Edinburgh Airport

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:02 pm on 29th September 2004.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:02 pm, 29th September 2004

The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-1723, in the name of Margaret Smith, on the development of Edinburgh airport. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the importance of Edinburgh Airport to the local, regional and national economy; further notes projections in Her Majesty's Government's white paper, The Future of Air Transport, that Edinburgh Airport will need a second runway by 2020; is sceptical that these projected passenger number increases will necessarily come to pass; recognises that, while setting aside land for any second runway may be a sensible precaution, it creates planning blight for a number of households and concern for many others and that construction would necessitate relocation of the Royal Highland showground; believes BAA plc must engage with all the local communities around the airport and keep them up to date with development plans at the airport in as open and transparent a fashion as possible; recognises the problem of noise pollution from current flight levels; believes that greater provision of high-speed rail could offer genuine alternatives to short-haul air travel, with the added benefit of freeing up capacity for more long-haul international flights and reducing the need for a second runway; welcomes the development of tram and rail links to Edinburgh Airport and the development of all transport links that will reduce congestion in the area, and considers that Her Majesty's Government, the Scottish Executive, BAA plc and all concerned should help deliver sustainable, long-term development of Edinburgh Airport.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 5:07 pm, 29th September 2004

I thank all colleagues who signed my motion and those who have been able to attend this evening's debate.

Edinburgh airport lies within my constituency of Edinburgh West, but it is obviously important to our city, our region and our country and to the prosperity of all our constituents. I speak as someone who lives just off the Cramond flight path and who, like most of my constituents, has mixed feelings about the airport.

We cannot overestimate the airport's importance to the local and national economies. Edinburgh is now the fastest-growing city in the United Kingdom and its airport plays a crucial part in that success. Our city depends on excellent transport links to retain its market position in business and finance, education, science, research and tourism. Two thousand people work at the airport and a further 5,000 Scottish jobs rely on it indirectly. A recent study by the Fraser of Allander institute estimated that the airport had an economic impact on the Scottish economy of £287 million per annum. The airport also plays a positive role in the lives of local residents by opening up the possibility of travel to Europe and the wider world through air links to a growing range of destinations. The new daily Continental service is partly the result of support from the Executive.

However, as well as receiving the positive economic, social and cultural benefits of having a growing airport, constituents feel some of the more negative consequences of growth, such as property blight, noise and air pollution, traffic congestion and pressure on land use. We must strive for growth that is sustainable both environmentally and economically and that respects the position of the airport's neighbours.

Some of the key issues at the airport have been highlighted by the publication of the UK Government's white paper on air transport, which seeks to map out the future of aviation in the country for the next 30 years. The white paper has had serious consequences for the people who live closest to the airport, as it suggests that the number of passengers who use it will continue to grow from the present figure of 7.7 million to 20 million or more by 2030. To deal with those sorts of passenger numbers, it would be necessary to build a new runway in around 2030 and, crucially, there would have to be further developments in the interim. Planning blight is already hitting many local residents and businesses.

It is clear that the key issues are the potential that another runway would create and the increase in the number of flights in the interim, as the airport extends its existing taxiways and adds further terminal capacity and a much-needed new control centre. The white paper says that that will bring 300 more people into the 63-decibel noise contour and greater use of the crosswind runway will add another 800 to that figure. Four and a half thousand residents are already affected by noise levels above 57 decibels.

Over the past few months, my colleague John Barrett MP and I have been contacted by several local residents in Cramond, Newbridge and Kirkliston who are concerned about the consequences of airport expansion. We have met BAA management to raise concerns, and I attended a public meeting in Kirkliston that was the first of a series of meetings that BAA is holding with local community councils. I welcome the fact that BAA is engaging with neighbouring communities.

The Department for Transport has prudently safeguarded land for a future runway, which I can understand, but it is unlikely that we will ever need it. The case has not been made for a further runway. In fact, the proposal came from the Government, not BAA, which is the operator of the airport. There is nothing to say that BAA would commit the massive capital expenditure that is involved in building a new runway, even if the figure of 20 million passengers is achieved.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Is the member aware that an airport the size of Gatwick operates with only one runway? Does she share my view that it is therefore unlikely, on a commercial basis, that a second runway will be required at Edinburgh?

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I am in the unusual position of agreeing totally with Brian Monteith. That saves me a little bit of time in my speech, because I was going to make that very point.

A number of limiting factors mean that passenger growth is likely to stabilise. First, there is uncertainty over, and a likely increase in, the price of oil in coming years. Secondly, there is the falling Scottish population, albeit that Edinburgh is bucking the trend. Thirdly, there is the presence of Glasgow airport, which is also in the central belt. There is also scope for the development of high-speed trains between Edinburgh and London, which I will return to in a few moments.

As things stand, there is also concern about the ability of the transport infrastructure round the airport to cope in the short and medium term. I welcome the fact that there are plans for a tramline to the airport by 2008—although, as I have said before, I would prefer it to carry on to Newbridge to bring much needed regeneration to the Newbridge and Ratho Station area—and I also welcome the plans for a heavy rail link, which will link the airport to the rail network by 2010 and increase the number of passengers who are able to access the airport by public transport. However, even with light and heavy rail links, there will be increased congestion as a result of airport growth. That means that better road links into the A8 and the motorway system may be needed. I am interested to hear the minister's view on whether the Scottish Executive will support or is investigating such a move.

The Government has decided, unfortunately, that the only way in which the airport can expand is by relocating the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. Many people think that the society is involved only in the Royal Highland Show for a few days each summer, but the reality is that its showground represents one of the country's premier events venues. In fact, with 1.2 million visitors every year it is the second largest in Scotland, after the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre.

I know that BAA and the RHASS were in talks prior to the Government's announcement. I would be interested to know from the minister whether talks involving the Scottish Executive and partners have been held, not only about relocation but about coexistence on a reduced showground site, possibly with shared car parking in the crucial week of the Royal Highland Show. Surely, given that the cost of relocation is estimated at anything between £75 million and £200 million, it is worth engaging with all partners now to determine whether there is room for everybody.

Last week, BAA announced details of its voluntary compensation schemes that are aimed at those who would be most affected by the consequences not only of building a new runway but of the years of uncertainty leading up to the decision being taken to do so. All those who would be affected—either through their homes and property being acquired or by noise levels increasing above 66 decibels—should by now have been notified by BAA. I hope that that will allay the fears of some people about the future impact on their properties.

I will not comment in detail at this stage on the schemes covering property blight and airport noise, as I will do so during the three-month consultation period after speaking to local residents. However, I welcome the fact that the schemes make clear which properties will be affected and seek to give some reassurance and legal guarantees not only after planning applications have been lodged, or a year after development has taken place, as defined in the Land Compensation Act 1973, but over the coming 20 years of uncertainty for my constituents.

It is crystal clear that growing numbers of my constituents in Cramond, Gyle, Ratho, Ratho Station, Newbridge and Kirkliston are experiencing increased levels of noise pollution. The extension of the taxiway will lead to increased numbers of flights, which is why John Barrett and I have met BAA to examine what, if anything, can be done to reduce noise. I acknowledge that aircraft have got quieter in recent years, thanks to European Union and International Civil Aviation Organisation standards, and I welcome the fact that Edinburgh airport uses a differential charging system that penalises the noisiest aircraft. I also appreciate that Richard Jeffrey, the managing director of the airport, has given us a commitment that he will look at ways in which the airport can make use of its new monitoring equipment to encourage pilots to fly in a way that reduces noise and to further monitor the noise levels of the 70 per cent of flights that land from the east, over Cramond. However, I also call on the City of Edinburgh Council to introduce a local noise limit, which I believe is something that has happened at airports elsewhere in the country. I have raised the issue with BAA, which I think would be sympathetic to an approach by the council on the issue.

Other responses and solutions might lie in the transfer of passengers from short-haul domestic flights to high-speed trains. At present, there are 90 daily flights from Edinburgh to the London airports and a further 54 from Glasgow and those figures are predicted to double by 2030. Two thirds of aircraft from Edinburgh go to destinations that can be reached by rail. Surely the development of a high-speed train to London that completes the journey in three hours with a fifth of the environmental impact is worth pursuing vigorously if we are serious about reducing noise levels for my constituents and about cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The provision of affordable high-speed rail links could give a real alternative and would free up more space for international flights.

I look forward to the responses to the consultations and the publication of the airports master plan by the end of the year. I also look forward to working with the Executive on the west Edinburgh planning framework and on the issue of land-use planning, which I do not have time to go into now. It is crucial that we do all that we can to support our airports in delivering sustainable growth for the benefit of the economy, their neighbours and the wider community.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 5:16 pm, 29th September 2004

I congratulate Margaret Smith on the motion, which raises a matter of great importance, not just for her constituency of Edinburgh West, but beyond. I disagree with nothing that she said. We must balance the needs and wants of Edinburgh airport with other interests, such as those of the Royal Highland Centre and the people in Cramond or Kirkliston. The airport is vital, not only because of the aeroplanes and services, but because of the land bank that is adjacent to it, which is important to the economy of west Edinburgh, which is fundamental to the economy of the city of Edinburgh. Clearly, the economy of Edinburgh is at present the dynamo of the Scottish economy to an extent. All those matters are interlinked and we must address them.

The airport has transformed Edinburgh and Scotland for the better. We must now recognise that we are part of a global economy, that we are a small nation on the periphery of Europe and that we must trade and attract tourism to survive. Therefore, as has been said ofttimes by me and others, we need to be accessible, but at an affordable price. The airport has come a long way since it was called Turnhouse—I am sure that some members remember that. The transformation in car parking and the new flights, especially to continental destinations, have been of great benefit to the city.

The airport must continue to grow. Like Margaret Smith and Brian Monteith, I am sceptical whether the exponential growth in aviation can continue. We cannot simply extend the line on the graph and say that, because growth has been at a certain rate until now, it will continue at that rate until 2020. As Margaret Smith pointed out, oil prices, finite resources and a variety of changing patterns will affect the situation. That does not mean that we should not have a plan B but, at the end of the day, we must take cognisance of the fact that it is unlikely that growth will continue at the present rate.

As Margaret Smith mentioned, we do not want airport growth to continue at the present rate. There must be significant change. Although I would like more direct flights from Edinburgh, I recognise that aviation comes at an environmental cost and that we need to strike a balance. We must increase the number of direct flights to European destinations and reduce the number of flights to London that are taken simply to pick up a connecting flight. That cannot continue and it must be addressed. Fundamental to addressing that is the improvement of rail links to London. People almost have to take a flight to London because of the perceived difficulties with the rail service, which must be addressed. If people are simply picking up a flight to go elsewhere, it makes no sense either personally or economically to wait about and change at a London airport. That must be addressed.

We must also deal with Margaret Smith's points about other aspects that enhance the quality of life, not just in Edinburgh West, but throughout central Scotland and elsewhere. The Royal Highland Centre provides a significant boon and benefit to that community and we cannot ignore that. It seems at present that we have an irresistible force against an immoveable object, and we need to broker some settlement. The points that Margaret Smith made about shared parking seem to me to be eminently sensible and ought to be considered.

We also have to take cognisance of the fact that the increase in aviation has a significant impact on the people whom Margaret Smith represents in areas such as Kirkliston and Cramond, and on those outwith her constituency in places such as Ladywell, in Bristow Muldoon's constituency. We have to get that balance, but the airport is vital and must continue to be vital. We need to recognise the importance of that area for the growth not just of the city of Edinburgh but of the economy of Scotland, and we must address the balance of resources and the balance of interests.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 5:20 pm, 29th September 2004

I warmly congratulate Margaret Smith on lodging the motion and allowing us to have this opportunity to debate the development of Edinburgh airport. I must first declare a very minor interest, as I am the holder of a complimentary parking pass at the airport if I am on Westminster parliamentary business.

We can scarcely overemphasise the important role that Edinburgh airport plays in the life of our city in terms of employment, tourism, trade and the well-being of the lowlands and of eastern Scotland. The staggering growth over recent years from 5 million passengers to more than 7 million has been hugely impressive, and I pay tribute to the vigorous work of BAA in leading the airport to the position that it now enjoys. However, I share the scepticism of Margaret Smith and Kenny MacAskill over whether a second runway at Edinburgh airport is either necessary or desirable, in view of the implications for residents of Kirkliston as well as for members of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.

I understand that a possible second runway is likely to be at least 20 years away and may never happen. We should therefore establish at this stage the necessary ground rules for protecting the environment and the amenity of residents as well as the security of the Royal Highland Centre and the listed headquarters of the RHASS. However, I understand BAA's position. In a letter to me some time ago, the managing director stated:

"A recent Fraser of Allander Institute report shows that Edinburgh airport is punching below its weight in terms of economic generation for the region, compared to Glasgow and Aberdeen ... We further believe that the land between the airport and the A8 should be released for high quality world headquarters type developments. Such sites would be competitive on a European if not world scale, and would ensure that Edinburgh does not lose out on further developments, similar to that proposed by the Royal Bank of Scotland."

We understand that point of view and think that it should be considered, but only in the context of sustainable development and the containment of noise levels.

I agree with Margaret Smith that it is somewhat bizarre to find ourselves debating a dubious second runway when there are, as we all know, far more pressing matters facing the airport. First, there is surely a great deal of scope for development of the airport's cargo centre, and I would be interested to hear from the minister this evening what the up-to-date position is with regard to the development of cargo facilities. Secondly, we have to take urgent action to improve the transport connections between the airport and the centre of Edinburgh, and I would be grateful if the minister could update us on progress towards the creation of the much-needed rail link with the airport. Finally, will the minister say whether, in his personal view, BAA should have a monopoly in respect of all airport facilities?

We recognise that the employment, industrial, agricultural, trade and environmental interests of the nation need to be carefully considered. We need the best balance between competing interests. In an area of great hope and endeavour for Scotland, that will require hard work and a patient and sensitive response to all legitimate interests. We owe Scotland no less.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green 5:24 pm, 29th September 2004

I congratulate Margaret Smith on raising the matter and on giving us a good opportunity to debate, in a remarkably consensual fashion, the future of Edinburgh airport. I am glad that there has been a consensus among the previous three speakers that we need to think in terms of environmental as well as economic sustainability when we discuss the future of the airport.

I am also glad that there is a recognition that the best way to get from the centre of Edinburgh to the centre of London is to go by high-speed train rather than to travel out of Edinburgh to fly to Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted and then to travel all the way into the centre of town. We need those high-speed trains, because they—not flights—are the sustainable way of getting around the island.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

What does Mark Ballard have to say on direct flights to London City airport?

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

I am not aware how many of the 90 flights that Margaret Smith mentioned go direct to London City airport. As I understand it, that growth has been fuelled by cut-price airlines going to Stansted airport. I can personally testify to the difficulty of getting from Stansted to the centre of London, and I have always taken the train since I once had to wait ages to get the bus in.

We are agreed that the Government's passenger numbers—the exponential growth that Kenny MacAskill talked about—are unlikely to occur and that that fact should be the basis of our future discussions on Edinburgh airport, which will always be a medium-sized regional airport. To see Edinburgh airport as a giant international hub of the future is a fantasy, because it is and will remain medium-sized and regional.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Does Mr Ballard not agree with the comments of my colleague Mr MacAskill that it would be better for the environment if there were more direct flights from Edinburgh to European destinations rather than passengers having to go through London? That could reduce the links from Edinburgh to London that Mr Ballard has criticised.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

The point is that Edinburgh is and will remain a medium-sized regional airport and we should not have ambitions for it to go beyond that. That is why we must scrap the nonsense idea of a second runway. We must not let our transport policy be driven by the cheap air fares that we have now, because they are not sustainable for the future. They are unsustainable environmentally and in social exclusion terms, as my colleague Chris Ballance will, I hope, get a chance to explain.

There is complete confusion over transport links to the airport. A tramline to the airport is planned, which I welcome, but we also have plans for a heavy rail link to the airport, and I cannot understand why we are talking about such a grandiose scheme for a medium-sized airport. It will cost £500 million and will mean tunnels going under the airport, which raises the difficulties of putting diesel trains through tunnels. We are also planning far too big a station, given the demand, far too far away from existing lines. We need a station on the Fife line at Turnhouse, but that does not appear to have been considered properly. As a regular user of the Fife line, I am amazed that, although the line goes past the airport, nobody has invested in putting a stop at Turnhouse, where it is needed and where it could be built in the short term. Instead, we concentrate on long-term plans for a giant railway hub.

We should think sustainably about the economics and environmental impact of our transport links to the airport. We should also think about the opportunity cost of the £500 million that we are talking about spending on the grandiose scheme of putting a tunnel under the airport. Instead, we should spend that money on Waverley station so that we can accommodate the high-speed rail links to London and the rest of the United Kingdom that we have all talked about and supported.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 5:28 pm, 29th September 2004

I congratulate Margaret Smith on securing the debate and getting all of us to stay in the chamber at this time of night.

The debate has been quite reflective and mature, and if we can conclude one thing from it, it is that there is no easy solution to the issue. We are trying to have a debate on what we think Edinburgh airport might need to look like in 20 years' time, which is a difficult debate to have. I was brought up in the west of Edinburgh and if I had been told when I was at school what the west of the city would look like 20 years later, I would have found it difficult to believe, because that side of the city has been totally transformed by new housing, economic and even transport developments.

I suspect that what we really need to do is think about the key principles that should guide future decisions. I think that that is what the debate was meant to be about.

We have left behind the old idea of predict and provide that used to characterise British road and air transport policies. We can no longer act as if we can simply write down a formula, feed some figures into a sausage machine and get an answer about what the situation will be in 20 years' time. Policy decision making is much more complex now. If we are trying to weigh up environmental benefit, social justice issues and economic progress, there are no easy solutions. The debate is not about the idea that we could sit down tonight and say that, in 20 years' time, Edinburgh airport will need an extension and a new runway. We are trying to determine how we think the relationship between the city and the rest of Scotland will develop in the next 20 years and how we can ensure that we do not rule out opportunities that we cannot yet predict will arise.

Margaret Smith is right to urge a note of caution—it is true to say that we might not need that extra runway.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Does the member accept that we can all agree that there is a strong case for extending the taxi ways on the present runway as that would make it more efficient?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

The point that I was just about to make was that the key thing that we should be doing just now is getting the best use out of the existing airport infrastructure. From what Margaret Smith tells me, I gather that BAA is considering that approach and that work is being undertaken in that regard.

The difficulty lies in determining the necessary public transport mix that will enable people to use the airport when that is the best way for them to travel and also to have better choices of ways to travel.

A lot of work is being done at the airport. Ironically, the first project that has been completed is the new multistorey car park. It is always difficult to work out where to get a bus or a taxi at the airport—although the issue of taxis is one that we will not go into tonight, for obvious reasons. However, there has been a debate about how we can better access the airport, which has to be important.

Over the next few months, west Edinburgh bus services will be improved with the establishment of the fixed bus service. That is something that seems simple but has taken a long time to deliver.

Further, there is an on-going debate around trams, which I hope we will get soon.

Mark Ballard spoke about grandiose rail improvements. The problem is that improving heavy rail in any way is not cheap. It does not matter where the improvements are carried out. The idea that we could simply improve Waverley as an alternative is wrong. The Waverley upgrade will itself be a huge issue. I have spoken in Parliament more times than I can remember to demand that Waverley be upgraded. The key thing is that there needs to be a range of public transport improvements.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I am sorry, but I am in my last minute.

Perhaps five years ago, it was possible to travel by train from Edinburgh city centre to London city centre in three hours and 59 minutes. Not many trains were involved, but there were a few and we all thought that there would be an increasing number. Now, the fastest train takes four hours and 19 minutes and most trains take four and a half hours or four hours and 40 minutes. Those are less attractive journey times. If there is a reliable Edinburgh to London service that takes around four hours, people will be attracted on to the railways because travelling by train is more comfortable and less stressful than going by plane and allows people to get some work done. The problem is in ensuring that we have a practical alternative to air travel. The issue is not even about building a new high-speed rail service between Edinburgh and London, good though that would be; it is about making the existing services more reliable and faster.

I ask the minister what will happen in the short term to journey times on the Edinburgh to London line to benefit Scotland. That is the key issue in relation to the competitiveness of the rail network in comparison to air travel.

We need to improve the airport and the transport links to the airport, but we also need better choices for people. That is the context in which we need to think about what we want to happen to Edinburgh airport. We all want it to be successful, but it should be so as one part of a range of choices for travellers in Scotland.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative 5:34 pm, 29th September 2004

To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, where there is harmony, let there be discord. I joined this debate as someone who could not sign the motion as I did not agree with it. It is a long motion, so there are some aspects with which I am in accord.

However, those are mostly the statements of fact. What troubles me are some of the assertions in the motion and I would like to put some contrary views.

I am sceptical of the projected passenger numbers and their relation to a second runway. However, I am sceptical of the numbers because I rather suspect that they might be underestimated. The history of transport planning shows us that there is, if anything, a tendency to underestimate passenger numbers. In relation to Concorde, roads, bridges and so on, Government departments have often made a mess of the estimates.

Although I think that the estimates are wrong, I do not necessarily argue that we need a second runway.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green

Does the member agree that, in transport, the investment choices that we make often lead to the next generation of traffic? If we invest in new roads, we create more traffic on roads. Does the member agree that the opportunity cost of investing in airports rather than in other forms of transport is that there will be more traffic through airports?

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

No; I do not think that that necessarily follows. It is difficult to measure where items have come from. I do not believe that just because we build roads, more people use them. For example, people are displaced from other roads that they have already been using.

I disagree with the motion in relation to its enthusiasm for trams. The jury is still out on trams and I want to see real justification for them; I await with interest the outcome of the deliberations of the committees that are dealing with the tram bills.

The most troubling aspect of the motion is probably the idea that short-haul flights can be replaced by rail. I regularly use rail to go to London—that is my choice—but I believe that rail is not the choice that many people will make on certain routes. It is possible to quibble about which flights are short haul, but I contend that a short-haul flight to Dublin or Cork cannot be replaced by rail travel; nor can flights to Birmingham, because people who fly to that airport usually do so because they are using it as a hub. If people have a spare day or two they might decide to take the train, but most people who use London as a hub fly from Edinburgh or Glasgow and catch a connecting flight at London.

Then we have the international flights from Edinburgh to Amsterdam, Brussels and Copenhagen—I do not consider those flights to be long haul, and one cannot reach those places easily by rail from Edinburgh. The growth area for Edinburgh airport lies in connection with other European and international hubs. Recently, I travelled from Edinburgh to Kazakhstan via Frankfurt. It is also possible to travel from Edinburgh to Kazakhstan via Moscow. Those are examples of the sort of routes that Edinburgh airport will begin to exploit well, just as it has introduced routes over the years to places such as Nice, Rome and Geneva.

As a member for Mid Scotland and Fife, it is not for me to ponder the local issues surrounding the development of the airport. My concern is about the availability of good flights, connections and access to the airport for the constituents that I represent in Fife, Perthshire and Stirlingshire. We need greater development of the current airport services, taxiways and terminal facilities so that people beyond Edinburgh can use the airport to its best advantage.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat 5:38 pm, 29th September 2004

I, too, congratulate Margaret Smith on securing this excellent debate. I congratulate her and her Liberal Democrat colleague John Barrett MP on the hard work that they have done for residents who live near the airport and the Royal Highland Centre. We heard from Margaret Smith about the Royal Highland Centre, which is the second biggest attraction for visitors and a huge economic benefit for Edinburgh. I know that the centre is having some difficulties due to its uncertain future, and I have been lobbied on the issue. All MSPs in Lothian, and those outside Lothian, need to ensure that we keep the Royal Highland Centre where it is so that it can give us the Royal Highland Show and all the other events that take place there.

Even in south Edinburgh, I have been contacted several times by residents, including those in Liberton, complaining about noise from aircraft as they make their approach to the west runway. The problem occurs not only in west Edinburgh but in other parts of the city. If we can do something to alleviate the need for a second runway, that would be a good thing.

Margaret Smith and John Barrett have examined the bigger picture and I am pleased that they recognise that rail travel is a good alternative to short-haul air travel. As somebody mentioned, there are 90 flights per day between Edinburgh and the London area. A large proportion of those journeys could be made by train if we developed a high-speed rail link. As Sarah Boyack said, the train journey time is more than four hours. Sadly, that means that air travel is quicker. If that time could be reduced by even 30 minutes, I am convinced that the train journey would be quicker than going to the airport, checking in and catching a train at the other end. These days, the train is probably more comfortable. The problem that Waverley is not accessible to people who want to take their cars could be overcome easily by establishing a parkway station at Musselburgh.

High-speed rail links are essential to increase the number of people who use the train and to offer a genuine alternative to short-haul flying. That would free space at Edinburgh airport for direct flights. When I was out at the airport recently, I was pleased to see the direct flight between Edinburgh and New York. We want to encourage such flights. They generally involve larger planes, so even with the Government's predicted passenger growth, a second runway would be unnecessary.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I follow with interest the argument about which flights the Lib Dems do and do not support. To which routes would the Liberal proposal to have an aviation fuel tax apply? Would it apply to all air travel or just to some? How much would it cost per passenger?

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

To be honest, I have no idea. I am more than happy to answer that later, but I am not an expert on the issue; I am sorry.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Edinburgh airport. I took with me my constituency organiser, Conor Snowden, who is a transport enthusiast. Richard Jeffrey and Malcolm Robertson showed us around behind the scenes. Conor and I were somewhat alarmed at getting into a four-wheel drive and driving down one of the runways. That was a fairly exciting experience. Going behind the scenes showed us what Edinburgh airport is doing, and much is going on.

I say to Lord James Douglas-Hamilton that I saw at the airport the new taxiway—it is not an extension to the runway—which will allow flights to arrive and depart more quickly. I know that that will come on stream soon and that Richard Jeffrey is excited by that.

As I said, we need to encourage growth in flights such as the flights to New York from Edinburgh airport. We need to persuade as many people as possible to take the train for short journeys. I am definitely not convinced of the need for a second runway.

Photo of Chris Ballance Chris Ballance Green 5:42 pm, 29th September 2004

I add my congratulations to Margaret Smith and congratulate members on having a consensual debate in which the scepticism about the Government's projected expansion of Edinburgh airport has been shared by everyone—apart from Mr Monteith, as usual. The expansion projections are based on fantasy and are unsustainable. As the motion says, rail is far more sensible for UK inland journeys. The Government is like Richard Branson: dreaming of space travel on the same day as launching late-running trains.

The central fact is that oil consumption is growing rapidly. The world's most populous country—China—expects to consume 14 per cent more oil this year than it did last year, and that rate of growth is growing. India and many other countries echo that trend. However, the rate of oil discovery is not growing at the same pace. The world has a finite amount of oil.

A report in the journal Scientific American said:

"From an economic perspective, when the world runs completely out of oil is ... not directly relevant: what matters is when production begins to taper off. Beyond that point, prices will rise unless demand declines commensurately ... we conclude that the decline will begin before 2010."

Other experts disagree with that date, but there is complete agreement that the date will occur in the next 20 years.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I think that it was John Paul Getty who said that the world had been running out of oil since he was a boy. We know what the Greens' diagnosis is, but what is the prognosis? For example, would the Greens scrap package-deal holidays from Edinburgh, or would they simply tax the flights so that prices would double, treble or quadruple? What exactly is the Greens' answer?

Photo of Chris Ballance Chris Ballance Green

If Fergus Ewing can contain his impatience, I will tell him exactly what I think will happen.

The oil will not run out overnight, but it will start to get more expensive to produce. Demand will start to equal production and prices will reflect that. Prices are already rising simply because of short-term instability in Iraq and hurricanes in the United States. Such price hikes will continue and will worsen.

Aviation will be the first sector to be affected. The alternatives to oil for aircraft are unproven, undeveloped and almost certain to be much more expensive. Aviation is the industry that is most tied to the price of oil, and that price is inexorably increasing in the marketplace.

There is also the issue of the damage to the environment that aviation causes. Globally, the world's 16,000 commercial jet aircraft generate more than 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide—which is the world's major greenhouse gas—per annum, which is almost as much CO2 as that from all human activities in Africa. The average jet pumps around a tonne of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every passenger that it carries from London to New York. Today's announcement of a doubling of the route development fund, regardless of any effect on the environment, was deeply depressing and shows the Executive's commitment towards climate change and the environment.

BAA admits that current air quality targets around its airports will not be met. The UK will probably fail the European Union directive's air quality standards around airports when they come into effect in 2010. Residents around many airports throughout Scotland—not only in Edinburgh, but in Glasgow and Aberdeen—as well as in Carlisle, which is next to my region, do not want airport expansion. It is not environmentally sustainable and will probably not be necessary. We must release the land that is blighted by the threat of airport expansion and, as the motion says, concentrate instead on sensible strategies for moving ourselves around the country.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat 5:47 pm, 29th September 2004

I, too, congratulate Margaret Smith on securing the debate, which I welcome. It provides an opportunity to reaffirm the Executive's commitment to the future of Edinburgh airport as a major centre, and reaffirms its importance in Scotland and the UK. I should make it clear that the Scottish Executive is not prescriptive about the rate of growth or the development that may or may not be necessary to meet that required rate of growth, but we believe that it is sensible to make plans to safeguard the future.

During the debate, many separate issues were raised that relate specifically to Edinburgh airport and to the aviation sector more generally. In responding, I hope that I can answer some of the questions that have been asked and put the issues in the context of the conclusions of the UK air transport white paper.

It is important to emphasise that the consultation process that led to the production of the air transport white paper was extensive and provided opportunities for individuals and organisations directly involved in, affected by, or interested in the sector to contribute. It is interesting to note the concern about the second runway. At the time, a major issue was whether Edinburgh or Glasgow would be allocated the second runway, and there was a degree of competition between the two cities to be successful in obtaining the allocation of the second runway. Of course, Glasgow has taken steps at a planning level, rather than at a UK airport strategy level, to ensure that its second runway is safeguarded for the future, if there is a need for one.

The Executive was fully involved throughout the consultation. For example, there was a joint consultation document involving the Executive and the Department for Transport and a series of Scottish Executive organised seminars and conferences throughout Scotland. Key Edinburgh airport stakeholders such as BAA, the Royal Highland Centre and the City of Edinburgh Council were fully involved throughout.

As members are aware, the regulatory framework within which air transport operates is reserved to the UK Government, which has responsibility for co-ordinating overall policy for UK airports. However, key areas such as land use, planning and surface access, which are crucial to the future development of air transport, are devolved and are our responsibility. That is why we encouraged informed debate around the two big issues: the provision of extra airport capacity—which, as has been rightly stressed tonight, is about not just additional runway space but aprons, taxiways, stands and terminal facilities—and the provision of adequate surface access to airports.

Passenger forecasts, which were mentioned a great deal in the debate, are central to whether developments are taken forward and the speed at which they are implemented. Some doubt was expressed about the forecast growth at Edinburgh airport. However, the estimates that featured in the consultation process and that were eventually included in the air transport white paper were the product of detailed and rigorous analysis by industry experts and they were reviewed and debated with the airport operator. I believe that the growth forecasts are robust. However, as with any estimate, the potential for growth, particularly in the aviation sector, can be affected by developments that cannot be anticipated here and now.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I will, but let me finish this point.

For example, the phenomenal rise of the no-frills carriers could not have been anticipated 10 years ago. That rise has led to expansion at levels that are far beyond those that were estimated in the early 1990s.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

As the Minister for Transport will recall, the Minister for Finance and Public Services said this afternoon that a direct rail link from Edinburgh city centre to the airport would be one of the next steps forward. If, as the Minister for Transport claims, those estimates for future passenger numbers were carried out extremely carefully, did they assume that there would be a rail link? If so, in what year was it assumed that the rail link would come into existence?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

The rail link is anticipated to start in 2010.

It is fair to say that big growth is expected at Edinburgh airport irrespective of the surface access method. To a great extent, it is up to the Scottish Executive to put in place the options for people to get to the airport. In my view, encouraging the use of trams, buses and heavy rail—the Edinburgh airport rail link—for access to the airport is a far better option than encouraging more cars and congestion.

However, we do not have a predetermined view on the timing or location of extra airport capacity. Our aim is to act now to preserve the future. Rather than rule in or rule out options at this stage, we must help to pave the way for the future. For example, no decision is required now on whether an extra runway at Edinburgh airport is needed and no decision will be required for at least 10 years, by which time the Edinburgh airport rail connection should be in place. Incremental additions to terminals, aprons and taxiways, together with some runway extensions, should serve to meet demand in the short and in the medium term.

However, it is essential that we plan for the long term to ensure that Scotland can take best advantage of any opportunities associated with future growth. We want to ensure that any rise in demand for air transport brings maximum benefits to Edinburgh and Scotland—and, indeed, to the communities that are served by airports—at minimal environmental cost.

As well as the growth in passenger traffic, we need to take into account many other considerations, not least of which are the environmental factors. I am running out of time—I see that I have five, four, three seconds to go—but I want to touch on the rail links. We want to encourage rail and we recognise the environmental benefits of doing so. The Scottish Executive is making a great deal of investment in new rail lines. More immediately, we will examine ways of working in partnership to improve journey times to London.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I cannot; I am out of time and relying on the good will of the Presiding Officer. I apologise to the member.

I want to invest Executive funding in tram and rail links to both Glasgow and Edinburgh airports. As has been said, the Edinburgh airport rail link is a major project—it could involve in the order of £0.5 billion of expenditure. We are determined to press on with all these initiatives and to improve the situation, but we must also consider other issues associated with the future expansion of Edinburgh airport. If we did not do that, we would be accused of ducking the issue.

We are addressing the relocation of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society. That is being done in partnership, as part of the review of the west Edinburgh planning framework. A working group of officials from the Executive, the local enterprise company, the City of Edinburgh Council and West Lothian Council is steering the work, with the close involvement of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society, Transport Initiatives Edinburgh Ltd and Edinburgh airport.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I cannot take an intervention, for the same reason that I gave a moment ago. I would like to do so, but I am about to conclude.

A separate study has been commenced to assess options for a site for relocation of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society. BAA has also produced documents entitled "Protecting against airport noise" and "Protecting against blight". It is good that those documents were launched last week. The issues associated with the development of the airport are being tackled and examined. We need to prepare.

The aviation industry is a vital component in Scotland's economy. It is worth £600 million per year and provides 15,000 direct jobs and as many again through multiplier effects. Edinburgh airport is of huge significance to the city of Edinburgh, to the region and to the whole of Scotland. Airport and air services promote economic growth by increasing access to markets and suppliers and encouraging inward investment and tourism. Airports themselves act as a focus for business clusters. It will be good if we manage to avoid the need for two flights, including a flight down to London or to Amsterdam, by getting direct flights from Edinburgh, Glasgow and other airports in Scotland, through the route development fund.

I reaffirm the Executive's commitment to Edinburgh airport's crucial and continuing role in serving the economy of the east of Scotland and in meeting Scotland's transport needs.

Meeting closed at 17:57.