I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the final report of the Airports Commission.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this debate, and I thank the Members who supported the application and those who are present today. This is an important subject that requires scrutiny before the Government make their decision. I pay tribute to my colleagues from neighbouring constituencies, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park and Ruth Cadbury, who are assiduous campaigners on the issue of airport expansion.
The Airports Commission’s report came out in July, after two years and about £20 million. Many UK families were preparing to go on holiday at that time, perhaps using their local UK airport. After two years, like many people, I wanted a report that would look forward and be about our UK aviation needs. Like many people, I was disappointed. The report is filled with ifs and buts, and it is shrouded in fog. Many residents of my constituency—I pay tribute to Teddington action group—have found fault with much of the analysis, and many councils, such as Richmond, Wandsworth, Hillingdon and Windsor and Maidenhead, have found fault with the data.
The report’s conclusion in favour of expansion at Heathrow will not serve the UK’s aviation needs. To start with, let us look at connectivity. The interim report stated that a third runway at Heathrow would be at maximum capacity by 2050. The final report advises against a fourth runway, so how can that be a long-term option for the UK’s aviation needs?
The report shows a decrease in domestic destinations, from seven to four—bad luck for Scotland and Ireland, and not good news for the northern powerhouse. Again, the third runway at Heathrow is not a good option for the UK’s long-term aviation needs. The table in the report implies that there may be 12 extra long-haul destinations. However, some analysts say that if we compare the expanded Heathrow of three runways with Heathrow in the summer of 2015, with two runways, we see that the actual increase in long-haul destinations is but one. On the increase by more than 250,000 in flights to and from Heathrow, the report says the slots will be
“in the morning and peak evening periods” when residents will be most affected.
On the cost, again, we are shrouded in fog. The independent economic review said: “we counsel caution”. Other analysts talk of “double accounting”. The report mentions aeronautical charges, but the airlines say that
Heathrow currently charges too much in landing fees and that they would not pay extra charges. There is also a reference to extra costs for surface access. When the Environmental Audit Committee was deliberating with the chief executive, it could not work out exactly how many billions of pounds would be required and whether the taxpayer would pay or Heathrow would pay. Would it be £20 billion or £5 billion? The report refers to a congestion charge, not costed out. It mentions access schemes for the M4 and the M25, again not costed out.
Let us look at the effect on residents. The report says that the noise will be dispersed with an expanded Heathrow. To me, that just means that more people will be affected. It says that the noise impact will be at current levels, yet current levels, for my constituency, are intolerable, as has been demonstrated by Teddington action group. Transport for London says that 1 million people may be affected by an expanded Heathrow. Heathrow is already the worst airport in Europe for noise pollution. With a third runway, it would be worse than Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich and Madrid. Beyond that, it would be worse than Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich and Madrid combined. This is not the way forward for the UK’s aviation needs.
The report talks of a night flight ban, which the chief executive refuses to accept, even though it is not a total night flight ban but a quasi-night flight ban that does not conform to World Health Organisation standards. In any case, if there can be a night flight ban, or a quasi-night flight ban, with three runways, why cannot my constituents have a night flight ban tonight, with two runways? Already, on average, there are 16 flights between 4.30 am and 6 am—it is intolerable.
The report talks about an authority to liaise with the community. It points out that there is no trust between Heathrow airport and the community now, so why would a third runway increase trust? It mentions a noise levy—would that be borne by the passengers or the airlines?—but my residents are not interested in a noise levy; they are interested in a good night’s sleep.
The report talks about air quality, and in this respect there is less fog, because it says that the expansion of Heathrow is
“contingent on…performance on air quality.”
But Heathrow cannot manage air quality with two runways, so how will it manage with three? Why does the report compare the nitrous dioxide levels at Heathrow with those of the worst road in London? Why does it not compare them with the EU levels—the legal levels?
I am coming to the end of my speech.
The report does not include the hypothesis that as we move forward we may not want a hub airport. It does not consider that regional airports might want the competition that an expanded Heathrow would remove. If we are looking for a hub airport, then the Gatwick airport option shows the same economic benefits with less environmental impact. As we all know, the report does not consider a hub airport outwith an urban area—perhaps in an estuary.
Before the Government make a decision, I want them to consider this: Heathrow, with a night flight ban that it will not accept, with the ban on further expansion that the report calls for, and with a problem of environmental impact that it cannot address even with two runways, cannot be the hub it aspires to be. In 2009, the Prime Minister, as Leader of the Opposition, said, “no ifs, no buts, no third runway.” This report is 342 pages of ifs and buts. It is not a solution for the UK’s future aviation needs. Before the Government make their decision, I urge them to remember the Prime Minister’s promise.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this important debate. I congratulate the hon. Members for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), and my hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury, on securing it.
The first question we need to ask is whether we think there is a need for increased flight capacity in this part of the country. London has been the global economic powerhouse for centuries, built on its openness to people, ideas and trade. My view is that there is a need for increased flight capacity. The Davies commission discussed how that need should be addressed, and it concluded that there should be a new runway at Heathrow. I disagree with the conclusion reached by Davies; I think it is possible to address the need for increased flight capacity without the blight and the additional noise pollution and air quality problems that we have heard about.
Let us remind ourselves of the challenges that we face in London. Last year alone, almost 10,000 Londoners died as a direct result of poor air quality. There are children in parts of London whose lungs are underdeveloped because of the air. A couple of months ago, the UK Supreme Court held that our air was in breach of the EU and UK air quality directive. Our air in London is a killer—it makes people sick, and it is illegal. In those circumstances, I do not see how a new runway at Heathrow addresses the requirement on us to meet the Supreme Court’s judgment. Even without building a new runway, I cannot see how Heathrow is addressing that problem now. The hon. Member for Twickenham will know, as will other colleagues, of the challenges posed by surface transport going to and from a Heathrow with two runways, let alone three.
I am very grateful to the former Transport Minister for giving way. Could he please tell me when he changed his mind on Heathrow, given that he was a Transport Minister under a Labour Administration who opted for a third runway at Heathrow, and given that he fought the 2010 general election on a pledge that a Labour Government would build a third runway at Heathrow?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that in 2010, after we lost that general election, the then Government decided to have the report from Davies, and it came out with three recommendations. I have listened to the points made by Davies, but I have also read the Supreme Court judgment. I have met some of the teachers who cannot teach during the daytime because of the noise in the classrooms in west London, which my hon. Friends will talk about. I have met those who took the case to the Supreme Court, some of the children who are struggling, and some of those in London who are suffering from ill health. However, I accept that we face a challenge, and that we need to address the need for increased flight capacity in this part of the country.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the need for increased flight capacity could be met in large part by greater use of regional airports, such as the brilliant airport in Birmingham, which contributes £1 billion to the UK’s economy, is within a two-hour drive for 35 million people, and will be much easier to get to when we build High Speed 2?
My hon. Friend makes a really important point about the need to invest in and support regional airports. Birmingham is our second city and we should support it, but I am worried that the report, if its recommendations are accepted, will not allow that to happen. Flight capacity in this part of the country could also be increased through a new runway at Gatwick airport. That would result in not only jobs, which that part of the country is always in need of, and growth, but, just as importantly, more competition for Heathrow airport. We want a better Heathrow airport, not a bigger one.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Like him, I am a central London MP, and a third runway would definitely affect my constituents, particularly with regard to air quality. I very much agree with them on that. However, why does he think the Davies commission was so categorical in its conclusion that it did not take the view that there should be a third runway at Gatwick? It was very clear about that. I personally would have preferred that, but that is not what the independent commission has suggested.
Davies ruled out the proposed fantasy estuary airport on an island, because it is nonsense, but he did not rule out a new runway at Gatwick. It is important for us to understand the benefits of a new runway at Gatwick airport.
That is the point I was going to make, so I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. On connectivity, the figures for Gatwick versus Heathrow—based on accurate data—are very similar. On economic benefits, the net present value of Gatwick is £10.9 billion, while the figure for Heathrow is £11.8 billion. The cost of expanding Gatwick is far cheaper, at £7.8 billion versus £15.6 billion. Gatwick requires far less public subsidy than Heathrow airport. On deliverability, there would be no need to build a tunnel under the M25, destroy villages or relocate significant waste and associated waste plants. Noise is also an important concern for not only the hon. Lady, but hon. Members in neighbouring seats. The expansion of Gatwick would affect far fewer people than a new runway at Heathrow airport. Gatwick does not breach, and never has breached, any air quality limits, but Heathrow airport currently breaches both UK and EU air limits. It is difficult to understand how the UK could meet the Supreme Court judgment with a new runway at Heathrow airport.
This is an important debate about an important issue. I am passionately in favour of increased air capacity in this part of the country, because it will lead to more jobs and growth. Anybody who wants more jobs and growth in London, and who wants Heathrow to have better competition, cannot be against increased flight capacity in this part of the country. Anybody who rules out a new runway at both Heathrow and Gatwick is playing hard and loose with jobs in London, and with London in general.
I want to challenge the notion that everything has to be in London and the south-east. Why does increased capacity have to be at either Gatwick or Heathrow? As I have said, why not make greater use of regional airports? Why do all the extra jobs need to be in London and the south-east when people cannot afford to buy a house there? Let us have proper devolution to the rest of the country. Let us support the regional economies and the regional airports.
I disagree with my hon. Friend, because he implies that this is a zero-sum game. If London and the south-east do well, that will not happen at the expense of Birmingham. Birmingham is better than that. Both Birmingham and the south-east can do well.
Opposing airport expansion in the south-east full stop is damaging to jobs and business and misses a huge opportunity. I support those hon. Members who are against a new runway at Heathrow and who are in favour of a new runway at Gatwick airport.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Dr Mathias, not only on having secured this debate, together with her colleagues, but on the manner in which she presented her case, although I have to say that I profoundly disagree with it. May I also apologise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to my hon. Friend for the fact that I cannot be here at 5 o’clock for the wind-ups? I have an unavoidable commitment, but I shall stay to listen to as much of the debate as possible.
My position is perfectly clear: I am an aviator and therefore believe it is impossible to have too many runways. I am fully supportive of a third runway at
Heathrow, although personally I prefer my great friend Jock Lowe’s proposal of a Heathrow hub, with a sequential runway to the west of 27/09. That would have knocked down fewer houses and been less intrusive, and it would also have been rather novel. I am also strongly supportive of a second runway at Gatwick. It was complete nonsense when that was ruled out for 40 years in 1979. We should not constrain future generations in the same way.
The commission has found that Heathrow is massively important. Paragraph 2.46 states that
“Heathrow’s long-haul network over-shadows that of any other UK airport, with 84% of scheduled long-haul flights at London airports and 60% of scheduled long-haul destinations not being available anywhere else in the London airport system.”
There we have it, in one sentence—the key importance of Heathrow and why we should back it. Back Heathrow says that Heathrow provides 78% of long-haul flights, as well as 25% by value of our exports. It is hugely important.
In paragraph 3.21, the commission reports on the negative impact that a decision not to proceed with the third runway would have on not just the local economy, but the wider economy. It estimates that over a 60-year period—which is a long time, I accept—the costs could amount to £21 billion for users and providers of airport infrastructure and £30 billion to £45 billion for the wider economy. One does not need to query those figures; we simply need to recognise that they are substantial and reflect the importance of Heathrow.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Heathrow is absolutely vital to areas such as mine? More than 700 companies are headquartered in the Buckinghamshire region because of its proximity to Heathrow. Frankly, my constituents would rather see the expansion of Heathrow, which would benefit them economically, than the building of HS2, which does nothing for the economy in Buckinghamshire.
On the subject of who benefits, has my hon. Friend studied with interest, as I have, the awful maps on pages 163 and 164 of the Davies report? They show very clearly that, on economic benefit, if we have to choose between Heathrow and Gatwick, the decision is something of a no-brainer: it has to be Heathrow. The west midlands, Wales and the west country will benefit from Heathrow, while the south-east will predominantly benefit from Gatwick. My hon. Friend is a west countryman at heart, so I know he will redouble his support for Heathrow, because if there is to be a choice between the two, that is a no-brainer.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There is no doubt that the location of Heathrow was chosen in the first instance because it was the most propitious place to maximise the value of placing an airport near London.
As someone who flew out of Heathrow within 12 months of its opening, I have used Heathrow all my life. There is no doubt that the airport was groundbreaking at the time it was created. It was the first airport in the world to have two parallel runways. In fact, it had six, but the number is now down to two because aircraft are capable of dealing with crosswinds in a way they were not in the 1950s, when tunnels under the runways were necessary. The airport was a serious innovation, and it is now lagging behind. The commission has said that failure to address the problem will
“have negative impacts on the wider economy through creating barriers to trade, investment, tourism, and adversely affecting employment”, as Sadiq Khan said. There is an overwhelming economic case.
I recognise that the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham clearly feel somewhat aggrieved. I have to tell her that I was a councillor in Chiswick. I have had a property in Chiswick all my married life, which is 43 years to date—still counting, I hope—and I live about 300 or 400 yards north of the extended centre line of runway 27 right, so I see aeroplanes daily. I must say that if people choose to live in Twickenham, they have to take into account the airport, which was there a long time before they chose to live there.
I am afraid that the same applies to the people of Richmond. Great man though my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith is—I seriously look forward to his succeeding my hon. Friend Boris Johnson as the next Mayor of London—and though he must do whatever he feels is right, I also have to speak as I find. I find that it is absolutely imperative that we recognise that of the boroughs that have been consulted, the only one where the majority of those responding found against Heathrow was his own borough. Everywhere else, a majority found in favour of continuing Heathrow’s importance to the community, and therefore in favour of a third runway.
The poll that my hon. Friend mentions is the only poll in the world that reveals that most boroughs are in favour of Heathrow expansion. He will not be surprised to hear that it was conducted by Heathrow.
My goodness me, it must therefore be very authoritative. I accept the argument that there is an imposition, but, as I have said, those who live there choose to live there, and for many of them, including several of us in the Chamber today, proximity to Heathrow—
I will not give way. I gather that the hon. Lady represents me in Chiswick. She is not as good as her predecessor, so I cannot give way.
People know what to expect, and those of us in the House who live close to Heathrow have the benefit of that, as I found the other day when I left my wallet behind on leaving for Heathrow, but returned home and still got through security in time to catch my plane to Edinburgh.
Let me make a local point. I represent Farnborough, which has the most prestigious business airports in the world, run by TAG Farnborough airport. It provides for the business community, and takes a lot of the load off Heathrow and Gatwick. It will continue to do so provided it is not impaired by the Ministry of Defence, which is giving preferential treatment to Northolt, and it should not do at the expense of the private sector.
We are the beneficiaries of the Victorians’ vision: they went ahead and built great schemes—this building is one of them—of which we are still the beneficiaries. Since then, we have been subjected to a lack of vision and to paralysis. I saw a map produced by Slough Estates, dated 1935, for an orbital road around London, but it took 50 years. We cannot go on like this. The commission has given us a comprehensive analysis and an answer. We need to get on with it now.
Order. The hon. Lady is not going to disagree with the Chair. She might disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but she will not disagree with the Chair. I am clamping down on this now, because we have been here a long time.
What happened to the Prime Minister’s decisive statement—
“No ifs, no buts, no third runway at Heathrow”— that he made prior to the 2010 election? Six years later, we are on the eve of announcements that may mean the Prime Minister giving the third runway at Heathrow the green light. That decision would be devastating for my constituency, have irreversible implications for London and the UK, and not provide the quick or economically solution to runway capacity that business is seeking. The Heathway runway 3 option is the only one of the three deliverable options in the Airports Commission report that it recommends, and it does so through a flawed economic assessment of its own figures.
Before I go further, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate to take place. For helping me today, I also thank the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise, CHATR—Chiswick Against the Third Runway—as well as West London Friends of the Earth and Hounslow Council.
Heathrow should be better, not bigger. I recognise the significant local and national benefits it brings to the economy now. I oppose expansion because I want no increase in the noise and pollution that the airport already causes, and I want to work with it on reducing those negative impacts.
How long does the hon. Lady think we can continue to assess this? The debate has been running for 20 years. How many more years do we need for this endless theological debate? Will there ever be a conclusion to this debate?
There will be a conclusion if the Prime Minister considers the quicker, less costly and less risky option of Gatwick.
Most people who will be impacted by runway 3—those who will be affected by the change in respite periods and those under the new landing path—do not yet know what that impact will be. British Airways no longer supports Heathrow airport runway 3. The chief executive of its parent company has expressed serious concerns about how a third runway would be funded. Mr Walsh has said:
“The infrastructure is not fit for purpose. The price tag is excessive and cannot be justified on any basis. We didn’t ask for it and we’re not paying for it.”
Business has said time and again that a quick decision is needed. Businesses want to get to and from London, and to and from their markets. Heathrow Airport Ltd is often not top of their agenda.
Businesses also want to get to other parts of the country, not just to London. I do not understand why people in the south-east do not understand that Gatwick is much more difficult to get to than a brilliant regional airport such as Birmingham, as I said earlier. It is within a two-hour drive for 35 million people in this country. Why can we not use the spare capacity at Birmingham? With HS2, it is within 40 minutes of London, and could in effect become Heathrow’s third runway. Why do we not do that?
I thank my hon. Friend. There are other solutions, but I am concentrating on the subject of the debate, the Airports Commission, which recommended Gatwick as one of its three options for an additional runway in London and the south-east.
For residents, expansion at Heathrow will mean 40% more flights overhead; 50% more of London and the south-east in a high-noise area, such as the 57 dB Leq area; more air pollution; less respite for those areas that currently benefit from it; more traffic congestion; little chance of getting or keeping a cap on night flights; and yet more pressure for yet further expansion—in other words, the possibility of a fourth runway. The announcement of a third runway will start a long, drawn-out process. Legal challenge is a real possibility. This will not be a quick process.
I want to cover what Heathrow, with two runways, means to my constituents now. My constituency lies between Heathrow and central London, beneath the landing paths of planes approaching over London. Heathrow is with us: it has been with us for almost
70 years and it is part of our daily lives. It provides jobs and economic stimulus for a wide area of west London and the Thames valley, but it also brings noise, traffic congestion and air pollution. I have never advocated that it be closed or reduced in capacity, and I do not like being accused of that. A real threat to Heathrow’s future would be the Mayor of London’s proposal for a Thames estuary airport.
When Heathrow airport is operating in a westerly direction, which is 70% of the time, planes approach the airport directly overhead every 60 to 90 seconds for 17 hours each day. They are locked into their final approach, so there is no variation for the homes, schools and workplaces that are directly underneath those planes. More than half my constituents live within the 57 dB noise contour and the rest of my constituents will do so if a third runway goes ahead. The noise starts at 4.15 every morning with, on average, 16 flights before 6 am. The noise is then continuous for an hour and, from 7 am till 3 pm, those under the approach of one runway get continuous noise before the planes switch to the other runway until the airport finally closes down, so long as the weather is not bad, at 11.30 pm.
It is not just my constituents who are affected; more than 700,000 people in London and the south-east are affected every single day. More people are affected by aircraft noise near Heathrow than at any other major European airport.
For my constituency, a third runway would mean a 40% increase in flights. It would also include the rest of the constituency in the high-noise area, allowing it to share the joy of continuous overflying for eight to 10 hours a day. Air quality, which is already in breach of EU limits, would be worse, as would traffic congestion and pressure on housing, jobs and public services.
For some, a third runway would mean the loss of their home. Last night I met Armelle, who has been a resident of Harmondsworth village for 46 years. Ninety minutes after the Davies commission report was published, she and her husband received a hand-delivered letter from the chief executive of Heathrow Airport Ltd, telling them about the arrangements to be made for buying their home at a price that would not buy a flat in most of west London. Her husband fell ill as a result of the pressure that letter caused and, within eight weeks, he sadly passed away. Armelle’s MP, my hon. Friend John McDonnell, is a Front Bencher and so is unable to speak in this debate, so she asked me to make the House aware that a community of more than 10,000 people and 4,000 homes will have to leave if Heathrow expands. She said, “You cannot replace a community.”
The main reasons to oppose expansion are noise, air quality, a business case that does not stack up and flaws in the economic arguments in the Davies commission report. In conclusion, Heathrow runway 3 is the most costly, most complex and highest risk of the three proposed schemes in the Airports Commission report. Furthermore, it is predicated on conditions that the airport operator is not prepared to concede.
I, too, am grateful for the opportunity to have this debate. It is our first opportunity to discuss the Davies commission and it is giving us an early view of how colleagues will be disobliging to each other in the course of deploying their arguments.
My interest in this matter goes back a long way, as the Official Report will bear witness. I often think that when I die, the word “Stansted” will be found engraved on my heart. I must declare that interest, which was formed when I was the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich in Greater Manchester. That was at the time of the Roskill report on airports policy. I came to the conclusion that no inland site should be chosen for London’s third airport. Indeed, the report did not even recommend Stansted. I saw all the other sites and, as far as I was concerned, none of them was correct.
My stance was reinforced when BAA, the statutory authority at the time, concluded the infamous pact with West Sussex County Council not to have a second runway at Gatwick, the second airport, within 40 years, as my hon. Friend Sir Gerald Howarth said. To my mind, that was the aviation equivalent of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. BAA denied that anything could be done about the Perry Oaks sludge works, which sit to the west of Heathrow. I was told, as though I was a child, that I did not understand—it was too costly, it was technically impossible and so on. Of course, that is where terminal 5 now stands.
The Davies report comes out in favour of a hub airport. I am prepared, on balance, to accept that that is the current need. The report backs Heathrow in support of that concept. It then stops short of following its own logic by ruling out a fourth runway. Most airlines would say, “You can’t have a hub airport that is limited to three runways—look at what the competition is doing.” Every factor that persuaded Davies to recommend a third runway will recur in time, whether it is connectivity with our provincial airports or the need for more long-haul routes to be established.
The tactic of ruling out a fourth runway is a repeat of what has happened on so many occasions in the past. It is a worthless condition. The infamous letter of Sir John Egan in 1995, when terminal 5 was finally discussed, stated
“we do not want, nor shall we seek, an additional runway.”
It stated that they had
“called on the Inspector to recommend that, subject to permission being given for T5, an additional Heathrow runway should be ruled out forever.”
When representatives of BAA appeared before the Select Committee on Transport, on which I had the honour to serve in the 1990s, we put it to them time and again that it could be recommended that, in addition to terminal 5, they should have a third runway, but they denied it, denied it and denied it. We cannot believe people when they try to bind the future in that way.
My constituents in Saffron Walden are also familiar with that tactic. After the airports inquiries of 1981 to 1983, Graham Eyre stated:
“There are compelling reasons which are now manifest as to why a second runway at Stansted should not be developed under any circumstances and Government should make an unequivocal declaration of intention that a second main runway will not be built.”
He later described a second runway as an “environmental catastrophe”. The Government made that declaration, but within seven years the Government—not a different Government, but the same one—began to water it down. Davies himself has said that in the longer term, he sees no difficulty with a second runway at Stansted. That completely devalues any undertaking that is given.
There are other weaknesses in the Davies report’s support for a third runway at Heathrow, as hon. Members have said. As I read the report, the impression grew on me that every consideration was being bent towards a recommendation on which the commission had already decided. Air quality has been mentioned. Will the cost of surface transport be achieved? Will there really be many regional airport connections and will they last for very long? I question the practicality of ruling out early arrivals at the so-called hub airport because of the effect that that will have on connectivity, if it is to be an effective airport in the future. I question how many new long-haul routes will be created. The accumulation of doubts could affect the timing and financing of any third runway at Heathrow.
Some people say that competition between airports is unrealistic. I am not sure that I agree. There is no doubt at all that Gatwick and Stansted have become much better places from which to operate under their new owners. However, the House will understand that it would be inconsistent with the view I formed a long time ago if I now accepted that north-west Essex was the most admirable site for a four-runway airport. I am sorry if this view disappoints the unlikely duo of my hon. Friend Boris Johnson and Lord Sugar.
I still believe that the Government of 1970 were right and that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip is right in saying that the correct long-term answer lies in the estuary. To have a world-class airport for a world-class city, London needs to start again. The British have built excellent airports in other parts of the world, but not here. We should think in bigger terms and we should also think of the northern powerhouse.
Before I start, I must apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the Members in the Chamber because, like Sir Gerald Howarth, I will not be present for the summing up due to a constituency engagement. In my case, it is an event that was postponed due to the Paris atrocities. I hope that that is okay with everyone present.
An additional runway in the south-east of England might not be at the top of my constituents’ priorities if one uses my postbag or inbox as measuring tools, but I have certainly received more correspondence on this issue than in support of military action in Syria. Some of that correspondence states that London and the south-east has had quite enough infrastructure investment, and that more effort should be made to attract direct flights to the countries and regions, and away from London. I have some sympathy with that argument, but I am afraid we must deal with the reality of a straight choice between Heathrow or Gatwick.
London and the rest of the world through better hub capacity. Scotland is located on the periphery of Europe, and as such travelling by air is not a luxury but an essential element of business and family life. Scotland’s ability to maintain and increase its global competitiveness is dependent on air links with established and emerging markets. Sadly, we are reliant on other European hubs—including London—for much of that connectivity. Recent research by the Civil Aviation Authority confirmed the extent to which Scotland is dependent on hub airports, with 40% of international and 70% of long-haul passengers reaching their final destination indirectly.
Glasgow airport in my constituency is west Scotland’s primary link to economic markets and therefore pivotal to its future success. It sustains more than 7,000 jobs and contributes almost £200 million to the national economy. It was used by more than 7.7 million passengers in 2014, and is currently UK airport of the year. Glasgow—along with Aberdeen and Inverness airports, chambers of commerce in Inverness, Aberdeen and Grampian, Renfrewshire and Glasgow, and CBI Scotland—supports the Heathrow bid, while Edinburgh supports its sister airport, Gatwick. Glasgow airport tells me that it has approximately 30 airlines that serve 110 destinations. The most popular route is the British Airways Glasgow to Heathrow service, which is used by more than 870,000 passengers. Gatwick is also hugely important to Glasgow, with 615,000 passengers using that service across two airlines. However, 49% of passengers flying to Glasgow from Heathrow were transfers and started their journey outwith the UK, while only 26% of passengers from Gatwick were transfers.
In this global age connectivity is vital. Connectivity in the UK is currently dominated by Heathrow, which is the UK’s only hub and offers the greatest number of onward connections and the greatest frequency of feeder services. I am not saying that that should continue to be the case, but put simply, Heathrow serves 75 destinations that cannot be reached from any other UK airport.
To be crystal clear, this decision is as important to Scotland and elsewhere in these islands as it is for London and the south-east. It is still not clear whether the House will vote on this issue, and if so, whether it will be certified as English only. When giving evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Leader of the House said:
“If we have a vote on whether to build a runway at Heathrow or at Gatwick within the UK Parliament, it will be carried only with the wish of the UK Parliament. But whether there is an England-only vote element to it will depend entirely on the nature of the vote, the nature of the vehicle. If it is simply a vote in principle and it is not on legislation, then it would not be covered by these procedures anyway…If there was a piece of legislation that is about the detailed planning of a new airport, it will be for the Speaker to decide whether it is an England only motion or not,”.
The possibility of Scots MPs not having full voting rights on a matter of such importance met with incredulity in Scotland, with Doug Maclean—an aviation consultant with DKM Aviation Partners—saying that that would be “absolutely preposterous”. He stated:
“It’s like saying only Scottish MPs should have the vote on Trident renewal because it’s based in Scotland. It’s absurd. Heathrow is there as a national UK asset. Its whole structure is about being a major hub and connecting the UK to as many international routes as possible...it’s had to squeeze out the less popular or profitable routes like a lot of the Scottish and English regional airports. What’s being proposed at Heathrow, and separately by Gatwick, is the ability to have access slots at the airports on a greater basis. To say it’s English only is complete nonsense.”
I hope that I have made two things abundantly clear. First, the connectivity that an additional runway would provide is vital to Scotland and its future growth potential. Secondly, if the House is asked to make a decision on that issue, it should not be certified as English-only. Members from all constituent and “equal” parts of the Union should be allowed full voting rights on such an important issue.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Dr Mathias on her speech and on promoting me to a right hon. Member. Giving the looming decision on Heathrow, that has never been less likely, but I thank her all the same.
Big infrastructure is always disruptive. That is why we are having this debate, because whenever a big infrastructure project is discussed, it always causes pain. Often, however, the gain justifies that pain. Clearly that is the view of those who support Heathrow expansion, but I implore them to look properly at the costs and benefits of this project before taking a view, because I think the figures speak for themselves.
Let me revisit some of the cost—much of it has already been discussed, so I will be brief. Noise is the principal concern. Heathrow is already Europe’s biggest noise polluter by far—720,000 people are already affected, and a third runway would increase flights from 480,000 to around 740,000 a year and affect well over 1 million people. In addition, people would lose half the respite periods, which they treasure, because those would be cut from eight hours to four hours.
When Heathrow says that fewer people will be impacted by noise under an expanded airport with a third runway, that merely tells us that Heathrow as a company is so used to getting its way with the Government that it no longer feels the need even to appear reasonable. The Government have admitted—we might get clarity on this later in the debate—that they have not analysed the impact of noise on residents if Heathrow expands. I do not believe that they have even seen the proposed flight paths, but perhaps the Minister will clarify that point later in the debate.
Then there is pollution. With only two runways, air pollution around Heathrow already massively exceeds existing legal limits. A third runway would see 75 million more people using the airport and travelling to and from it—Transport for London believes that an extra runway would add 25 million more lorry and car journeys each year. Nobody in the world believes that Heathrow expansion can be reconciled with any of the aspirations, legal or otherwise, on air quality—nobody except Heathrow that is, which tells us that a third runway would take place with a zero increase in car movements. It is hard even to know how to respond to that assertion.
Howard Davies has begun to nuance his position on air quality on the back of the Volkswagen scandal, because the data on which he based his assumptions have been revealed to be entirely fraudulent. A few days ago he said to a Committee of MPs, including me:
“I do think the Government will need to satisfy itself on this particular point, clearly some things have moved on. The Government will need to satisfy itself that this can be safely done.”
The financial cost has already been mentioned, and we have an unlikely new ally in this campaign in the form of Willie Walsh, the head of BA. He described the proposed costs as “outrageous”, and said that they make the project impossible and undeliverable. If we consider surface transport costs alone, he is obviously right. How do we accommodate 25 million extra road passenger journeys per year? The Airports Commission puts the cost at £6 billion, while Heathrow puts it at £l billion. Transport for London has put that cost at around £20 billion—it goes on, and on.
That is just some of the downside, and it is big. People might consider accepting that downside if the economic case was utterly overwhelming, but what is amazing about the Howard Davies report is that it makes the economic case against Heathrow expansion for us. There is a giant gap between the report and the conclusion it reaches. It is as if Howard Davies began with a conclusion, spent £20 million and three years—or however long it took—cobbling together analysis, data and information, and then stuck the same conclusion on the end of the report.
In the report Howard Davies tells us that in the most optimistic scenario, an expanded Heathrow would give us just 12 additional international routes. Even worse, much of the additional activity—if not all of it—would be at the expense of neighbouring airports such as Stansted and Gatwick. In other words, we would not be creating new activity; we would be centralising existing activity. We would be recreating the old monopoly—a giant, foreign-owned, subsidised monopoly on the edge of our city. It is a pitifully small upside, even more so when compared with the colossal dose of pain that Heathrow expansion encompasses.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, including on the Airport Commission report. We are where we are, however, and a choice has to be made. It is a binary choice the Government will make within, we are told, the next three or four weeks. Is he going further than his previous position and does he support the second runway at Gatwick, the only credible other option on the table?
I noticed Sadiq Khan briefing the hon. Gentleman with that question a few moments ago. I will answer that point, but I have to say that the position of the right hon. Member for Tooting on this issue seems to ebb and flow with the weather. He seems to say one thing to one audience and another thing to another audience. His position on Heathrow is about as authentic as Donald Trump’s hair, and the same applies to his position on almost every issue on which he has opined in the past few months. Nevertheless, I will answer the question.
The alternative to monopoly, which is what is proposed as the first choice of the Howard Davies commission, is competition. We know competition works. We only have to look at Gatwick to know that competition works: it has become a better airport. It has opened up routes to places we were told it would not be able to open routes up to, including Hanoi, Jakarta and two routes to China. Competition is the answer.
Despite coming down in favour of monopoly, even Howard Davies has acknowledged that the third runway would stifle growth at the other airports. He has said:
“a competing airport system is right for London”.
So how do we encourage that? We invest in transport links to, from and between the three main airports in London. If and when—as is likely—we have a capacity problem, we expand. We do not expand at Heathrow, however; we expand at a place in such a way that maximises rather than suffocates competition. That has always been my position: today, as it has been in any number of articles, interviews and comments. I have always come down in favour of competition, because it is the obvious answer.
Order. We have a problem with the clock. I calculate that the hon. Gentleman has one minute and 50 seconds left, including the intervention he is about to take.
Having sat on the Environmental Audit Committee and read about and listened to the concerns of a variety of community organisations in relation to the expansion of Heathrow, I do not think any questions have actually been answered. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that even the air monitoring system at Heathrow is absolutely and totally inadequate?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. For the record, I agree with the position he has expressed privately, and which his colleague Gavin Newlands expressed, which is that this is an issue for the Scottish National party. This is a piece of national infrastructure and it requires the consent of the whole country.
Some colleagues believe we need a giant mega-hub. Some colleagues are inclined to back Heathrow expansion because they think an inadequate third runway would inevitably give way to a fourth runway. I think people are willing to agree with this halfway route on the basis that we will end up with a mega-hub of four runways. They should bear in mind, however, what NATS told the Airports Commission and has repeated subsequently: it would veto, as much as it is able to do, the construction of a fourth runway on the basis that our west London skies are too crowded. It does not believe it would be possible to keep our skies safe with a fourth runway. I therefore ask anyone inclined to back Heathrow expansion in the hope that it leads to a fourth runway to think again. Our skies in that particular part of the region simply could not accommodate that.
Regardless of the Government’s decision—whenever it is made; we assume that it will be before Christmas—I personally do not believe Heathrow expansion will happen. I do not think the Government’s decision will make the slightest bit of difference, other than perhaps to delay a discussion that has already been going on for far too long. Heathrow expansion is not politically deliverable and I do not think it is legally deliverable, either. MPs, councillors and countless residents across the very large flightpath will make that point for as long as they need to.
It is a pleasure to follow some excellent speeches, particularly by Dr Mathias and my hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury. The two candidates for the mayoralty of London agreed with each other, which is good. Like them, I am opposed to a third runway at Heathrow. Indeed, I am not personally convinced there is a case for a new runway in the south-east at all. I have suggestions for a more sensible way forward.
We should maximise the use of existing capacity. One way to do that is by realising that we have a new generation of aircraft coming in with higher payload capacity and shorter take-off and landing requirements, so there will be more take-offs and landings per hour. They are composite-bodied aircraft, such as the Boeing Dreamliner, and are more fuel-efficient, quieter and less polluting. There is more capacity at Stanstead that should be maximised. In my town of Luton, of course, there is London Luton airport, which is due to expand its capacity from 10 million to nearly 20 million passengers a year. That is to be welcomed. There is now serious talk of a fixed-rail transit link between the rail station and the airport. I am meeting the airport director tomorrow to discuss these matters. London Luton airport can make a contribution.
London Luton airport could also become a satellite for Heathrow if there were a fast rail link between Luton Airport Parkway station and Heathrow. This could be done by using the curve going through Cricklewood to get on to the west coast main line. That would be the way forward; there could be a hub-satellite relationship. There is also a major case, as my hon. Friend Ian Austin said, for making greater use of regional airports. One in particular has been mentioned: Birmingham. Birmingham will not be effective at serving London, being a two-hour drive away, but there are ways of dealing with that problem that I have spoken about on previous occasions.
The hon. Gentleman touches on Birmingham airport. Is he aware that HS2, which is not favoured by every hon. Member, will apparently make the journey between Birmingham airport and central London in 36 minutes? It takes rather longer than that from Stansted and, possibly, from Luton.
I have a better suggestion—I am not a supporter of HS2. Let us electrify and upgrade the Birmingham Snow Hill to London line, going through Banbury, linking it directly to Crossrail, so that it is possible to get from the business district of Birmingham centre right through to Canary Wharf, if necessary, and directly to Heathrow. That could be linked directly to Birmingham airport via Leamington Spa. An electrified, one-hour service shuttle between Birmingham airport and Heathrow airport could effectively make both airports satellites and hubs for each other, which would be a tremendous boon, serving central London well. One hour from Birmingham airport to the centre of London on a modified, electrified 125 mph service would be a way forward, making HS2 redundant.
That is my major suggestion. There is also a possibility of other developments in other airports. Going further north, we could, with my suggestion of electrifying the line, even provide direct electric services from Manchester airport to London, as long we as upgrade the Birmingham Snow Hill line through to Heathrow, the City and Canary Wharf. That would provide a much more sensible way forward, which would benefit the west midlands and other regions, taking some of the pressure off the south-east in respect of not only air travel, but economic development and housing. Those are my suggestions, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I hope they are helpful.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Dr Mathias and Ruth Cadbury on securing this very important debate. I am particularly delighted because, as the Minister with responsibility for aviation when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set up the Davies commission, I know that the opportunity to debate this critically important issue is long overdue.
I am concerned because, as my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Haselhurst has said, we have been discussing for 50 years the issue of runways and airports in the vicinity of London and beyond, and we have now reached a critical point. All those who have used Heathrow, particularly for long-haul flights, know that it is overcrowded and over capacity. We can see that most easily when flying on long-haul routes in the early morning, with the stacking that goes on around London. That is not healthy for London, and it is not healthy for connectivity and travelling.
The time has come to stop talking and to come up with a viable solution, because it is in our national and economic interest to continue to ensure that the hub airport for western Europe is in Britain. Heaven knows that Heathrow is under immense pressure from Frankfurt, Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and even possibly from Madrid; they are trying to poach that position away from us. That is not in our economic interest, or in the interests of people who travel out of the UK from Heathrow or Gatwick.
On my right hon. Friend’s point about Heathrow being congested, that is partly because it operates its two runways in alternate mode. If it were not doing so—local people do not want this change—it would get 216 extra slots per day.
I fully appreciate what my right hon. Friend says, but the critical part of his intervention was his comment that local people do not want this change.
The issue of the pressures imposed on Heathrow’s operations over many years has been paramount. Some people have suggested that there should be, in effect, a joint hub for the United Kingdom, based on Heathrow and Gatwick. That was tried in the 1980s and the 1990s, and it was a failure, not least because the major airlines wanted the slots at London Heathrow. There is, of course, the alternative of Gatwick, for which some of my hon. Friends have, quite rightly, argued.
The independent Davies report looked in tremendous detail at all the alternatives, including the proposal from my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South
Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the Mayor of London, of which, as an Essex Member, I have to say that I was unfortunately not in favour. An independent body has carried out research and analysis, and has come up with conclusions in what I consider to be a formidable document. It will clearly not find favour with some people, particularly in parts of central and south-west London, but I must add one caveat. Given the sheer number of jobs that are dependent on Heathrow as a thriving airport, not simply in London, but in the home counties and beyond, I find it strange that there should be a potential silent majority—that people who work at Heathrow and rely on it for their livelihoods remain silent and do not make what I assume to be their case.
I will not, because I have only a short time in which to speak. I think it would be useful to hear more from both sides, but what is most important is for us finally to put to bed this constant bickering and arguing, and to come up with a coherent proposal that we can take forward in order to protect our position as the supplier of the hub airport for western Europe.
I also think—I accept that this is equally controversial and would require all-party support—that we should look again at the planning procedures governing major projects in this country. It is crazy that it takes so long to build a project. In order not to antagonise too many of my hon. Friends, I shall exclude the airport from the equation. Let us take HS2, or terminal 5 at Heathrow, or a few of the other big projects that are beneficial to the economy and that the country badly needs. It is necessary to faff around with all the procedures in order to get from A to B, and then to C, namely the eventual opening and operation of whatever the project may be. That is wrong, and we need to reform those procedures. We should not cut away people’s right to object and have their concerns expressed, but we should ensure that the procedures cannot be used to gerrymander the process, and to delay and delay and delay.
For what it is worth—I am approaching the final seconds of my speech; I will survive alive!—from a purely personal point of view, I think that Heathrow has a compelling case for expanding to meet our capacity problems and to ensure that we have a thriving and successful aviation industry.
Let me begin by reflecting, very briefly, the views of my hon. Friend John McDonnell, not just because he is unable to take part in the debate by virtue of his position in the shadow Cabinet, but because he has been the foremost opponent of Heathrow expansion for many years. He says:
“At the southern tip of my constituency is an 11th century village. Harmondsworth. It contains the oldest tithe barn in England. It has an ancient church and two vintage pubs. But it is also home to thousands of people; to a settled community. But many of these homes and buildings which have stood for a thousand years will be demolished if a third runway is built at Heathrow. Heathrow airport will require 783 properties in Harmondsworth. But it also has said it will buy homes in the neighbouring villages of Sipson and Harlington should people want to move to escape the constant noise of planes landing and taking off just above their heads. In total, up to 4,000 homes might need to be acquired. There are parts of my constituency where air pollution levels already exceed the EU…limits”, and while
“a lot of the pollution comes from motor vehicles…I believe that Heathrow is being disingenuous in stating that it can a bring in a quarter of a million more planes each year…and expect air pollution levels to fall. Planes will get cleaner but their belief is more an act of faith than one rooted in hard evidence.”
The impact of the third runway will be felt not just in Hayes and Harlington and Hammersmith, of course, but right across London and the home counties. The noise figures are well known. According to the European Commission, more than 725,000 people are impacted by noise from Heathrow—that is 28% of all people disturbed by aircraft noise across Europe. Heathrow is stretching credibility to claim that the number of people affected by noise will fall when 250,000 extra planes are using the third runway.
The economics of a third runway are equally questionable. The Airports Commission could not make up its mind on the figures, but it chose to highlight the fact that the third runway would benefit UK plc to the tune of £147 billion over 60 years, but its own advisers said there were difficulties with the model used to get that figure. Using traditional, tested modelling methods, it was found that a third runway would bring benefits of £69 billion over 60 years, but if the costs of the disbenefits, such as noise and emissions, and of delivering the third runway are included, the economic benefits fall to £11.8 billion over 60 years. Given that significant social and economic cost, as well as the damage to the climate, my plea—and, I am sure, that of my hon. Friend—is that the Government not be swayed by advertising slogans and self-interested voices but recognise that the UK’s economy is not dependent on this destructive third runway at Heathrow.
The time for talking is now over. As recently as this Monday in the other place, we were promised that the Government would make an announcement before Christmas about Heathrow and Gatwick, and I am sure the Minister will confirm that. I support the Gatwick option. We have to make that choice. I am sorry that Zac Goldsmith, who is no longer in his place, gave a furtive answer to my question. I think his bid for high office has made him less frank than he was. We have to back Gatwick, because it is the only other choice, but it is also necessary as a driver of the south-west economy.
My hon. Friend Mr Bailey earlier pleaded the case for Birmingham. When HS2 is built, it will be quicker for people in the north of my constituency to get to Birmingham airport than Heathrow on the Piccadilly line. There are other viable options to a third runway at Heathrow.
HS2 will stop at Euston, which is nowhere near Heathrow. My scheme would provide for a direct rail link from Birmingham airport to Heathrow on a one-hour service. It would effectively make Birmingham and Heathrow partner airports and take a lot of the pressure off Heathrow.
Heathrow has ruled the roost for too long. Of course, it could keep Stansted and Gatwick when it owned those airports. It also seemed to mesmerise successive Governments. It was only when my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband became leader of the Labour party that our party’s policy changed. We hoped that when the Prime Minister said, “no ifs, no buts, no third runway”, that Conservative party policy had changed as well. Unfortunately, I do not believe it was ever really the case, and I believe the commission was set up on a false prospectus. One only has to look at the change in the terms of reference from “whether” we should have expansion to “where” it should be. As has already been said, the inevitable conclusion is that the decision was deliberately delayed until after the election.
I declare an interest. A third runway, as proposed, would directly affect Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush and would subject communities in that area to sustained aircraft noise for the first time. The effect would be dramatic across the whole of west London. A third runway is also unnecessary. I would like to praise the work of Hammersmith and Fulham council in opposing the proposal over many years. I myself have been involved in those campaigns for more than 30 years.
I also praise the council for setting up an independent residents commission, chaired by the former senior civil servant Christina Smyth, which took evidence from all parties and came to the following conclusions. It said that, yes, if Heathrow were chosen we would enjoy some
“economic benefits by way of inward investment”,
And, yes, there would be an
“increased choice of flights and destinations for residents and visitors using Heathrow.”
That is true, but the report also highlighted the additional flights overhead, the additional noise and traffic congestion, the effects on air quality, the failure to mitigate noise properly, the safety concerns and, above all, the effect on residents’ health and quality of life. They are a price that is not worth paying. No other country would think of subjecting 2 million people in the most densely populated part of the country to that intolerable burden. This is insanity, particularly when there is an acceptable alternative. I hope that, when the Government make their decision on this matter, they will finally see sense.
Of course there are Members on both sides of the House who have a constituency interest in this matter. So far, we have heard from hon. Members who have constituency concerns about the expansion of Heathrow. I, too, have constituency concerns, but they relate to the expansion of Gatwick and many of them sound similar to the issues about Heathrow raised by several of my hon. Friends and others. However, all those concerns must be beside the point. We should all agree that we need to take this decision in the national interest, for reasons that were well described by my right hon. Friend Sir Simon Burns.
At the risk of sounding like Basil Fawlty, I have to ask, “What is the point?” What is the point of setting up an Airports Commission at vast cost to seek expert advice and provide the right solution if that preferred option is simply to be swept aside? It would be worse still if it were to be swept aside for narrow political reasons. I also challenge the suggestion that the Airports Commission offered the Government three equal options regarding which airport should be developed. I listened with some alarm as the Secretary of State for Transport told the “Today” programme on
Davies said that Heathrow was the “best answer” and that it presented the “strongest case”. Yes, Davies said that Gatwick was “plausible”, but he then went on to explain why Gatwick did not offer the same benefits as Heathrow. Those benefits include connectivity. Gatwick lies to the south of London and is not connected to the transport network in the same way as Heathrow is. The rail link to Gatwick is already a joke. It is over-subscribed and it is of course not going to be connected to HS2. Davies also calculated that the economic benefits of choosing Heathrow were considerably greater than those for Gatwick. He identified up to £147 billion in net present value of economic benefit in the increase to GDP from choosing Heathrow, compared with £89 billion of economic benefit from choosing Gatwick. That is a considerable difference.
Thirdly, and, in a sense, most significantly, Davies pointed out that Gatwick could not offer the connectivity of Heathrow. That goes to the heart of the matter: we need a single hub airport, and that is what almost all the airlines are saying. The great danger now would be to produce a solution that does not deliver that hub and to watch what happens to London as a consequence were we then to lose business to our international competitors. New York has two airports, and where is the hub on the east coast of the United States? It is O’Hare, in Chicago, a far bigger airport than there is in New York, offering far more connectivity, and New York loses out as a consequence. Tokyo has two airports, but where is the new hub and where is the new business going in the far east? It is going not to Tokyo, but to Seoul, which has a hub airport. Although competition has of course been advantageous and the break-up of the monopolistic ownership of airports has delivered benefits to passengers in the form of an improved passenger experience, the idea that competition would be a good thing and somehow we could run two hub airports, when all the experience has told us that that is what the airlines do not want to do and that splitting business between Heathrow and Gatwick was such a disaster for British Airways, is one for the birds.
My hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith said that Gatwick offers, for instance, flights to Jakarta, but Garuda has just announced that it is going to leave Gatwick and go back to Heathrow, because Heathrow offers it better connectivity with a direct flight to Jakarta. We would be making a serious mistake, on the basis of the worst kind of short-term decision making, if we ignored the unequivocal recommendation of this report.
In 1974, the Labour Government cancelled the channel tunnel proposed then by a Conservative Government and cancelled the Maplin Sands airport proposal, and we are still paying the price. The channel tunnel link was built decades later and the rail link was then built way behind that of the French, and we still do not have a hub airport. Lord Adonis, now to be chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, described those as “stupid, short-termist decisions”. We have a clear recommendation from the Airports Commission, the evidence is clear, the Government set up the report and now is not the time to run away from it.
Heathrow has been in the background for me for 43 years. I was a pupil at Montpelier primary school, just north of Ealing Broadway, and when someone was doing a reading in assembly, they would have to stop as the teacher told them to hang on while Concorde or whatever it was flew past, after which they could continue. I now live in south Ealing, which is even more directly under the flight path, so I notice when the switchover happens. People I went to school with had parents with jobs at Heathrow and adults I know now have jobs there. It is a significant local employer of vital strategic importance to the whole of west London. I have good relationships with it as an employer: I went back to that primary school recently on an engineering challenge with people from the airport; I have been up the control tower as a candidate; and I recognise its figures even though the figures available are slightly different depending on whose one chooses. A tri-borough study carried out by Ealing, Slough and Hounslow talked about 70,000 jobs, whereas Heathrow gives figures of 76,000 direct jobs and 40,000 indirect jobs. That is not to be sniffed at. I also used the airport last week as a passenger, and I like the fact that I can directly get a Piccadilly line train to it in 20 minutes.
Despite all that, and the fantastical figures that Heathrow promises will come with expansion, I cannot support expansion at this time, because it is in the wrong place. If we were starting from scratch, we would not build London’s main hub airport in a densely populated urban area, bringing a raft of problems such as noise, air pollution and traffic congestion impacts. Schiphol, the main European hub, is not in a comparable destination; it was built over fields.
Those impacts of Heathrow are already high, as Dr Mathias pointed out, so how is an extra runway going to solve that situation? Air pollution and traffic gridlock are much worse than ever before. My hon. Friend Andy Slaughter mentioned villages, and Harmondsworth and places in the constituency of my hon. Friend John McDonnell would be bulldozed in any expansion—we are talking about thousands of homes.
In expanding Heathrow, there are more snakes than ladders. If we were to do a SWOT analysis, the environmental threats—I am talking about air quality, noise pollution and carbon emissions, which is the biggest threat of our time—far outweigh those in the rather spurious claims made by Heathrow. We know that Heathrow already breaches the legal limits on air quality, and that there is insufficient reassurance in this report to address that.
Conversely, Gatwick, an option which is still on the table according to Davies, has never broken legal air quality limits, and would remain within them even with an extra runway. I think the figures are that 18,000 people would be newly affected by expansion at Gatwick, but 320,000 people would be affected by Heathrow—17 times more.
We are living at a time when every pound of public expenditure should be justified. To expand Gatwick would cost the Treasury pretty much nothing, whereas Heathrow will need a £20 billion taxpayer subsidy. Willie Walsh has also said that expansion at Heathrow is unjustifiable in terms of costs. We constantly hear that Heathrow is at capacity, but Gatwick achieved 40 million passengers last year. The Airports Commission report said that that would not be achieved until 2024, which shows how flawed its analysis is. Clearly, Gatwick is crying out for expansion.
Yesterday evening, I was at a public meeting at St Michael’s church in the much-mentioned area of Chiswick. There were 200 people there—the organisers said that it was 300, so perhaps it was a median between the two—and they were unanimous in their opposition to a third runway at Heathrow. We have seen flash mobs. I think that there was one even this morning at Terminal 2, which showed the strength of feeling against the expansion.
In my maiden speech, I said that I wanted to be a voice for the suburbs. Bedford Park, which is said to be the world’s first garden suburb, was initially marketed as the world’s most healthy place. The Bedford Park Society believes that an expansion to Heathrow would make a mockery of that.
Regional expansion is another possibility. We could even think beyond our reliance on planes. The meetings that we all have could be done by telephone conferencing. My hon. Friend Karin Smyth says that there is an excellent airport in Bristol that could be expanded. Stansted is also echoingly empty when compared with both Gatwick and Heathrow. Extra capacity at Manchester airport would fit the northern powerhouse strategy of which we hear so much.
To say that the Government’s position on this report is long awaited is an understatement. This matter has been talked about for a long time. I am talking about way, way back in the mists of time. I became a candidate in 2012, but the discussions go back nearly 20 years. The ball is in the Government’s court. The right decision must be made for west London, because the matter cannot be pushed into the long grass any longer.
Let me refer to Bedford Park, which I used to represent as a Conservative councillor. May I put it to the hon. Lady that all those people who live there—and it is a pretty affluent area—not only knew that Heathrow was there when they moved there, but, given the nature of their occupations, probably benefit very substantially from the close proximity of Heathrow to where they live?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It depends on when they moved there. There were people at the meeting yesterday who said that when they moved there, Heathrow was only a glimmer of what it is now. Certainly, there were not five terminals. I am not saying that we should raze Heathrow to the ground. I recognise its strategic importance to west London. I like the fact that it is very near me, but
London is big enough—its population is heading towards 10 million—to be a dual hub city. Many cities in America have dual hubs. Why can we not have the same, with the two destinations of Gatwick and Heathrow—those are the two airports mentioned in the report? It is completely possible. We could even consider regional alternatives. After all, there are places other than London in this country.
Funnily enough, I think that there are some good things in the report by the Airports Commission led by Sir Howard Davies. There are two conclusions that I certainly agree with. First, Britain needs more aviation capacity, as has been said by many of my hon. Friends this afternoon. It is a disgrace, for instance, that Frankfurt airport already serves 100 more destinations than Heathrow. A wretched fact when we are trying to intensify trading co-operation with China is that there are nine cities in China that one cannot reach from the UK but only from airports in continental Europe, which is a serious disadvantage for our business people and for UK plc.
The second point I agree with—agreement that is not universally shared here—is that the only way to achieve that greater connectivity is to have a hub airport. We need the volume of transfer passengers to build the wealth of destinations. The bigger the hub, the more the spokes. Many people in favour of aviation expansion share that analysis.
The only problem with the conclusion that Sir Howard and his team have come to is that that solution does not lie at Heathrow. It cannot provide what my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert rightly called for, which is the long-term solution, because it is so geographically constrained. It is in the wrong place for expansion. The environmental impacts and disbenefits have been well rehearsed this afternoon.
I point out to my hon. Friend Sir Gerald Howarth that it is not only existing Londoners who would be affected by the increase in noise, although they might not appreciate planes coming in at 4 o’clock in the morning, which is what would happen if the night flight ban were overturned, as Heathrow wants. According to the Airports Commission, at least 150,000 more Londoners would be affected by the expansion of the airport to a third runway. According to TfL, it would be 300,000 more. That is quite contrary to the Government’s expressed policy on aviation expansion.
The second problem is pollution, a point that many hon. Members have already made. The limit values on the Bath Road would be well exceeded, and there would be serious legal challenges that, in the end, would be insuperable. To build this great generator of noise and pollution in west London would cost far more than is currently estimated. TfL estimates the extra transport costs alone to be between £10 billion and £15 billion. That is on top of the £18.6 billion that the commission has estimated for the cost of the third runway itself.
It has been estimated that £5 billion of public money would be needed for surface transport costs for Heathrow, whereas my preferred option of Gatwick would cost nothing in that regard. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we expanded Gatwick, we could use that £5 billion elsewhere on much-needed surface transport improvements, such as a Tramlink extension to Sutton?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. As he will have heard from the Chancellor’s long-term economic plan for London, the Tramlink extension to Sutton is absolutely part of our programme. My hon. Friend is right. Nobody has factored in the extra costs of the transport. The Government say that they will not pay. The airlines say that they will not pay. I am afraid that the programme is undeliverable.
The final point—this is the answer to the points made by my right hon. Friends Sir Simon Burns and for Arundel and South Downs and others—is that even if a third runway were to be completed, and it could not be done until 2030 by the Airports Commission’s own admission, it would be full at the point of completion. It does not answer the exam question in the sense that it does not deliver the extra connectivity that we all want. It does not hook up British business with those extra destinations in China, let alone with Latin America or Africa—those destinations where we are currently losing out. In fact, according to the commission’s own figures, the number of long-haul destinations would increase by only seven by 2030, and the number of domestic routes, to answer the points made by some of our Scottish friends, would go down from seven to four.
The hon. Gentleman mentions connectivity to Scotland, for which I thank him. Does he believe that this should be an English-only matter, or does he share our view that it should be for the United Kingdom Parliament as a whole to decide?
That is a fair question. The answer is that this is plainly a national issue. Nobody in Scotland would wish to be disadvantaged, and the construction of a third runway at Heathrow being the only option would disadvantage communities not just in Scotland but in other regional cities in the United Kingdom, which would lose connectivity as a result of our taking the wrong route.
As I say, by 2030, Heathrow runway 3 would be full and the pressure would be on. As my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith rightly said in his excellent speech, the pressure would be overwhelming, come 2030, for us to build a fourth runway at Heathrow, which would be a total environmental catastrophe. Where would we be then? What would we have done? We would have blighted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Londoners—not just those who are under the existing flightpath but people in Pimlico, people in New Cross, people in south London, people in Chelsea, people in Shepherd’s Bush and people in Hammersmith, who have no idea of the scourge that will be visited upon them by this appalling decision. We would have greatly worsened air quality in the greatest city on earth, in breach of our international obligations. We would have spent colossal sums of taxpayers’ money to create a short-term solution that did not address the problem of Britain’s lack of connectivity. Were we to make that mistake, we would find ourselves having to address the same long-term questions that we seem determined to shirk now.
That is why I think it is time to pause, to avoid making a disastrous mistake. There are other, better, more practical solutions on the table. The House knows what they are. I do not have time to rehearse them now, but they are infinitely preferable. They do deliver the long-term solutions, they are environmentally sensitive, they do enhance the competitiveness and the connectivity of this country, and, by the way, they could be achieved at a roughly comparable cost.
The Prime Minister was absolutely right when he said, in 2009, that he wanted to oppose a third runway at Heathrow. He was right to commit us. I voted for that and many people here were elected on that manifesto. It was right—
I will add a little bit of a selfish flavour to the debate, being from Northern Ireland. I note how much the proposed runway will blight certain Members’ areas, but I like the point that Nick Herbert made about national interest. Please, can we look at this from the perspective of the national interest? We in Northern Ireland need all the routes that we can get, and it seems to us that Heathrow is the best linkage we can have.
Why am I speaking today? I have Belfast International airport in my patch and I know that the very lifeblood of everything we do in Northern Ireland depends on flying. If people are not able to fly from Northern Ireland but have to go from Ireland, it involves a half-day journey, whether by bus, train or car, so the whole of our business and our lives link by flight to major hubs.
I accept entirely what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but there is an excellent service to Luton from Belfast, as I understand, and Luton is connected to London. I would not have thought there was a problem.
I very much accept the hon. Gentleman’s point of view. When I am flying here, I have a choice of Heathrow, Stansted, Luton or Gatwick. Most of the time Heathrow is the most comfortable because it is the closest to the industry and to getting here quickly, but I accept that I could choose any of those airports. If I had my way, we would need extra runways at each one to build hubs throughout the United Kingdom, because I believe that flying will expand throughout the United Kingdom and the longer we take with debates such as this, the longer it will be before any decisions are taken.
I know what the hon. Gentleman means. What he says applies not only to him and to others like him coming down to work in this place, but to the CEO of a Chinese, Indian or Brazilian company being able to go to their regional airport, get into Heathrow and take a short flight out straight to Belfast, where I am sure they will make the Province a richer and better place.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. That is exactly what I want to see. I want what we see as the northern powerhouse—Northern Ireland—to be the one that thrives, but the name seems to have been borrowed by others.
Some 52% of those travelling by air from Northern Ireland now go via Dublin. Think how much business that 52% represents, going out of the United Kingdom, going to Ireland, going away. The Irish are very clever. They have no air passenger duty so it is cheaper to go that way. They have extremely good roads, very different from the old days. It is easier to drive to Dublin and fly than it is to fly from Belfast to Manchester or Heathrow. If we want to keep things within the Union, we need that help.
The Irish also do visas direct to America, so it is quicker to get to America from Dublin and soon there will be a direct DART railway line to the airport. Everything Ireland does, it does extremely well to improve its connectivity. We need that. That means that today I need the House to take on board that we need the decision quickly. That is what will help us.
One of the reports mentions 179,000 jobs for the whole of the UK, and one source tells me that only about 5,000 might come our way. We got about 40,000 new jobs in the past few years and we need every job we can get for Northern Ireland to improve, thrive and maybe throw off the curses of the past. Belfast international airport has about 4.5 million passengers going through it every year, 44,000 tonnes of freight and a mass of business, not just in Belfast, but all around it. We need that connectivity. I want to push the Union aspect: we need all your help. I appeal for the decision not to take too long, because it matters to us.
I think I am right in saying that I am the first Member to speak in this debate who is not from the south-east of England, so I bring a slightly different English perspective. As a number of hon. Members have said, this debate must be about what is right for the United Kingdom. The decision cannot be based only on the views of people in the south-east or those close to either of the airports. It needs to be based on what is right for our nation.
It is clear that aviation connectivity is and will continue to be critical to our economic success. Airbus’s global market forecast recently predicted that aviation will grow by 4% a year for the next 20 years and that we will need an additional 30,000 aircraft to be built during that time. Economic growth, the growth in middle classes around the world, affordability and ease of travel, urbanisation and tourism are all factors that are increasing the demand on aviation. Connectivity between people and regions will become more and more important.
Increasing urbanisation will lead to a doubling of the number of mega-cities in the world, and will mean that 99% of the world’s long-haul traffic will be between or through those cities. If we want Britain to remain connected to these emerging markets, to keep the British economy growing and to continue to play our role as one of the world’s leading economies, it is imperative that we have the ability to transport passengers and high-value goods between those cities.
As a recently elected Member, I find it incredible that we are having this debate now and that we did not address the issue long ago. As other hon. Members have said, we have been debating it for 20 or 40 years, and Britain has fallen further and further behind as a direct result. We have lost ground on other countries, which are building their air capacity. We see that in Germany and in the middle east, and I was recently at Istanbul airport and could not believe the expansion and modernisation that had taken place there. In looking to the future, we have to address the issue and make sure that Britain keeps pace.
My hon. Friend is right that we have been debating the subject for a long time. Does he share my frustration that we have constantly—even for most of this afternoon—debated central London’s connection to the rest of the world rather than Britain’s?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The decision needs to be about what is right for Britain, and it needs to be partly about connecting the regions of Great Britain and the United Kingdom, not just London, to world markets. I believe that Heathrow provides by far the best opportunity to achieve that.
I am personally of the view that this debate is about which airport we expand first. I think we will look back in 30 or 40 years and wish we had expanded both Heathrow and Gatwick now, because more and more aviation capacity will be required in the years ahead.
Heathrow currently operates at 98% capacity, which means that only the slightest glitch, whether it be bad weather conditions or something else, creates severe problems. It also means that it cannot accommodate the growth that we need so that we as a nation can continue to benefit from connectivity to the emerging markets around the world. Not only would we be foolish not to make a decision now, but future generations would look back and view it as an almost criminal waste of opportunity.
My hon. Friend makes a point that I was about to come on to, although I personally have no desire to live in France or operate in the way that the French sometimes do. We have spent £20 million and three years coming up with an independent report, and it would seem completely foolish not to take the view that it has come to. I am aware that hon. Members have challenged aspects of it today and questioned the veracity of some of the data, but at the end of the day we have an independent report that has taken a great deal of time and cost a lot of money, and we should accept the clear view that it has given.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am well aware of his views on that issue, but I would point out that I recently had a meeting with NATS, the air traffic control people, who said that an additional airport to the east of London would create real safety challenges, because there would be a conflict with air traffic from Schiphol airport. I am not sure that is the answer.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the other challenge would be providing rail connections, particularly from the south-west of England? It would be almost impossible to drill a hole under London to connect with that airport.
I absolutely agree. I represent St Austell and Newquay, in mid-Cornwall, and the clear view of the vast majority of people there, and particularly the business community, is that Heathrow offers us the best opportunity to connect our region to world markets. We need to remember that this is not just about passengers but about goods and our desire to export them to world markets. Heathrow offers us by the far the best opportunity to achieve that. It is our biggest port, by value, in the whole country. About £100 billion-worth of goods comes in and out of Heathrow every year. Its capacity is far bigger than any of our container ports or ferry ports.
We need to make a decision about this: we cannot procrastinate any longer. I trust that the Government will come forward with a very clear decision in the next few weeks, as they have promised. That decision must be about what is right for our nation and not just take into account the views of a few people in the immediate locality, as much as I respect their views. I am backing Heathrow because I believe it offers by far the best option for our country, and particularly for my region. Let us get on with it.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am going to have to drop the time limit to five minutes. I call Fiona Mactaggart.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I must apologise to colleagues for being unable to be present for the entire debate, although I was able to listen to some of the earlier contributions, such as the excellent one by Sir Simon Burns.
Steve Double suggested that opposition to Heathrow comes from people who are next door to it. I represent a constituency that is closer to Heathrow than that of most of those who have objected to it. Indeed, if the Davies commission proposals are implemented, the runways will come into Slough borough. Yet my constituents and I recognise that the prosperity of Slough absolutely depends on the prosperity of Heathrow.
I speak to companies in Slough about the ways in which they depend on Heathrow. Let us recall that Slough includes within its boundaries more European headquarters of multinational companies than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together. There is a reason for that: its proximity to Heathrow. Those companies say to me, “Our international boards are getting a bit worried about whether we stay here and continue to invest in the UK.” That is because, universally, they are worried about the future of Heathrow. My first point is therefore that we must make a decision fast. If we do not have a clear conclusion supporting the Davies commission proposals soon, then inward investment, which is extremely significant and necessary for the UK economy, will be very seriously affected.
The one issue that the Davies commission did not deal with sufficiently well is air quality. There is clearly a problem with air quality around Heathrow, but let us be clear that it is not all created by the airport. The M4-M25 motorway junction is the busiest motorway junction in the whole of Europe, and car emissions are the most significant contribution to the NOx in the air around the airport. In addition, we have an incinerator that adds to the poor air quality there. I hope that as we deal with these proposals we can expect the Government to put in place things that really make a difference to air quality. The most urgent, in my view, is an electrified western rail link to Heathrow. When the Labour Government discussed Heathrow’s third runway, I refused to back it until I got a commitment from the then Minister that we would electrify the Great Western railway line. We also need rail links from the west to Heathrow, because the failure to have those is one of the important reasons, if not the only one, for the very poor air quality around the airport.
Some Members have said that the third runway is undeliverable because there are so many people under the flight path. Let me point out that they are there because of the prosperity generated by the airport. If we were to move the airport elsewhere, the same thing would happen to an alternative location.
Members on both sides of the House recognise that the prosperity of the UK depends on people being able to work and trade, and on successful inward investment. Frankly, the only option on the table that delivers on all those things is Heathrow. When I was first elected MP for Slough, Heathrow was the most competitive airport in Europe, but it is not now. We have lost flights to international destinations because it is so crowded. There is now no direct flight to Ghana from the UK. People are going to Schiphol or Charles de Gaulle airport in order to get to African destinations. Those airports have more flights than Heathrow to Chinese destinations.
Unless we give Heathrow an additional runway, we will not be able to compete. International passengers want to use Heathrow because of the English language, which is an international export of the UK. None of the alternatives will deliver the connectivity and competitiveness of an expanded Heathrow.
I thank my hon. Friend Dr Mathias for initiating this debate. She cheered up so many Conservative Members with her feistiness on election night, and we can see why she was elected. However, I have to say, as a member of the Transport Committee, that I am an avowed supporter of a third runway at Heathrow.
We have one of the biggest airports in the world, with a proven track record of success, at the edge of one of the greatest cities—possibly the greatest city—in the world, so it is frustrating that we have spent all this time prevaricating and being sucked down by, in effect, glorified nimbyism. I say to Members from west London: “It is not about you; it is about the future of the United Kingdom.” I find the stance taken by some people in recent years quite frustrating; it really is starting to wear a bit thin. This is not about electoral or mayoral campaigns; it is about the economic future of the UK.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. My constituency is not affected by the airport, either as it is or as it is likely to be, but I gently say to him that this is about evidence. If he reads the report, he will have to recognise that most of its conclusions are undermined by its own evidence. This is one of the most flawed public policy documents ever created. We should base the policy on evidence, not emotion, as he says.
Actually, I have read the report and the one thing very clear from it is that Davies has given a very strong indication of a preference. It is very frustrating that those who are viscerally opposed to Heathrow refuse, time and again, to provide clear alternative options. Today we have even heard Members say, “Let’s have more reviews and more discussions. Let’s kick it into the long grass.” We have even heard threats that the runway will never be built because of legal challenge.
No, I will continue. It is frustrating that national infrastructure issues that affect not just London but my constituents in Fylde are being sucked down to the lowest common denominator of what is right for a handful of constituencies in west London.
Let us therefore pay tribute to Heathrow, because next March it will introduce direct flights to Inverness. I do not accept some of the arguments that I have heard from right hon. and hon. Members. If we build a third runway, we will increase capacity and the opportunity for improved regional connectivity. People say that there would be no improvement, but that is absolutely a red herring.
No, I will not give way.
Everyone aged 70 or less has grown up with Heathrow airport. If people grow up beside what was the busiest airport in the world, they should not be surprised to hear aircraft noise or see planes flying overheard. That is what happens if people choose to live beside what was the busiest international airport in the world. But guess what? It is no longer the busiest international airport in the world, because Governments of several hues have failed to take a decision.
There have been spurious suggestions, such as Boris island. I admire my hon. Friend Boris Johnson for many things, but to hold that out as a solution is just kicking the problem on to someone else’s turf—kicking it so far down the road that no decision will be taken.
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that, with improved technology and advances in engineering, the noise of plane engines is decreasing, which will help to address that problem?
For people who grew up or lived beside an airport when aircraft were far noisier than now—we are moving to a future in which aircraft noise is diminishing—the noise argument and, given the more efficient engines, the pollution argument really do not add up. I urge anyone who flies to Heathrow to look at the TV screen in front of their seat and watch whether they fly straight in, or whether they circle in figures of eight for perhaps half an hour or 40 minutes, pumping pollution into the air. Why? Because the aircraft cannot get straight in to land.
Will this ever get built? I sit on the Environmental Audit Committee, and according to the evidence of one Lord—I cannot remember his name—it will never be built, and the whole £20 million spent on consultation will prove totally useless. What makes the hon. Gentleman think that, in perhaps three, four or five years, we will not end up with more long-haul flights coming in and circling and circling, while regional airports get further squeezed out? Now—
I will not; I am conscious of the time. I firmly believe in the importance of Heathrow as the only realistic, viable and deliverable hub airport. In terms of transport connectivity to London, we have the Heathrow Express, the M40 and the M25—I could read out a list of roads connecting to the regions of the United Kingdom—and Crossrail is being built. Also, HS2, which some Members like and some do not, will have a stop at Old Oak Common. If that is not true regional connectivity, I do not know what is. Anyone who suggests that building a second runway at Gatwick will deliver that form of surplus regional connectivity is kidding themselves; that is for the birds, I am afraid. [Interruption.] We keep hearing Members with well-heeled constituencies saying from a sedentary position that they are opposed to this airport, but my constituents—
I will not give way. My constituents, and many others in the regions of the United Kingdom, would be delighted by such an opportunity for jobs and growth—they would absolutely bite your hand off—but we have been pulled down into a very narrow debate about what is right for west London. What is right for the United Kingdom is that we build a third runway and identify Heathrow as the hub airport for western Europe. What is right for the United Kingdom is not that we have a fudge, but that the Government’s decision is clear and timely, and that we get on with it. Let us get it built.
I say to my hon. Friend Mark Menzies that I, too, believe in getting on with things and in clarity. They are good, but getting it right is better. The problem with the Davies report is that it gets it fundamentally wrong. My hon. Friend Stephen Hammond, in a powerful intervention, made the point that although the report puts options on the table, they are not deliverable, because it is so chock-full of internal contractions. The contradictions have been well highlighted by my hon. Friends the Members for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) and for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), Ruth Cadbury and others.
The Heathrow option is so shot through with contradictions that it will be delayed time and again. It is a recipe for judicial review. Attempting to expand Heathrow will be a field day for well-heeled west London lawyers, but it will not deliver the connectivity that is required for the rest of the country. It is a blind alley to go down the Heathrow option. The process is flawed, the consultation is fundamentally flawed and it is not, in my judgment, legally sound.
My second point is that the Heathrow option is economically flawed. It is clear that the case does not stack up. Willie Walsh does not make the comments he is making for the sake of his health, but because the case is economically illiterate.
With respect to my hon. Friend, this is not about one company any more than it is about one individual constituency or one part of London.
The fundamental problem, as has been well demonstrated by other hon. Members in this debate, is that a third runway at Heathrow would be but a sticking plaster that, almost immediately, would be over capacity. There would then be a need for a fourth runway, which would not be achievable in legal or environmental terms because, whatever one thinks about the matter, the Supreme Court judgment has changed things. We cannot ignore that. The truth is that we would be sinking a huge amount of capital into something that would be a white elephant by the time it opened. That is not what I regard as getting on with things or with doing something that is deliverable. That is the key distinction.
We do need to move forward and there is an alternative. Heathrow may well have been the optimal place for an airport in 1948 or 1950. At that time, London was a shrinking city. Its population was reducing and nobody anticipated the massive population growth to come.
Heathrow is no longer in an appropriate place. We therefore have to look at the alternatives. Nobody is saying, and I am certainly not saying, that we should close Heathrow down. It is an important part of the west London economy, but there are more readily deliverable options to increase capacity. I am in favour of increasing airport capacity in London and the south-east.
My constituents, like many of us who wrote a letter to The Daily Telegraph today, are not from west London. My constituency is not directly affected by the flight paths, although we do suffer from stacking. The irony is that the stacking would be removed for only a very temporary period by a third runway, because the overcrowding would return, meaning that the stacking would be back until people tried to get a fourth runway, which would be impossible. It is a complete canard or red herring to suggest that it would solve things.
We need to get on with the option that can be most quickly delivered. No option is perfect and I might not have started from this point. I have sympathy with my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Haselhurst. If we had looked at the Foulness option many years ago, perhaps it would have been attractive, but we are not in that place now and revisiting the idea will not improve its deliverability.
I take the view that the Gatwick option is the right one because it is deliverable. No doubt there will be challenges, but the potential for legal challenge is significantly lower around Gatwick and the issues of dispute are significantly more discrete. It is therefore much more readily deliverable and we have a much better chance of delivering it on time. Having an additional runway at Gatwick would not exclude the possibility of more imaginative options being developed for the future or prejudge other ideas, but it would give us an immediate capacity increase. It would not involve anything like the amount of sunk cost that would be involved in the potentially unviable option of a third runway at Heathrow. Those are all good reasons for opposing Heathrow expansion.
Finally—this is the only thing that I say as a London politician, as I am sure the Minister will understand—I fought the 2010 election and two elections for the London Assembly by saying that I opposed Heathrow expansion. I campaigned twice for my hon. Friend Boris Johnson to be elected Mayor, while saying that we opposed Heathrow expansion. Call me old-fashioned, but I rather like to keep my promises, and I hope that we can do that for this issue.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to respond to the launch by my hon. Friend Robert Neill of an airport expansion project into Kent and East Sussex. It will not surprise him to hear that that is not the answer I would favour, and neither would it be favoured by many of my friends, colleagues and neighbours in west Kent and Sussex. That is not the answer for the simple reason that it is the wrong answer for people in the London area and the south- east; it is wrong for the country and for our economy. It will not answer the question of economic development or of replacing Schiphol or Charles de Gaulle airports, and it will not answer the challenge that was put so eloquently by my hon. Friend Steve Double, who spoke about the need for hub airports. It is wrong, wrong, wrong, and just because someone does not like Heathrow, that does not mean that the answer is Gatwick.
Three years and £20 million has been spent on this report, and it should not be reversed by a few words in this House. It has taken many years of effort, and it is now the right time for us to settle down and get on with things. When we consider the economic development of the United Kingdom and the challenges that globalisation presents us with, there are those who say, “Why can’t we use Skype or videoconferencing?” The simple answer is that we are humans. We interact, meet and talk, and that is how we do business and communicate.
It is essential that we travel, and part of that demands that we can get to places where we need to be. Although I like the idea of Birmingham, and I would love to see more investment in Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh, in reality, sadly we are all lured to this den of Mammon, this city of London, because it is here where so much of our business is done. I wish it were not so, because in my community of Tonbridge, Edenbridge and West Malling, there is so much opportunity for people to enjoy a proper life that is not ruined by the traffic and the smog that we in London all know.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful case for his constituents and for the UK. The other den of Mammon in the world is New York, but that does not have a hub airport. No hub airport anywhere in the world is restricted to three runways, and therefore there is an internal contradiction in the report. New York has three airports—we could also run the New York solution in London.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, but even he will recognise that if we were looking at the United States—I wish people a very happy thanksgiving—we would consider the 50 states and ask, “Where is that den of Mammon?” I think we would all say, “It’s Chicago.” I am afraid that Chicago O’Hare has the appeal that productivity comes from a hub airport.
There is enormous pressure on time, so I will say only that having had Gatwick as a neighbour for a number of years, I have seen what a bad neighbour it is. It has changed flight routes, narrowed flight paths over communities in my area, disrupted lives and ruined sleep—including that of my most immediate constituent: my wife—and it has made the lives of many people in the villages of Penshurst, Chiddingstone and Hever an absolute misery. I urge hon. Members to think hard before rejecting the amount of work that has gone into this report, and before rejecting this opportunity for economic growth for the United Kingdom, so that we can take back our rightful place as the absolute centre of the international community.
We have a duty to deliver a modern competitive economy for ourselves and for future generations. National decisions will always be tough, but they need to be taken in the interests of the country.
It is very clear that the south-east needs additional runway capacity. Sir Howard’s foreword to the Airports Commission report notes that there have been no new full-length runways built in the south-east since the 1940s. Air travel growth is forecast to slow to a median estimate of 2% a year until 2050, compared with old growth rates of 5% since the 1970s. However, UK passenger numbers are still forecast to increase from 225 million today to 315 million in 2030 and to 445 million by 2050. If we overlay that date with current capacity, it shows Heathrow and Gatwick at 100% capacity by 2020, and all other London airports—Stansted, London City, Luton and Southend—at 100% by 2030. Half the UK population uses air travel each year. It will only grow. As we have a growing international middle class, I certainly want Britain to be a destination of choice. If we want to continue as the global economy we are, these will be constraints to growth.
There was much good news about growth in yesterday’s spending review, but it is predicated on our global economy. We face losing out as a global centre allowing point-to-point travel, particularly in relation to connecting the UK with the new dynamic economies of the world, if we do not get going. We are already lagging behind Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris. We need only look at Dubai. In 2001, it ranked as the 99th in the world in terms of international passengers. By 2011, it was fourth in the world and it will overtake Heathrow as the No. 1 international airport within a year. We are seeing similar meteoric growth at Istanbul, which is rapidly becoming an international hub.
I am not speaking today to suggest Heathrow is the only answer, or to discount Gatwick. The operators of each airport have made their own persuasive arguments and the economics of expansion for the country are obvious. What I would like to emphasise is the benefit of regional airports, particularly in the shorter and intermediate sector. I note, to the great benefit no doubt of Southampton, the support in the spending review yesterday for new air routes to Munich and Lyon.
Returning to the Heathrow versus Gatwick argument, this is a matter for right hon. and hon. Members in those areas to overcome. There are obvious connectivity, air quality and noise issues to consider. I am here to put on the table a relief valve for current pressures. Whatever is decided, the lead time before expansion will be a decade, a decade in which we will fall further behind in the international aviation league. Too often, the UK is behind the curve, whether on energy generation, railways, roads, Thames crossings and airport provision. That is a criticism of all Governments in the past 30 years.
To increase capacity in the south-east, and free up valuable slots and develop and accommodate growth, we have Manston airport, which is just 80 miles away. It is ready to go within months to take freight-only aircraft from both Heathrow and Gatwick, to offer new routes in the low-cost market, and as an immediate solution to opening up additional intercontinental routes, particularly to growing markets. It will never be, it could not be and I would not want it to be a major hub airport.
As Members may know, Manston airport was closed a year ago and sits unused. It has an uncertain future. In both parts of Thanet, north and south, there is a desire for aviation activity to recommence and with it the opportunities, for instance, for emergency provision—the Virgin incident last year blocked Gatwick for eight hours. We also have the opportunity for new industries in the UK, including big jet dismantling and recycling.
I bet Members must wonder why all this has not already happened. Very simply, the UK Independence party-run local authority was elected on a single strong policy of promising back-to-back compulsory purchase orders, but it has given up and backed out of the deal. There we are: a huge runway sitting idle. It is well connected and can take any size of aircraft, but it is doing nothing.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. From my experience as a Communities and Local Government Minister, I am aware of the benefits that Manston would bring. Does he not also agree that, fortunately, Conservative-controlled Kent County Council takes a much more progressive and sensible view of the value of economic growth in this area? In fact, the development of Manston would be entirely consistent with our devolution of economic powers to our regions and shire counties.
I thank my hon. Friend for his useful comments.
To conclude, I am making an appeal from this Chamber for potential operators to come and look again at what Manston has and what it can offer as a regional airport that can provide for the next 10 years some immediate relief from the lack of capacity that we have on our doorstep at both Heathrow and Gatwick. Whatever decision is made—whether it be Gatwick or Heathrow—this country’s economic growth and survival as a major global player need solutions. Whatever the solution is, please let us get to that decision quickly; let us make it, and start building.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, as it is a very important one to my constituents. I thank my neighbour and hon. Friend Dr Mathias for speaking so passionately on this subject. She has done so for many years, and today has been no exception.
I need no persuasion that we need another airport in the south-east, that we need one soon and that we need to get on and make the decision. I am afraid that I am entirely unconvinced by the hypothesis—it has not been presented in this House today—that Britain will not lose out if we do not build a new runway soon, because we will. The question for me, then, is simply where—not whether—we are going to build the new runway.
This is plainly a difficult political question, so the Government were right to seek an independent report on it. There is no requirement, however, for the Government slavishly to follow the conclusions of that report. I know that they will consider it very carefully. We are elected politicians: we do not outsource things to so-called experts; we consider the evidence and we make decisions in the interests of the country and our constituents.
I want to pick up on three things in the Davies report, and these are essentially the three brakes that Davies put on expansion at Heathrow, all of which significantly undermine the case for adding a third runway there. The first is the ban on night flights. Noise pollution from Heathrow already disturbs more people in west London than any comparable airport in Europe. To get around that problem, Davies has suggested a partial ban on night flights.
Leaving aside the scepticism of local people that any such rule would be honoured in the breach, this makes little sense if the idea of a new runway is to allow us to increase airport capacity and allow flights from more destinations. Banning night flights would reduce the number of connections with places such as Hong Kong, Singapore and China, as well as deter some low-cost carriers.
Davies’s second predicate on expansion at Heathrow is the meeting of air-quality targets, which he said must be met before any aeroplanes are allowed to take off from the third runway. Air pollution already kills an estimated 10,000 Londoners every year, so it is right that reducing air pollution should be one of the caveats on allowing additional flights from Heathrow. This is a caveat, however, that cannot possibly be met any time soon. It is certainly not a caveat that can be met in the next few years, even on the basis that Heathrow stands still and there is no expansion, so how can it possibly be met if we add a third runway? I cannot see how a third runway, with more flights and more pollution, would do anything to reduce the current levels at Heathrow. By contrast, Gatwick has never breached EU or UK annual air-quality limits. We have heard of political decisions that would have led to “bridges to nowhere” and “roads to nowhere” in Alaska. What we do not want is a runway to nowhere at Heathrow, because that would not solve the urgent need for additional airport capacity.
The third predicate is that Parliament should legislate against a fourth runway at Heathrow. I have to say that, for my constituents, the fact that Davies says that we must legislate against the runway being built rather underscores the risk that that is what would happen if we did not. Besides, legislation would give no comfort to my constituents, because it would merely mean that the issue of the fourth runway would have to be debated in the House before the runway was ever built.
My constituents are already quite badly affected by noise from Heathrow, although they are not even under one of the flightpaths. What I am concerned about—particularly on behalf of my constituents in New Malden —is that one of the flightpaths from a new third runway would go directly over their houses, as is clear from the plan.
The effect of noise disruption has been raised regularly by Members who represent constituencies near Heathrow as an argument against the third runway. May I put on record the disruption experienced by my own constituents, who are hugely affected by flights to and from Gatwick? Hundreds of them came to a public meeting that was held recently to discuss this very issue. There may be fewer flights, but there is less ambient noise, so the effect of the flights is magnified.
I thank my hon. Friend for that information. I am sure that when my hon. Friend is up in London, she will welcome the fact that the third runway will not go ahead—for, like other Members who are present, I feel that the legal challenges are so great that even if Parliament approves the runway, it will not go ahead.
I do not forget for one moment that a number of my constituents work at Heathrow airport, but the fact is that if a third runway is not built at Heathrow, the airport will not close down. It will not go away. It will still be one of the busiest airports in the world, and it will still be a big provider of jobs for people in London and people in my constituency.
People agree that we need more airport capacity. Nearly everyone agrees that we need to get on and make a decision. I do not demur from the proposition that choosing a major international airport hub is something that we need to get on with, but the solution is not a third runway at Heathrow.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Dr Mathias on securing the debate. Its timing is fortuitous, given that it comes the day after we were reminded so starkly, in the autumn statement, of the importance to the UK of a growing and successful economy.
If we are to ensure that our economic legacy to future generations is not just billions and billions of pounds of debt—if we are to ensure that the future prosperity of our country is not trapped in the south-east of England, but embraces all the nations and regions of the United Kingdom—we shall have some very difficult, but necessary, decisions to make. As we were reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham, the Government have made commitments in the past, but also about Gatwick, and Ministers are fully aware of the intense passions that the debate will incite, as was so eloquently noted by my hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith. I think that the Government acted with great foresight in setting up an independent commission and giving it the funds, the resources and the time that it needed, as well as access to every conceivable expert, thus enabling it to produce a report that had been fully worked through. The result of that work is a clear, unequivocal and unanimous recommendation in favour of expansion at Heathrow.
The economic case presented by the commission is overwhelming. It estimates that Heathrow expansion would result in a two-thirds better solution than expansion at Gatwick. According to analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers, there is a £50 billion gap; according to other analyses that have used the best possible results for each expansion, the gap could be as wide as £90 billion. Heathrow expansion would also result in a far superior increase in the number of long-haul routes, with a 20% increase in the number of long-haul destinations.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the £147 billion figure that is given in the report has been challenged by the Airports Commission’s own economic advisers? The difference between the benefits of expansion at Heathrow and those of expansion at Gatwick is very small.
I have seen letters from the commission, dated
We are talking about a 28% increase in the number of long-haul destinations. Of course it is important that we entertain President Xi and Prime Minister Modi in this place, but if we are to take part in the global international race we hear about so much, we need UK CEOs boarding planes daily and weekly to the cities and areas those leaders represent. We will know we are winning that global race when we have Chinese, Brazilian and Indian CEOs gracing the streets of Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow, Belfast, Newcastle and, indeed, Newquay.
Domestic flights into Heathrow have been crowded out in the last 25 years, as Davies sets out, but his report also states:
“Our discussions with stakeholders in the nations and regions revealed very clearly the importance that they attach to direct links to Heathrow because of the access provided to its substantial long-haul route network.”
I hesitate to remind my hon. Friend of what has already been said, but the Davies commission itself admits that the number of international long-haul flights will increase by only seven destinations by 2030 and by a further seven by 2050, while the number of domestic destinations will actually fall from seven to four.
The letter of
“10 to 12 additional long-haul routes at the airport in 2040, an increase of 20%” and defines
“a ‘daily destination’ as one seeing more than 360 services a year”.
These are the types of services required by CEOs regularly going to visit their clients and bringing them back to the UK.
I accept that today’s debate is not just about economic arguments—one third of the report details the environmental and local community concerns. Those issues were due to occupy a third of my speech, but, taking my lead from the Chair, I do not think that that would be welcomed. None the less, I would welcome the establishment of an independent noise authority, which could bring huge benefits to places all over the country that suffer from aircraft noise, including rural areas, which have less ambient noise and can be particularly badly affected.
Despite the remorseless and gallant campaign by my hon. Friend Boris Johnson, air quality in parts of our great capital is not what we would desire and must be improved. I believe that the Davies commission treated this issue seriously, and I recognise that, as stated by Fiona Mactaggart, the most troublesome points are those by the M4 and the M25. I take it from the report that practical measures can be taken to improve air quality. I thank the Davies commission for its comprehensive and convincing report, and I look forward to the Government’s response.
Order. If we can shave a minute off each Front-Bench speech, Adam Afriyie will get his five minutes.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, although I shall try not to use the five minutes, to give the Front-Bench speakers time to respond.
I would like to make some remarks about competition and markets, and this weird belief that Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited, a private limited company owned 100% by overseas shareholders, is still part of our national state-owned infrastructure. It might perform part of that function, but it is not a state-owned enterprise.
First, however, a quick word on noise: Heathrow airport is currently the noisiest airport in Europe. Sixty-eight times more people are affected by noise around Heathrow, south-west London and Berkshire than are affected by Gatwick. If the Davies commission assumptions are correct, in 60 years’ time—I am not sure how we can say with any accuracy what will happen 60 years from now—27 times more people will be affected by noise and pollution from Heathrow than if there was an expansion at Gatwick.
Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited is a privately owned company. I thank the Minister for his answer to my question about the infrastructure required as a direct result of expansion, but the Government have said they will not spend taxpayers’ money on this. Were they to do so, it would probably end up involving £15 billion or £20 billion, which would equate to a £300 subsidy to a private company from every person in the United Kingdom, so I am glad that that is not happening. On the other hand, Heathrow seems to be thinking, “Hang on, the taxpayer should subsidise us, a foreign-owned private company.” That is unacceptable; I do not think that the public would accept that kind of behaviour.
I hope that we will not decide on Heathrow, because that would not be in the national, regional or local interests, or in our economic interests. Were we to do so, we would be further entrenching an existing market-dominant player. Conservative Members, and probably most others as well, feel that that is not the kind of monopolistic practice that we should be entrenching.
Let us look at the economics. At the moment, it already costs £26 per passenger to land at Heathrow, which is not very competitive. The cost at Gatwick is £8.63. The cost following the construction of a new runway at Heathrow has been calculated at about £30 per passenger, which is not particularly economically viable, given that the price in the rest of Europe is generally between £18 and £20. So let us not assume that an extra runway at Heathrow would be cost-effective or economically beneficial, because that is not necessarily the case.
As I have said, Conservative Members would certainly not wish to entrench semi-monopolies. Let us look at the evidence on competition. When Gatwick put on a flight to Moscow, the price dropped from £700-plus to £350. Surely we believe in that kind of competition. I have a long history in business, and some might argue that business people such as chief executive officers are desperate for expansion at Heathrow. Utter nonsense! What CEOs and other business people are interested in is being able to get on a flight and get to where they want to go, whether from Gatwick or Heathrow. They will choose to fly from wherever the price is lowest and the connection the quickest. So I think those objections can be put to one side.
I want to return to the point about projecting 60 years hence. We cannot predict tomorrow’s weather, so the idea that we can predict what the economic consequences of this decision on Heathrow will be 60 years hence is quite bizarre. I should like to quote the former director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, John Kay, who rubbished the entire methodology, saying:
“The Commission purports to describe in immense detail the evolution of air transport over the next 60 years, even which routes airlines will choose to fly.”
Anyone with an economic or business background will know that that is simply not possible.
The judgment that we need to make today is also about the type of model that future aviation will adopt. We keep talking about a hub. I have written to British Airways, to Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd, to the Ministers and to several authorities connected to aviation to ask what constitutes a hub. I asked them to show me some sort of model, but none has been forthcoming. This idea that the hub will continue to operate exactly as it does now is a comfort blanket. And even if we do require a hub, like the one with two runways that we have at the moment, no one is arguing that Heathrow should close. The two-runway hub will continue as more modern forms of transport, such as point-to-point transport, arrive. Now, 90% of all the aircraft being ordered by airlines are suited to point-to-point transport and not to the old hub and spoke model.
This is the issue that will not go away. Ever since I was elected to this Parliament, everywhere I go people want to know what we think and what will happen—not on Scottish independence, although that issue might not go away for some time, but on the extra runway at Heathrow or Gatwick. I congratulate Dr Mathias on securing this debate. She made a forensic case in her opening remarks, and she is a credit to her constituents for doing so. She focused on the economic issues, noise and environmental questions, and she spoke very well as she made her case.
I cannot mention all the speakers who contributed to the debate, but I would like to focus on a few of them. It would be remiss of me not to begin with Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith, who has now rejoined us. This was the second mayoral hustings that I have sat through; the first was in a Westminster Hall debate on London taxis. I expect that both of them will be debating this issue for some time over the coming months. They highlighted a number of concerns with the report, and it is obvious from their statements that they are both equally passionate about London. I wish them both well as they seek to deal with this in more detail.
During the speech of the right hon. Member for Tooting, the most amazing thing occurred: Ian Austin, who is no longer in his place, broke out as an ally of the Scottish National party—it surprised me probably as much as this will surprise him—when he used the line, “Why is it all about London?”
That is the point from which we come at this. Although we understand that London is Scotland’s closest global financial hub and that we have to have a relationship with it, whether Scotland is part of the UK or not, we must not lose sight of issues relating to regional airports, to which I will return.
Ruth Cadbury raised serious concerns on behalf of her constituents, and did so excellently. Sir Alan Haselhurst, whom I met on my first day in this House, when he gave me a few hints and tips on how to deal with some Members, said that Stansted will be “engraved” on his heart. As it is him, I will avoid the obvious joke about Tories having hearts and instead say that he gave a thorough and historical analysis of the wider airport expansion debate, and that this debate was all the better for it.
My hon. Friend Gavin Newlands, who has had to leave us early, rightly stands up for and praises Glasgow airport, which has become my second home over the past six months. I am sure the whole Chamber will wish to join me in congratulating it on being crowned UK airport of the year. He rightly asks the Government to clear up any confusion as to whether this will be deemed an English-only matter, and I hope the Minister will do that.
Sir Simon Burns, who kindly gave us new Members our induction in this very Chamber when we were first elected, gave an excellent speech. He illustrated the frustration, clear among Members from all parts of the House, that plagues this whole issue, and of course did so authoritatively, as a former Transport Minister. Nick Herbert, for whom I have great respect, also spoke with authority, demanding that we treat this as a national issue, and saying that that should be what guides us, as opposed to local concerns. I have to say that local concerns must be given consideration, although I agree that the issue is of national importance.
It was of course over this very issue, in the last Labour Government, that the shadow Chancellor protested in this Chamber by using the Mace. We may be the noble savages, but I have no ambition to do that this evening. We will of course hear the Labour spokesman’s remarks in a few moments, but I want to give some comfort to the shadow Chancellor, who, unfortunately, is not in his place this evening. I found a quote from one Chairman Mao, who once said, “To rebel is justified.” [Interruption.] Simon Kirby, who sits on the Treasury Bench, still has his copy of the book.
As for Boris Johnson, where do I begin, Madam Deputy Speaker? He spoke with his usual passion and authority in a good-natured but rather surprising contribution. I am delighted that he believes, along with the SNP, that this is not an English-only matter, and we should have a say on this; he has aligned himself solidly with the interests of the SNP and the people of Scotland as far as this debate is concerned, so for that we are grateful. My fellow Transport Committee member, the hon. Member for Flyde—
I will get there one day; it is normally hon. Members from south of the border who struggle with these things, rather than those from the north of it. Mark Menzies is a strong and staunch supporter of Blackpool airport in his constituency, and I know he has spoken out in other debates in the House on that, as he did today. He again mentioned the importance of securing regional connectivity. That is something the Government could do, and we will be pressing for that through public service obligations. I would be grateful to the Minister if he addressed that this evening. That is a concern not just for us in Scotland, but in other parts of England, such as the north-east.
Earlier this year, in their “Programme for Government”, the Scottish Government announced the setting up of three innovation and investment centres across Europe—in Brussels, Dublin and London. That gives Scottish firms an opportunity to do business on a world stage, which we have not always been good at, right here in London. As I have said, London is our closest major financial centre, and we will examine this decision forensically. At the moment, we remain agnostic, and we will seek to get the best possible deal for Scotland and for our constituents. The frustration is there, and the Government must make a decision.
I congratulate Dr Mathias on securing the debate, and thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate to take place. I thank, too, all the Members who have spoken today, but I will not attempt to go through all their contributions. If I had done a scorecard, I think we would have seen that 12 Members were broadly against Heathrow, and 10 were broadly in favour—I am not including those on the Front Benches. I wish to make particular mention of Zac Goldsmith and my right hon. Friend Sadiq Khan, who will be debating this issue a lot more in the coming months.
It is always a pleasure to see my opposite number, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Goodwill, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say. We had hoped to hear from the Transport Secretary, as he is a member of the mysterious Government sub-committee considering this issue. We would have appreciated a report from him, but it looks as if we will have to wait for that.
The aviation sector is a key pillar of our economy. I hope that the House will forgive me if I say that it is also an industry that makes our world a smaller place. It fosters direct face-to-face contact and understanding between peoples across the globe in a way that no other industry or mode of travel does. It is for that reason that aviation is a central target for those who want to kill, terrorise, undermine that understanding, and spread fear among those going about their daily lives. We were reminded of that with the Sharm el-Sheikh tragedy just a few weeks ago. It underlines why the decisions that our Parliament was wrestling with this morning are so profound, not only for our country as a whole, but for those working in aviation. It is why it is right that we pay tribute today to all those who work in the civil aviation sector, on the ground and in the air.
As I said at the outset, the aviation industry is vital to the economy, generating around £50 billion in GDP, around a million jobs, and £8 billion in tax revenue. In 2014, UK airports handled 238 million passengers. We also know that aviation accounts for around 6% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and that there are issues of noise. The Volkswagen emissions scandal originated in the automotive industry, rather than in aviation, and the public are increasingly demanding transparency and action on air quality issues, too. That is why the work of the Sustainable Aviation Network is so important. Bringing together airlines, airports, airspace managers, aircraft manufacturers, unions and so many more, it is already making a big contribution to the challenges that aviation faces in the years ahead.
The introduction and development of sustainable fuels could make a major contribution to reducing emissions. Aircraft technology is another issue. We have heard about the lighter, smaller aircraft, such as the 787 and the A350, that could take long-haul flights. There are also new initiatives in airspace management. Even though airports have seen their passenger numbers increase by more than 5%, their carbon footprint has fallen by almost 3%. Continuing with the sustainable aviation agenda is fundamentally important not just for this debate, but for jobs and skills in the UK.
Turning to the issue of airport capacity, we were promised a response to the commission before Christmas, and we await to hear from the Minister when we can expect it. Our job as the Opposition is to scrutinise the response, and we have been clear about the four tests against which we will measure it when it comes. Two of those are about the environmental challenges posed by the different options put forward for additional runway capacity at either Heathrow or Gatwick: first, how far the UK’s climate change obligations can still be met; and, secondly, how local noise and environmental impacts can be managed and minimised. Davies said that the expansion of Heathrow had to be contingent—his word—on the latter point being addressed. Gatwick and Heathrow have both told me why they believe their plans meet those tests. But both rely on scenarios that require action from the Government, and Davies himself emphasised that the choices made by the Government will make the difference to what can be achieved.
On noise, for example, airports and airspace managers need to know whether the framework is to concentrate noise geographically or to disperse it. Whatever they decide, why cannot the Government now agree in principle with the Davies commission’s proposal for an independent aviation noise authority, with statutory consultation rights? That could be agreed now.
If the expansion of Gatwick or Heathrow is to help rather than hinder the UK in meeting our carbon or air quality targets, we require a big modal shift, with a transformation in the way that greater numbers of people and goods travel to and from those airports. What actions will the Government take to ensure that their conclusions on airport expansion, whatever they are, are compatible with our environmental obligations?
As for our other two tests, we will be looking for clearer answers from the Government on how their decision on Davies will meet the capacity challenge. Everyone agrees that the capacity in the south-east needs reviewing; that is why Labour supported the establishment of the commission. But there are very different answers from Heathrow, Gatwick and others about the kind of additional capacity needed, and how that will inform where any new runway in the south-east should go. What are the Government’s conclusions about the differing impact that different decisions will have on short-haul capacity, long-haul capacity, regional air connectivity, transfer traffic and the relative growth of point-to-point and hub traffic?
That brings me to the fourth test that we ask the Minister to address. This cannot be simply about how well or badly air travel serves the south-east. The issue of connectivity to other parts of the UK is vital, as too is seeing this as an opportunity for rebalancing growth across the regions. While the question of a new runway at Heathrow, Gatwick or neither is a key decision for UK aviation, it is not the only one. Whatever decision is made on Heathrow or Gatwick, it will take eight, nine or 10 years to implement—longer, if there are legal challenges.
I would like to, but there is not time.
Aviation will not stand still in that time. Businesses will still need new routes to connect with existing and emerging markets. New aircraft such as the A350 and the B787 offer new possibilities for the economics of expanded point-to-point travel. If we are serious about rebalancing our economy, we must ensure that those routes are not simply dependent on what happens in the south-east.
Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, and—for freight— East Midlands are all international gateways to the UK in their own right and deserve to be treated as such. Will the Minister put the upgrading of rail links for the west Anglia lines in the next rail investment control period, to allow Stansted to achieve its potential in the south-east? Will he confirm that Manchester airport will be linked directly to HS2?
Having accepted the sense of Labour’s plan to create a National Infrastructure Commission, will the Minister endorse the call from my hon. Friend the shadow Transport Secretary for it to examine the long-term road and rail needs of airports and other transport gateways throughout the country, not simply in the south-east? Finally, when can we expect the promised review of the future of air passenger duty, looking at its purpose and how options for reform can improve the competitiveness of different airports in a devolved environment?
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and Ruth Cadbury—my one time cycling partner—and the Backbench Business Committee on securing this debate. We have heard some remarkable and passionate speeches—indeed, I look forward to the mayoral hustings next year. In contrast, my speech will be unremarkable, because at this point in the process the Government are engaged in dispassionate, clear-headed analysis of the Davies report.
The coalition Government set up the Airports Commission to take a fresh, independent and comprehensive look at our current and future aviation needs. I thank Sir Howard once again for his diligent work, which covers not only new airport capacity but how to improve our existing airport infrastructure, including in the regions. The future of our aviation industry is of immense importance to this country and to many of our constituents, as we have heard, so I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to this excellent debate.
The UK aviation sector employs about 230,000 people directly and many more indirectly—for example, in the supply chain. Tax revenues from the industry are £8.7 billion per year and air freight carries goods worth over £100 billion a year between the UK and non-EU countries—that is more than 40% of our non-EU trade by value.
What is often overlooked when we discuss aviation in this country is that we are incredibly well connected: we have the third-largest aviation network in the world, after the USA and China; the number of passengers using our non-London airports has increased by over a third since 2000; and London remains one of the world’s best-connected cities, with at least weekly connections to over 360 destinations. In comparison, Paris serves about 300 routes and Frankfurt about 250. Air connectivity is one of the major reasons three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies have offices in London. The airport capacity constraints we are seeing today are in fact a symptom of Britain’s success and the aviation industry’s success in attracting new business.
Maintaining our international and domestic UK connectivity is critical if we want to continue growing as a country and as an economy. We are focusing on a wide range of issues—not only capacity—that support our aviation sector. Airspace, for example, is a critical piece of our national infrastructure. That is why it is vital we work to optimise capacity, maintain air safety, reduce air traffic delays, and mitigate aviation’s impact on the environment. The CAA’s future airspace strategy is designed to do this, and the Government support that important initiative. The Government are also providing support to our airports through improving surface access.
The Airports Commission worked for two and a half years and consulted widely before coming to its conclusions. As we are all aware, it recommended that additional runway capacity is needed in the south of England. What Sir Howard called the “optimal” solution was that that should take the form of a new north-west runway at Heathrow. The commission also recommended a package of mitigation measures, including a night flight ban, a noise levy and a community engagement board, to name a few. The full list of mitigation measures is on pages 10 and 11 of the final report. The Government have been reviewing the commission’s findings, but we have not yet made any decision, which, the House will be aware, limits what I can say today.
Several colleagues were critical of the Airports Commission’s report. The Department has received a number of representations critical of the way in which certain issues are addressed in the commission’s final report, including air quality, noise, surface access, economic benefits, deliverability, financing, and capacity and connectivity. We have taken the matters raised into account as part of the wider programme of work considering the commission’s recommendations. My Department has considered and continues to consider carefully the representations submitted, to identify whether the issues they deal with have already been examined by the commission or affect the overall validity of the commission’s evidence and recommendations.
Noise is, of course, a contentious issue, and the commission has taken into account the noise impacts of each scheme, including potential mitigation measures. We need to recognise that aircraft are becoming less noisy and more fuel efficient, particularly those that adopt Rolls-Royce engines. None the less, we understand local communities’ concerns about noise and we are carefully examining the evidence provided to the Airports Commission, including on potential environmental mitigation.
The Government take seriously the issue of air quality. It is a complex issue and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has just consulted on its draft action plan. As we know from our discussion on Volkswagen, a number of issues in connection with other transport modes also impact on air quality. Many of the problems around our major airports are as much due to the traffic as to aviation activity. We are considering the detailed analysis contained in the Airports Commission’s final report and any decision regarding future airport capacity will take into account the Government’s overall plan to improve air quality and our commitment to comply with EU air quality standards.
Dr Huq raised the issue of CO2 emissions. The Government take UK climate change commitments very seriously and are committed to meeting them. The commission engaged with the Committee on Climate Change when undertaking its extensive work on greenhouse gas emissions, including considering the impacts of expansion under two different policy frameworks, both carbon capped and carbon traded. The Government are carefully examining the evidence. Any decision on future airport capacity will take into account the UK’s climate change policy and the 2008 climate change obligation. I am hopeful that we can get agreement globally on a global market-based mechanism for trading carbon, which would be the ultimate goal to ensure that aviation plays its part in reducing carbon emissions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham and the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth raised the issue of mitigation measures. The Airports Commission recommended that should the Heathrow north-west runway scheme be taken forward, a package of measures be put in place to limit the impacts of expansion on communities, including the introduction of a noise envelope, a predictable respite regime, a ban on night flights between 11.30 pm and 6 am, and a commitment that no fourth runway be built at Heathrow airport. If it is decided that there is a need for additional capacity and that there should be a new runway, whatever its location, we will ensure that there will be a package of measures to balance the benefits of expansion with the interests of communities.
I am sorry I have not been able to touch on every point that was raised in the debate, but let me stress again that many of the issues raised here today are the priorities and concerns of the Government. I thank all those who contributed to this excellent debate. It is clear that we live in an ever-changing world. We have to get this decision right, recognising its impact. We have heard a wide range of views representing a wide range of people. We do not want to hide the challenge on airport capacity. People rightly have strong views, but Sir Howard Davies’s commission has produced a powerful report that has earned the right to close scrutiny and analysis.
I thank every Member who contributed to the debate. The subject is indeed of national interest. I especially appreciate colleagues from Scotland making very worthy points. I appreciate the Secretary of State taking time from his busy schedule to listen to our debate. I take heart from that. I thank the Minister for the points he made.
Yes, the UK’s aviation industry is very important to our economy. I point out, though, as my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Haselhurst said, that the report of the Davies commission ruins its own logic. I thank the Minister for saying that connectivity is important and I am sure he heard, as I did, Members talking about regional competition and the importance of connectivity for us.
If an additional runway is needed in the south of England, I greatly appreciate what the Minister said about mitigation measures, but if they can be put in place for a third runway, I ask the Minister, as other Members have done, to put them in place now for the two-runway system, please, because it is not tolerable. A quasi-night ban is not enough—not six and a half hours. It must be at WHO levels.
If we are to attack climate change and have an internationally recognised aviation industry, our pollution levels must be set at higher standards, not at that recommended by the report with all its faults. I appreciate the South Thanet relief valve because I agree that this is a long-term programme, whichever option the Government choose, and we need to think about our capacity now.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who contributed to the debate. I remind the Government of the promise made in 2009—no ifs, no buts, no third runway.
Question put and agreed to.