuller debate until everything is in the public domain that needs to be there. Many things were held up because of the process-