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Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): The one thing that we were entitled to expect out of this lengthy and painful process was an end to doubt. Does the Secretary of State realise that he has produced a recipe for confusion and blight? What does he have to say to my constituents near Gatwick who will now not know for possibly a decade whether the airport will be expanded? If he has made a decision about Redhill aerodrome, I would be grateful to hear it because he appears to have ducked and dodged decisions on almost everything else.
Mr. Darling: I will forgive the hon. Gentleman because he cannot possibly have read the whole White Paper in the 40 minutes that it has been available. He will find that the Government do not think that Redhill should be expanded.
The hon. Gentleman will know that land to the south of the existing runway at Gatwick has been safeguarded for some time. That safeguarding must be continued and amended slightly in case there is development, but I made it clear right from the start that I did not think that the 2019 agreement should be overturned, and I confirmed that today. That is pretty certain.
Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne) (Lab): How much extra protection will be provided for the residents of Devon and Cornwall by today's announcement, given the economic importance of air links to Newquay and Plymouth?
Mr. Darling: I think that my hon. Friend is asking about PSOspublic service obligationsand as I said in my statement, the White Paper sets out the fact that the Government are prepared to step in to safeguard routes from the parts of the United Kingdom, including south-west England, that are further away from London.
Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con): It is disappointing that the Government have ruled out the long-term serious option of building new airport capacity on the coast, which is happening in most countries where that possibility exists. I am doubly disappointed that they have not removed the blight and uncertainty from any of the existing London airportsin fact, the problem is being compounded. Although the decision not to overturn the 2019 agreement on Gatwick is welcome, how long will it be before the Heathrow
Mr. Darling: The right hon. Gentleman is not exactly clear whether he wants the housing or notI rather get the impression that he does not. He will know that the land is safeguarded now, that it has been safeguarded for some time and that it will continue to be safeguarded. I am grateful to him for welcoming the fact that we are not going to overturn the 2019 agreement, which would have been wrong. We have examined proposals for the development of coastal and estuarial airports, but, for the reasons set out in the White Paper, we do not think that we can proceed with them.
Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree) (Lab): I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept that I am one lawyer who is not rubbing his hands with glee at today's announcement about Stansted. He will be aware of the disappointment and dread caused by the announcement of the expansion. He has already indicated that he is aware of the findings of the public inquiry, which unreservedly damned any second runway. What assessment has he made of the potential profitability of Stansted with a second runway without cross-subsidy from Gatwick and Heathrow?
Mr. Darling: As with any airport development, the private operator must finance airport construction, and, in the case of Stansted, BAA must make such a commercial judgment. I understand that it will say something further in the next few days, but it must decide whether it thinks the figures stack up commercially, and the Government will not step in and do that for it.
On my hon. Friend's first point, I accept what was the case in 1985, but aviation has changed dramatically in the past few years. As I said to the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk), even five years ago Stansted had very little traffic; now 19 million people use it. I also repeat the point that, after examining the south-east as a wholeone must examine it as a wholeone sees that it needs two runways in the 30-year period. For the reasons that we have set out, our judgment is that the first runway ought to be at Stansted and the second at Heathrow, provided that Heathrow can meet the conditions that we have set out.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Mr. Speaker, your Deputy, the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), and his constituents have, like mine, fought tirelessly against the Stansted expansion. Does the Secretary of State accept that his decision will cause great misery in Essex and east Hertfordshire? How can he explain it to my constituents? It is not a commercial decisionthe airlines and BAA have made that clear. It is not an environmental decisionthe expansion was described as a catastrophe by the last inspector to examine itand there is nobody to pay for the infrastructure. Who will pay for the necessary roads and railway links? He gives
Mr. Darling: The airport will be a commercial decision because BAA is responsible for financing and building it. The Civil Aviation Authority regulates cross-subsidy and similar issues between the London airports. I know what was said in 1985, but I have said to the hon. Gentleman and other Members that a lot has changed in the past 20 years. On surface access, the Government have a responsibility for both road and rail.
The hon. Gentleman raised a general point, which we shall return to time and time again, about what he should say to all his constituents. We must balance the fact that airport development has an environmental impact with the fact that more and more of us, including his constituents, are flying more. Such problems are difficult. When I started this process and said that we must press ahead, my senior officials told me that all my predecessors had backed off because the issue is difficult. I can well see why previous Secretaries of State have run a mile from this issue, but I would have been shirking my duty if I had not faced up to the difficulties and set out firm proposals to enable people to plan ahead.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): The whole House will share with the Secretary of State the much-guarded secret of the expansion of airports in the south-east and welcome the expansion of the regional airports in particular. The reality is that those airports will require flights into Heathrow, which they regard as their lifeline. How will they be protected, will the passenger service obligations be used to ensure that they can fly to Heathrow and what estimate has he made of the cost of not developing Heathrow in the next 10 years? The commercial loss of business to continental airports will be very large. Would he like to tell us what it will be?
Mr. Darling: First, I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks about regional airports. I note that she has been entirely consistent because in 1985, which was the last time a Secretary of State came to the Dispatch Box and said anything about airport development, she said the same thing, and she is absolutely right.
The position on Heathrow is that, because of the mandatory requirements relating to nitrogen dioxide, we could not now authorise, approve or support the building of a third runway there. It is clear that, at the moment, a third runway would breach the mandatory NO2 requirements, which is why we believe that work should start on reducing NO2. It should start anyway because we should do everything that we can to reduce it. However, we should keep open the possibility for precisely the reasons that my hon. Friend set out and supports. I made it clear earlier that a third runway at Heathrow could be built provided that we can overcome the problems with air pollution. It would have been wrong for the Government to have said, "Yes, just go ahead now", while ignoring the environmental problems that undoubtedly exist at Heathrow.
On my hon. Friend's general point, nobody should be under any illusions: Heathrow is vital not only to the UK but internationally. It is one of the world's leading airports, which is why, no matter what the difficulties, we must do our level best to resolve those problems.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): Does the Secretary of State accept that, on Heathrow, "wait and see" is the worst possible answer? My constituents want someone with the courage to say yes or no now. If he were to say yes, he would please just over half my constituents and if he said no, he would satisfy the rest, but instead he will upset them all, especially if he pursues the argument on runway alternation. Uncertainty on Heathrow is bad news. Those who believe that a new runway would safeguard their jobs will worry about redundancy and those who paid a high price for their house will worry that property values might fall. Those who want a better environment will wonder whether they will ever get it.