I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the Third Report of the Transport Committee, Airports National Policy Statement, HC 548.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I begin by thanking the other members of the Select Committee on Transport for their work in quite a long and involved inquiry. I am very pleased to see my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) here today.
If deciding to build an additional runway at Heathrow airport was easy, it would have been done long before now. It is not, which is why successive Governments, over decades, have dodged and deferred the decision. One reason why the issue is so difficult is that it will affect the lives of many thousands of people—those living in the communities close to the airport, those who work at the airport, and passengers and businesses that rely on the connections that it provides. Our report and much of the debate about the decision focus on the big picture, the economic growth that a new runway will facilitate, the billions of pounds of investment required to build it, the jobs and apprenticeships created and the number of households affected by new noise or air pollution. It is right that we recognise the importance of the decision for the whole of the UK. For Britain to succeed, improved connectivity, both outside our islands and around them, is key.
However, we should also recognise that this is about individuals, be they the family whose house would be demolished to make way for the new runway, the passenger who wants an affordable flight to visit their family abroad or the small business owner who needs to get their goods to markets around the globe. Our decision will change their lives. We must be mindful of the consequences and, where there are adverse impacts, as we know there will be, we must do all we can to mitigate or compensate for them.
Let me explain the process and the Select Committee’s approach to our role in it. The airports national policy statement is Parliament’s opportunity to vote on the Government’s policy to provide additional runway capacity in south-east England through the construction of a north-west runway at Heathrow airport. If approved, the final airports NPS provides the framework and criteria against which a development consent application will be judged.
The airports NPS is different from other transport-related national policy statements considered by our predecessors. It not only identifies a specific site but details a specific scheme. It applies only to a north-west runway at Heathrow airport; it is not applicable to any other scheme to build an additional runway. If for any reason that scheme fails, through legal or financial difficulties, no other scheme—not even an alternative design on the site at Heathrow airport—can easily fill the void under this NPS.
Under the Planning Act 2008, our Committee was designated to carry out parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s proposal. We did not try to put ourselves in the Government’s shoes and consider whether we would have chosen the same option; rather, we scrutinised the decision that they had made. It could be said that we marked their homework. In conducting our inquiry, we had four overarching objectives: to ensure that the Government had adequately explained their case for runway expansion and for choosing the north-west runway scheme at Heathrow; to ensure that the evidence supporting the NPS was robust and was accurately reflected in the final document; to ensure that the conditions of approval in the NPS provided enough safeguards for affected communities and passengers; and to ensure that any risks of a successful legal challenge were minimised.
The Government outlined their case for additional runway capacity in south-east England in chapter 2 of the NPS, and we broadly agreed with the Government’s position. Heathrow airport is already full, and other London airports are operating at capacity during peak times. All major airports in south-east England are expected to be full by the mid-2030s, with four out of five full by the mid-2020s. Doing nothing has consequences. If we fail to tackle the demand for extra runway capacity, that will result in less choice, more disruption and higher airfares for passengers. The UK’s competitiveness may already have been damaged as other European hub airports have expanded their global networks. Capacity constraints do not impact just on passengers; trade opportunities through air freight may be forgone, and inward investment may be diverted to other European countries with better connectivity.
The Government outlined their case for additional runway capacity at Heathrow through a north-west runway in chapter 3 of the NPS. Maintaining the UK’s hub status in Europe is the Government’s overriding objective in developing their preference. Heathrow is the UK’s only hub airport and it is one of Europe’s leading hubs. Some 78 million passengers travelled through Heathrow last year. It is unrivalled in the UK for density of airlines, connections and transfer passengers. That makes it possible to sustain routes that would simply not be viable as point-to-point links. The clear preference of the airlines is to expand at Heathrow, although not at any cost. The connectivity benefits would be greater and realised sooner from the north-west runway scheme than from the other schemes considered—the one involving Gatwick airport and the one for an extended northern runway at Heathrow—although it should be noted that the extent and timing of the benefits of the north-west runway scheme are contingent on its being delivered on time, on budget and to the capacity assumed.
Air freight is also critical to the UK economy. Freight capacity is the other major comparative advantage that the north-west runway scheme offers, compared with the alternatives. Heathrow is already the UK’s busiest port by value, handling £360 million-worth of goods each day and accounting for 30% of the UK’s non-EU exports.
Those are the arguments that have persuaded many businesses and many of our constituents across the country that Heathrow expansion is needed, and that have led our Committee both to conclude that the Government are right to pursue development at Heathrow and to accept the arguments that they have made in favour of their preferred scheme.
We recommended that the planning process moved to the next stage by approving the airports NPS, provided—this is important—that the concerns identified in our report were addressed by the Government in the final NPS that they laid before Parliament. Our conclusion could be described as “Yes, but”. My contribution today will spend more time on the “but” than the “yes”, primarily because I am conscious that few colleagues will have escaped Heathrow’s very effective campaign setting out the benefits of expansion. Anyone walked through the tube station here at Westminster will have seen posters showing some of the arguments.
I cannot comment on the pay and benefits for staff who work at Heathrow. Undoubtedly, both Heathrow and Gatwick airport have sought to influence the decision made by hon. Members here today. The Select Committee’s role is important in ensuring that people have independent and objective information that enables them to make a decision.
My hon. Friend is making a good case, and I look forward to hearing the “buts”. It is correct that for a brief moment Gatwick was in the frame, but for many years before that, Gatwick was simply a satellite of Heathrow and controlled and silenced by it. Now that the Government have been so partial and so partisan, again the only name in the frame is Heathrow, so my hon. Friend is making exactly the right point, which is that Heathrow is the dominant voice, but does she agree that it is perhaps much more so than she has said so far?
I think Heathrow is the dominant voice, but in part that is because it is our only hub airport. Many of the arguments that the Government have put forward are predicated on the importance of that hub status, although I will address some of the other points, which I am sure my hon. Friend will want to hear.
Right hon. and hon. Members will have seen the Department for Transport’s latest summary, which rehearses some of these arguments with some very nice graphics, so I need not say more about it than that. Our inquiry sought to get into the detail of the scheme and how valid concerns about the Government’s approach might be addressed in a final NPS before Parliament was asked to approve it. I confess that when we sought this debate, we did not anticipate that the Government would have already laid their final version of the airports NPS, which happened two days ago. I commend them for their speedy actions. I welcome the Secretary of State’s remarks in the Chamber on Tuesday in which he thanked the Committee for the scrutiny we completed. I also recognised the shadow Secretary of State’s acknowledgement that we “left no stone unturned” in our report.
Conducting detailed scrutiny is absolutely critical, and I am immensely proud of the detailed work that our Committee completed within the time available. The Heathrow plans have been more than 20 years in the making. The implications of Parliament’s decision will last even longer. It is important that we get this right.
I thank my hon. Friend and her colleagues on the Transport Committee for their work. Given the depth and rigour that her Committee went into on the detailed elements of the case, does she agree that the Secretary of State has come up with a remarkably brief response in a very short time and could not possibly have had the time to answer all the detailed questions that her Committee’s report quite rightly put?
For many of us who are still to decide which side of the argument to take, the devil will be in the detail. Does my hon. Friend agree that those who are impacted the most should be the ones compensated the most in terms of the mitigation? I allude in particular to my Slough constituency, where the third runway will be built. The mitigation, in terms not only of air and noise but of training and skills colleges, and other logistics and jobs facilities, should be sited more in Slough than in other constituencies.
My hon. Friend is a great advocate for his constituency and rightly so. It is important that, if the proposal goes ahead, the impact on local communities is carefully considered. I am also mindful, however, that this scheme is intended to benefit the whole of the UK. It is vital that, if it goes ahead, the whole of the UK is seen to benefit, including from the opportunities for jobs and apprenticeships that it would bring.
I also pay serious tribute to the hon. Lady for having conducted the first proper scrutiny by her Select Committee into the Heathrow case. As we saw, as that scrutiny was applied, the Heathrow case evaporated. A number of people on the Committee who began in favour of Heathrow expansion are now implacably opposed to it, because of the scrutiny that she applied as Chair of that Committee. I am grateful to her for doing that. Was there a single independent voice to give evidence—other than Heathrow —who believed that it is possible to reconcile Heathrow expansion with air quality limits, which we are legally obliged to adhere to?
The hon. Gentleman is requiring me to remember all the evidence we heard over many months from many voices. Air quality is undoubtedly one of the key challenges that the Government face in bringing forward these proposals. That is why it formed one of the most important areas in our report; we wanted to have some certainty that the UK could indeed meet its air quality targets at the same time as addressing the need for people to travel by air.
The element of risk in this whole process is an important point. The Committee identified many risks. In the event of a delay or the project not going forward, would it not make sense for the Government to consider using alternative provision where there is capacity at other airports, such as Gatwick and Stansted? There is a real risk with this project and we cannot end up in a situation in which nothing happens.
My hon. Friend made a fantastic contribution to the work of the Committee in developing this report. He is right. There are two issues in relation to his point. First, the NPS is scheme-specific, so if for any reason it does not go ahead, that limits the Government’s options. Having said that, even if it does go ahead in the best possible scenario, it would not be open until 2026. That is why one of our recommendations —I will come to this later—is about the better use we make of all our regional airports and what needs to be put in place.
We welcome the overall tone of the Government’s response to our report, which was published on Tuesday. It is clear that they have, in principle, taken on board much of our report and clearly acknowledged what we were trying to achieve. The Committee still needs to do more detailed analysis of the Government’s response—we want to be sure that the substance matches the rhetoric. I do not believe that accepting our recommendations in principle is enough. Hon. Members need to decide whether we can just rely on the planning process to provide these necessary safeguards and guarantees, to protect communities and passengers. The parliamentary approval stage of the planning process is designed specifically to set the criteria for approval. It should then be up to Heathrow to meet those requirements.
I want to take this opportunity to explain why the Committee made our recommendations. First, we wanted to ensure that the supporting evidence was robust and accurately reflected in the NPS. We wanted to ensure that MPs are well informed. It is impossible to know with absolute certainty what the exact impacts of this scheme will be but, given the political gravity of the issue, we wanted to ensure that MPs were fully informed of the potential scale of costs and benefits.
Although we accepted the Government’s high-level arguments in favour of their preferred scheme, our investigations revealed that the north-west runway’s advantage over the other schemes considered was not perhaps as wide as was set out. In some cases, the comparative advantage to not expanding at all was small. The strategic case for the north-west runway rests primarily on it delivering more routes to a greater number of destinations, and at greater frequencies, than the other schemes. Our detailed analysis of the Department for Transport’s forecasts revealed that the future passenger growth, destination and route offering at the UK level is broadly similar over the longer term, compared with the other schemes. Most of the passenger growth generated from the north-west runway scheme will be accounted for by outbound leisure passengers and transfer passengers, who offer fewer direct economic benefits to the UK economy. The Government’s own forecasts show that business passenger growth is negligible compared with no expansion.
The anticipated growth in connections to Heathrow is a key reason why the north-west runway scheme has garnered considerable support from regions away from London and the south-east, but there is a concern that the Government do not have the policy levers to guarantee that a proportion of the new slots created will be allocated to domestic routes into Heathrow. Given the costs currently anticipated for the north-west runway scheme, there is a possibility that domestic routes from Heathrow would not be commercially viable. It should also be acknowledged that an expanded Heathrow would abstract growth from non-London regions, with over 160,000 fewer direct international flights each year compared with a no-expansion scenario. This is a nationally significant infrastructure project. It must work for the whole nation and not just for London.
Our analysis shows that there would be fewer direct international flights from other airports if Heathrow expansion goes ahead, because there is a clear demand from airlines for slots at Heathrow—a demand that cannot be met because it is currently operating at capacity.
The benefits and costs in the economic case for the north-west runway are finely balanced, and we uncovered some shortcomings in the way the Department for Transport had completed its analysis. Although there are wider economic benefits that are not captured as part of the case, there are also environmental and social costs that are not monetised.
More significantly, the case rests on the scheme being delivered by 2026, and at capacity by 2028. We heard evidence of factors that might prevent delivery of the scheme. We also heard that the Department’s assumption that capacity would be filled within two years of opening was implausible and inconsistent with Heathrow’s own plans. In the Minister’s reply, I would be grateful if he confirmed whether the Government updated the airport’s NPS to reflect the relatively small difference in strategic and economic benefits of the schemes considered, and whether they have fully corrected the shortcomings we identified in how they completed their appraisal.
According to the Government’s analysis, the financial and delivery risks of the north-west runway are the highest of the schemes considered. One of the main delivery risks that our inquiry identified was airspace change. The airspace change required to facilitate the north-west runway is significant, and although it may be deliverable from a technical or safety point of view, the reality is that such change has proved extremely difficult to implement because of its impact on populations beneath routes.
The Civil Aviation Authority is of the view that more substantive reform is required if the change needed to accompany the north-west runway can be delivered in full. We therefore recommended that the Government outline their intended policy approach to delivering airspace change for their preferred scheme as a priority. Is the Minister confident that the airspace change required for the scheme can be delivered in full? What specific reforms do the Government intend to implement to ensure that occurs?
The environmental and community impacts of the north-west runway are by far the greatest of the schemes considered. Our Committee was concerned that the numbers presented by the Government in the draft NPS and the supporting documents did not present the full picture of those possible impacts. Arguably, the future noise impacts present the greatest area of uncertainty for the scheme. Although modern planes are undoubtedly quieter, noise is a key concern for communities, and high exposure to noise can have a serious impact on people’s health.
The Department’s approach to presenting noise exposure nets out the winners and losers from noise changes, but the reality is that community acceptability is more often shaped by the losers who experience new or increased noise. The evidence shows that more than 300,000 people could be newly affected by significant noise annoyance from an expanded Heathrow.
The analysis presented also uses a higher threshold for noise annoyance than is consistent with the Department’s guidance. Using the lower threshold takes the total number of people in the noise annoyance footprint to more than 1.15 million. Our investigation found that the Department’s estimates are likely to be towards the lower end of the scale of potential impacts, and called for greater clarity in presentation.
Noise has real effects on people’s daily lives. It is essential that MPs are fully informed about the scale of the impacts from the scheme when reaching their decisions. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain why the Department has not included those numbers in the latest iteration of its sustainability appraisal.
During our inquiry, a great deal of attention focused on the surface access needs of the airport now and in the future. We commend the Government for expressing policy support for the southern and western rail access, as per recommendation seven in our report. Those schemes are important to achieve modal shift for the two-runway airport and are critical if the north-west runway scheme is to be delivered without having a perverse knock-on effect on other parts of the surface access network.
However, the eventual impact of a north-west runway on road congestion and rail capacity is still highly uncertain, because no comprehensive surface access assessment was published alongside the draft NPS to understand what it would be. We welcome the Government’s publication of figures on the impact that an expanded Heathrow would have in terms of the number of cars on the road, although they have still not published a full assessment. Those figures show that by 2030, if unmitigated, there will be a 33% increase in the number of vehicles on the road with a new runway. Can the Minister explain what surface access schemes are included when modelling those figures, and whether the Department has assessed the surface access schemes that are required to ensure that there will be no more cars on the road, as pledged by Heathrow airport?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Does she agree that the Minister needs to acknowledge that the western rail link to Heathrow is not incumbent on whether we have a third runway? That scheme needs to happen forthwith regardless. More than 20% of the UK population will be within one interchange of our busiest airport. The Government committed to the scheme six years ago, but it has still not seen the light of day. It is imperative, and I hope that she and the Minister will confirm that.
My hon. Friend has been a real campaigner for western rail access, and he was well represented on the Committee by other hon. Members who share that view, including my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport.
Our Committee also called for the sections of the draft NPS that deal with air quality to be revised before the final NPS was tabled. The air quality impact on nearby populations had been estimated only within the immediate 2 km vicinity of Heathrow airport, and had not been updated since 2015. The population impact assessments still do not appear to be updated in the final version of the NPS, and I would be grateful if the Minister could explain why.
It will be for hon. Members to judge whether the balance of potential benefits and costs of the proposed north-west runway is sufficient to approve the NPS. If they are to make an informed judgement, they need the full suite of facts to be on the table. That is why we recommended that the Government comprehensively update the evidence base and the final version of the NPS to accurately reflect the balance of evidence.
We also wanted to ensure that the conditions of approval in the NPS provided enough safeguards for the environment and for affected communities. Air quality was recently described by four Select Committees as a “national health emergency”. It is therefore vital to demonstrate that airport expansion is compatible with tackling that emergency. The NPS states that the north-west runway scheme will be legally compliant on opening, but it does not say that the UK’s legal air quality obligations are at a high risk of being breached between 2026 and 2029.
Legal air quality compliance for the scheme rests on national air quality measures being implemented in full. Three consecutive successful legal challenges do not instil a great deal of confidence in the Government’s ability to deal with air quality effectively. We recommended that the Government adopt a more stringent interpretation of legal compliance in the NPS to protect against the inherent uncertainty of modelling future air quality compliance. Are the Government confident that their interpretation of air quality compliance will be the same as that of the courts, given that there will almost certainly be a judicial review?
On noise impacts, we recommended that the Government define an acceptable noise limit that reflects a maximum acceptable number of people newly exposed to noise due to the north-west runway scheme. The Government have not done so, and I hope the Minister will explain how he can be confident that the noise impacts of the scheme can be effectively mitigated without clear targets in place. What safeguards will there be for communities that are concerned about the potential scale of noise impacts?
Noise is a key issue for my local constituents. Does the hon. Lady share my concern that hundreds of thousands of people will be brought under the Heathrow noise footprint who have no idea that that will happen, because neither the Government nor Heathrow have been honest with the communities that will be affected? The flight paths have not been published and we have no idea who will be affected. We simply know that many hundreds of thousands of people will be affected and that they will not be given a chance to make their views known before the decision is taken. Does that not strike her as fundamentally immoral, unethical and wrong?
The hon. Gentleman is of course concerned about the impact on his constituents. I think that he is right, and the Committee identified that only one set of flightpaths was used in the NPS. Of course it is important that people understand who might be affected and how they might be affected before we reach a decision. That was precisely why we asked for more evidence to be presented on the scale of noise impacts.
On surface access, we recommended that a condition be included in the NPS that ensures approval can be granted only if the target for no more airport-related traffic can be met. Heathrow has ambitious targets for modal shift, as it aims to increase the proportion of passengers and staff travelling to the airport by public transport. While there is a plan for significant investment in London’s transport network, whether that will be sufficient to cope with the extra demand remains uncertain. Without the condition recommended by our Committee, what incentive or enforcement mechanism will be in place to ensure that Heathrow meets its pledge?
Unlike the Government, Transport for London has done a lot of work on this issue. The substantial improvements to public transport—Crossrail and the upgrade of the Piccadilly line—will be made to deal with additional pressures in London that are already priced in. Not only is there this huge bill for £10 billion to £15 billion that ultimately the public will have to pick up, but London is losing out by losing that additional capacity, and neither of those absolutely vital factors appear to have been taken into account by the Government; I hope that they have been by the Committee.
My hon. Friend is right that the Committee will look closely at what the surface access needs are. It is fair to say that in the evidence we have heard there was considerable disagreement between the Government and Heathrow Ltd, and Transport for London. However, it is clear that if additional investment is needed the airport would be required to make a contribution to cover the costs of those improvements that would impact on their passengers and workers.
Our support was premised on suitable mitigations being in place to offset impacts on local communities affected by noise, health and social impacts. Now is the time to set the criteria and the limits of environmental impacts that Parliament deems necessary for the scheme to go ahead. That will enable the planning directorate to do its job and ensure that Heathrow’s detailed plans can be judged against the criteria set by Parliament.
Our Committee also wanted to ensure that the conditions of approval in the NPS provided enough safeguards for passengers. People will rightly say that this is a privately funded scheme, but investors expect a return on their capital. It is airlines and their passengers who will pay for that return and ultimately bear the financial risk of this scheme. The CAA has done some preliminary work on the scheme’s ability to be financed, but questions remain over whether it can be paid for without increasing charges for passengers. Heathrow is already the most expensive airport in the world, and the evidence we received suggests that if airport charges were to increase significantly the benefits of expansion would be diluted. Fewer passengers would use the airport and Heathrow’s competitiveness as a hub, particularly in comparison with its European counterparts, would be undermined.
The Secretary of State expressed his desire to keep charges flat, but desire is not enough; we recommend that it be translated into a firm condition of approval in the NPS. Every single airline that we heard from reiterated this view. The Government are relying on the CAA to meet their ambition to keep charges flat, but can the Minister give us confidence that that ambition will be achieved, given that history suggests that Heathrow’s charges have increased each time it has made a significant investment in infrastructure?
Our support was also premised on suitable measures being in place to guarantee benefits for regional passengers. There is a risk that domestic routes will be priced out of an expanded Heathrow and that the non-London regions and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be left with fewer direct connections from their own airports and potentially no new domestic slots into Heathrow. We recommended that the Government outline more clearly how they intend to secure 15% of new slots for domestic connections, including the policy levers they will use to achieve that target.
The Government have said that they believe most routes will be commercially viable and that public service obligations will be their main policy lever to secure domestic routes. Can the Minister explain how PSOs can be used to secure domestic slots, because I believe that they could be used only on a city-to-city basis, provided there is an overriding social need? What other mechanisms are available to secure slots for the regions and nations?
The final objective of our scrutiny was to ensure that any risks of a successful legal challenge were minimised. The north-west runway scheme can be legally challenged at two stages of the approvals process, the first of which is the immediate period after the NPS is designated by Parliament. A legal challenge can be mounted, not on the contents of the NPS document but on the way in which the consultation was conducted. We recommended that the evidence base be comprehensively updated and that its robustness be improved, to ensure that the consultation has been completed in a comprehensive manner and to avoid a successful legal challenge at the first hurdle. Is the Minister confident that he has done enough to address our concerns?
The scale of this project and the grounds upon which a legal challenge can be mounted suggest that there are still more hurdles for this scheme to overcome if it obtains Parliamentary approval. Even in a best-case scenario, a scheme is not going to be delivered until 2026. It is therefore essential that we make best use of the UK’s existing airport capacity in the interim, and our Committee has recommended that the Government develop a strategy to do so. Can the Minister tell us whether the Government intend to develop and implement such a strategy, so that aviation growth can continue across the country while the Heathrow scheme is being developed?
In conclusion, the Committee’s support for the north-west runway was conditional on the concerns that we identified in our report being addressed by the Government in the final NPS laid before Parliament. The Committee has not yet had the opportunity to discuss whether we believe our conditions have been met. Ultimately, it is for every Member to form their own judgment on the Government’s proposal. I hope that our report has provided Members with a strong foundation upon which to make that judgment.
Sir David, it is a particular pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, on the eve of the 35th anniversary of our election to Parliament. It strikes me that we have been discussing this subject for most of those 35 years.
Sir David, you represent a constituency on one side of the Thames estuary and I represent a constituency on the other side. You and I are both fully aware of the discussions in the mists of time relating to Maplin Sands, and more recently those relating to Boris island. I think it is fair to say that we could probably agree, although I would not wish to drag you into the argument, that neither of those proposals was worth the back-end of the envelope that they were written on.
I am concerned about much of this matter. I pay huge tribute to the Chairman of the Select Committee, Lilian Greenwood, and indeed to her predecessor, Mrs Ellman. Together with their Committees, they have put an enormous amount of hard work into diligently scrutinising the proposals that we are considering this afternoon. I am extremely grateful to them for the work they have done, as I am sure all colleagues are.
This morning, colleagues who have opened their emails will have received a letter from Sir Howard Davies, the former chairman of the Airports Commission, and Sir John Armitt, a former commissioner at the Airports Commission and is now the Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission. In that letter, Sir Howard and Sir John say:
“The UK benefits from the third largest international aviation network in the world after the US and China;
London has the largest origin and destination market of any city in the world;
and Heathrow until 2013 served more international passengers than any other airport and even now is surpassed only by Dubai…the continuation of this success cannot be taken for granted, and the rise of Dubai is only one indicator of the risks that the UK faces. … As other hub airports in Europe and beyond continue to expand, the impression created is one of the UK being increasingly inward-facing and having limited ambition to expand its reach, even as it navigates the uncertainty caused by its impending departure from the European Union. Now should be the time to build on our strengths, not to diminish them, but preventing expansion at Heathrow would achieve only the latter.”
I am not remotely unsympathetic to the concerns expressed by colleagues representing seats in west and south London. My daughter has a home in Chiswick under the flightpath to Heathrow. I am a sufficiently infrequent overnight stayer not to have become acclimatised to the air traffic, so I understand what it means, and I also have considerable concern for the quality of the air that my six-year-old grandson, Soren, will breathe during the course of his young life.
That said, I support the proposals that the Government laid before the House on Tuesday, although two issues have to be addressed. Curiously, the Select Committee to some extent skated over them. The first issue is the timescale. Eight years seems wildly optimistic to me. I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would bet a gold sovereign that there will not be wheels on tarmac at any new runway at Heathrow inside 15 years. The other issue is freight, which was not mentioned to any degree in either the Secretary of State’s remarks on Tuesday or the Select Committee report. I will touch on both those points in the context of another airfield that is and should be available to us.
On Tuesday, the Secretary of State said that
“a new operational runway at Heathrow is still a number of years away.”
He says eight years; I have said 15. He continued:
“The Airports Commission recommended that there would also be a need for other airports to make more intensive use of their existing infrastructure”.
He went on to say that
“the Government support other airports making best use of their existing runways.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 642, c. 171.]
Heathrow handles more freight than any other port in the country, but Heathrow is full. Even allowing for a growth in belly cargo, the capacity to handle more at Heathrow is non-existent. Gatwick is largely but not exclusively a holiday airport. It does not handle much belly cargo and has little freight capacity. Stansted has the capacity to some extent, but the turnaround time is eight hours, which is unacceptable for perishable goods. There is one airport in the south-east—Manston, in Kent—that is capable of turning around a freight aircraft in an hour and a half, has the capacity, has the runway and could bridge the gap. I want to direct attention to that this afternoon, very briefly.
Manston airport was operational until 2013. In November 2013, it was obtained for £1 by Mrs Ann Gloag, one of the shareholders in Stagecoach. She rang me on
The point of my case this afternoon is that we have a gap that we have to bridge. Today, we are losing business—not tomorrow, next week, next month or next year, but today—to Frankfurt, Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle and Dubai, as Sir Howard said in his letter.
I am impressed by my hon. Friend’s passion for Manston, despite some of the challenges. He talks about competitiveness and how we are losing business to other European countries and further afield, including Dubai, but does he accept that if landing charges per passenger go up to £31, £32 or possibly even £40 from their already very high level of £22 to £23, the third runway at Heathrow will drive even more business away from this country?
For the sake of argument, I will accept the point my hon. Friend is making, but it is safe to say that my argument is that I am concerned about UK Ltd and post-Brexit freight. As a country, we will have to develop markets in the middle east, Asia, the far east, Africa and South America if we are going to survive in a post-Brexit modern economy. We will have to have air freight capacity to handle high-value goods coming in and going out. There is nowhere within striking distance of London for those goods to go.
I freely concede that regional airports can and will play some part in helping to solve the problem, but the problem is massive, and if we do not solve it now and we lose Manston airport as a potential freight hub, we will live to regret it. Once it is gone, it can never be retrieved. It is a national asset, not a local asset, and it has to be regarded as such. I hope and expect that when a development consent order goes in for Manston airport, the Planning Inspectorate will have cognisance of the Secretary of State’s remarks on Tuesday that we must use the available runway capacity. We have to hang on to Manston. If we can do that and use the capacity of our regional airports, we can stem the flow of business to other countries and bridge the gap, but that gap will be a large one.
I support the proposal for Heathrow. I think it is necessary, although I suspect that in fairly short order we may find that we need another runway at Gatwick as well as Heathrow, not instead of. In the interim, we have to make the best use of what we have, and what we have right on our doorstep and available is Manston airport.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I, too, congratulate the Transport Committee and its Chair on an excellent piece of work unpicking the details of the case for the third runway. I may not agree with the overall conclusion to support a third runway, but that conclusion was heavily caveated. I support the detailed work that was done. It is impartial and well-evidenced, and the 25 recommendations are spot on.
On Tuesday, the Secretary of State released the final airports national policy statement. He is telling Members that he agreed with the Transport Committee on 24 of its 25 recommendations, but he did not. Answering demands for specific detailed information with a fudge, or a “wait and see”, is not agreeing with recommendations. The Government have decided to go ahead despite the evidence to the contrary, much of it embedded in the Committee’s report.
I want to bring the debate back to my constituency and the many other constituencies around Heathrow. The third runway will be bad news for the communities affected. It is not a few hundred people or a few hundred homes; up to 2 million people and more than 1 million homes will experience more noise than they do at present. A third runway means locally that tens of thousands of homes that do not currently experience significant noise—noise at the level that the daughter of Sir Roger Gale experiences in Chiswick—will have planes overhead.
Many people in Heston, Osterley, Brentford, the north side of Chiswick and through into the constituency of my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter and on into Kensington do not have planes overhead on their final approach every 60 to 90 seconds for much of the day, but they will. Most of those people, as has already been said, do not know that the approach path will be over their heads or that the planes are locked into their final approach from six to 30 nautical miles out. There cannot be any variation on the approach 70% of the time when the planes are operating on a westerly approach.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point about the unpredictability of the flight paths, which as yet NATS has not disclosed. Does she agree that before we proceed with any third runway we need to have cast-iron guarantees, particularly on a 6.5-hour ban on night flights, and stringent application of air quality control and noise limits?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and so does the Transport Committee. The Government seem to be softening their previous commitment to an absolute night flight ban of 6.5 hours. That really concerns me—it is one of a number of commitments on which the Government appear to be reneging.
The hon. Lady is right to be sceptical. Those of us living close to the airport know that Heathrow Airport Limited recently proposed to start effectively normal operations from 5.30 am, but dressed it up as part of some sort of night flights ban for which we should all be extremely grateful. There is constantly a challenge of doublespeak. When Sydney airport opened its third runway, there was huge controversy around the fact that residents were simply not told how they would be affected by noise. That is exactly the mistake that we are making here.
The right hon. Lady is right. There is absolutely no reason why the Government and Heathrow airport cannot draw a straight line east and west of the third runway site for at least six to 13 miles. Irrespective of the NATS wider flight path revisions, by the time the planes are overhead in my constituency, they are locked into a final approach and there can be no variation. Therefore, if we know where the runway is, we know where the final approach is. Neither the Government nor the airport have had the courtesy to produce a map to show to people in Heston, Osterley, Brentford, Chiswick and Hammersmith. I really think that they should.
Up to 2 million people will experience more noise, and 300,000 more people will experience significantly more noise than they do at the moment. They are looking at planes, but generally not hearing them very loudly at the moment. Those people will start experiencing noise at the level currently experienced in parts of Isleworth, West Hounslow, Kew, Putney and so on.
The expansion will also mean around 50% more traffic movements on an already severely congested network, with the associated air pollution and the economic cost of the delays of that congestion. When we talk about traffic movements, we are not just talking about passengers. Any transport modelling must factor in all the other movements in and out of the airport, including those who work there, flight crew, flight servicing and, of course, cargo. Much of flight servicing and cargo cannot go on any route other than by road. Many of us just laugh at Heathrow’s claim that it can increase capacity with a third runway without increasing road travel.
I understand that the Minister told the House this morning—I am sorry I could not be there; I was on constituency business—that he does not recognise the £10 billion figure that was suggested by Transport for London as the cost of essential transport infrastructure. I gather that he then said words to the effect of, “It’ll be all right because the Elizabeth line, or Crossrail, and west and southern rail access will deal with the pressure of expansion.” As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith rightly said, those routes will deal only with current airport demand and population growth in the region.
Transport for London is very clear that the Elizabeth line, or Crossrail, will provide little modal shift from roads. The other two schemes have been ideas and plans since terminal 5 was constructed, and are still no further forward, particularly because the Government have not committed to putting any public funding into them. All three schemes are needed right now to deal with Heathrow’s appallingly low levels of public transport access. When it comes to a cap on the increase in airport-related traffic, the Government cannot get away with referring just to passengers.
The Transport Committee requested a minimum average period of seven hours of respite a night. The national policy statement does not change the initial Government proposal of a 6.5-hour ban. Even this week, the Government are saying that the NPS
“does not preclude consideration of different options.”
We are very worried about that. That sounds to me like going back on the night flight commitment.
I want to address the point about jobs, which trade unions and Labour colleagues often raise with me. There will of course be more jobs created at Heathrow—Heathrow Airport Limited said yesterday that there would be 14,000. I am not denying that there is some unemployment in our region, particularly of young people, but of all areas of the UK, our sub-region around Heathrow airport probably has among the lowest levels of unemployment.
The Transport Committee said that a lot of the new jobs creation promised by runway three will be displaced jobs. If anybody wants to know what the job situation is at Heathrow at the moment, just go on to Heathrow airport’s jobs recruitment site. It is looking for hundreds of people—low skilled, middle skilled and highly skilled—for all sorts of jobs. There is a recruitment crisis in west London and the Thames Valley, which is being exacerbated by Brexit. The jobs problem that we have at the moment, particularly at Heathrow, is one of too many low-skilled, zero-hours, poorly paid jobs with poor conditions. I congratulate Heathrow Airport Limited on signing a commitment to the London living wage, but it cannot control all the various employers in and around Heathrow. There are regions of the UK that need those jobs far more than London. West London and the Thames Valley have many other growth sectors.
Those of us near Heathrow are used to the record of broken and watered down promises on Heathrow. I have been at this game for 16 years now. This week, the final NPS ignored the detail of many of the Transport Committee’s recommendations and has watered down previous commitments on the night flight ban, the cap on total flight numbers, and the cap on the charges to airlines if costs escalate. Runway three and continuing traffic congestion will mean that children and older people will carry on dying of respiratory failure as air pollution continues to escalate—some of that from aeroplanes; a lot of that from traffic.
What of the impact on UK plc? Much of the case for a third runway at Heathrow implies that the future of aviation is in the hub model, linking short-haul routes to long-haul through the hub and spoke model. However, the Transport Committee had very mixed evidence on the hub issue, with many reputable witnesses pointing out that point-to-point travel is growing, and will grow, faster than hub travel, particularly with the relatively recent emergence of the long-haul Dreamliner plane, selling far better than the enormous A380s. Moreover, the Transport Committee identified what the Department for Transport did not: that Gatwick is growing its long-haul destinations, and aims to have 50 long-haul destinations soon, so Gatwick could become a secondary London hub.
We have heard already that all bar four domestic routes will struggle without Government protection. That will add to the cost to the public purse of Heathrow expansion. The Secretary of State as good as admitted that when he released the NPS. He said that Birmingham airport will face “greater competitive pressures” as a result of runway three. Furthermore, the Transport Committee found that long-haul international routes from Scotland and northern airports are more likely to survive commercially if there is no additional runway in the south-east.
Despite promises to MPs, the Transport Committee report showed that all the growth in passenger numbers are outbound leisure travellers—that is, yet more Brits taking their holiday pound away from Britain’s beautiful places, which would really benefit from more tourists. The Committee said that if the UK is to comply with its commitment to cut carbon dioxide emissions, then if runway three goes ahead, growth will have to be curbed at all other UK airports. Furthermore, other sectors of the economy face serious reductions and restraints to keep UK carbon emissions within the limits.
Why should whole swathes of London and the south-east pay the price of yet more noise, increased congestion, worse pollution, and a greater safety risk? Why should other sectors of the economy have to further curb their carbon emissions when, according to the Transport Committee report, a third runway at Heathrow shows poor value for money for the UK and no additional international connectivity? It will mean that non-UK regions risk losing their connections to London without subsidy. They will lose direct international connections and their tourist pounds.
I just wanted to clarify one point. My hon. Friend said that the Transport Committee had said that there would be less international direct connectivity. That is not the case. We said that there was not a huge increase with the expansion of the north-west runway than there would be under other expansion options. It is worth pointing out that direct international connectivity for non-London airports will increase under an expansion scenario, but it will not increase as much as it would have if there was no expansion.
I apologise to the Committee Chair if I got that wrong; I will double check the facts. I would certainly agree that the growth of direct international connectivity is not dependent on another runway at Heathrow. In fact, I believe that there will be only one additional destination from Heathrow with a third runway. Much of the increased demand will be, as I have said, outbound leisure tourists adding to existing routes that are already heavily used. That is where most of the demand will be and not, as Heathrow keeps saying, to newly emerging destinations. It can say that as much as it likes, but unless the demand is truly there to sustain the new routes, they are not going to happen.
Why risk sucking capital funding that is needed for essential regional transport infrastructure and upgrading into yet another expensive project in London that actually does little for the economy? By pushing for runway three, the Government are just writing a blank cheque on behalf of the UK taxpayer or the passenger, while further undermining an already poor environment for large parts of London and the south-east.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I start by paying tribute to the work of the Transport Committee. Having had an interest in this area for many years, I can honestly say that it has delved into the detail behind the proposal more thoroughly than I have seen in the past, and I very much welcome that.
I recognise that what has been said is that there are some conditions that it is yet to be proven can be met in order for the third runway to go ahead. I think that is very much like saying, “Two plus two could potentially equal eight; we haven’t worked out how that will ever be possible, but let’s suspend reality for long enough to be able not to have to take a decision that confronts facts.”
We have a long-standing issue in my constituency of Putney, Roehampton and Southfields, similar to those in the constituencies of many hon. Members who will contribute to this debate today, of noise in particular, and night-time noise especially. The proposed loss of respite—it is already for only half the day and will go down to just a third—will really damage my local community’s quality of life. This is not some minor thing to be disposed of. My constituents, like many other Londoners, are those who head in on the tube every day to keep this city going; to be in those roles that make this a capital city that generates taxation receipts that help the rest of the country, as well as Londoners, with the public services we all rely on.
Our environmental challenges are much more than noise. Air pollution has become a serious issue in London in recent years. Putney High Street is one of the worst offenders for air pollution. In the 21st century, my community is concerned about the air that we breathe; we have no choice about that when we come out of our doors. Many communities living more immediately around Heathrow and in the M4 vicinity find themselves in a similarly impossible situation, and they rely on government at local level, City Hall level and national level to fix that.
I could make a very long speech but I am going to try to keep it short, in order to demonstrate how utterly bankrupt this proposal is in practice. I yet wait for people to present me with facts that prove that somehow this is a good idea. Even the updated appraisal analysis released by the Department for Transport earlier this week shows that in the long run Gatwick is a better, higher net public value proposal than Heathrow, and it is lower risk. It takes some kind of perverse logic to pick the lower value, higher risk project that is double the cost. I do not understand the logic. When I was a Minister, I always tried to rely on an evidence base, but I simply have never found the evidence to back up Heathrow expansion. Spurious, high-level, strategic points are always made, which fall apart when we get into the detail.
We keep hearing about extra capacity. That fundamentally misses the point that there are diseconomies of scale in building a third runway. Heathrow is already the most expensive airport in the world. For an airport where a third runway would basically double its capacity, the problem of average runway cost gets worse. That is precisely why we are seeing many of our regional links and emerging market links under pressure. Heathrow airport used to have a direct link to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania—it does not any more. We used to have a direct link to Lusaka—we do not any more. That is because those slots are always worth more to companies that want to fly to New York. The same holds for our regional airports, which have seen their slots under pressure. My point is that that would get worse when the next runway to be built is even more expensive and puts pressure all over again on the routes where it is worst.
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful case. She keeps referred to a “third runway,” but it strikes me that actually what Heathrow will be building is half a runway, because it will not operate at night—unless of course the Government breach their original commitment to have no night flights. Not only will it be expensive, but it will be only half a runway, and those costs will be passed on to the passengers and the airlines, who will not want to fly there.
My understanding, when I looked at the detail previously, was that the runway, because it is inevitably being shoehorned into a small site—even the Government response rules out a fourth runway—cannot actually take the biggest category planes. If that became the mode of transport of the future, they would not be able to use that third runway.
I have real concerns about this project. Heathrow’s plan for a third runway has been knocking around for 20-plus years, which tells us everything we need to know about it. It is a 20th century strategy that has never been reassessed, even though, as Ruth Cadbury pointed out, we are now in the 21st century. The Dreamliner point-to-point will be the aviation transport model of the future, combined with, dare I say it, the entry of low-cost carriers into that market, which will want to fly out of low-cost airports, not the most expensive airport in the world—airports that are close to people at a regional level, to provide connectivity on their doorstep, not an airport that is hundreds of miles from where people live, for example where I grew up just outside Sheffield in south Yorkshire. Why should people in those communities have to travel all the way to London to take advantage of the connections that in the 21st century our country ought to be able to have from other airports?
My right hon. Friend is making a typically brilliant, forensic speech. It only heaps on the frustrations for those of us that know that the argument is so clear. She and I have together held many public meetings on the issue, and we are often asked, as are colleagues in other parties, why it is that, given that the economic case between Heathrow and Gatwick is more or less the same and the connectivity benefits are more or less the same, the Government have chosen the option that is most polluting, most disruptive, most unpopular, most expensive, most legally complex and therefore hardest to deliver. The only answer I have ever been able to come up with, because there is no logical answer, is crony capitalism. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that going with this absurd off-the-shelf solution that has been hanging around for decades and has been consistently discredited—it is more discredited today than it was 10 years ago—is doing huge harm to the credibility of this Government?
Unfortunately, there is a risk that my hon. Friend is right. It is impossible not to note that the former Treasury Minister Lord Deighton was in charge of infrastructure, and then within about a year of leaving the Department he popped up at Heathrow Airport Ltd. Why, despite all the evidence, is it never recognised that this project is utterly flawed?
The Airports Commission’s work had to be updated by the Government because its passenger numbers were completely wrong. I went to see Sir Howard to tell him that when the Airports Commission published its interim report. It failed to address that issue in the final report, and then the DFT had to update the Gatwick passenger numbers. I have been to see DFT Ministers to tell them that, too.
The Airports Commission changed its definition of what constitutes a new destination after its interim report. In the interim report, it said that a new destination is just a new destination. The problem it had with that definition is that it showed that cheaper Gatwick would have loads more destinations when it expanded than very expensive Heathrow—what a surprise. Of course airlines would use Gatwick if it is so much cheaper, and of course they would try to codeshare. They might try the Lusaka route for Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and then the Dar es Salaam route for the rest of the week, to see which one makes money. That is called good innovation and product development, but unfortunately that did not fit the predetermined decision to expand Heathrow. Therefore, by the end of the final Airports Commission report, the definition of connectivity and new destinations had changed. For a destination to be counted as a new destination, planes have to go there seven days a week, but that does not capture emerging market destinations, which inevitably start off as a service of perhaps a couple of days a week. That disadvantaged Gatwick from the word go, and I believe it was changed to push Heathrow’s weak case to the top of the list.
This polluting, expensive project does not just affect my local community. Members of Parliament representing northern and Scottish seats should be aware of the pressure it will put on transport infrastructure spend across the whole country. TfL says that it will cost an extra £10 billion to £15 billion. London does not want to spend that transport money on Heathrow airport expansion. We want it to lift the rest of the country, but it will be snaffled up for an infrastructure programme on our doorstep that we do not want.
My hon. Friend Zac Goldsmith mentioned public meetings. I have been in public meetings with Heathrow representatives. At the last one they came to, a couple of years ago, they were asked about promises they had made at previous public meetings and in previous expansion proposals but then broken. They were also asked about why they could not simply get on with banning night flights. They told us that those promises should never have been made. My community was staggered to hear a representative of Heathrow Airport Ltd say that they had been cavalier about their promises. They said, “Well, it was a different set of management then. Why should we be beholden to them? Managers come and go.”
That private sector company—I spent 15 years working in the private sector—understandably wants a growth plan, but let us be absolutely clear that it comes at the expense of everything and everyone else. It comes at the expense of regional airports, which would not have the number of international flights that they would have done. It comes at the expense of our environment and local communities. It comes at the expense of transport infrastructure investment, which would have been there not only for London but for the rest of the country. There are virtually no upsides.
The plan might also come at the expense of Heathrow’s viability. If we cannot meet the air pollution limits, if so many people complain about the noise that the flightpaths have to be reworked, as happened in Sydney, or if the Civil Aviation Authority concludes that the flightpath work makes it hard to fit so many more flights across London’s sky safely, and therefore we cannot have as many as we want, the company will have spent £18 billion on a third runway that it will be unable to use fully. That would be a problem for all of us but, as I have shown in recent days, it will land on taxpayers’ doorsteps.
I hope that the Minister will finally correct the record and say that the clause on cost recovery—the poison pill clause, as I call it—which Heathrow Airport Ltd put in its statement of principles, is not in the other statements of principles. Heathrow Hub tweeted that out very clearly today. It is beyond me why the Department for Transport would ever have allowed that clause to go into the statement of principles.
This is a 20th-century hub strategy in a 21st-century point-to-point world. It is clear that in a modern Britain the whole of the UK needs an airport strategy. There is nothing national about this national policy statement. It is an out-of-date strategy for an out-of-date airport. We need a proper 21st-century, point-to-point, regional airport-based strategy to really put connectivity on the doorstep of millions of people outside London, including in Scotland. That would really be an exciting prospect for connecting our island to the world. Why should businesspeople doing business in Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh have to fly to London and then travel up? It is time we have proper connectivity for people across the country, not just in London. Earlier this year we saw the very first direct flight from Sydney to London. I only hope that Ministers reflect on the fact that this is an old strategy in a new world. It is time to move into the new world and get a new strategy that will be successful in the 21st century.
I rise to speak in support of the report of the Transport Committee, of which I am a member. I will keep my comments brief. I thank my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood for her leadership of the Committee during this inquiry. I thank all the Clerks and officials who worked so hard in preparing the report. Without their work, it would not be so comprehensive a tome—Members have clearly been wading through it.
I am still reviewing the final national policy statement, which was published earlier this week, so I will confine my remarks to the three areas of concern I majored on in the Committee. The first is surface connectivity. Broadly, my view is, “Yes, but”, but the buts are very important. I do not believe that the NPS sets out a sufficiently ambitious plan for surface connectivity.
During our inquiry, the Government changed their position on western rail access, which I and my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi have been calling for since we entered the House a year ago. The Government’s backtracking and indecisiveness over western rail access is not conducive to getting the result we need for those areas. Especially for people coming from the far south-west, western rail access is absolutely pivotal for a two-runway world, let alone a three-runway world in the future. Building a new rail line from Reading to Heathrow makes good economic and transport sense, and it is hard to find anyone who does not agree with it. That is probably the core reason why it has not happened to date: there is no friction on western rail access to make it an issue that people debate. There is therefore no pressure on Ministers to fund it properly, so it has not happened to date, despite the near-universal agreement about it. That has to be resolved quickly.
Earlier this week, I asked the Secretary of State whether western rail access was fully funded. He replied that he believed that it was. However, I cannot see any pot of money to fund it in CP6; nor can I see the Heathrow contribution being sufficient to fund it; nor does the Secretary of State seem to have squirrelled away an extra pot of money to fund it. I would be grateful if the Minister told us where the fully funded pot of money for western rail access was, because it needs to happen.
I want to see more surface access to Heathrow. At present, the plans barely deal with the challenges of a two-runway world, let alone a three-runway world. That is really important. If we are to believe that the third runway will happen, we need a modal shift to deal with the threats to air pollution and to minimise the car use that we are expecting. That means that we need Ministers and Heathrow Airport Ltd to be more ambitious to achieve the potential of that.
I want to see Heathrow dig further into its pockets to pay for the surface access. I believe that Heathrow has a big pot of money that it should be arm-twisted into spending to improve such access, and that the money is being held back as part of the negotiation strategy, to offset further things during the planning process, especially the development consent order process. That money should clearly be spent on surface access now.
Does my hon. Friend have any faith in Heathrow shifting funding to surface access, given that the airport spent a lot of its money on a legal challenge to the original proposal for what is now called Crossrail or the Elizabeth line in order to protect Heathrow Express, which is not a lot of use in the modern world?
Heathrow Express is the most expensive rail line in the world in terms of ticket price. There is certainly an incentive to ensure that all surface access will be affordable and accessible. If there is to be a congestion charge around Heathrow, personally I would like more money to be spent on ensuring that every single tube station in west London and throughout the entire network is accessible for disabled people, who will find that a congestion charge makes getting to the airport too expensive in the first place.
The Government need to do much more. Furthermore, the rather odd way in which airports are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority means that there is no incentive on Heathrow to be more efficient, and that needs to be looked at. I would like to see some of that greater efficiency invested back into surface access—through Great Western, Heathrow Southern, improved bus access, the Piccadilly line upgrade, the Chiltern line, High Speed 2 and Crossrail, as well as much more besides—so that we genuinely achieve the modal shift necessary. Such a shift is essential if we are to deal with concerns about air quality. Casting our mind back a few years to the start of the Davies commission work, air quality was an issue, but not to the extent that it is today. It was not raised with the same ferocity as it would be today, and it did not have the same science and evidence behind it. Greater surface access should alleviate some concerns about air quality, but not all of them. If we get air quality right, we will probably get surface access right, and if we get surface access right, we will probably get air quality right. They go hand in hand.
The NPS and Heathrow’s own air quality plans need strengthening—the Select Committee dealt with that in our report. We only need to look at the NPS’s curiously out of date costs for oxides of nitrogen, or NOx, to understand why that needs to happen urgently. When the Davies commission first looked at airport expansion, air quality was not as big an issue as it is today, which means that we need different measures from those applied in the past.
The prominence of air quality is only going to increase, in west London, Piccadilly and Plymouth, and that is why it is so important for the Government and Heathrow to be bolder. Banning diesel cars by 2040 is a start but, if I am honest, it is a bit of a wet lettuce attempt at ambition. It should happen much sooner, with the target being brought forward, because the vast majority of concerns about air quality around Heathrow are caused by cars accessing the airport and servicing the individuals who work there.
Electric vehicles need to play a much bigger role. I was warmed and heartened to hear Heathrow talk about introducing more airside electric vehicles—the sheer buying power of that airport means that it could create a new market in airside electric vehicles—and I want to see such a plan drawn up. If Heathrow genuinely believes that, it needs to make that plan a core part of how it addresses air quality, and that needs to start with procurement and not just soundbites—it needs big, bold action now.
I also want to talk about airport charges. The expansion will in truth cost a fortune, and it will ultimately be down to passengers to pay for it. At the heart of this is the fact that people who fly from Heathrow will pay for the expansion. Yes, it may be cost-recovered to the airlines, but passengers will pay for the tickets that include the charges. The Secretary of State is broadly right to want no increase in charges, but the regulatory framework of the CAA is not sufficient to ensure that charges are kept low. The Government need to look at that in future, because I suspect that passengers will be paying more and more.
I found much merit in the idea of competition in terminal operation in the new expanded Heathrow—we are talking about not only a new runway but new terminals. To keep costs down at Heathrow, which will be the largest privately funded infrastructure project in the world, the basic tenets of a market economy need to kick in. Competition—not always welcome on my side of the House—for Heathrow, in the private sector, should be looked at. Competition over terminal operation could keep charges low at the airport. That is something that has been pushed not only by Willie Walsh and Surinder Arora but by many others. We need to keep that option on the table throughout the process.
I mentioned earlier the rather odd way in which Heathrow is regulated. The CAA incentivises expensive builds. It simply loads debt on to the regulated asset base, against which Heathrow can then generate profits to cover the borrowing. There is therefore no incentive to be efficient, creative or innovative, or to deliver schemes faster, better and cheaper. That needs to be addressed in the wider scheme, because although it is privately funded, there is a risk to the public sector if such incentives are not brought back in.
The promise made to the regions and nations by Heathrow is important, and must be delivered in the process. That promise must be delivered. Promises made to airports such as Newquay and Exeter in the far south-west must be delivered. If I am honest, I am still a bit curious about how that 15% of aviation can be allocated to regional airports under international law, but I shall leave that one for the Minister and Heathrow to address. However, we must ensure that we are safeguarding not only routes for Exeter and Newquay but future routes for the reopened Plymouth airport—routes from Plymouth to Heathrow would help to make Plymouth airport more viable in future.
Those promises made to the regions and nations of the country will be the bedrock of any vote taken by Members of Parliament in favour of Heathrow. However, my main concern when we were drafting the Select Committee report was whether any scheme would survive a legal challenge—unless the recommendations of the Transport Committee are addressed not only in the NPS element but in the DCO process. In fact, a lot of the detail adopted by the Government but shifted into the DCO process needs to be brought forward into the NPS part to provide certainty for people about what their future holds.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. Thank you for your generosity in allowing me to speak even though I arrived a couple of minutes later than I should have done at the beginning.
I feel impassioned about this issue, however, in defence not only of my constituents—whom of course I shall defend to the death—but of our national interest. The third runway is not in our national interest, and I shall make a few points about why.
I thank the Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood, for a fantastic report—I mean that, from the bottom of my heart. It has the statistics we require, the firm and clear analysis of the Government’s position and the national policy statement, and the supporting data necessary to make an informed judgment. I therefore thank the Chair and the Committee overall.
There are many reasons for the third runway not being in the national interest, but I shall mention three or four key ones. First, commissioning a scheme that creates the most expensive airport in the world at which planes can land is not in our national interest—it does not lead to greater competition, but to more business being driven elsewhere across Europe and the world. The idea that landing fees will rise, and that that is somehow a great benefit to our country, is completely misplaced. It is a naive thought and does not come from business perspective.
[David Hanson in the Chair]
The second issue is the viability of Heathrow to finance the scheme in the first place. I would not say that Heathrow Airport Ltd is in difficulty today—I would not wish to cast aspersions on it or its pretty decent profits—but if we look at its financials, the gearing ratio in particular, it is already sitting at about 87%. That is quite worrying. We were deeply disturbed when Thames Water was at, I think, 81%—we got very concerned about it. NATS was restricted by the CAA to just 65% gearing, but in the expansion scheme the Government are suggesting that somehow Heathrow should go all the way to about 91% gearing. That is a bizarre amount of pressure from the Government to create an unstable and financially unviable company or scheme.
That leads me to another point. We all sit here thinking, “Of course Heathrow really wants to develop this runway”—I am sure that is what the Department for Transport has thought all the way through and what lots of Members present think: that it really wants to develop the third runway. However, let me cast a note of doubt on that. Think of the obstacles, the huge legal challenges and the continuing political uncertainty. Heathrow will have to conduct the biggest waste clearance project in the history of Britain, other than after the second world war. That could cost £1 billion. It has to remove the energy-from-waste plant—or buy it, shut it down or do something with it—so that is another £1 billion. When Heathrow goes to its shareholders and investors and says, “We’d quite like about £20 billion to create half a runway, where you can only fly during the day but not at night, and we haven’t got clarity on how the slots will work or be allocated,” it is incredibly unlikely that those shareholders will stump up the money. Capital makes a choice about where it is deployed.
Is Heathrow Airport Ltd serious about building a third runway? I really question whether it is. If it gets the Secretary of State and the Government—a Conservative Government—to support a third runway, it shuts out the competition from other runways around the United Kingdom. Gatwick will not be able to develop its runway and everybody else will be left with uncertainty. There will be no further runway developments if Heathrow is given the go-ahead. If it is given the go-ahead, it may find reasons why it is not possible to raise the finance, do a waste clearance or meet the air quality legislation. Heathrow will be chuckling, because, if it does not build the runway and no one else can built a runway, it basically will have shut down expansion for the next 10 to 15 years. Guess what? Its landing fees will begin to rise, because there will be a capacity issue.
It is even better than that. If Heathrow happens to end up incurring any costs, it has a ready-made legal case to claim them back from the Government. All the risks have been mitigated for this private sector company.
My right hon. Friend is spot on, as ever. She made that point very clearly in the urgent question today and in the point of order yesterday. I support all her comments in both cases. What on earth is a Conservative Government doing underwriting a private business that is wholly owned by overseas shareholders anyway, on the basis that somehow that is in our national interest, when in fact it is completely against our comparative advantage in the airline sector?
Hon. Members from Scotland, Ireland or the regions may think, “This is a marvellous scheme, because we will have lots more routes open to us. Heathrow has been up to have a chat with us and a cup of coffee and brought us lovely chocolate biscuits and promised all sorts of goodies”—[Interruption.] Not chocolate biscuits; okay. Just look at the promises that Heathrow made before. I will not go through them now, but not one of those promises was ever met, even when it came down to the number of people who would be employed at the airport or the number of apprentices. Quite frankly, if I were Scottish or Northern Irish, I would not trust Heathrow as far as I could throw it. We have nothing in writing and nothing that is legally binding—we have less than was ever given for the fourth terminal or all sorts of other things—so I would be very cautious. Of course, hon. Members may be happy to march through the Lobby to support a Conservative Government—I can understand that.
The graph on page 31 of the report is quite telling about noise. We are talking about 323,000 people who will be hearing 51 dB of noise. They will not have heard that noise before, and yet they do not know who they are. Heathrow came to a meeting in my constituency in Ascot. It was roundly trashed all through the meeting, yet most of the people in the room were there because they were a bit annoyed about the existing noise, and they were not even under the flight path. They did not realise that potentially they will be under the flight path. How on earth can the decision be made when the people affected do not know that they will be affected? It is the wrong way round.
The promises are not worth anything, particularly when it comes to the slots, and I would be very cautious about believing them. If the Government give Heathrow permission to build the runway—I really do not understand their enthusiasm for committing to a single, private sector company that virtually holds a monopoly anyway; it is bizarre behaviour in terms of market economics—what will they do if Heathrow does not then build the runway? Is there a penalty clause for Heathrow? Will we charge it several billion pounds for pretending to want to do something that it then does not complete?
I notice that the recommendation for the Lakeside Energy from Waste plant, which is in my constituency, was the only one that the Government did not accept, giving just a single sentence—“Well, we don’t believe it’s a nationally significant venture.” Will the Minister publish the data on which that decision was based? The Lakeside Energy from Waste plant processes 40% of the hazardous waste in this country and is of enormous strategic importance, so I am surprised that no data was available for the public to see the basis on which the decision was made.
At what point will the Government back away from supporting a third runway at Heathrow? If it becomes clear that the required noise levels cannot be reached, will the Government back away and change their mind? If it becomes clear that the existing air quality legislation cannot be complied with, will they back away? If so, how will they change that decision? If it turns out that the Lakeside Energy from Waste plant will be shut down, causing a regional and possibly national issue, at what point will the Government change their mind?
I am cognisant that if the Government change their mind, possibly beyond the next 17 or 18 days, that may open up an enormous liability for the taxpayer, if Heathrow has been incurring costs from the moment that the national policy statement was published. Will the Minister explain how the Government allowed that clause, which applies only to the Heathrow proposal, not the Gatwick or other proposals, and which contains the very strange proposal to underwrite the cost incurred, whether or not the scheme goes ahead?
It is real pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hanson. It has been an enjoyable debate so far—it has cheered me up, as did the report from the Select Committee, ably chaired by my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood. It also cheers me up that, with each document we have collected from the Vote Office over the past week, we are further away from having this ridiculous third runway built than we were a week ago.
I share the incredulity of hon. Members on both sides of the House about this Government and successive Governments, but not the Committee, save in respect of its clinging to the conclusion despite its own evidence. I scratch my head and puzzle about why a private company that clearly does not have the interests of the population or the economy of this country at heart is constantly taking in Government after Government, despite the evidence presented to them again and again.
We have another Minister here who will get up and gamely defend the conclusions, which look increasingly threadbare. The Government have not just been an unfair referee biased towards one side; they have joined one team. They have closed their ears to the glaring anomalies, to anything inconvenient and to the negligence in many of these documents.
Justine Greening mentioned in her urgent question this morning the probity issue of giving indemnities to such a company. Sooner or later that will come to light and people will come to their senses. I hope that will happen in the next two weeks in the course of the vote. I will be interested to hear the comments from the Scottish National party and from colleagues from other regions of the country—not just London and the south-east—that are increasingly waking up to the problem. If we do not win the vote, I suspect we will come to our senses during the course of the very substantial legal proceedings over the next few years.
I hope that it does not take the actual fulfilment of the scheme, or the attempt to fulfil it, to show how misplaced it has been, because then we will have wasted not only huge sums of public money, but a huge opportunity, because there is a need for airport expansion, but in a way that is balanced throughout the UK and, as the right hon. Member for Putney says, is a national airport strategy. I cannot understand, with all the resources that the Department and the Government have, why they are settling for such a scheme.
I shall go back a few years to show how the arguments have changed. Those of us who represent constituencies affected by Heathrow used to be classified as nimbys. I do not think we mind being nimbys when we stand up for our constituents on a significant issue for which there is no justification on the other side. We are talking not about a small inconvenience, but about villages and hundreds of people’s homes being destroyed. My hon. Friend Luke Pollard talked about how air quality has real effects on people’s quality of life and actual survival. We must not put additional pressure on an area that already has some of the worst air quality in the country, and additional congestion in one of the most congested parts of the UK.
The M4-M25 junction is constantly the busiest part of the motorway network in the area, risking safety and health. Leaving even terrorism and the airline industry’s safety record aside, we will be attempting to fly over the most crowded and densely populated area that any airport serves. With three runways, there will be little opportunity to avoid a cataclysmic disaster in the event of a crash.
On the issue of noise, I sometimes wonder why we do not stop this farce at a time when the 28% figure is used: 28% of all serious noise caused to people living around airports in Europe is caused to people living around Heathrow, and the Government want to make that significantly worse. According to Transport for London and the Mayor of London, an additional 200,000 people will be seriously affected. I am not sure that would be countenanced in many other civilised countries, but we quite blithely seem to go forward with it. Those are the nimby arguments, and I do not apologise for such important arguments. On balance, they should have meant that we never considered Heathrow because there were alternatives. The obvious alternative, with none of those consequences, would be the expansion of Gatwick, but the argument has moved on, which is why we should be particularly grateful to the Select Committee
Most of the evidence that the Select Committee considered was more about the national situation and the economic case. Heathrow used to be trumpeted as being streets ahead in terms of the economic benefit, but shortly after the Committee reported it turned out that it was barely ahead and now appears to be some way behind Gatwick. That is a significant change. If I were an aviation Minister, I think I might stop and think about that and decide whether I was doing what was in the best interests of the economy of this country.
If we look at the increasing passenger numbers, taking out transfer passengers, the figures are finely balanced, perhaps in favour of Gatwick. If we look at destinations, it is the same thing. I will not repeat the points ably made by Adam Afriyie about the effect on regional airports and the fact that not only is there no guarantee that there will not be a loss of direct flights, as the Chair of the Committee has said, but that they will be competing for access into Heathrow with more lucrative flights, and we know the way Heathrow sells those flights. That is a disaster for the regions.
I think the Minister was in the House earlier in the week when the statement was made to hear Birmingham MPs asking why, when Birmingham Airport is going to be 30 minutes away from London and is the UK’s second city with one runway, do we want to put a third runway into Heathrow, particularly when most of the Members around that third runway are saying, “We do not want it. It is a ridiculous idea. Do not bring it here.” For all those reasons, I entirely endorse the conclusions that the Select Committee came to.
The right hon. Member for Putney raised the issue of risk in the main Chamber this morning. I am sure that the Minister will explain whether Heathrow was given beneficial treatment in that regard, relative to Gatwick, because I understand that is what he said in the main Chamber this morning. He perhaps needs to clarify that point.
I am increasingly annoyed by the way in which, without any evidence at all, the Government dismiss the evidence put forward by the Mayor and Transport for London. They know what they are talking about in relation to London’s transport network. They know how much pressure it is under and what the additional costs are likely to be. I have seen nothing to indicate that the Government have prepared their own robust figures on that. If they accept the TfL figures, or even part of those figures, will the Minister repeat the assurance that I think he gave to me this morning, which is that every single penny of additional cost and opportunity cost arising from the construction of a third runway, and indeed every aspect of risk, will be borne by the private developer and not by the Government? I do not know whether he can give such assurances.
I do not want to take up a huge amount of time, but I do think that the way Heathrow has conducted its case has been misleading. I have seen that for 30 years. We have seen that with the justifications for building additional terminals, the mitigation that does not happen and the promises that are constantly broken, and now we hear that those promises should never have been made in the first place. Well, that is a great comfort to my constituents, as I am sure the Minister can imagine.
On the issue of flight paths, how can the 2 million people who live around the Heathrow catchment area in west London possibly know what to expect? They are being sold a pig in a poke. One thing the Government could do is put pressure on NATS and on Heathrow to produce at least provisional flightpaths to show what the effect will be. Otherwise, the assumption is that things are being done deliberately so that people do not realise until it is too late what the consequences will be.
I entirely agree with what the hon. Member for Windsor said about the energy from waste plants: 450,000 tonnes a year of non-recyclable household and commercial waste, mostly serving NHS trusts. That is an essential facility and there is no provision for its replacement. Such inconveniences are simply ignored.
We got a letter today from the former chair of the Commission, which purported to look at the arguments against Heathrow, about why it dismissed them, but it did not. The arguments are perfectly right. The obsolete nature of a hub model that has been the only possible model for a city such as London, given the changes in aircraft and aviation practice, is not dealt with. The issue of detriment to regional airports is not dealt with, and the issue of carbon emissions is not dealt with. We know what the arguments are and what the evidence is. We are constantly amazed by how the Government will not properly address those issues. I know that the Minister will have another go today, but we will see where we get to on that.
I will end by repeating what other Members have said. The Select Committee has done us a real favour, because it can be seen, particularly in the light of its conclusions, to be independent and rigorous and to have put forward many caveats. Rather than the inadequate response we have had so far, we would like to see, before we are called on to vote on this in a few days’ time, robust responses to the points that have been made. If not, it is difficult to see how any Member—I hope the Government will allow its own Members a free vote—could in conscience vote for a proposal that, however much they might see the advantages, has not satisfied any of the points of mitigation that were put forward and has not dealt with the evidence that there are better and less damaging alternatives.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter, who gave a typically thoughtful and forensic speech. I will try to cheer him up even more if I can. On a day when no fewer than seven England squad players born in Yorkshire are to play at Elland Road, in their last match before the World cup, I intend to try to give the perspective from God’s own county; but I will not be able to do it nearly as well as Justine Greening did. She may have left Rotherham a while ago, but she retains a love of the north of England and Yorkshire, and a real passion. If I may say so, Adam Afriyie spoke with such knowledge of the north of England—he spoke, indeed, for the nation—that, by the powers invested in me, I make him an honorary Yorkshireman for the day.
Like many hon. Members present for the debate, I want to praise the Select Committee report for its thoroughness. However, just as the Committee Chair, my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood, inserted a few caveats and “buts” in her remarks, I want to express a “but” in my praise. Reading the report was, to me, like watching a 12-round boxing match. Each round came and went, and I thought there was only one boxer in it, as I read all the criticisms of the Heathrow case in the 150 pages, including appendices. I was rather surprised. It was like watching all 12 rounds when there was only one possible verdict, and then finding that the bout went to the other boxer. I felt all the evidence in the report led to one conclusion—to say, on the precautionary principle at the very least, no to Heathrow.
I want particularly to direct some remarks to someone who will be giving the third speech that we can look forward to today from a Yorkshire-born Member: I mean my hon. Friend Karl Turner, who will speak from the Opposition Front Bench. I want to talk about the impact of the Heathrow announcement on Humberside airport. I hope that we shall soon hear from the Labour Transport Front-Bench team that they will follow the lead given over many years by the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend John McDonnell, who has been in strong opposition to the expansion of Heathrow. At one stage such voices were lonely ones. There is a gentleman called, I think, Len McCluskey, who is putting a little pressure on our leaders, which I hope will be resisted. Particularly given all the criticisms we have heard from the Conservative Benches of crony capitalism, I hope that the shadow Transport team will before long put a three-line Whip on the Labour party to go through the Lobby to oppose the proposal. I will be proud to be in the Opposition Lobby on that occasion.
I want to concentrate my remarks on regional connectivity and the economies of the north of England, which is what I am best able to do. We have heard a lot about that already, and I shall not repeat what has been said, but I will express some doubts about the promises that have been heard and examined about connectivity. As I understand it, there is a promise of up to 15%. I am not sure whether there is a floor: could it be 7%, 2% or 11%? If the Minister knows of a floor, I would be glad to hear about it. I would also be interested in publication of the Government’s legal advice that it would be legal to subsidise airport-to-airport connections. It is not clear, as various hon. Members have mentioned, that that would be legal. I listened to Baroness Sugg, the Under-Secretary, in the other place yesterday, and at column 1331 she made it clear, as other Ministers have, that most of the flights in relation to regional connectivity are expected to happen on a commercial basis.
My local airport is Leeds Bradford—an engine of the northern powerhouse. If flights to Heathrow cannot be made commercial from Leeds Bradford, where can they? Yet in the past 20 to 25 years there has been a continual story of someone getting a route to Heathrow for a few months or years, which is then cut. “Bmi cuts routes between Heathrow and the North” was the headline about 10 years ago. Just a few months ago it was “Leeds Bradford airport ‘disappointed’ as British Airways announces flight cuts to and from Heathrow”—halving the number of flights. It would be good to hear which airports Ministers consider to have a commercial case for running more slots into Heathrow.
For the north of England and for us in Yorkshire, Amsterdam is the main business connection if people want to go to a hub—although we prefer to go point to point. I think that is true for Scotland as well. I try to follow Scottish politics, and there is an awful lot of talk about connections with the Baltic states, the low countries and so on. As I look towards my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East, I think that it is true for Humberside as well. Flights from there are frequent, whereas from Leeds Bradford they will be down to one a day. The northern powerhouse really wants point-to-point travel. We do not want to be reliant on changing at other airports if we do not need to.
The Select Committee Chair drew attention to an extremely important sentence on page 26 of the report:
“While direct international connectivity from the regions will continue to grow in any eventuality”—
I acknowledge that—
“the DfT’s forecasts show that direct international connectivity from the regions would be lower with a NWR than without expansion.”
It is lower with the north-west runway by a big factor. There would be 74,000 fewer direct international flights per year to and from airports in the non-London regions in 2030, which I think is about 10% of the total. That increases to 161,000 fewer flights from areas outside London in 2050. That is remarkable, and how any northern MP can vote for it I am not sure.
I commend the information in the Select Committee report to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East. It is all based on Government figures, by the way; it is not the Select Committee’s imaginings, but the churning of Government figures. They have been broken down now, and perhaps—I do not know—the Committee Chair could do the House a favour and have them put in the Library of the House, as they say. I do not know how that is done, but I am sure that, like Ministers, she has the power to do it. The Committee report has the figures broken down for individual airports. I will not read them all, but will give a couple of examples. Without Heathrow expansion, Birmingham would have roughly 124,000 international flights in 2030. That number goes down to 107,000 in 2030 if Heathrow expands. For Leeds Bradford, the figure is 39,000 without expansion and roughly 35,000 with expansion, over the same period. For Manchester, the figure is 179,000 if Heathrow does not expand and 159,000—20,000 fewer international flights—by 2030 if it does. Projecting through to 2060 for Glasgow, there would still be fewer flights: there would be 64,970 without Heathrow expansion and 62,874 with it.
The impact—the chilling factor—will be felt throughout the United Kingdom. As the hon. Member for Windsor said, there will be a lot of legal uncertainty, and the effect will be to put the mockers on the growth plans of all those airports around the country. I call on the airports of Birmingham and Manchester, and all the great airports, to stand up and be counted. After talking privately to their representatives, I think that the Department for Transport has had a word with some of them and pointed out that they are hoping for extra rail links and a period of silence would be appreciated. I think that is the message that is received when they are asked about it privately. Paul Kehoe, who was the chief executive of Birmingham airport, but has now gone, was vocal about the case for Birmingham. If it gets high-speed rail, Birmingham will be closer to London than Stansted. Equally, Manchester has gone suspiciously quiet in recent times. I think this is a matter on which the political representatives of those great cities should be called on. I hope that the Mayors of Manchester and Birmingham will lead the clamour against the expansion of Heathrow, in the interest of their regional economies.
I have high hopes of the Scottish National party. I do not think that the issue is yet fixed. I think the SNP is thoughtfully thinking about whether it truly sees itself going into the Lobby with some Conservatives, rather than joining what I hope will be the Labour party and the Green party—otherwise what will it say about anyone’s green credentials? I know that the environment in question is that of London, but it is important to us all in the United Kingdom. I hope that the SNP will reflect on that.
I know the SNP are all for Scottish independence, but I am worried that they will get it by losing every single flight out of the country. I am not sure that is the kind of independence Scotland really wants. I would have thought that the SNP would be better off seizing the opportunity to develop a genuine Scottish airports strategy. One of the other airport CEOs who is concerned about Heathrow expansion is the CEO of Edinburgh airport.
It is almost like the right hon. Lady, who is a fellow Yorkshire-born Member, and I co-operated, because I have a quote from said gentleman—Gordon Dewar. Admittedly, Edinburgh has associations with Gatwick, which has gone suspiciously quiet in recent months. I do not know how it has been silenced, but Gordon Dewar has not been—he has been speaking for Scotland and the United Kingdom. He said:
“Heathrow expansion risks a monopolised market which is bad for passengers.”
He argues that Scottish airports are less dependent on London than ever before, and that
“our passengers tell us that they want to fly directly.”
I have high hopes that, despite Mr Len McCluskey, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East will lead us into the Lobby against the Government. I have equal hopes that our Scottish nationalist comrades will reflect on this issue and that they, too, will be in the Opposition Lobby when the vote comes.
It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I congratulate my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood on her sterling work on the report. I have a slight sense of déjà vu, because in this slot a couple of weeks ago we debated the Transport Committee’s excellent report on community transport. It felt then like the Government were not listening. The same Minister responded to that debate, and he seemed to have closed his ears. I hope that we do better today.
My opposition to the expansion of Heathrow is of long standing—it predates my election to this place and comes from 46 years of living under the flightpath. In 2016, I asked David Cameron whether his, “No ifs, no buts,” no third runway statement applied and when we would get a decision. We all know what happened to him—I think the week after, he was a goner.
The report is thorough, deliberative and thoughtful, and people have called it forensic, but the Government are not behaving in that way on this issue. They seem to have decided, with indecent haste, to rush to expand without properly answering the points in the report, let alone Labour’s four tests. The decision on Tuesday, which overtook the report, and the stuff that we have heard since was a long time coming, but the wrong decision has been made and the way it was reached seems highly questionable.
The Committee calls for assurances on noise, air quality and compensation. A lot of people have outlined the diminishing economic benefits of expansion. Zac Goldsmith is no longer in his place—I do not think he is resigning this time, but who knows—but the voices of Government Members have been some of the most powerful in the debate. That shows that this is a question not of left and right but of right and wrong. Even within our parties, on the left and the right, there are subdivisions.
The stuff we heard on the Floor of the House on Tuesday was very flimsy. There seemed to be an attitude that, “It’ll be all right on the night,” and that everything would be paid for by the private sector. Nobody believes those fantastical promises. We had an urgent question this morning from Justine Greening about the financial basis of the decision. In its report, the Select Committee states that it would approve the NPS only if there was
“evidence to demonstrate that the…scheme is both affordable and deliverable” before any parliamentary vote, yet we are told that we will be rushed into that vote very soon.
Many of my constituents are deeply concerned. The two things that trouble them most are the environmental and social impacts, and increased air traffic. We already have illegal air pollution levels around Heathrow airport—not just from airborne traffic but from idling taxis, which cause NO2 emissions at surface level. People are born with deformed lungs in our city. How will an extra runway make that any better?
There are other ways to do this. Even if we accept the need for airport capacity in the south-east to be expanded, there are other ways to do that. Could we not decouple the number of flights permitted from decisions on a runway? There are other ways of doing this. We could build up Gatwick and have better rail connectivity between Gatwick and Heathrow.
Frankly, Heathrow is in the wrong place for expansion. If we were building an airport from scratch, we would not put it in what is already one of the most built-up urban areas. Schiphol and many other airports are in the middle of fields. Heathrow is in the wrong place, and this is the wrong time for expansion. As was pointed out, we should be looking at the point-to-point model, not the hub model. The Select Committee states that it accepts the national policy statement
“on the premise that any expansion is sustainable, consistent with legal obligations and that suitable mitigations will be in place to offset impacts on local communities affected by noise, health and social impacts.”
That is a pretty big caveat. What we have been told by the Government and Heathrow does not offer my constituents confidence that any of that has been done.
Many voters, in good faith, believed the Conservatives when they said they were their saviours from the third runway that our party promised under the Brown Government, long before my time in this place. I think voters will start wondering, “Does this mean that they’re casting it all off? Were these some sort of short-lived green halcyon days, when it was time to hug a husky?” We have since seen the Conservatives embrace nuclear power at Hinkley Point, fracking, and now this. I think people will wonder. David Cameron—remember him?—said something about cutting the green stuff. Well, he actually used a word that I do not think is parliamentary, Mr Hanson. Perhaps you can guess what it is—it rhymes with “nap” and begins with the letters c and r. I will not say any more than that, but people will wonder.
The Foreign Secretary promised to lie down in front of the bulldozers. I cannot see that happening, but even if they do not do that, the Government surely should stand up for our constituents’ health. Air pollution is already appallingly high in our city, and the NPS fails to show how a third runway and all the emissions it will bring will improve that. As it is, 9,000 Londoners a year die prematurely from our toxic air. How is an extra runway going to help that? The current Mayor of London is acting on the issue. He has brought forward things such as the ultra-low emission zone, which the previous Mayor dragged his feet on a bit. All that will be undone, so will the Minister tell us exactly how our climate change obligations will be satisfied following this decision?
I restate that it seems the decision has been made with indecent haste. If it has been 20 years or whatever in the making, we cannot just rush into it. It is important that we get it right. Other Members mentioned the underhand way that Heathrow airport can operate. I found that from its surrogate, Back Heathrow, a mysterious so-called grassroots operation that somehow sent hundreds of postcards. The way it briefed against my hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury and me was highly unprofessional. It is no wonder that Heathrow’s promises are not worth the paper they are written on, given that it operates through such shady surrogate operations.
The proposal is beset by problems. The level of opposition is demonstrated not just by Government Members but by the fact that the Mayor of London, who used to be a Transport Minister and I think was one of the original proponents of a third runway, has completely changed his mind. The Mayor’s office has done a lot of modelling, which cannot just be ignored. Willie Walsh, the CEO of International Airlines Group, said that it is unlikely that all the promises made by Heathrow can ever be delivered. It almost feels like we are in an early series of “Mad Men”, when the characters did a campaign for cigarettes—they knew they were bad for people, but they sold them anyway and said they were great. Look, I use Heathrow and understand its strategic importance to the west London economy and to the whole nation, but enough is enough. Put the extra capacity elsewhere and build the links to that.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady and indeed to everyone else. It strikes me that, other than my modest contribution in terms of bridging a gap, not a single person has come up with any solution to the passenger and—currently much more important—freight needs of the United Kingdom. We need an answer. Just saying “we don’t want this” is no answer.
One of the Labour party’s promises is about delivering benefits to the whole nation, which is what the hon. Gentleman was talking about, but this proposal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth and the right hon. Member for Putney said, will suck the life out of regional airports. They will have fewer flights. It is a bad idea that is the worst of all worlds.
There are significant environmental, financial, political and legal considerations. We see divisions in the Cabinet. There will be a legal challenge, and the Government risk losing that unless all the conditions are met. It is riddled with difficulties. It is vital that before we make a decision all required mitigations are in place, but they are not at the moment. There are other impacts—one could go on and on—including community impacts; resource and waste management; air quality; surface access; connectivity; and costs and landing charges. Actually, it will be more expensive to fly from what is already a very expensive airport. I did not really get into Labour’s four tests, but we do not need to go into those in great detail. I revert to an old slogan of the London Borough of Ealing. What we want is a better Heathrow, not a bigger Heathrow.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I rise to speak with a little trepidation—I have never heard so many MPs call for what the SNP will say; it was absolutely curious. It is good that for once they will all be listening, rather than staring at their iPads.
While we have been here, a constituent sent me a letter that had been sent to The Scotsman, the end of which reads:
“Scottish airports not pursuing a more independent approach will fail to break a dependency that could be vital for an independent nation. Surely a better approach to accepting Heathrow offering breadcrumbs is to build vibrant international capacity…By using modern point-to-point aircraft this will create air passenger-friendly economic activity independently of the mores of the south-east and the outdated hub-and-spoke.”
Does he not regard that as a call to arms?
I agree with the call for independence, and it was great to hear Justine Greening giving advice on what an independent Scotland would look like. However, even if Scotland becomes independent, we can still have the same connectivity, as that is separate from being independent. We want to be an independent country with connectivity all over the world. However, the truth of the matter is that, with regard to the expansion of Scottish airports, many of the chief executives of Scottish airports I have spoken to want Heathrow expansion. Truth be told, they would accept Gatwick expansion, but they all say that they need that extra connectivity into the main London airport. That is the reality; it is not a factor of independence. In an ideal world we would have a major international hub in Scotland, but we do not have the critical mass.
People either support Heathrow expansion, support it with a “but”, or outright oppose it. Those who oppose it are more likely to be here on a Thursday afternoon to make their contributions heard. It has been a really good debate. Every Member, no matter their viewpoint, has complimented the excellent work done by the Transport Committee. It has published an excellent report, and I must pay tribute to the Committee’s Chair for the thorough way in which she presented it.
I am pleased that a briefing was provided for MPs. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend, but the briefing notes were excellent, giving a concise summary of some of the issues that still need to be teased out. It will be good to hear the Minister’s response. Like others, I pay tribute to the work the Clerks have done. Although I have not been involved, I know how the Clerks work, and it is great to see the report and information presented concisely.
The Committee Chair highlighted fairly that this issue is not just about connectivity; it is also about the individual people who will be affected. I am conscious that I am a Scottish MP who will be asked to vote on a decision that affects people who are not my constituents. I accept that and understand that some local people affected might be a wee bit angry about that, but unfortunately the reality of a major infrastructure project is that some people will be affected. We must look at the pros and cons, and these people should be adequately compensated and looked after. That is the flipside of a dynamic—other MPs are now advising me as a SNP and Scottish MP on what view I should take—so it works both ways.
The Committee Chair also importantly outlined the risks of inaction—decisions not taken and no further expansion of a hub airport—in terms of the potential loss of business to other European airports. She and others highlighted the risk of the project not being delivered in Heathrow’s timescale by 2026. A pertinent point is that it could be built by 2026 and operating at full capacity by 2028—it seems counter-intuitive that it could be at full capacity just two years after its projected opening. That suggests that it is not a forward-thinking business plan. It would be good to hear comments on that.
The Chair and other Members highlighted surface access issues, particularly road traffic, the required air quality updates and the fact that there are openings for legal challenges. Again, the Minister’s response must cover that in detail. The Chair concluded by saying that the Committee’s support is conditional. It clearly has yet to meet to discuss further the Government’s response, but it is a fair comment that the report must surely have helped other Members decide how they will vote when the time comes to make this big decision. I again pay tribute to the Committee for the work it has done.
I congratulate Sir Roger Gale on his 35 years in Parliament. He highlighted the success of and threats from competing airports. He touched on the personal aspect of understanding how Heathrow can affect constituents but still laid out his support for the plan. I commend him for shoehorning in a connection to Manston airport and for suggesting that it could be used as a stopgap for freight transport.
We then heard from Ruth Cadbury, who has been campaigning against Heathrow expansion for a long time. I respect her view. She correctly highlighted flightpath concerns, and I agree that there should be more transparency on flightpaths so that people fully understand the implications. She also highlighted issues about other traffic movements.
The right hon. Member for Putney has been dogged on this issue. I commend her for securing an urgent question today. She highlighted what she sees as the financial considerations and risk to the Government in having to underwrite the project. We need further clarity. I am well aware that the Government say that there is no financial risk involved because it will be fully by the private sector, but we need absolute clarity on that. She touched on massive concerns for Scotland relating to infrastructure and growth. I welcome her conversion to Scottish independence. I appreciate what she said about Transport for London’s commitments to surface expansion potentially drawing away further investment, but the reality is that Transport for London has a different borrowing model, so that will not directly affect infrastructure spend in Scotland. That is a bit of a red herring, to be honest.
Luke Pollard, having analysed this and being a member of the Transport Committee, was another “Yes, but.” He highlighted the real importance of western rail access not just for Heathrow, but for wider western connectivity. It seems that that project should have gone ahead sooner rather than later.
Adam Afriyie came at this from the national interest approach. He made the argument that it is not in the national interests, and as a Tory he argued about the financial implications. Interestingly—this is almost a conspiracy theory—he believes that Heathrow is not going to develop and that this is just a mechanism to control competition. Depending on what happens with the vote and how we go forward, we will see whether those chickens come home to roost, but I suggest that Heathrow seems to have spent a lot of money and effort so far, and to do so for a scheme it does not intend to progress with would be quite surprising.
In terms of the financial interest and the money that has been spent so far, I would say that it would be a pretty wise investment to spend several tens of millions if it looked as though Heathrow could increase its landing fees, increase its take and stop the competition growing for a period of 10, 20 or 30 years. That is a wise investment on its part.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point that there is a financial benefit to spending the money if it eliminates the competition, but clearly if Heathrow stymies routes and development going forward, it opens up some of the other opportunities that at the moment we are saying do not exist. I am not sure it would be in its long-term interests to be able to do that.
Andy Slaughter said that this debate has cheered him up. I presume that is because quite a few people spoke in opposition—I am not sure that I will cheer him up as I continue. He highlighted concerns about flightpath and cost. As a flippant aside, I must commend him for the coherent speech he has made from the scribbles he makes on his paper. I do not know how he manages to do that, and I commend him for it.
We all have to thank Hansard for making us seem more coherent.
John Grogan gave us a Yorkshire perspective. To cheer him up, one of my grandparents was from Yorkshire, so I am one quarter Yorkshire—maybe I am an honorary Yorkshireman. He suggested that there should be a three-line Labour Whip against this. It will be interesting to see what the shadow Minister says about that recommendation; maybe he can give us some guidance in his summing-up speech. The hon. Member for Keighley was another one giving advice to the other SNP MPs and me on what is in Scotland’s interests. I take his point about the possible risk to direct, point-to-point, long-haul connections and some of the threats predicted for regional airports. I also have concerns and would want some protection. I want to hear what the Minister says about that.
The final Back-Bench speech was from Dr Huq, who again highlighted the environmental and social impacts and how traffic can affect air quality. I was trying to follow her logic. It seems that she wants the Tories to U-turn on their decision not to overturn the previous Labour decision. That seems to highlight how long this has been kicking around, how much prevarication there has been and, if nothing else, why we need to get to a decision.
Following the logic that people can change their minds, would the hon. Gentleman not agree that this Government should also now change their mind on Brexit—something else that sounded good but is now unravelling?
I think we should leave Brexit for another day, because I am running out of time as it is.
I will give a few thoughts on some of the Transport Committee’s key recommendations and the Government’s response—I have had the chance to skim through it quickly, since time has been limited. Recommendation 1 asks for the national policy statement to be redrafted to meet the Committee’s recommendations and the concerns it has highlighted. The Government response suggests that they have done that, but looking at the Government responses on an individual basis, it seems that they have paid platitudes to the recommendations rather than wholeheartedly taking them on board and changing the national policy statement. I would like to hear what the Minister has to say about that, since it will clearly be critical in bringing other hon. Members on board with the decision they want.
Recommendations 3 to 6 are about the Secretary of State granting development consent only on condition of satisfaction on air quality, health and safety, and environmental grounds. What will be the transparency and accountability aspects of these considerations if the vote is in favour? Why do the Government not just publish the air quality monetisation modelling? Stating that new, greener planes will help with air quality and environmental concerns is a bit of a cop-out as well. We need a wee bit more clarity on that.
Recommendations 7 to 9 relate to the surface access upgrades. Other hon. Members have raised concerns about those and we need transparency on them. We need to be sure that the upgrades will be privately financed and not underwritten by the Government, and that there are clear business models there that can be developed. There seems to be some division over whether some of the proposed rail schemes will tackle the expansion of Heathrow or are based only on existing usage. The Government need to be clear on that, and we need clear information on the M25.
Recommendation 10, from my perspective, is critical for MPs who represent regional airports. How will the 15% of slots for domestic routes be protected? The Secretary of State suggested in his statement the other day that a legal mechanism could be developed, possibly in a public service obligation, but how will that protect the number of airports that have been promised opportunities? How will the PSO work? Other hon. Members have raised the point that it might not be applicable to some of the airports that are looking for those connections. We need absolute clarity on that before the vote. If my SNP colleagues and I are voting on the basis of increased connectivity to the Heathrow international hub, we need assurances that those slots will remain in place and that Scotland will get the connectivity it has been promised.
Recommendation 11 is about affordability and deliverability. The Government response states that HAL
“appears in principle to be able to privately finance” this, and paragraph 1.70 states:
“The Government will continue to monitor the financeability and affordability of the scheme as the design develops and as the economic regulatory framework for expansion matures.”
I ask the Minister to explain that to me, as a layman.
On recommendation 12, which relates to charges, the Government response states:
“The Government agrees that expansion cannot come at any cost.”
Again, what are the Government going to do to ensure that future costs do not rise exponentially, and how will they control and monitor that? I accept that there is a role for the CAA, but that still potentially leaves the door open for increased charges justified by x, y or z, where the CAA says that is completely justified.
Recommendation 25 is all about the policy consultation and ways to maximise other runway capacity across the UK. That is crucial, and the Government seem to have ignored it, apart from saying that they recognise the recommendation. I want to know what the Government will do about UK-wide airport strategy and maximising the other airports across the UK.
It is quite clear that to date the SNP, including myself, has spoken in support of Heathrow expansion. For the benefit of hon. Members, the reason is that airports in Scotland have told us that they want that connectivity. The airlines support it. There is a possibility of 16,000 jobs. The chambers of commerce in Scotland support it, as do all Scottish airports except Edinburgh, which has the Gatwick connection. That is the case at the moment. It is a “Yes, but” position, and the Government must take due cognisance of those concerns and the work of the Transport Committee.
It is always an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I start by paying tribute to the Transport Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood, for the comprehensive work it has done in thoroughly scrutinising the Government’s draft airport national policy statement. I also commend right hon. and hon. Members across the House who have spoken in the debate, many of whom have long-standing views for or against expansion.
I reiterate Labour’s view. We have consistently maintained that we approach the issue pragmatically and in terms of our four tests. In our 2017 manifesto, we stated:
“Labour recognises the need for additional airport capacity in the South East. We welcome the work done by the Airports Commission, and we will guarantee that any airport expansion adheres to our tests that require noise issues to be addressed, air quality to be protected, the UK’s climate change obligations met and growth across the country supported.”
We could not be any clearer that any decision must be based on hard evidence with full transparency.
The Transport Committee completed its scrutiny just over two months ago and agreed that the draft NPS was not fit for purpose. It made 25 recommendations. The Committee’s support for expansion very much depends on the Government’s addressing its concerns in the final NPS. I do not believe that the Government have done that yet. The Secretary of State said that he had acted on 24 of the 25 recommendations, but the NPS document is largely unchanged and the majority of the Committee’s recommendations will be left for the Secretary of State to decide on at the development consent order—DCO—stage of the process.
We are effectively being asked to take the Secretary of State’s word for it. This is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the country, and given his calamitous handling of the railways, I and many of my hon. Friends do not have confidence in him to carry this out. Will the Minister explain why the Government have not done what the Transport Committee asked and revised the NPS to include its 25 recommendations?
A little over four months ago, I stated from this very position that the Government’s draft NPS, published in October last year, and the responses to it raised more questions than they answered. I am sorry to say that not much has changed. The Government’s response does nothing to address the Committee’s concerns on air quality; they have not amended their outdated air quality population figures or adopted a more stringent interpretation of air quality compliance. On noise, they have not updated the 2013 baseline figure or defined an acceptable noise level target. They have also failed to define a minimum level of noise respite or to set out how they intend to regulate any noise envelope. Given that air quality and noise are the two biggest concerns for people living around the airport, it beggars belief that the Government have not addressed these important issues.
On surface access, the NPS still does not give any details on what costs may fall on the taxpayer, or on the proposed changes to the M25. Will the Minister shed some more light on these issues? The Committee recommended that approval should be granted only if the target of no more airport-related traffic could be met. Rather than giving a commitment, the Government will only say that it is their “expectation” that that would be a requirement of a DCO. Will the Minister explain why that is not a firm commitment?
On domestic routes, again the Government have failed to give any detail on how they will secure slots for the regions. Given that slots are owned by airlines and not airports, it is unclear how the Government can guarantee that slots will be used for domestic routes. I hope that the Minister will give the detail that the NPS lacks in that regard.
The Committee also pointed out that there was no mention of potential costs and investment risks. The Government have not provided evidence that the scheme is affordable or deliverable. Again, they seem to have ignored the Committee’s recommendations on this important issue. The Committee recommended that airport charges be held flat in real terms, but the Government have not given that commitment. In fact, they say that
“an increase in charges may ultimately be in the interest of consumers”.
Does that mean that passengers will be expected to foot the bill?
The Government have done nothing to address the Committee’s concerns about respite at night, ignoring its recommendation to increase the flight ban from six and a half hours to seven hours. The Committee made recommendations about the compensation scheme, which the Government have also ignored and left unchanged in the NPS. The Committee suggested that there should be a strategy outlining how the Government will support local communities after the planning process is finished, but the Government have not included anything in the NPS on this absolutely critical issue. There is nothing new on airspace modernisation in the Government’s response to the Committee.
I have covered the areas that the Secretary of State claims to have addressed, so I will briefly mention the area on which he admitted that he has done nothing. The Committee concluded that the updated NPS should give the Lakeside Energy from Waste plant the same recognition as the immigration removal centres, and that the replacement of its facilities should be part of the DCO. Given that not replacing the plant will have an enormously harmful effect locally, regionally and nationally, due to the inability to process the levels of waste that the plant is contracted to process, will the Minister explain why it will not form part of the DCO?
The Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box on Tuesday and said that he had acted on 24 of the Committee’s 25 recommendations. It is difficult to trust a word that the Secretary of State says, yet we are expected to put our trust in him to deliver this huge infrastructure project. The Opposition are not prepared to do that. The Opposition will consider the proposed expansion through our four tests and will follow the evidence across the Committee’s comprehensive recommendations. I look forward very much to hearing the Minister’s response to the concerns we have raised.
It is a delight to see you in the Chair, Mr Hanson. It has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. I start by putting on the record my gratitude to Lilian Greenwood for her detailed, thoughtful and statesmanlike speech, which absolutely flagged the way in which the Transport Committee had approached the process, the thoroughness and care with which it engaged with the issues and the unanimity of the report, subject, as she made clear, to its serious concerns being addressed. She is absolutely right about that.
Many more concerns have been raised during the debate, and I will try to cover them all individually during the course of my speech. If hon. Members feel that I have not covered any, they are absolutely welcome to write to me or to the Secretary of State, who has already said in response to my right hon. Friend Justine Greening, and as is already happening, that the Department will respond with urgency and diligence to questions put to it because of the tightness of the timetable, which is not under the control of the Government but is decided by the Planning Act 2008.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Nottingham South and also to the Committee for securing the debate. We have had a wide-ranging conversation, and I will focus on what has been said, but particularly on the Committee’s report and the Government’s response to it. As hon. Members are aware, there will be ample opportunity to address the NPS more broadly in the debate on the Floor of the House before the vote, and I have no doubt that there will be other parliamentary occasions to do so as well. I thank the Committee for that on both of those fronts.
The Committee’s report is clear that airport expansion in the south-east is vital. It supported the strategic argument that the Heathrow north-west runway scheme is the best option, subject, as we have discussed, to the caveats described. Importantly, it does not shirk the “do nothing” option. It is aware that doing nothing is not an option—I do not think some hon. Members have quite been aware of that—given the constraints on capacity in this country, particularly in the south-east. That was an important recognition of the seriousness of the issue on both sides.
To answer a question put earlier by my hon. Friend Adam Afriyie, the Government are clear on our side that expansion will proceed only if the proposed scheme meets strict environmental obligations and offers a world-class package of compensation and mitigations for local communities. If those are not in place, the scheme will not proceed, so genuine questions as to whether it will proceed are raised by those issues.
Having given the report careful consideration, we have welcomed and acted on all bar one of the 25 recommendations, which I shall discuss in detail. Karl Turner said that we had only paid lip service to them, but that is not true; in fact, we have engaged very seriously with them. One can see that not just in the changes that have been made to the NPS itself but in the very detailed response in the back of our report, to which I direct hon. Members. The last 20 pages of the Government response are a very detailed analysis of the additional points raised in the Transport Committee’s report. This is an eight to 10-point detailed discussion and analysis, and it shows the depth of our engagement with the report. As the hon. Member for Nottingham South says, the report was received on
Some of the issues raised by the Committee will be addressed, as our response makes clear, at a later stage in the development of the scheme, as is appropriate. It is important to say that what we are discussing is a framework document setting out the overall planning approach in relation to this very substantial national infrastructure project—it is of national significance. Therefore, it is appropriate that many of the more detailed issues that need to be solved are addressed later in the planning process.
I am happy to give way, but even with 19 or 18 minutes left, I do not have a lot of time, given the many issues that have been raised already.
I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making, but some of the detailed questions, as he has just called them, are actually questions about the feasibility of this project more broadly, and that is why they should be answered sooner and not later.
I absolutely understand the concern that my right hon. Friend expresses and I will come on to some of the aspects covered by that later in my remarks.
Let me pick out the one recommendation that we were not able to support, which was raised by several hon. Members. This is the question whether we can give the Lakeside Energy from Waste plant equivalent recognition to that accorded to the immigration removal centres. In response to similar concerns raised during the first public consultation, we strengthened the language in the NPS. Although we recognise the important role of the plant for local waste management, it is not—this has been verified in analysis by both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy— a strategic asset and its loss would not affect the UK’s ability to meet environmental targets, so it would not be appropriate for us to set it apart from other large, privately owned business facilities.
The Committee rightly highlighted the impact that additional noise from a larger airport could have on local communities. I very much recognise, as my colleagues do, that noise is a major concern. The airports national policy statement sets out a clear policy for addressing the scheme’s noise impacts. It makes it evident that the Government expect noise mitigation measures to limit and, where possible, reduce the impact of aircraft noise. In response to the Committee’s recommendations, we have improved the clarity of the NPS—for example, over the expectation that the scheme promoter will provide more predictable periods of relief from noise through a runway alternation programme.
The NPS also sets an expectation of a six and a half-hour scheduled night flight ban. I think that there was potentially some confusion in colleagues’ minds on this issue. We have not reneged on any claim that has been made. There is an important distinction to be made between respite and a ban. In many ways, the Government’s proposal goes beyond claims that were made by others previously, because it sets an expectation for a six and a half-hour scheduled night flight ban, in addition to other forms of respite, which may come, for example, from alternation of runways. Along with the Government’s expected ban, there is scope for additional periods of respite to be provided at night, which means that we expect some communities to receive up to eight hours of noise relief at night.
It is important to say that the noise mitigation measures that we would expect to accompany any expansion at Heathrow would be determined in consultation with local communities and relevant stakeholders. Of course, we now have in place a local community forum, designed to enable the closest possible discussion of these issues with local—
I do not think that is true, if I may say so. It has already been shown that the Department and the Government’s position has moved in reaction to concerns expressed about this issue. That is why I have described the changes that we are making to predictable periods of relief from noise through a runway programme.
It has been suggested at different times in the debate by some that the Government are rushing headlong, pell-mell into a sudden decision, and by others that we have become immured and mired in consultation and delay. The truth is that we are making fairly steady and stately progress towards a set of decisions, which may go one way or the other, depending on the merits of the case, and we are doing so with previous Governments, certainly on the Labour side, having supported this proposal, so we are rather hoping that many Labour Members will continue to support it.
New technology is already making aircraft quieter. By the time a third runway is operational at Heathrow, we would expect airlines to be making much greater use of quieter, more efficient aircraft, which would also help reduce noise.
I want to respond to the Committee’s concerns about the potential effect of pollution on our air quality. Again, we have made changes. We have made the national policy statement clearer that delivering according to air quality obligations will provide protections for health and the environment. We have also made it very clear that the third runway will be allowed to go ahead only if it can be delivered in compliance with the UK’s air quality obligations. The environmental assessment and mitigations proposed by the airport will be very carefully scrutinised, I need hardly say, before any development consent is granted. Measures including a potential emissions-based access charge, the use of zero or low-emissions vehicles and an increase in public transport mode share use by passengers and employees would all contribute towards mitigating the impacts of an expanded airport.
I have touched already on community compensation. This is another issue that we take extremely seriously. On the issue of the compensation package for local communities, we share the Committee’s view that that is a fundamental component of the package of measures that accompany the north-west runway scheme. Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd has committed to paying homeowners who will need to move considerably more than is required in statute—125% of market value should the developer secure development consent. It has also committed to an extensive programme of noise insulation for homes and schools. A community compensation fund will be developed by an applicant to mitigate still further any environmental impacts and, as I have suggested, a community engagement board has already been set up, with Rachel Cerfontyne appointed as the independent chair. We agree with the Committee that details of the proposals must be worked up through consultation with local communities.
Will the mitigation package and, in particular, the noise insulation be subject to an absolute cap, or will it be subject to the actual noise that people experience, and if they experience the higher level of noise that generates the need for insulation, will it be delivered irrespective of the monetary cap? Also, will it be delivered in advance of the new flights coming in, or will residents, as at present, have to wait up to 10 years for the noise insulation to which they are entitled?
The answer to that question is, of course, that the package will be developed in consultation with local communities and, wherever possible, with an attempt to respond to the concerns that people have had.
Mr Dhesi, who is not in his place, asked whether compensation would be targeted to those most affected. The answer is that we are talking about what appears at the moment to be £2.6 billion in commitments, which is ten times bigger than the previous compensation offer made, including £700 million for noise insulation for homes and £40 million to insulate schools and community buildings. Those will be developed in a way that recognises the impacts, and the greatest impacts will be those most affected.
With regard to surface access, we know that Heathrow is already Britain’s best-connected airport by road and rail—a position that will be strengthened by future planned improvements to the public transport systems that serve the area. In responding to the Committee’s call for a written commitment to southern and western rail access, the Government have amended the NPS—a further change of direction in response to the Committee’s work—to set out our clear support for the western rail link and to explain the continuing development of a southern rail access scheme. We are pressing ahead with both, but these are subject, in the usual way, to appropriate planning processes and approvals. Network Rail already has underway a statutory consultation on the development consent order for western rail. The Transport Secretary recently held an event to engage the market more closely on the appetite for a privately funded and financed southern rail scheme. We are not delaying on this.
We also welcome the Committee’s focus on managing traffic associated with the airport. The airports national policy statement requires the applicant to set out clearly how it will mitigate any impact on the transport network and support additional demands that may be created by expansion. We have proposed specific mode share targets for passengers and employees at the airport, which we expect to be requirements of any development consent order. We also support the aspiration of Heathrow Airport Ltd to expand the airport without increasing airport-related traffic. Of course, it should be for the airport operator to demonstrate, as part of any development consent application, how it intends to deliver that goal and how it will, in so doing, mitigate any impact on the public transport network.
The Chair of the Committee said, absolutely rightly, that expansion cannot come at any cost, and we concur. It is important to take a calibrated approach to this, as the Committee has done. We have been clear that we expect expansion to be financed by the private sector without Government support. We also expect the industry to work together to deliver the ambition, set by the Secretary of State in 2016, that airport charges should remain close to current levels in real terms. We will continue to test the “financeability” and affordability of the Heathrow third runway scheme, as will the regulator, the CAA, and we have revised the national policy statement to clarify how the regulatory and planning processes work in this regard, with a considerable amount of further information provided in the final proposed national policy statement. Again, we are grateful to the Committee for its input.
I am also aware of the various representations that have been made in the Chamber that the Government would somehow be liable for Heathrow’s costs, should they decide to withdraw support for the scheme. That point was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney this morning and in this debate. To be clear to her, I did not say that those policy statements were the same for all three bidders. I said that they were substantially similar. I made that point because I wanted to show that there was no predilection, as it were, towards one bid over another; they were being treated in an equal way. The language in question creates no obligation on the Government, contingent or otherwise.
Let me be clear that the Government have not entered into any agreement that gives Heathrow the right to recover its losses in the light of any scheme not proceeding, and nor do we recognise any liability for any of the costs that Heathrow Airports Ltd has incurred or will incur in future. Separately, the Government laid before Parliament yesterday a written ministerial statement and a departmental minute that set out—this makes the point the other way—a contingent liability where one does in fact exist for statutory blight, which would commence if the proposed airports national policy statement is designated. That liability is contingent, because the Government have rightly protected the taxpayer by entering into a binding agreement with Heathrow Airport Ltd, whereby the airport will assume the financial liability for successful blight claims if, and only if, the scheme proceeds, thus protecting the taxpayer.
Many hon. Members have rightly raised the question of connectivity and regional impact. We agree with the Committee that the benefits of Heathrow expansion must be felt nationally. We welcome the Committee’s endorsement of our plans for an expanded Heathrow airport to retain existing domestic routes and add new routes. We have made it clear in our response that we will further consider domestic connectivity as part of the aviation strategy, which is in the process of being developed. Colleagues will be aware that consultation on that has recently closed. It will include the Secretary of State’s ambition for up to 15% of slots released under expansion to be used for domestic flights. The proposed airports national policy statement makes it clear that the Government require Heathrow Airport Ltd to work with the airlines to protect existing routes and deliver new connections. This will be examined as part of any DCO application. The Government will also hold Heathrow Airport Ltd to account on its public pledges, including the introduction of its £10 million route connectivity fund.
Our expectation is that it will be up to 15%, but we wait to see how far that 15% can be fully utilised. We have made it perfectly clear that, although this is not a matter for Government as such, we expect to see many regional airports come forward with plans, as many have already said they would. Alan Brown has already given evidence of the support of Scottish airports.
That is right. We have taken legal advice on it. We believe that public service obligations are a mechanism that can be used to give legal support for that position. I hope the hon. Gentleman will take a degree of comfort from that.
I want to turn to some of the many points that were raised. I have only about two and a half minutes remaining, so I will be as quick as I can. I apologise if I miss some, and colleagues are welcome to write to me with these concerns. One suggestion made was that the scheme fails to monetise all the costs. The advice I have had is that we have monetised the air quality impact, which was identified as an omission by the Transport Committee and included in the updated appraisal report. On the question of whether there is a potentially costly risk from a delay in hitting full capacity, our judgment is that this is not specifically geared towards the delivery of a scheme in 2026 exactly, which is immediately being filled up thereafter. Sensitivity testing on this suggests that there might be limited impacts, even if there were some form of delay, which we do not expect.
Let me go through these other points, many of which I have already touched on. As I mentioned, we agree that the conversation on mitigation must focus on the communities most affected. I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend Sir Roger Gale, who highlighted the importance of freight. He also made a powerful case, as many regional airports have done, for wider connectivity within the UK itself. I would not be surprised if I saw a bid coming forward from Manston, in a different incarnation from its current posture. I thank him for that.
We have touched on the question of bans versus mitigation. There is a suggestion that flight paths are somehow locked in place with no ability to vary. To be clear, as we move to a world of digital airspace, the capacity to vary flight paths greatly increases. That will take a number of years and that is why it has to be developed in context with the decision about the flight paths and therefore the noise implications of that, but it is important to bear that in mind.
I am grateful to the Committee. I appreciate that, in addition to the due documents that were laid before Parliament, a whole host of other materials have been subsequently published. I am grateful to hon. Members for looking at that. If they have further comments on that material, we would be happy to hear them.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to debate our Select Committee’s report on this vital decision for the future of our national infrastructure. I am grateful to all Members here for reading the 154 pages we produced. In some ways this debate has been a rehearsal for the one we will have in a few weeks’ time. I hope we have succeeded in highlighting the issues that hon. Members will want to consider as they examine the case the Government presented in their final NPS. The Select Committee will certainly be reading those documents carefully and discussing whether the 24 recommendations that the Secretary of State has told us he accepted have been adequately reflected in the final proposals. The House needs to weight up the evidence and make the right decision. I hope that this debate makes a contribution to those deliberations.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (