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Mr. Darling: There is not a proposal to build another runway at Manchester. The view is that the existing runway capacity will be sufficient throughout the 30-year period. There is, however, an option to extend terminal capacity.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, but it reflects a common theme in our exchanges. Everyone agrees that something has to be done and that more and more people want to travel. However, when it comes to the particular, people naturally say, "Not here. Somewhere else." As he knows, I do not represent a Greater Manchester constituency, but I speak to quite a lot of Greater Manchester MPs, not least because we have rather more of them than he has. My impression is that opinion is somewhat divided.
Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne): People in the south-west make fewer air journeys than anyone else in the United Kingdom. That could be because we have the lowest number of airports and slots into the south-east. The situation was not helped when, in the mid-1990s, British Airways withdrew the slot into Heathrow from Plymouth and Newquay. That was bad for the economy of Cornwall and Devon. Will my right hon. Friend seriously consider this issue in the consultation?
Mr. Darling: I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about not just air links but other links from the south-west. I have used Plymouth and Newquay airports on several occasions, and I am aware of the problems that she has encountered. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), keeps me right about the south-west of England at every possible opportunity.
The consultation documents consider options for increasing links and for extending capacity at Bristol. I appreciate that Bristol is quite a long way from Cornwall, but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) accepts that some things can be done with the smaller regional airports whereas other things cannot. However, I assure her that I perfectly understand her points and, as I suggested, my ministerial colleague will ensure that I consider all the issues.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): How substantial and significant to the Secretary of State's plans is the contribution made by outstanding regional airports, such as Southend, which are anxious to expand and develop? As we are heading for a period of expansion, will he make it clear that the CAA will adopt a positive and constructive attitude to airport expansion and that it will not be unduly bureaucratic?
Mr. Darling: I hope that the latter will not be the case. The difficulty at Southend is just how much more scope for expansion there is without encountering real problems. However, it is a pleasure to hear an hon. Member say that he wants a bigger airport in his constituency. I assure him that Southend is one of the options considered in the consultation document, but it is not down for development as a major London airport. It is being considered in its own right.
I know that Prestwick has been through a difficult time over the years. There has been some welcome expansion brought about, for example, by the low-cost airline Ryanair and by the development of freight. My hon. Friend will see from the consultation document that the future development of Prestwick is being examined. On her point about whether it is possible to promote a passenger hub airport at Prestwick, the consultation document suggests that the development of Glasgow and Edinburgh is more likely. However, she will clearly want to make representations on behalf of Prestwick.
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): Given the potential threat to the Inverness-Gatwick air link, does the Secretary of State recognise its vital importance to the economy of the highlands? Notwithstanding the clear hints that a public service obligation will not be forthcoming, can he assure the House that the Government remain committed to it?
Mr. Darling: Having been in touch with Iain Gray, the Minister with responsibility for transport in the Scottish Executive, I am well aware that the links between Inverness and London are very important. British Airways has said on a number of occasions that it intends to continue with the link, and our discussions and consideration continue. The hon. Gentleman should be in no doubt that the link is critical.
Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North): I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement. He is aware of the mass protestindeed, he has had a flavour of it in the Chamberthat will result from expansion in the south and south-east. In Doncaster, not only are the vast majority of the population in favour of the project at RAF Finningley, but tens of thousands of people have signed a petition asking for an airport there. Will he agree to meet a delegation of Doncaster and south Yorkshire MPs so that we can tell him in detail about the benefits of having an airport in Doncaster?
Mr. Darling: Over the past 10 years I must have met my hon. Friend on many occasions, mostly informal rather than formal, and I know of his long-standing interest in Finningley and the development there. There has been an inquiry. The inspector is due to report in October or NovemberI hope that he will do soand a decision then has to be made by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. That is why the proposal does not appear in the consultation document. As I said to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor), it is nice to find an hon. Member who wants an
Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): The Government's proposals for new runways at Birmingham international airport will cause great concern to my constituents because of the environmental consequences. The Department's summary document states that improvements would need to be made to the road network and the west coast main line. Does that constitute a wish list or a commitment to do something?
Mr. Darling: We are committed to upgrading the west coast main line. Unlike the party that the hon. Lady represents, we are prepared to put in the investment to make that possible, so she is in no position to criticise us on railway development.
The hon. Lady has a more substantive point about Birmingham. The consultation document recognises the fact that extending the development of Birmingham airport could have implications for people living around it. It also makes the point that jobs are associated with the airport. One of the options that was considered as an alternative to the expansion of Birmingham and east midlands airports was a new airport between Coventry and Rugby.
We all recognise the need for good air links, and Birmingham airport is a very good airport that provides links throughout and beyond Europe and is extremely popular. The hon. Lady must weigh in the balance the advantages of Birmingham and the possible need to extend it with her concerns for her constituents. None of us can have it all ways. There is no such thing as a cost-free airport with no implications one way or another.
Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth): The people of Rugby will be devastated by what they have heard today and to know that two historic villagesChurch Lawford and King's Newnhamwill disappear under runways. If one had said to anybody in Rugby yesterday that there would be a new airport in Rugby and Birmingham airport will close, they would not have believed that it was humanly possible. My right hon. Friend said that Birmingham is a very successful airport. I believe that it should continue to be so and that the people of Birmingham would not want to lose their airport. Will he meet a delegation of the people of Rugby within the four-month period? [Interruption.] Four months is not long enough, because it will take them four months to get over the shock of hearing about it.
Mr. Darling: I always knew that being Transport Secretary would be good fun. Just before my hon. Friend causes himself a lot of difficulty, I must tell him that we are not proposing a new airport between Coventry and Rugby. We are saying that there is likely to be an expansion in the numbers of people wanting to fly from midlands airports. The options canvass is on whether we expand capacity at Birmingham or east midlands, or both. Alternatively, the option is whether it is worth building a new airport. No decisions whatever have been made.