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Column 881Fallon, Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Miller, Sir Hal
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Moynihan, Hon Colin
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Sackville, Hon Tom
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Kenneth Carlisle and
Mr. David Maclean.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Bob Cryer and
Mr. Harry Barnes.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 5574/88 and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Home Office on 30th March 1989 and the proposals described in the unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Home Office on 7th June 1989 relating to broadcasting activities ; and endorses the Government's view that since these provisions now follow closely those of the Council of Europe's Convention on Transfrontier Television, they should be welcomed as contributing to the reduction of barriers to trade and the maintenance of the internationally-held principles of free-flow of information.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Dorrell.]
Mr. John P. Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) : At this very late hour I should like to bring to the attention of the House a matter which my constituents, a broad spectrum of people in Wales and I believe to be of great concern--the pressing need for a surface rail link to Cardiff Wales airport.
I wish to argue the need for this on three grounds. First, I believe that there are inadequate surface transportation links with Cardiff Wales airport, road or rail. More important, unless we provide a surface rail link to serve the airport the implications for its future look very bad. The final reason is that there is already a proven case for the reopening of a passenger rail link from Barry in south Glamorgan to Bridgend in Mid Glamorgan, passing through the western Vale of Glamorgan and the town of Llantwit Major. It would skirt the airport, and it would not be a very difficult job to provide a link for both passengers and freight.
I argue my first point on the following grounds. The existing surface link with Cardiff Wales airport is the road from Culverhouse Cross in north-west Cardiff--which has a good link along the link road to the M4--through Weycock Cross. However, on that link a single-lane carriageway must cater for the considerable volume of traffic that has recently built up following developments in north-west Barry. On bank holidays, and during the nice weather that we have experienced recently, the road is even more congested. On the recent spring bank holiday I understand that it was jammed solid from Culverhouse Cross right through to the holiday resort of Barry Island, in my constituency. Any passengers attempting to reach Cardiff Wales airport to embark on either internal flights or flights abroad could well have been unable to get there.
I have it on good authority that the present position is unacceptable, and that it may well be costing the airport much-needed trade and custom. It could be argued that we are losing business unnecessarily to adjacent airports such as Birmingham and possibly even Bristol. I recognise, however, that at present the airport is doing very well in difficult circumstances. Trade has increased, and the volume of passengers and freight out of the airport has risen slightly. I understand that the number of flights and aircraft has fallen, but the aircraft that are coming in are of a larger scale and able to carry much more, which is very encouraging.
That brings me to my second point. It will not bode well for the airport's future if we fail to grasp the nettle now, and to understand the need for investment in a rail link. The accepted view is that the increase in air traffic will continue in the foreseeable future, because of reduced flight costs, more efficient aircraft and people who now have higher disposable incomes and can afford air travel. If Cardiff Wales airport is to meet the needs of increased passenger numbers and freight, it needs an adequate surface link. If we want it to be a gateway to European markets in 1992--I am sure that the Minister agrees--we must provide that link or we will live to regret it. Once again, we may find ourselves trailing behind other regions.
The need for a link has been recognised in other regions. It is of such importance that I decided to take this
Column 883opportunity to bring it to the attention of the House. Other premier regional airports have introduced rail links. Birmingham has a direct rail link to its recently constructed terminal. Manchester has agreed with British Rail to provide a rail link to serve the important regional airport there. There is an agreement in Newcastle to extend the Metro system to provide a station to serve Newcastle airport. A rail link has been built into Stansted airport. Those links recognise the demand for access.
Local authorities, my colleagues, many industrialists in Wales, individuals representing the tourist industry and, understandably, the airport authority share my concern about prospects for the airport if this facility is not provided. There is a danger that the airport will start to lose custom and, in the process, its regional status. I hope that I am not exaggerating, but I am sure that the Minister and all Welsh Members share my worry. We should direct attention towards this issue.
My third argument for the surface rail link is based on the undoubted need to reopen the passenger line through the Vale of Glamorgan, which was shut under Beeching some time ago. I note with interest that at the annual general meeting of South Glamorgan county council the incoming chairwoman, Councillor Lorna Hughes, referred in her inaugural address to the long- standing need to provide a passenger rail link through the vale. There are numerous reasons for that. The most important demographic factor is the considerable expansion of local communities since Beeching.
Account must be taken of the increasing reliance on car transportation. A large number of people commute from the Vale of Glamorgan to Cardiff. It is a significant travel-to-work area. Much of the traffic congestion on the roads could be alleviated if commuters switched to other forms of transport, including public transport. The most obvious alternative form of transport, and the one that makes the most sense, is a rail line through the Vale of Glamorgan.
A line already exists. Unlike what happened in other areas, it was not removed. The line is used regularly to transport freight through the vale, to Bridgend in particular. Steam coal is transported regularly to Aberthaw power station. I understand that 11 trains a day use that line. Passengers also use the line on Sundays when repairs are being carried out to the main line from Barry, or from London to Swansea. That line skirts the airport. It would be a relatively easy task--I stress that point, bearing in mind some of British Rail's comments during the last few years--to reopen the line. When it had been reopened to passenger traffic, it would be relatively easy to provide a link to Cardiff Wales airport. British Rail does not share that view. It has argued that the line would not be economically viable. If one examines British Rail's ability to provide new services in south Wales, one finds that its track record is neither very encouraging nor very good. New stations that have been opened in south Glamorgan, largely as a result of local government initiatives, have proved to be highly successful. I refer to the opening of Cathays station in Cardiff. That was wholly a local authority-South Glamorgan county council initiative. British Rail was obviously reluctant to open it, but it has proved to be a huge success. It was followed by a joint venture, with
Column 884Welsh Office assistance, to provide other stations, including Eastbrook Halt. Passenger transport from the Dinas Powys community increased by 60 per cent. after that station was opened. I am absolutely convinced that a similar increase in traffic would result from an extension of the line through the Vale of Glamorgan and from the provision of additional stations.
This important matter is not being given the attention that it deserves. I hope that the Minister has been listening carefully. Local people believe that the need for a rail link to Cardiff Wales airport should be recognised. A decision must be taken now because of the planning and land acquisition considerations, and even the engineering and design considerations, that will have to be dealt with during the next couple of years.
If a decision is not taken now, I fear that we shall fall behind what has been achieved by airports in other regions that have recognised the need to tackle the problem. The Secretary of State for Wales sets great store by his ability to serve the region and the community. It could well be a test for the Secretary of State for Wales to realise that we can continue to develop the Welsh economy only if we provide a rail link to Cardiff Wales airport. I apologise if I have slightly exceeded my time.
The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. Wyn Roberts) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) on securing his first Adjournment debate and I thank him for giving me the opportunity to say how much I support Cardiff Wales airport. The airport provides valuable scheduled services to Amsterdam, Dublin and various destinations in the United Kingdom. Amsterdam provides a gateway to many destinations in Europe and across the world. Cardiff is served by charter flights to many places, notably the tourist areas of Europe. It is also served by regular transatlantic charter flights to such places as Orlando, Florida, New York and Toronto.
I am sure that as the skies over London become more congested, the Cardiff airport management will seize every opportunity to attract further traffic to Cardiff Wales airport. I wish them well in such ventures, which will no doubt be aided by the increasing liberalisation of the airways being brought about by the European Community
I am aware that the airport management, in conjunction with the Welsh Development Agency, has been conducting and continues to conduct surveys to determine the customer potential of new routes. These are providing much useful information as a basis on which to attract new services to the airport. I understand that with the help of those surveys, some new scheduled services to the continent are already in the pipeline and the airport is also looking to enhance its services to north America.
Cardiff Wales airport currently handles about 750,000 passengers per year. Most of those come from south Wales, the majority travelling in the peak holiday period. Some others come from the west country, particularly for the transatlantic charter services. The majority travel to the airport by car, but there is a good bus service from central Cardiff and from Barry.
I am aware that the airport management wish to see improvements to the access from Cardiff to the airport. The late hon. Member for the Vale of Glamorgan, Sir Raymond Gower, also wrote to me on this topic. Interest
Column 885has been expressed both in the improvement of road access and in the provision of a rail service. The former is of course a matter for South Glamorgan county council which is the highway authority for the area. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Culverhouse Cross-Capel Llanilltern link is a great improvement to communications in the area.
As well as securing this debate, the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan has written to my right hon. Friend arguing the case for the reopening to passengers of the Vale of Glamorgan freight line, which passes near the perimeter of Cardiff Wales airport. To provide a rail link to the airport would require the reopening of a section of this line to passenger traffic. I must, therefore, first of all explain the Government's views on the reopening of new railway lines by British Rail.
The opening or reopening of any railway line is initially a decision for the British Railways Board to make in the light of the general objectives set for it by the Government. The railways board is expected to take a proper commercial approach to such proposals. It must also take into account any funds available from other sources, such as local authorities or the private sector. Any central Government funding would be dependent upon the ability of British Rail to demonstrate that the proposal will bring quantifiable economic external benefits to the community as a whole, such as relief from severe traffic congestion. Normally the Government would expect the costs of a new railway to be met by those who directly benefit.
Cardiff Wales airport is a limited company jointly owned by Mid, West and South Glamorgan county councils. Those authorities stand to benefit from any increased patronage at the airport and I am sure that it must be reasonable, in that circumstance, for the authorities to bear at least a share of any costs involved in providing improved access. Indeed, county councils have a duty to decide how best to meet the transport requirements of their areas. This would be South Glamorgan for the area including Cardiff Wales airport.
The Government's policy is that if a council adopts the reopening of a particular line, it would have to bear any capital costs of the project which cannot be supported commercially by British Rail. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that Mid Glamorgan and South Glamorgan county councils have already collaborated on a joint rail strategy, to which he referred. The first phase of this strategy, which was funded as a project of regional or national importance, has brought considerable improvements to rail services in those counties. I understand that the counties are likely to put in a bid for a PRNI allocation for a second phase of this strategy, but it may not include a spur to serve the airport, as their last recorded view was that the current passenger levels using the airport could not justify such a link in the near future.
It seems that there are two ways in which Cardiff Wales airport might be connected to the railway. A link to the airport terminal would require a stretch of new railway line from the existing Vale of Glamorgan freight line, upgraded to passenger standards as necessary. Choice of route would be constrained by the Porthkerry viaduct and the adjacent deep cutting. Such a scheme would take some high quality agricultural land and would have serious consequences for Porthkerry village. It would be an expensive business.
Column 886An alternative would be a scheme including the reintroduction of passenger services along the Vale of Glamorgan line to a station at or near Rhoose. A station on that line would be some distance from the airport terminal and might not be very attractive, given the available bus services. The line itself would need to be upgraded and provided with new signalling to take passenger traffic. I am told that rolling stock alone would cost in the region of £1.6 million. British Rail is aware of the interest shown generally in the reintroduction of passenger services to the Vale of Glamorgan line. It has not made any detailed assessments of the potential viability of such a service because it does not consider it necessary. In its judgment, based on experience in other parts of the country, the population of the Vale of Glamorgan is insufficient to sustain such a service. Mid and South Glamorgan county councils did look into the possibility of the inclusion of the Vale of Glamorgan line within their joint rail strategy, but they have decided that the case for this line is insufficiently strong, at least in the short term. In his letter to my right hon. Friend, the hon. Gentleman pointed out that several airports enjoy, or will enjoy, the rail links. The hon. Gentleman has made very much the same point tonight and I accept the point. Most of those airports serve a far higher population than Cardiff Wales airport. Two of them, Birmingham and Stansted, were already close to existing passenger lines and at least one other will be served by an already expanding local suburban railway network. Even Heathrow has only relatively recently been linked to the Underground system, which affords comparatively slow access to central London. The proposed new rail link between Heathrow and Paddington will be heavily dependent on the availability of external finance before it can be built. There are many other airports, which I could list for the hon. Gentleman, with no rail links, such as Bristol and Edinburgh.
I realise that what I have just said is not very encouraging. I realise the importance to Wales of a thriving international airport and the advantages which a rail link would bring but British Rail cannot provide and service such a link unless it is commercially viable. On present indications, there does not appear to be a satisfactory economic case.
The lack of a link is not stifling growth at the airport. New charter services have been introduced this year and prospects seem promising for the introduction of further services, both charter and scheduled. I am pleased to see that the airport management has plans for further development and that it is striving to increase its business.
The airport already has runway facilities to handle the largest jets and is extending its apron so that Boeing 747s can be more easily accommodated. To cope with increasing numbers of passengers the airport has provided new departure lounges and new covered walkways were brought into use this year to provide access for passengers direct from the departure lounges to their aircraft. Extra parking space for cars will become available in the near future. Further developments are in the pipeline as more lounge facilities with escalator connections are developed over the winter months in the upper levels of the terminal building.
The increasing levels of air traffic will soon require new and improved local air traffic control facilities. Discussions are already in hand with the air traffic control authorities
Column 887and new radar installations are expected to be introduced during the winter period. There are also plans for a new hotel development which will serve air travellers.
Therefore, I tend to disagreee with the hon. Gentleman that the prospects for Cardiff airport are not bright. I contradict that. With these developments, the airport's prospects are very good. I am sure that the local authorities that are involved in the running of the airport
Column 888and with the provision of local roads and improved rail services in the area--they are collaborating with British Rail--will take the airport's prospects and its best interests into account. It is clear that the interests of the airport, which is run by the local authorities, are very much in tune with their own interests. I am sure that they will be safeguarded in the future.
Question put and agreed to .
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes past Three o'clock .
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