Edinburgh Airport (Drop-off Charges)
Trish Godman (Labour)
The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-6881, in the name of Gavin Brown, on drop-off charges at Edinburgh airport. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament regrets the decision taken by Edinburgh Airport to introduce a £1 drop-off charge, due to start in October 2010; notes that no other BAA airport in the United Kingdom currently has a drop-off charge; considers that BAA failed to consult widely with passengers ahead of taking the decision; notes that, since the decision has been made public, thousands of residents, businesses and other organisations across the Lothians and elsewhere in Scotland have voiced their opposition to the charge; considers that for many people, including older residents and those with young children, taking public transport to the airport is not a viable option, and notes that over 71% of businesses who responded to the Midlothian and East Lothian Chamber of Commerce survey believed that the introduction of the drop-off fee would have a negative effect on Scottish business and tourism.
Gavin Brown (Conservative)
I thank the MSPs who have remained behind for the debate and those who signed the motion, which has allowed the debate to take place.
Let me put it simply: charging people for dropping someone off, whether it is a friend or family member, is wrong and just plain mean. That was my starting point and, having heard the views of a number of constituents, I decided to take on the campaign and to spend time pushing it forward. The campaign has garnered the support of thousands of people in Edinburgh and the Lothians, and beyond. It has support from shop owners, travel agents, other tourism businesses, small businesses throughout the region, Age Scotland and the Scottish Taxi Federation, among others. I am grateful to all of them for the support that they have given.
The reasons why there are big concerns are several. The first is that when the idea was first suggested, the airport's response to the Edinburgh Evening News in the middle of June was that it was not going to happen: there were a number of options for changing the forecourt and only one of them contained the possibility of a charge. The airport said that it would consult on and discuss the matter with a range of stakeholders, including passengers, before reaching any decision. I discovered that that was not correct: the decision had, indeed, been taken and there was no intention at all to consult passengers about the proposal to charge people simply for dropping
Big concerns were expressed by elderly residents and people with mobility difficulties who do not have blue badges. Those with blue badges are of course exempt from the charge, but many of my constituents have mobility difficulties but do not have a blue badge and so would not be exempt from the charge. Concerns were also raised by families with young children who said that going to the airport and flying is stressful enough without having to pay to be dropped off, or go to a drop-off point a mile or so away and await a bus.
The other concern for a number of residents, which the previous managing director of the airport did not put to bed, is that the charge is unlikely to stay at £1 for long. Taxis were initially charged £1 for picking up at Edinburgh airport, but that moved to £1.50, it is now at £2 and I understand that it is scheduled to go up again. It would just be a matter of time before the £1 charge became something more than that.
So, why did the airport make this decision? We were given an array of reasons—and the primary one appears to have changed with the passage of time. The initial justification for the decision was to get people on to public transport. That sounds good, but the problem is that for many people within the Lothians—as well as in Fife, the Borders and elsewhere—taking public transport to Edinburgh airport is simply not an option. It might be okay for someone who lives on the main bus route, which offers an extremely good service, but that is not an option for people who live in most parts of Midlothian, East Lothian and West Lothian or even for people in most parts of Edinburgh. Not many people will buy the suggestion that the primary reason is to get people onto public transport, given that public transport is not available. A constituent who signed the petition said:
"I would need to take 2-3 buses to get there and it would take me several hours. It's not viable with toddlers, prams and luggage, and if it's early in the morning I can't even take 2-3 buses."
We then heard from the airport that the reason was that it wants to upgrade to a "better passenger experience". A constituent told me that it would be a better passenger experience not to have to pay £1 simply to be dropped off. If that is an upgrade, I would hate to see a downgrade to the passenger experience. A constituent said:
"This will just irritate and deter. An insult to our wallets and intelligence."
The reason the airport now gives—this is a late entry—is that the current forecourt is not fit for
If the drop-off charge goes ahead, people might drop off at unauthorised points to avoid the charge. That has apparently happened at other airports. That will create congestion and is potentially dangerous.
Margaret Smith (Liberal Democrat)
Road safety has been raised with me. When I walked round the airport and asked about that, I was told that the City of Edinburgh Council would not let the airport have a pedestrian crossing over the drop-off point, between the main car park and the terminal. When I asked management whether it had asked the council whether that was the case, it suggested that it probably had not done so.
Gavin Brown (Conservative)
I am occasionally stuck for a response to an intervention, and this is one of those occasions. I think that the member's intervention might be described as friendly fire.
My other big difficulty with the issue is that although BAA Airports Ltd owns six airports in the United Kingdom, the charge is proposed only for Edinburgh. Edinburgh has been singled out for the charge and there are no such proposals for Heathrow, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow or Aberdeen airports. No justification has been given for singling out Edinburgh.
Gavin Brown (Conservative)
It probably would do. I hope that simply by bringing the issue to Parliament and continuing the campaign I can persuade the airport that drop-off charges are not a good idea and that it should not go ahead with them. Of course, the regulatory issue that Mr Paterson mentioned would prevent such ideas from coming up in the first place.
People are angry at the proposal, even though it has not yet affected anyone. What will happen if it goes ahead and thousands of people a day have to start paying the levy?
There will be no vote as a result of this debate and, of course, no law on the matter will be passed this evening. However, I hope that the debate will allow BAA and Edinburgh airport to hear members' views and the Government's response, and I hope that when they hear those views they will decide to scrap the drop-off charge.
A constituent who e-mailed me said:
"Charging your customers to come into your shop to take up goods that you have already purchased is not a business model that would be passed by the board as a strategic weapon to fight competition in any other business."
I hope that the point is taken on board and that the proposals to bring in a drop-off charge are scrapped.
Mary Mulligan (Labour)
I congratulate Gavin Brown, both on his campaign against the drop-off charge and on securing this evening's debate.
I must say that I am surprised that, after all the bad publicity that the proposal received, BAA has continued to push on with the idea. That seems to be foolhardy at best. As many others have, I have asked what the reason is for the drop-off charge. As Gavin Brown mentioned, it is clear that congestion is not the issue. Any time I have taken people to the airport, there has been no problem with finding a space where I could drop them off and then take off again. Indeed, I also wonder whether the £1 price will deter many people anyway, although it will upset them.
Clearly, the charge is not about protecting the environment. The drop-off charge is not the sort of measure that would make a significant difference in persuading us all to use public transport. In some ways I regret that, as I would like public transport to be more readily available. However, at the moment, that is not the situation. Speaking from a local point of view, I know that public transport is difficult for those who live in the outer areas of Lothian, as Gavin Brown mentioned. My constituents who want to travel to the airport have little alternative but to ask friends or family to drop them off. Using a taxi might cost in excess of £20 for those who live in the closer parts of the constituency. Further west, the cost becomes even more expensive.
In my research for this evening's debate, I went online to see whether there is a bus service between West Lothian and the airport. I discovered—I did not know this either, minister—
People in other parts of my constituency, such as Armadale, Bathgate and Linlithgow, have no chance of getting public transport to the airport, unless they accept being dropped off on the A8, which is more than a mile away. However, that will always be a problem for people with bags. Clearly, public transport is not sufficient at the moment. Without wanting to lower the tone of the debate, I might remind the minister that my constituents in Linlithgow might have had a rail connection if the SNP Government had not cancelled the Edinburgh airport rail link. However, no such connection is available, so we have a problem at the moment.
I know of no other airport—Gavin Brown mentioned the other BAA airports—that charges for dropping off, so why is Edinburgh being singled out in this way? At a time when Edinburgh airport is trying to project itself as a 21st century airport with many improvements to the buildings, services and flights that it provides, why is the airport taking this step? The charge is poor public relations and, as Gavin Brown said, it is mean-spirited. I hope that the people at BAA will be big enough to realise that their proposal is the wrong thing to do and that they will change their minds and drop the charge.
Margaret Smith (Liberal Democrat)
I very much welcome the opportunity to speak in this members' business debate this evening and I thank Gavin Brown for securing it.
As a local councillor and the local constituency MSP for Edinburgh West, I have had many dealings with Edinburgh airport over the past 15 years, but I have never known any airport issue to incense people in quite the way that this one has. BAA's decision to introduce drop-off fees in Edinburgh but nowhere else is regrettable. However, I am pleased that so many members of all parties have supported the various campaigns and petitions—Gavin Brown has run his campaign, we have had ours and other campaigns are also running—to stop the drop-off charge being introduced.
Not only members have called on BAA to think again. Thousands of residents, business people,
There are two reasons why BAA is introducing the charge: first, to make money; and, secondly, because it can. It is telling that the only airline that has backed BAA's stance is Ryanair, a company that plans to charge passengers £1 to use in-flight toilets. Even easyJet has accused BAA of double charging at Edinburgh.
Modern airports rely on car parking and retail for increasing amounts of income, yet BAA at Edinburgh and elsewhere can add car parks and extensions without recourse to the planning system that affects everyone else. I welcome the fact that the City of Edinburgh Council has signalled that it will consider permitted development rights. BAA makes much of the fact that it is a commercial operation, but it does not compete on a level playing field with other businesses. In my constituency, it took less time and effort for BAA to build a multistorey car park at the airport than it did to get planning permission for a decked car park at the Western general hospital, and that was despite years of on-going parking problems in local streets. I am not sure that most people would think that an increased revenue stream for Ferrovial is the right priority. That is not to say that we should not encourage people to take public transport to the airport—of course we should. There is a very good Airlink service for those who live in the city centre, but as we have heard already, many, many others have no direct link to the airport. People will leave their cars at home only if there are suitable alternatives.
Like Mary Mulligan, I supported the Edinburgh rail link. I thought that it was a good idea to link directly the airport to more than 60 stations across Scotland. I welcome the fact that the Government's alternative proposal, the Gogar railway station, has just been given planning permission. The new station will form part of a public investment in the Edinburgh Glasgow improvement project and the trams, both of which will benefit BAA Edinburgh. BAA may be a commercial operation, but it benefits more than most from taxpayer investment, certainly in this city. No wonder that the City of Edinburgh Council voted in favour of a Liberal Democrat motion on a report into how best to ensure that Edinburgh airport will meet an appropriate share of the cost of providing high-quality public access to the airport before its permitted development rights are considered for renewal.
From the outset of my meetings with the airport authority over the past couple of months, both with
As we have heard, there are real concerns about how the charge will affect certain groups of people. I am concerned in particular about older passengers, those with young children and people with a disability. For all of them, adding yet another leg to their journey—using public transport—is simply impractical. For some, that is a very daunting prospect. Edinburgh airport will have an area for blue badge holders, who will have 10 minutes' parking free of charge, but the fact remains that older passengers will struggle. They will feel that they have no alternative other than to pay up. We have heard that the kiss-and-fly tax will help to reduce congestion and emissions around the airport complex, but there is no real evidence that a £1 charge will do that. As we have heard tonight, there is not a lot of evidence of congestion at the airport in any case.
Despite reassurances from the management, I remain concerned that the charge is the thin end of the wedge. I refer to possible changes in the level of the charge and other potential charges for the use of BAA facilities, which people feel they have paid for already in the price of the ticket. The commercial impact of the decision on Scotland's business and tourism industries is also important to note. BAA management should be urged to think again.
The airport is a commercial organisation, but it has a responsibility to provide fair access for those who use it, whether they are local or visitors. After all, people cannot choose to use another airport in Edinburgh. The charge is too low to deter drivers. Quite simply, it is a BAA tax to fill a hole in its finances. The fee is unfair, unnecessary and unwelcome. Whatever BAA raises, it will be nothing compared with the bad publicity that the decision has generated. BAA should put a stop to this right now.
Ian McKee (Scottish National Party)
I join in congratulating Gavin Brown on obtaining this important members' business debate and on the work that he has undertaken on the issue.
We have several differences of opinion in the chamber; on this issue, we are at one. This new stealth tax is to be imposed unilaterally without
Gil Paterson (Scottish National Party)
Ian McKee will probably remember that the City of Edinburgh Council proposed a road-pricing mechanism, and it had to consult the public to do so. BAA is a private company and, because it is self-regulated, it can take such a step itself. Does Ian McKee agree with the point that I made earlier, that if self-regulation was taken away from Edinburgh airport, that would stop it in its plan? The only body that could impose road tolling otherwise would be the city council, and it would need to ask the people first.
Ian McKee (Scottish National Party)
I totally agree with my colleague, Mr Paterson. It is only because the airport can get away with it and make up the rules itself that it is doing so. This objectionable tax must be opposed with all the vigour at our disposal.
We should consider what is going on here. The British Airports Authority is an organisation that offers services to the public. There is nothing new in that—Edinburgh has countless businesses offering services to the public, including Marks and Spencer, Tesco and B&Q, to name but a few. How do they operate? They set out to attract customers. They make customers welcome. If they do not, the customer goes elsewhere and they lose business.
What is different in this case? What makes BAA feel able to levy a charge of £1 whereas others do not? It says that the money is needed to pay for improvements in the drop-off zone, yet the nearby Gyle shopping centre, to take just one example, has invested in a huge car park for its customers without ever suggesting that the same customers should pay for the privilege of spending their money in the centre.
We are not even talking about parking in this case; merely about dropping off customers. The real reason why BAA feels that it can get away with it is because it knows that it has a monopoly. There is no competition, so it can do just what it wants. It is exactly the same reason why motorway service stations offer such poor service—they have a captive audience.
I know the arguments, including the fact that it will still be possible to set down passengers free of charge at a remote facility that is connected to the terminal by shuttle bus, and the fact that travellers can use the bus service to the airport. Those arrangements certainly do not suit everyone, however, especially the elderly and families with young children. As Mrs Mulligan has already pointed out, they are not convenient for a large number of people, as bus services either do not
It is not as if BAA runs Edinburgh airport as a non-profit-making public service. A high user charge is already added to the cost of the air fare. Then, there are the pricey cafes and shops, which pay fancy prices to rent space in the airport and pass on that expense to the customer in the form of high-cost coffee, food, bottled drinking water and so on. Security rules mean that people cannot bring their own drinks in, so the thirsty passenger has no option but to pay those prices. No wonder BAA fought so hard to hang on to its cash-cow airports.
The Competition Commission ordered BAA to sell either Glasgow or Edinburgh airport in 2008 to break its monopoly, but BAA won its appeal against the decision in December last year. That is potentially disappointing, but the real monopoly is not BAA's running of two central belt airports; it is the fact that it has total control over each. If Edinburgh and Glasgow airports were run by different bodies, the distance between them is such that competition would have only a minimal effect.
I am beginning to believe that something much more radical is needed. If competition within a terminal area is impractical, there needs to be far greater regulation of what the company that owns the airport may and may not do. Perhaps the public should be represented on the boards of such companies, with directors being responsible for ensuring that the public interest is protected. That is probably a matter for Westminster, alas. In the meantime, BAA should abandon its outrageous proposal.
David McLetchie (Conservative)
I commend my colleague Gavin Brown for bringing this subject to the chamber for debate, and for the energetic campaign that he has led against the imposition of BAA's charge at Edinburgh airport, which, as other members have pointed out, is the only one of BAA's airports that has been singled out for this special treatment. Who knows? Perhaps Edinburgh airport is to be the guinea pig, and charges are on the way elsewhere.
It was initially claimed by BAA that a percentage of the charge would be
"spent on improving public transport for airport passengers and on environmental projects."
Later, it was claimed that the charge would pay for community projects in the west of Edinburgh. Eventually, all that public relations flimflam was dropped and it was claimed—indeed,
I would be astonished if there was any hypothecation of revenue from the charge towards the cost of the forecourt development because, if it really was needed only for that purpose, it would be dropped as soon as enough money to pay for the forecourt improvement was raised in revenue from it. However, BAA has no intention of dropping it, because it is a £1 million-a-year money-spinner that is supposedly essential to finance an upgrade that will cost £1 million. It is astonishing. The charge is simply a revenue raiser and, to be frank, the justifications that BAA puts up for it are increasingly spurious and nonsensical.
BAA is entitled to use its assets to generate income for itself, but accessing the airport is fundamental to the organisation's core purpose. Passengers are not charged if they are dropped off at Waverley station to get a train or the bus station to get a bus to go on a long-distance journey, so it is not clear to me why they should be charged to be dropped off at the airport. That is different from being charged for parking because, in that case, passengers have made a choice to travel to the airport by their own cars and park them there pending their return.
Many people in the city and beyond have no public transport alternative that will take them to the airport. That is certainly true now of the overwhelming majority of people who live in my constituency and will still be true in the future, even if the tram eventually starts running. BAA is quick to tell us that there is still a free drop-off facility at Edinburgh airport, but that facility is the long-stay car park about a mile from the terminal building. That free facility involves passengers getting out of their cars and on to a shuttle bus. It is hardly a gold standard of customer service and convenience.
Some people have asked whether BAA should not be free to run its business as it sees fit without criticism from carping politicians such as me and the other speakers. Yes, it should be free to do that within reason. I certainly do not advocate that this Parliament, any other Parliament or any Government minister should interfere in the minutiae of decisions such as the one that has been made on the charge. However, if any business or organisation overcharges my constituents or provides them with a poor standard
As Gavin Brown puts it succinctly in his campaign, the charge is a drop-off rip-off. BAA should listen and withdraw it.
Malcolm Chisholm (Labour)
I, too, congratulate Gavin Brown on securing the debate. I also commend the energy and determination that he showed over the summer in spearheading the campaign. Someone said that he was fiddling while Rome burns, but the fact that we face much bigger problems does not mean that we should disregard the issue that has arisen at Edinburgh airport.
The fundamental question that has been put is why Edinburgh should be different. None of the other BAA airports has such a charge. Also, as the motion reminded us, BAA failed to consult, in spite of the impression that was given in June that there would be consultation.
As other speakers have said, the primary aim of the charge—perhaps its sole aim—is to make money. If the intention is to deter drivers, a charge is certainly not the way to do it. As the motion says, public transport is not a viable option for many people. That includes some of the elderly and those with mobility difficulties who have been mentioned. I also recognise that there are particular problems for people in the Linlithgow constituency, as highlighted by Mary Mulligan.
However, it is appropriate to say that public transport will become a more viable option for a large number of people once the trams are up and running. That will deter many drivers more effectively than charging them for going to the airport. As Margaret Smith also reminded us, the trams will help BAA. I hope that the campaign in which Margaret Smith and Gavin Brown have been so energetically involved this summer will spill over into the wider campaign to get the trams up and running. I should say that, over the summer, I received far more letters, e-mails and other representations about that issue than I did about the airport issue. In saying that, in no way do I mean to show disrespect to the campaign.
It is not appropriate to speak in great detail about the trams on this occasion, but I will make one point about them. I hope that we will unite across party divisions in the campaign to get the trams up and running as soon as possible, and I hope that we can allow our party-political differences on the issue to be left in the past. In
Robin Harper (Green)
I start by intimating my full sympathy with Malcolm Chisholm's words about the trams.
Members might find it a bit odd for a Green to be standing here saying that we should be facilitating the use of cars in getting to Edinburgh airport, but that is indeed the burden of what I am about to say. I could be very succinct, but I want to say a few words first. It would be very desirable to have a railway service between Edinburgh and London and between Glasgow and London that was fully competitive with air transport, to the point at which it became the preferred method of travel, as has happened in France with the TGV for domestic services there. That would balance any increase in international air traffic that Edinburgh might manage to attract, and mean that, hopefully, the airport would have no reason to expand.
I find Edinburgh airport's suggestion tedious, mindless and entirely pointless. It is likely to cause more congestion than to stop it, because cars will have to queue up to pay their pounds. It is therefore also likely to cause levels of pollution where they do not currently exist. I commend everyone who has spoken in the debate, particularly Gavin Brown for bringing the debate to the chamber, and I hope that the ears of BAA are burning on the heads to which they are attached.
Stewart Stevenson (Scottish National Party)
I join the others who have participated in the debate and thank Gavin Brown for securing time to discuss an issue that is important to the wide range of people who use Edinburgh airport. I assure Mr Brown and others who have contributed to the debate that I fully appreciate the strength of feeling that BAA's proposed drop-off charge has stimulated amongst some airport users and others who benefit from the airport's presence. If I did not appreciate that before coming to the debate tonight—and I think I did—the debate has certainly served its purpose.
I would like to pick up on some of the points that members have made. Gavin Brown delineated clearly that there has been a lack of clarity—I put it in those terms—about why the charge is being introduced and what the benefits of doing so are, and I hope that BAA thinks deeply about the contrast between what the consultation process adumbrated and what actually happened.
Among the reasons that were given for the measure was that of getting people on to public transport. It is worth picking up on what Mary Mulligan said in that regard. I have gone to the airport by public transport on a number of occasions. I have travelled to it from Linlithgow by bus, which involved being dropped off on the A8 and walking the mile. I do not intend to repeat the experience. I did check the weather before choosing that option because I thought that walking a mile in pouring rain would not be much fun. I have gone to Haymarket and caught the 100 bus. Although it is possible to get to the airport from Linlithgow by public transport, when one compares it with the option of doing the journey by car, which takes between 12 and 14 minutes, not many people will be attracted to the public transport option.
In addition, I have used the 100 service from the centre of Edinburgh, as well as the 747 service from Inverkeithing station, which goes directly to the airport's forecourt. I did not know about the Whitburn bus, but I will pursue that with interest. A range of options is available to a limited number of people, but it is clear that the car will remain a significant option that some people will be forced to choose to get to the airport.
Gavin Brown described the proposed charge as an insult to our wallets; I suspect that other members who have contributed to the debate took the insult somewhat more widely. Mr Brown ended by calling for the idea to be scrapped.
Mary Mulligan pointed, quite naturally, to the bad publicity that the proposal has generated. Whatever finesse our arguments might have, I do not think that anyone in BAA will imagine that this is where the company wanted to be or the process by which it wanted to get here. Public relations is important for all organisations that provide a service to the public, as Mary Mulligan said.
Margaret Smith said that opposition to the charge was pretty universal, and that it was being introduced to make money and simply because BAA can do so. I say openly that there are always genuine difficulties to do with how to regulate quasi-monopolies, and there are some lessons—
Gil Paterson (Scottish National Party)
The minister will be aware that BAA's London airports are regulated by the Department for Transport, whereas its operations in Scotland are self-regulated. Does the minister agree that, unless the DFT allowed it, BAA would not get away with introducing such a measure in London because the relevant act would not permit it? Will the Scottish Government consider designating airports, such as Edinburgh airport, which would give the Scottish authorities the right to regulate BAA's operations instead of their being self-regulated? I think that that is the key to the way in which BAA operates on drop-off charges and on many other issues—it fills its pockets instead of filling aeroplanes.
Stewart Stevenson (Scottish National Party)
I understand the point that the member makes. The power to designate an airport is not available to me, although it has been discussed. The effect of designation would not be limited to the subject that we are discussing, so I would caution against the exercising of designation powers to get some assistance with that, because it might be less helpful on a range of other issues.
Ian McKee referred to the 2006 master plan. In fairness, I think that things can change over four years. He compared the situation at the airport with that at the Gyle centre, where Marks and Spencer operates, which is among the many places where there is free parking.
Mr McLetchie posed the question: are charges coming elsewhere? Well, just as the referendum on road charging in Edinburgh perhaps stalled any prospect of something happening on that in the near future, what has happened here may be illustrative for others. He said that the key point—I merely repeat his numbers without knowing their veracity or source—is that there is a £1 million a year revenue stream to pay for a £1 million asset. That is something that many who have listened to the debate will pick up on and perhaps use. Thankfully, he pleaded for a Government minister not to interfere. However, the minister will use the content of the debate to form part of his discussions with BAA next time he meets them, as members would expect.
Malcolm Chisholm highlighted many of the issues that others raised. He praised the trams in particular.
I welcome Robin Harper's comments on high-speed rail between central Scotland and the south-east, and on under the Channel. That is certainly important. He used the words "tedious", "mindless" and so on, and I suspect that he might have added to his list the temper of the users.
It has been a useful debate. While clearly it is a commercial matter for BAA to consider the introduction of the charges, we have an all-
I thank all who have participated in this timely and useful debate. I hope that people outside the chamber have been listening.
Meeting closed at 17:42.