Airport Capacity and Airspace Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:50 am on 2nd February 2017.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for Transport 10:50 am, 2nd February 2017

May I start by thanking the hon. Gentleman for his support for my statement this morning? He asked a number of questions, which I shall answer, but I very much welcome the principle of support. This is a long-term project for the country, and a shared vision across this House of the need for expanded capacity is important. I know that there are individual Members who have disagreements, issues and local challenges, but his supportive comments are welcome for the project and I am grateful to him.

Let me seek to answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions. First, we have not reached a definitive position on the European issue. Obviously the negotiations have not started and we have not yet triggered article 50. I am acutely aware that aviation is one of the sectors that we need to handle with great care, working out the best way of protecting our sector and delivering the right connectivity for the future. I will come back to the House at an appropriate moment and provide more information, but as he is aware, we are not really in a position to provide detail of the negotiations in advance. However, I appreciate that he will want to understand in due course where we have got to, and we will endeavour to make sure that we keep the House as fully informed as we properly can, given the negotiation process.

As the hon. Gentleman said, aviation is not included in the current climate change target. It is clearly an issue, however, and has been since the recent agreement in Montreal, subject to an international strategy going forward. We are consulting today on things such as the smarter use of airspace. Through airspace reform and the technology that is now available to us, we will be able to avoid, to anything like the degree experienced at the moment, planes stacking over the south-east of England, emitting additional emissions into the atmosphere and using up more fuel. That is one of the benefits that comes from the smarter use of airspace, which will help to make a contribution, as will cleaner, newer generation, more fuel-efficient aircraft, which I think we will see extensively in this country over the coming years.

On the issue of NOx, diesel and emissions on the surrounding roads, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that this is much more a car issue than a plane issue. It is about the propensity of congested areas to cause a genuine public health problem, so it is a broader issue for the Government to address than simply the airport. We have already made a start, with the incentives that are in place for low-emission vehicles and the expansion of charging points that we set out in the autumn statement. We will also shortly be seeing the Bill that he mentioned—it would have been here by now, had we not had a bit of other business to deal with in the House. The issues in that Bill will be important, but I am well aware, and the Government are well aware, that we will have to do much more on the emissions front. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will come forward in due course with further proposals to tackle what is a broader issue than just airport expansion. It is one that we cannot possibly wait until airport expansion happens to address, and we will not.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of rail services, and we already have significant plans for their development. The arrival of Crossrail and of HS2 at Old Oak Common will make a significant difference to public transport access to Heathrow, as will the proposed modernisation of the Piccadilly line, which will significantly expand capacity on that route. We are now also starting the development work on rail access to the south and the west of Heathrow airport, and he is absolutely right to raise this issue. It is something that we are now working on and the private sector will make a substantial contribution to the costs.

Lastly, the hon. Gentleman raised the importance of land and surface access to ports and airports around the country. I can confirm to him that this is something that we are looking at in a variety of forums. As we move into this post-Brexit world and in a world where we need to facilitate trade, I am particularly concerned to ensure that where there are blockages, congestion points or limitations around ports and airports, we take the necessary steps to address those, and we will.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his supportive comments, and will obviously try to keep him and the House as informed as possible.