– in Westminster Hall at 4:29 pm on 24th May 2023.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the future of Heathrow Airport expansion.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Elliott, and to speak in this important debate. I thank colleagues for taking the time to participate and am glad to see so many present. This issue affects the day-to-day lives of constituents in Putney, and across south-west London and the whole of the country, given the climate change issues. I am sure that constituents in Putney will be watching with interest.
There is strong opposition to the expansion of Heathrow from residents across the region; the Mayor of London; local councils, including Wandsworth Council; environmental groups; a cross-party group of MPs, many of whom are here today, along with many more; and even two former Prime Ministers. Virgin Airlines, which does not want the extra costs that expansion would bring, has not said it supports expansion. Heathrow is already the most expensive airport in the world for airlines and for customers.
Heathrow’s expansion plans were put on hold during the pandemic, but the Government are now talking about reviving them. That will result in an additional 260,000 flights a year; an increased site of 950 acres, which is twice the size of the City of London; the biggest car park in the world, with 43,000 spaces; and increased carbon emissions of 9 megatonnes. That is more than the carbon emissions for the whole of Luxembourg.
The plans were drawn up before the Government agreed to their climate targets. The promise of economic growth and new jobs, which I am sure the Minister will talk about, does not seem to stack up under scrutiny. Investing more in Heathrow will come at the cost of undermining regional jobs and regional growth. The cost to the quality of life of Putney residents cannot be underestimated. The noise is constant. It affects sleep, and physical and mental health. We cannot have it any more. I am here to ask the Government to rethink the plans and say a definitive no to Heathrow expansion.
On growth, the figures cited by the Government seem to be very misleading. The final national policy statement claims that the benefits of an expanded Heathrow would be £73 billion to £74 billion. However, that measurement does not include the actual economic and financial costs of the proposal. Buried in the Department for Transport’s own updated appraisal report is evidence that shows that the net present value ranges from an increase of £3.3 billion to a decrease of £2.2 billion.
Then there are the claims on jobs. Job-creation figures used by Heathrow are based on estimates made by the Airports Commission report in 2015. They have been revised twice since then by the Department for Transport, and are now at least 50% lower and could fall even further. Analysis of the Department’s own jobs data by the New Economics Foundation found that jobs would be drawn away from regional airports, which would see a reduction in passengers. A staggering 27,000 people could lose their jobs from cities including Bristol, Solihull and Manchester. That is hardly levelling up. Any claims on jobs or economic growth made by Heathrow should be at best only half believed.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing today’s important debate on Heathrow airport expansion. No talk of expansion can be complete without first addressing the surface access requirements to decongest the roads around Heathrow and to improve the environment. More than a decade ago, the Government committed to building the western rail link to Heathrow. The successful business case was predicated on a two-runway scenario. A third runway, if it was built, would make the scheme critical; however, not a single spade has been dug into the ground. Does my hon. Friend agree that this No. 1 infrastructure priority for the Thames valley region, which has the support of the Welsh Government and others in the south and west—including in my Slough constituency—must finally be built without further procrastination by the Government?
I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. An expanded Heathrow would see an additional 175,000 trips every day. That is more than the daily rail arrivals to the whole of Birmingham, yet the proposal does not have a plan for how to deal with it. I shall say more on that later. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
What about green aviation? We are told that green aviation and green tech will catch up. Are we close to the breakthrough in alternative fuels, carbon capture or battery-powered planes that would make an expanded Heathrow sustainable and viable? No, we are not. In 2010, the aviation industry pledged to source 10% of its fuels from sustainable sources by 2020. We are in 2023; how is that going? Only 0.05% are sustainable fuels. There are no electric aircraft currently in development that could be commercially viable for long-haul flights. The green aviation revolution that could make the Heathrow expansion environmentally viable is a long way from taking off.
So what is the case against? I will talk about climate change, air quality, noise and transport. First, on climate change, the expansion is fundamentally incompatible with the Government’s own net zero target. Heathrow is the largest single polluter in the UK. Its emissions account for half of all UK aviation emissions. Its expansion proposals of 260,000 additional flights a year, on top of the existing 480,000, will increase carbon dioxide emissions from air travel by a staggering 9 million tonnes a year. As I said, that is more than the entire carbon emissions of Luxembourg.
The Government recently published their jet zero strategy; is that the answer? No. The strategy makes no attempt to set out what share of the transport carbon budget the aviation sector should be allocated or how that would be divided between airports, and it fails to articulate circumstances in which airport expansions could be compatible with climate change targets. Heathrow is just one of many airports across the UK with ambitions to expand, yet the Government has no overarching framework to guide airport expansion plans throughout the country.
The hon. Lady is making an important speech. I also have an airport in my constituency, and it is investigating sustainable fuels. The French Government have announced that they will ban short flights when a train is an alternative; does the hon. Lady agree that such ideas should be part of the strategy we hear about from the Government? Part of the net zero strategy should be to reduce the number of ridiculously short flights in this country. I do not mean island-hopping; I mean flights between cities that are unnecessary and no one would even think about taking if we had better train routes and train services.
I thank the hon. Member for that useful intervention. The need for investment in other areas instead of this expansion is the whole argument.
If we are really going to meet the net zero target, we cannot rely on the increasing long-haul flights that we are talking about at Heathrow. Can the Minister be clear about the trade-offs? If a third runway is built, does that mean that growth must be curbed at all other UK airports in order for the UK not to breach its carbon targets?
Air quality is also a major issue for my constituents in Putney. The additional 9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide that an expanded Heathrow will produce must end up somewhere. Unfortunately for residents in Putney, it will be dumped on our high street, school playgrounds and green spaces such as Putney heath.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. My constituents in Battersea will be hugely negatively impacted if the expansion goes ahead. Heathrow is already one of the biggest polluters, and the assessments that it previously carried out—on air quality, noise and so on—are all now outdated. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to revisit those assessments before Heathrow begins revisiting the issue of expansion? My constituents and I believe that Heathrow should not be expanded.
I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for outlining what residents across south-west London are saying together. This is an outdated plan, it needs to be updated and it does not account for what we now know about the need to reduce air pollution and the damage it is doing to our children’s lungs and our health.
Putney has suffered—and continues to suffer—from some of the worst levels of air pollution in the UK, so my constituents will be devastated if Heathrow gets the green light to expand. The Government themselves accept that it would have a significant negative effect on air quality, but have provided no evidence to show how Heathrow can both expand and comply with legal limits on air quality simultaneously. It just does not seem to add up. I therefore ask the Minister: what safeguards on air quality can he offer to Putney residents today?
The constant noise, often from very early in the morning, is a serious health issue for Putney residents. The current level is already too much, and I know people who have moved away from the area because of it. We cannot take any more. According to the European Environment Agency, noise pollution is the second largest environmental threat to health, causing 12,000 premature deaths a year. It is not just an inconvenience. It is not just Putney residents who are suffering, either. The No 3rd Runway Coalition has calculated that an expanded Heathrow could see more than 650,000 people fall within the Department for Transport’s “significantly affected” noise pollution category. That is very serious.
The Government’s night-time noise abatement objective for noise-designated airports is simply not good enough. It could provide some answers, but the objective downplays the serious negative health impacts caused by aircraft noise at night. The negative health impacts should have been made the central tenet of the objective, to reduce the harm caused, but there is no definition of the objective
“to limit and where possible reduce…noise”.
The objective is far too vague; it should have much clearer commitment to noise-reduction targets, with measurable outcomes, so that successive interventions by airports and airlines can be determined, and enforcement action against noise can be taken. Otherwise, Heathrow can do what it likes. I urge the Minister to put himself in the shoes of my constituents and offer more than just vague promises that will not be kept.
Finally, on transport, an expanded Heathrow will see an increase in daily trips of 175,000 people, as I said before, and an additional 43,000 car park spaces. The biggest car park in the world is now about 20,000 spaces; this will be 43,000 spaces. Who is going to meet the extra demand of the cost of this extra transport, congestion and pollution? The cost is estimated to be £5 billion to £15 billion; to date, Heathrow has committed to contributing only £1 billion. I ask the Minister: who is going to pay for the additional transport needs? Will it be taxpayers, such as my constituents, who will be the ones losing sleep, losing out by breathing more polluted air as a result of the expansion, and losing out because of the transport costs?
I shall end with an unequivocal message for the incoming new chief executive of Heathrow. There is no version of an expanded Heathrow that is compatible with climate targets. There is no version of an expanded Heathrow that does not reduce the quality of the lives of the 650,000 people in my constituency and beyond who live under the flightpath. There is no version of an expanded Heathrow that does not make the air that our children breathe even more polluted. I implore them to put the quality of life and the planet first, and the pockets of shareholders second. The new chief executive can expect any future plans to be met with the fiercest opposition from me and colleagues present.
I look forward to the rest of the debate and the Minister’s response. When he responds, I would like answers to the following questions. Will he commit to reviewing and amending the airport’s national policy statement, to ensure that it is compatible with the UK’s climate targets? Will he commit to publishing an overall strategy setting out how greenhouse gas emissions from aviation are to be managed and reduced over the coming decades? I urge the Minister: listen to the Government’s own climate targets, listen to the experts, listen to residents and listen to MPs. It is high time that the prospect of an expanded Heathrow took flight.
I remind Members to bob so that we have an indication of who wants to speak. I suggest an informal four-minute limit. We should get everybody in if we stick to that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. I congratulate Fleur Anderson on securing this vital debate. We MPs across south-west London, along with councillors and thousands of our residents, are absolutely united on this issue. Liberal Democrats across south-west London have a saying that we want a better Heathrow, not a bigger Heathrow. We are not on a crusade against the airport. We recognise the importance that it brings to our communities, capital city and country, in terms of trade, tourism and employment, but we are unequivocally opposed to a third runway at Heathrow. The project is dead in the water on every possible front.
The hon. Member for Putney made a powerful environmental case against expansion, and the economic outlook is also bleak for airport expansion. The project is not financially viable for Heathrow itself, which is already in £15 billion of debt, and it is about time that the Conservative Government actually come out, unequivocally recognise that the economic, environmental and health case is absolutely clearcut, and take it off the table. We have had broken promises from this Conservative Government in the past, and we need them to come out and oppose a third runway at Heathrow.
We know that, according to the Department for Transport’s own calculations, the economic benefits are modest at best. At worst, the project would have a net-present value of minus £2.2 billion. The environmental argument against Heathrow expansion is simple: the more planes in the sky and idling on the runway, the more damaging emissions we pump into our atmosphere. As the hon. Member for Putney said, Heathrow is the biggest source of carbon emissions in the UK. If a third runway goes ahead, growth at all other UK airports would have to be halted to keep within our carbon targets, which sinks the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
With the World Meteorological Organisation recently warning that we will breach the 1.5° temperature increase in the next few years, now is the time to invest in a cleaner aviation industry and develop green technologies to cut back on emissions. One resident went as far as saying to me that building a third runway at Heathrow would be a bit like opening a brand-new coal mine slap bang in the middle of south-west London. Based on their voting record in recent months, perhaps that is why the Conservatives are so supportive of it.
At a local level, increased capacity at the airport would bring much more congestion on to our roads. That would mean more air pollution and dirty air, which my constituents and their children would breathe.
Another important consideration, which has already been referenced, is the level of constant noise from the airport experienced by residents day and night. There is a real sense in the community, and among local action groups such as Teddington Action Group, that the noise pollution is just not taken seriously by this Government. It is not monitored properly; its effects on public health have not been thoroughly investigated or reviewed; and adequate protections have not been put in place. That is despite plenty of evidence in respect of both the mental and physical health impacts of noise pollution and our children’s ability to concentrate and learn. The Liberal Democrats want to see an independent noise ombudsman reinstated and far more robust regulations on night flights, especially during the summer months, and to look at making noise a statutory nuisance.
A third runway would only intensify disruption, particularly with the prospect of airspace modernisation, whereby we could see a significant redrawing of flightpaths over London, with fewer planes over some parts of the capital but increased flights and much more intense noise in other areas. The term “noise sewers” has been used in other countries that have implemented airspace modernisation.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and some powerful points. She mentioned airspace modernisation; I wonder, listening to what she has to say, whether if she shares my concern that any attempt to expand Heathrow at this stage might undermine airspace modernisation and delay any improvements we have been hoping for over the past few years.
The problem with airspace modern-isation, and the feedback I get from some of my community groups, is that the process is not transparent at all. We have no idea whether there will be benefits or a worsening of noise impacts on the local communities around Heathrow airport. That, combined with a third runway, spells a lot of trouble for our local communities.
Since the last general election, we have gone from one Prime Minister who threatened to lay down in front of the bulldozers at Heathrow—but who was tellingly missing for a critical vote in the House of Commons on Heathrow expansion—to another who actively supported expansion, although luckily her tenure was short lived. Our current Prime Minister has taken a leaf out of their book, talking tough on climate change and net zero while instructing his Chancellor to slash air passenger duty on domestic flights. I hope the Minister will clarify the Prime Minister’s position on the third runway project. In particular, as the hon. Member for Putney said, we need a review of the airports national policy statement; it is five years old, and the analysis is completely out of date, especially given the pandemic. We need a commitment to a national aviation strategy that addresses the sector as a whole, not just Heathrow.
To conclude, I speak on behalf of thousands of residents across Twickenham and south-west London, as well as London Liberal Democrat MPs, Richmond Council and members of the Greater London Assembly, when I say that we wholeheartedly and vehemently oppose a third runway at Heathrow airport. We will mobilise against any further plans. It is bad for the environment, bad for local communities, bad for our net zero targets and even potentially bad for our economy. It is time that the Government woke up, smelt the kerosene and opposed Heathrow expansion.
That was more than six minutes. I did say four, informally; the limit will have to come down if people carry on like that. I call Jim Shannon.
Thank you, Ms Elliott; I will keep to my four minutes. I thank Fleur Anderson. We are good friends, but this is an issue that we are going to disagree on. I will give the other side of the story, because it is important to do so. I do so with respect for the hon. Lady, as she knows, and it will not stop us being friends. We just have to disagree on this issue.
I have put on the record before and will do so again that I am a vocal supporter of Heathrow expansion, as are my colleagues. It is an incredible opportunity to improve connectivity between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in relation to tourism, trade and air passenger duty. I travel every week. I come over on a Monday and go back on a Thursday. Aer Lingus was my mode of transport up until November last year, when they stopped running the flights. British Airways filled the gap, but I miss the fantastic Aer Lingus staff, four of whom lived in my constituency. I got to know them on a first-name basis.
The expansion is all about getting these services and more up and running, not only to Belfast City airport but to Belfast International airport. It is about having a broad range of flights, times and airlines and true connectivity opportunities that benefit all four regions of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Air fares have increased in the last couple of months—that is understandable, because of the coronation and so on—but people who travel frequently, like me and other Members of this House, need greater services but at a reduced cost. That is what my constituents want, and I will reflect that.
I look to the Minister for a helpful response because the aviation industry cannot afford to suffer, especially after the impacts of covid, from which the economy and industry are still recovering. Heathrow is the UK’s only hub airport, and it is economically important for the whole United Kingdom. The combination of cargo demand helped businesses to transport £133 billion-worth of freight goods via Heathrow in 2013, making it the UK’s busiest airport. That example is from a few years ago, but it shows the situation at the time. By comparison, most airlines at point-to-point airports, such as Gatwick and Stansted—Christine Jardine mentioned short internal flights within the United Kingdom—do not transfer freight because they have smaller aircraft, short-haul routes and tighter turnaround times. Freight travel is so important to us at Belfast City airport, as the Minister knows; I have no doubt he will refer to that.
We want to be part of the expansion of a third runway at Heathrow. I believe it will boost us all across the United Kingdom, and opportunities for travel will increase. My constituents want to travel, and they want to go on holidays. I may not travel very far on holiday, but they do.
There is no doubt that the hon. Member for Putney makes some fair and accurate comments in relation to jet zero targets and the opportunities for the UK to lead the way in sustainable aviation, and others have made similar points. I, for one, must speak for my constituents, who want equal and fair opportunities and an interconnection with Northern Irish airports, with better connectivity, more options, fairer prices and more opportunities for trade. There is surely a way that we can eventually do both. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response.
We must not forget the possibilities that the expansion will bring, and not only for those of us from Northern Ireland who wish to see it happen, but for everybody across this great United Kingdom. We could all benefit from the economic benefits that will come from it. With that, I put my case; it may be different from everybody else’s, but it is my case.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. I congratulate my hon. Friend Fleur Anderson on securing the debate and on her tireless campaign against the expansion of Heathrow airport on behalf of her constituents, supported by many of my colleagues. I fully support those efforts, but as a north-east MP I approach the issue from a different perspective. Our north-east economy suffers from serious imbalances compared with London, which experiences constant demands for improved infrastructure and upgrades. Although I welcome economic growth, the expansion of Heathrow makes me question the Government’s key policy of levelling up.
A recent debate in Westminster Hall highlighted the potential to use the tax structure to implement long-term policies that bridge the economic divide, rather than relying on unfair short-term gimmicks such as the levelling-up fund. The Government rejected a proportional property tax and continue to endorse an unfair council tax system that penalises the poorest communities and regional economies. Today I want the Minister to consider another potential progressive tax change, namely replacing air passenger duty with an airport congestion charge.
It was recommended in 2015 that Heathrow airport—the most slot-constrained major international global airport, as we have heard—should have an additional runway to increase its capacity by more than 50%. I fully understand the concerns of residents living under the flight path and in the surrounding areas, because increased flights result in more noise and more pollution in the air and on the ground. I appreciate how a third runway could make life intolerable for those communities.
Before proceeding with plans to exacerbate congestion at Heathrow, it is essential that the Minister consider alternatives and explore measures, including utilising the existing available capacity in regional airports. Although I appreciate the desire of Heathrow airport’s owners to expand and maximise their profits and returns on investment, the Government have a different responsibility to consider the broader public interest and policy objectives. Instead of assessing airport expansion on an individual basis, the Government should evaluate the overall capacity of UK airports and incentivise the use of spare capacity in regional airports, such as those in the north-east, rather than increasing pressure on a congested Heathrow.
Currently, cost incentives work against that goal, pushing more traffic towards already congested airports such as Heathrow. London airports benefit from substantial cost advantages because of their immense size, the competition, carrier availability and global connectivity. I urge the Government to rebalance that advantage and support regional airports through the implementation of an airport congestion charge. Passengers opting for congested airports such as Heathrow would continue to have that option but would pay a small premium, while those utilising regional airports with available capacity would be encouraged and rewarded.
The strength of Newcastle airport is linked to the vitality of our regional economy. Newcastle International airport’s contribution to the regional economy was £1.16 billion, with an ambition to grow that to £1.91 billion by 2030 and potentially by more than £2 billion by 2035. There would be an additional 1,325 jobs on site and more than 9,000 across the region. I urge the Government to consider that as a viable option.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. I thank my hon. Friend Fleur Anderson for securing the debate. I agree with everything that she said, including about the toxic effects of Heathrow, which apply equally, if not more so, to my constituency of Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush and across west London.
We know the arguments against Heathrow: congestion on the roads and on public transport, noise pollution, air pollution, safety and the threat to whole communities. Those arguments have not changed. What has changed is that the aviation sector does not support Heathrow. We have expansion plans from London airports—Stansted, Luton and Heathrow—that will take up the carbon allocation. Regional airports, as we have just heard, are severely underused. Manchester is at about 50% capacity, and Birmingham airport, which will be about half an hour from Old Oak station in my constituency by High Speed 2 when it is constructed, is an alternative and is running at 40% capacity. We have heard that the airlines have withdrawn their support and some, such as Virgin, actively oppose the expansion.
What has changed since covid and the pause is that climate targets have got harder to meet, and the cost of doing so has become greater. Construction costs have gone through the roof. Heathrow has lost about £4.5 billion. It has also lost its chief executive and not yet recruited a new one. It is not in a good state.
Like Munira Wilson, I believe in a better rather than a bigger Heathrow. We understand the advantages of Heathrow to the economy—across the whole Thames valley, as well as to London, and west London in particular—but it is obscene to think of increasing its capacity by 50%, given its location. Transport policy has moved on.
We have heard that the airports national policy statement is five years old, and the airports commission is eight years old. Transport policy has moved on and history has moved on, but Heathrow has not; it is stuck trying to talk in the language of one or two decades ago and, unfortunately, the Government are listening. Well, the Minister is clearly not listening, because he is texting away, but I hope that when he responds, he will show a shift in Government policy on the issue. It is long overdue. Other Opposition parties have thought about this and changed their policy over time. In the Labour party, we welcome that. I hope that we see a realistic appraisal by the Government—a genuine review of the situation—because from any impartial or unbiased view of Heathrow, it should not expand. There are many alternatives.
I did not think that we would ever be here again, but this is like the Monty Python dead parrot sketch—it is dead; it is not going to happen. My hon. Friends the Members for Putney (Fleur Anderson) and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) and Munira Wilson put the matter forensically, defeating the whole argument that we should expand Heathrow.
I want to talk about the blight that the Heathrow expansion proposal has caused my constituents. It has been 40 years or longer. I have been there so long that I was present at the inquiry into the fourth terminal, which we all supported, by the way—we thought that it accommodated Heathrow well, and it was the size we wanted it then. At the fifth terminal inquiry, we opposed expansion. The inspector gave an indication that there should be no further expansion, because he was worried about the two issues that we presented him with: noise and respiratory conditions. What was happening to the lungs of children in our area was at virtually epidemic proportions.
At that stage, Heathrow said, “If we get a fifth terminal, we do not need and will not seek a third runway.” Can we remember that promise? The directors at Heathrow wrote to every one of my constituents and appeared on public platforms with me to read the letter out, to loud applause. Within six months, they were lobbying for a third runway. It was a scandalous betrayal of my community.
For the next 10 years, we put the case about the respiratory and health conditions, and we discovered more about cancers, coronary conditions and the mental health effects of being disturbed during a night’s sleep, and so on. Then the world changed and we all discovered something that others had told us about, but that we had not really believed in: climate change. We came together and, all of a sudden, what had been described as a nimbyist campaign became a global campaign. I joined a climate camp in my constituency. We had seminars at which local community members met climate campers, and we talked about the implications of climate change. We were so convincing that David Cameron went into the 2010 campaign—remember this one—with, “no ifs, no buts”, no third runway. We did not realise that once he got elected, he meant it for only one Parliament.
We then had the Davies commission, which came out in favour of an expansion and a third runway. Interestingly, in that commission, it was argued for the first time that the whole concept of the hub might be outdated, and that point-to-point and the development of regional airports was probably the future. That is where we are, and that is where we are going to go. There is no way that any Government that want to be re-elected will promote a third runway while trying to convince people that they will tackle climate change. It is not going to happen. Let us put Heathrow out of its misery and say that no Government will ever approve this, and no investor will ever speculate by investing in a project that will barely take off—pardon the pun. Why not just kill it off here, so that my constituents can enjoy the comfort of their homes?
I remind the Minister that the threat of a third runway means 4,000 properties in my constituency being demolished or rendered unliveable by noise or air pollution; that is 10,000 people being forced out of their homes. A third runway means the demolition of three schools, churches and the gurdwara, a number of community centres and our open spaces—the demolition of a whole community. If the Minister thinks that there is any chance that the community will not rise up against it, I tell him that that will happen right the way across London. If this Government or any Government try to move ahead with a third runway, it will be the most iconic climate change battleground in Europe.
Let us say to Heathrow that it is over, and that it must concentrate on improving the passenger experience and looking after its workers. It was this company that started fire and rehire. It needs to start paying decent wages, restore pensions and provide decent working conditions for all workers.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. I thank my hon. Friend Fleur Anderson for securing the debate.
As many people here know, my constituency is a long, thin constituency that lies between central London and Heathrow airport. It does not touch the airport, but we have a large amount of the impact. For most of my political life, since before the terminal 5 inquiry, I have opposed not Heathrow’s existence but its expansion, and particularly a third runway. Many of the people working in and around Heathrow in the 70,000 direct jobs, and the many more in associated businesses and services, are my constituents, so Heathrow is a massive driver of the local economy. But my constituency also has all the negative impact: the noise day in, day out; the air pollution; the congestion on our roads; and the airport’s distorting impact on our local economy.
In 2018, Labour’s then Front-Bench spokesperson, my hon. Friend Andy McDonald, said:
“Heathrow expansion is incompatible with our environmental and climate change obligations and cannot be achieved without unacceptable impacts on local residents. The improved connectivity to the regions of the UK cannot be guaranteed and there are unanswered questions on the costs to the public purse and the deliverability of the project.”
That case is even stronger five years later. My fear around expansion is not about runway 3, however. As others have said today, that is getting increasingly unlikely. My concern is that there could be pressure for more flights on the existing two runways. We are told that that is technically possible and could generate 60,000 more flights per annum—the current cap is 240,000. The main barrier to that expansion is the planning condition on terminal 5. It would require the ending of runway alternation, which gives our constituents at least an element of certainty about peaceful periods. That would give way to mixed-mode landing or taking off from both runways simultaneously.
Rather than seeking to be bigger, Heathrow should seek to be better—specifically, a better neighbour to the 2 million-plus residents in London and beyond who are impacted by the UK’s premier airport. I welcome the simplified residential noise insulation schemes, which make life at least marginally more bearable for those nearby and which are funded by the airport, but I still have some questions about them for the airport. Historically, it has been slow and awkward about giving away or spending any money to make life bearable.
Apart from insulation, much more needs to be done to make Heathrow better. We need better public transport. For those who do not know, Heathrow tried to delay or even stop what we now call the Elizabeth line, because it would have had an impact on its company Heathrow Express. We have long had concerns about Heathrow’s lack of support for decent public transport to and from the airport for workers, passengers and so on, and our constituents want a better passenger experience. Heathrow is the entrance to the UK for many people from around the world. We must remove polluting vehicles from airside because our constituents—Heathrow workers—are inhaling those emissions every day.
Heathrow must become a better employer. On things such as the living wage and fire and rehire, it has consistently been a bad exemplar of what should be one of our best products.
I congratulate Fleur Anderson on securing the debate and on putting across her constituents’ position against expansion so passionately, as many others have done. Looking at all the factors involved, it is a finely balanced decision. Many wrongly demonise those opposed to Heathrow expansion as anti-progress or the like. I understand the concerns and objections of those who feel that this is an expansion too far.
Fortunately, I can look at the expansion from a distance—literally. I am not involved in any difficult changes or the upheaval that will happen across a large swathe of the local community around Heathrow and across London. Equally, it is also madness to have umpteen aircraft circling the south-east of England waiting for a slot and burning fuel pointlessly due to a lack of capacity on the ground. Continuous ascent and descent is crucial to making CO2 savings that will eventually be fully realised by the implementation of airspace modernisation. Incidentally, that is another strand of transport decarbonisation on which, despite the excellent work of the Airspace Change Organising Group and NATS, the Government have shown no urgency whatsoever.
Clearly, covid had a huge impact. We can still see the impact on passenger numbers across the sector, not just at Heathrow. If—or, more likely, when—numbers bounce back to 2019 figures, 80 million passengers will use Heathrow annually and there will be nearly half a million aircraft movements.
At the moment, there is no extra capacity in the London area. The concept of Boris island as a way to increase capacity has sunk to the bottom of the deep blue sea—rather like his bridge to Northern Ireland. Whatever connectivity benefits HS2 might bring to central London have been postponed until who knows when, after the Government’s decision to delay work on the Euston leg. If any Heathrow expansion goes ahead, regional connectivity must be at the heart of plans for how to use the extra capacity and resource. It would be ludicrous if a new asset of national importance was dominated by intercontinental A380s, Dreamliners and a new terminal packed with lucrative first-class passengers, rather than being used to transform and turbo-boost connectivity to other parts of these isles, particularly in the light of the utter shambles of HS2.
At the moment, Loganair is forced to lease Heathrow slots from British Airways to provide connectivity with Scotland, rather than being able to access Heathrow on its own terms and in its own right. The two Members representing Dundee, my right hon. Friend Stewart Hosie and my hon. Friend Chris Law, will be well aware of the issues involved in ensuring a viable long-term future for the air link between that city and London. Loganair now serves the Dundee-London route from Heathrow, following the switch from London City airport earlier this month. It has managed to keep the London route on track, and passenger numbers from Dundee are at their highest for years. It also provides Orkney and Shetland with connectivity, showing the value of Heathrow slots to airports in Scotland and across these isles.
Heathrow used to be a public asset that was owned by the public and responsible to the public. It is unlikely that it will return to public hands any time soon, but it still has a duty and an obligation to the public to provide a public service—a service for everyone in these isles. Of course, it would be far better to have direct links from Scotland—particularly Glasgow, considering that Glasgow airport is in my constituency—to the rest of Europe and the world, so that we can cut out the middle man in the south-east and travel straight to our destination, and indeed transport our high-value exports directly to the customer, rather than shipping them through London.
But in the meantime, while Scotland continues the process of achieving full self-government and full membership of the EU, Heathrow must act in the best interests of us all, and that means supporting connectivity to and from the rest of these isles to London. It would be ignoring reality to deny the expansion of Heathrow without appropriate countermeasures to move aviation towards a net zero state. Developing sustainable aviation fuels can mitigate the impact of air travel. It is disappointing, to say the least, that we lag so far behind the rest of the world in investing in SAFs and putting them at the heart of the UK aviation sector. I understand that the consultation on the SAF mandate is ongoing and is scheduled to end next month. After that will be months of cogitation by the UK Government. If we are lucky, there might be an outcome ahead of the next general election, although I would not bet the house on it. This should have been done years ago, when the UK could have had taken a lead in developing SAFs and pioneering the technology required to produce them.
Inverness airport, which is owned by the Scottish Government, has recently introduced SAFs for all customers at the facility. That will surely help to reduce its carbon footprint as it aims to become the first zero-emission aviation region by 2040, but we need a sea change across the sector if we are serious about cutting emissions and mitigating the undoubted impact that the Heathrow expansion will have. I hope that sea change happens sooner rather than later.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. I congratulate my hon. Friend Fleur Anderson on securing the debate and on her passionate plea on behalf of her constituents, who have to suffer under the Heathrow flightpath day in, day out. My parliamentary assistant reminded me that Westminster bridge was opened on this day in 1862, so it seems a good day to discuss connectivity in the south-east—although for my hon. Friend, bridges in London might be quite a controversial subject.
I come from the perspective of growing up in a council flat under the flightpath to Manchester airport, so as well as speaking as the shadow Minister for aviation, I shall also have a few personal things to say. Heathrow is an enormous employer in the south-east of England and contributes billions of pounds to our economy, as has been pointed out. We welcome that contribution and have been consistent in our support for the wider aviation sector, calling repeatedly during the pandemic for a meaningful, sector-specific deal, which would have protected workers’ rights and environmental standards, and allowed us to build back better from a position of power, not weakness. On expansion, Labour has consistently said for a number of years that a third runway at Heathrow must meet our long-established tests. It must meet the criteria on air quality, noise and climate change, and it must be affordable and delivered in the best interests of consumers.
On a personal level, I represent Wythenshawe and Sale East, which contains Manchester airport and the M56 motorway to Manchester city centre. My hon. Friend Ruth Cadbury, who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group for airport communities, and the Minister will be interested to hear that I was told in a meeting last week that the council will not invest in active travel along that corridor because the nitrogen oxide levels are too high. The council will write to me in the next week or two to explain why it will not invest. These are open sewers of the modern-day era that we have going through our community.
Any future bids for Heathrow must meet the criteria that we have set out, but let us be clear that there are also significant wider challenges that must be met. The Government have set themselves a target of 2050 for net zero aviation emissions, and we know that there is no silver bullet when it comes to decarbonising aviation. We know there has been significant progress in developing potential solutions to the environmental impacts of aviation, but we are just not there yet. Aircraft have become quieter. I grew up under the BA111s, Tridents and Concordes. We know that aircraft are quieter; what people find disruptive is the increasing number of flights.
We have much further to go to decarbonise the sector. Potential solutions to aviation’s air pollution impacts are beginning to be developed. They include sustainable aviation fuel, as Gavin Newlands pointed out, and the prospect of some flights being powered by batteries or green hydrogen. However, while the US and EU steam ahead, the Government’s inaction is putting the development of emerging green technologies at risk. We know that green technologies produce well-paid, good jobs, which are often trade unionised as well. We need Government action to secure the necessary investment for those emerging technologies.
It is vital that the sector takes measures to continually support the development of innovations to decarbonise, such as electric planes and sustainable aviation fuel, which was mentioned previously. I meet business after business, week after week, which beat a path to my door, and are trying to innovate in this sector. That technological development is a critical part of net zero and must be done in partnership between industry and Government, so that the industry can help to meets its climate obligations and seize the opportunities for the British economy, investing in technologies that will tackle the climate crisis, encouraging world-leading innovation here in Britain, and supporting good, well-paid jobs. That is the future we want to see. Through our green prosperity fund, Labour will deliver that. It will be the centrepiece of a future Labour Government—one that links prosperity, social justice and climate justice.
Given the imperative of decarbonising aviation, I ask again about airspace modernisation. It has been referred to today; I hope the Minister can explain the lack of progress. It is a critical piece of national infrastructure that needs bringing up to date, but the process seems to be enormously complex. We know that airspace modernisation would reduce emissions, allowing cleaner and greener point-to-point flights, but it has been held up by a lack of ambition and urgency from this Government.
EasyJet told me last week that its flight from Jersey to Gatwick burns 24% of its fuel unnecessarily because of the congestion in the skies of the south-east, because we have an airspace modernisation system that is stuck in an analogue age when we exist in a digital age. It was developed closer to the time of Yuri Gagarin going into space. We have to change that.
It is crucial that the benefits of any future expansion are enjoyed by the whole country. My hon. Friend Grahame Morris made a point about overall capacity. We have too much capacity in this country, but we do not have an airport capacity plan. Airports still compete with each other. That is why airspace modernisation is not being rolled out as fast it should be. Airports are competing in the south-west and in the south-east.
The sticking point for me is that the airport in my constituency is a brilliant economic driver that offers plenty of jobs. While no announcement has been made by the airport, I close by reiterating our commitment to the tests and our determination, in government, to help to build a sustainable future.
It is a delight to see you in the Chair, Ms Elliott. What a very interesting debate this has been. I congratulate Fleur Anderson on securing it. She is right that this is a very important matter.
As the debate has shown, many Members have very strong views on this issue, not only in relation to the benefits that expansion could bring to the national and local economy, but also because of the potential impacts that they have highlighted on those living around the airport and wider environmental commitments.
I admire the chutzpah of the shadow Minister, Mike Kane, in raising London bridges, when the London Mayor and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham have so abjectly failed to reopen Hammersmith bridge over the last four years.
That is a whole ’nother debate. Given that the Government will not fund major strategic infrastructure because it is in London—if it were anywhere else in the country, they would be paying 80% or 90%—and given how much they have dragged their feet for years on this project, the Minister has a cheek, quite frankly, to make the comment he has just made.
I do not have much time, but I think the Chamber knows that the funding per head and the sources of revenue that exist in London are vastly greater than in other parts of the country, and it is appropriate that that money should be properly invested alongside any other support that can be given.
We are not going to be distracted from this important topic. On a more constructive point, it is noticeable that the Opposition’s position on the issue of Heathrow expansion is not so very different from that of the Government. It is important to explore what the Government’s position is.
Hon. Members will recall that, in 2015, the independent Airports Commission’s final report concluded that a new north-west runway at Heathrow airport was the best solution to deliver the future additional airport capacity the country required. The Government considered the commission’s recommendation and announced in October 2016 that they agreed with the conclusions.
The Government then developed a draft airports national policy statement that provided the framework and criteria against which a development consent application would be judged. The draft statement was published for consultation in 2017 and scrutinised by the Transport Committee, before being laid before Parliament. In June 2018, the airports national policy statement was designated, following Parliament voting overwhelmingly in favour of the north-west runway proposal, by 415 votes to 119. That is an overwhelming majority in favour of the north-west runway proposal. Following its designation, the airports national policy statement was subject to a number of legal challenges, which have been heard in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The legal challenges concluded in December 2020, when the Supreme Court unanimously concluded that the airports national policy statement is lawful.
Challenges against the statement, however, did not end there. The Planning Act 2008 requires the Secretary of State to review a national policy statement whenever they consider it appropriate to do so. Between 2019 and 2021, the Department received numerous requests from third parties to review it. When the Supreme Court determined that the airports national policy statement once again had legal effect, those review requests were considered. In September 2021, the then Secretary of State for Transport decided that it was not appropriate at that time to review the airports national policy statement. The Government said that the matter would be considered again after the jet zero strategy was published, and that the timing of re-consideration would need to have regard to the availability of long-term aviation demand forecasts.
The jet zero strategy was published in July last year and sets out the Government’s approach to achieving net zero aviation by 2050. The idea that the Government have not thought at length and in depth about this, and set out a strategy for achieving it, as was raised earlier in the debate, is nonsense. The jet zero strategy and its accompanying documents set that out. The strategy focuses on the rapid development of technologies in a way that maintains the benefits of air travel while maximising the opportunities that decarbonisation can bring to the UK. It creates a strategic framework for aviation decarbonisation.
It is clear that the Government continue to support airport growth where it is justified, and that expansion of any airport in England must meet our strict climate change obligations to be able to proceed. The Government’s approach to sustainable aviation growth is supported by analysis that shows that the country can achieve net zero emissions by 2050 without the need to intervene directly to limit aviation growth. The jet zero strategy set out a range of measures to meet net zero. I will touch on three of those.
First, we are supporting the development of new, zero-carbon emission aircraft technology through the Aerospace Technology Institute programme. An example of that is the announcement last week by Rolls-Royce that it has commenced the testing of its UltraFan technology, which will enable efficiency improvements in current and future aircraft and is 100% SAF compatible.
Secondly, this year the Government have conducted a call for evidence on implementation of a 2040 zero-emission airport operations target in England. My Department is currently considering responses and will publish a Government response shortly. Thirdly, the suggestion that this country is behind its international competitors on sustainable aviation fuels is entirely wrong. We have published a consultation on the SAF mandate, and that is currently available for discussion.
I have no time, I am afraid. I have to stop in half a minute in order to allow the hon. Member for Putney to wind up the debate. I wish I had more time, but I am afraid that interventions and other speeches have not allowed for it.
Turning quickly back to covid-19, Members will be aware that covid-19 drastically revised the use of air transport. Almost overnight, most of the country’s aircraft fleet was grounded. Thankfully, the UK is now on the way to recovery, but we have not yet returned to the demand before the pandemic, and uncertainty remains around the long-term impact that the pandemic has had on aviation demand. Further work therefore needs to be undertaken before any future forecasts can be developed.
I think I had better wind up there. I apologise, Ms Elliott, for having to truncate my speech owing to the pressure of time.
I thank all Members who have taken part in this important debate; they all added a different perspective and added to the case, giving strong reasons for why this is a deeply flawed plan. Heathrow expansion is not in the planet’s interest or the national interest. I implore the Government to stop supporting the plan and invest in trains instead.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the future of Heathrow Airport expansion.