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Railway Stations

5. Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): What assessment he has made of the relative benefits of railway stations inside and outside towns; and if he will make a statement. [34464]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): There is no general preference between town centre and out-of-town locations. Instead, stations are planned on a case-by-case basis.

Martin Horwood: I thank the Minister for his reply, but I find it slightly curious. Given that nearly 20 per cent. of households in Gloucestershire have no car and given the decline in walking and cycling, which I am sure he would agree is damaging for our health and our environment, would he not agree with my constituent Jonathon Porritt, the chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, when he says that

and that therefore any diversion of services from existing town stations such as Cheltenham Spa to new stations outside towns would be harmful to our health and our environment?

Mr. Darling: What I think the hon. Gentleman is getting at is that Gloucester county council has put forward a proposal to build an out-of-town railway station, and he is right to say that it serves broadly the same market as the one at Cheltenham. He may also be aware that the councillors have submitted an application for funding for that station. One of the things that the Department would want to know is whether it would take passengers or services away from
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Cheltenham, which would clearly be unsatisfactory. In addition to that, of course I agree that we want to make stations as accessible as possible.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Railway stations either in town or out of town are fine if the trains can get into them. Given the serious capacity problems in the central and south Manchester hub, what assessment has been made by my right hon. Friend's Department with a view to increasing the Network Rail capacity of the Manchester hub, particularly through to Manchester Piccadilly station?

Mr. Darling: As I said at the last Question Time, I am aware of the problems in relation to capacity at Manchester's Piccadilly station, particularly in relation to some of the train services. Network Rail is looking at those. Part of the problem is that we are dealing with a network in that part of Manchester that was essentially built by the Victorians and does not lend itself that easily to being expanded without quite major engineering works, but we want more people to use the trains—indeed, more people are using trains now than at any time since the second world war—and Network Rail is aware of that and is doing what it can to build on capacity.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that parkway stations that are on the hinterland of the town have a part to play in providing more capacity for rail lines, and will he ask the Strategic Rail Authority to look at a new parkway station for Canvey island that would get more passengers and put more capacity on to the c2c Fenchurch Street line?

Mr. Darling: I would write to the SRA except that I abolished it, so I do not actually think that a letter would achieve the purpose that the hon. Gentleman hopes to achieve. However, I certainly agree with him that out-of-town railway stations can play an important part in attracting people to drive there, leave their car and take the train for the rest of the journey. I said at the start that there is no predisposition in favour of one type of station or another; each one needs to be looked at on its merits, and anything that encourages people to use the train must be a good thing.

David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op): One of the main issues raised with me at a meeting this weekend, organised by Brighton and Hove city council to mark the international year of the disabled, concerned problems of access to many of our older stations, such as Preston Park in my constituency, by people with disabilities. What discussions has the Department had with the train operating companies and others on the question of making our railway stations fully accessible to all those people who would like to use trains?

Mr. Darling: There have been many such discussions, and there is a programme to upgrade stations systematically over the next few years to make them more accessible. Again, to return to the point made a few moments ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), a lot of stations were built long before anyone had any sense
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that we had to ensure access for people with disabilities. That takes a lot of time and is quite expensive, but we are determined to do it, and Network Rail and the train operators have a programme to achieve just that.

Airport Expansion

6. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): If he will make a statement on the Government's policy on airport expansion in the United Kingdom. [34465]

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): The policy framework for developing airport capacity to 2030 was set out in the White Paper that we published in December 2003. Progress has been made on meeting the commitments in that White Paper in a number of ways, and we intend to report progress on developments by the end of next year, as we promised to do.

Mr. Randall: I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. Different Departments will give different emphasis to airport expansion, so I wonder whether he can tell me what discussions he and his Department have had, for example, with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury about airport expansion. In particular, have they discussed the possible expansion of Heathrow with a third runway?

Mr. Darling: Yes, of course, those Departments have because the White Paper that was published two years ago was an expression of Government policy, and therefore represents the Government's collective view. It is patently obvious that both of those Departments—the Treasury, in particular—take a great interest in all matters that might involve public expenditure one way or another. The White Paper sets out a measured, balanced development strategy, which takes into account not only environmental considerations but, crucially, the fact that we must have airports that will allow people to travel to different parts of this country and the world because that is essential for our future economic development.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Is not one of the problems the growth in domestic air travel in the UK for journeys that could be done much better and more appropriately by rail? Can my right hon. Friend think of some innovative ways to achieve such a modal shift—for example, by increasing airline passenger duty for domestic mainland flights in the UK and using the revenues raised to fund high-speed lines to cut journey times and make rail more attractive?

Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend is right to suggest that we should encourage people to use the most environmentally efficient way to travel if we can. Let me give an example that is a bit further away from the city that both of us represent. Now that the west coast main line has been upgraded at a cost of £7.5 billion, the journey time on the train service between Manchester and London is just over two hours, and it is extremely efficient and probably a better way to get to London than going out to the airport and flying down. So that is a very good example.
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As I have told the House before, the Chancellor and I have asked Sir Rod Eddington to look at some of the longer-term transport developments that we need in this country, one of which will be whether we should invest money in a high-speed rail link that runs from the north to the south. However, I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that we ought to encourage people to travel in a way that causes the least possible damage to the environment, although I draw his attention to the fact that any form of transport—high-speed rail links included—has an environmental consequence. High-speed railway lines draw a substantial amount of energy when people are travelling on them.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The pre-Budget statement was an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate joined-up thinking in relation to airport expansion. Instead, chapter 3 of the report talks of satisfying demand for a threefold increase in air travel by 2030, and chapter 7 talks about reducing emissions from aviation. Which of those two chapters did the Secretary of State co-author? Why, for the eighth year running, have the Government refused to make aviation pay its full environmental costs?

Mr. Darling: As the hon. Gentleman perfectly well knows, the taxation of aviation fuel is governed by international treaty and it is not open to any country to take unilateral action in that respect. I am sure that he will have noticed that last week, because of pressure brought to bear by the UK Government, the European Union signed up to including aviation in a EU-wide emissions trading scheme, which will go a long way to reduce emission. As I said just a few moments ago, the White Paper on aviation, which we published a couple of years ago, not only sought to strike a balance to ensure that people could fly to different parts of the country and the world, but was very conscious of our environmental obligations. The problem with the Liberal Democrats is that they are in favour of people flying, but they are against the means to enable them to do so.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Having spoken recently to senior management at Glasgow airport, I know that they are extremely happy with the proposals in the White Paper on airport expansion. However, they are concerned about access to Glasgow airport, especially due to congestion on the M8 and the situation regarding the Glasgow airport rail link, responsibility for which is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Scottish Executive to try to move those things forward?

Mr. Darling: I know that those associated with Glasgow airport, in common with many people involved in the aviation industry and others, welcome the fact that two years ago the Government did something that no Government had done for 30 years: set out a strategic development. I understand the importance of the rail link and that it is of great interest to those at Glasgow airport, as my hon. Friend says. The matter is devolved to the Scottish Executive. I have had discussions with the Liberal Democrat Minister who is responsible for the rail link, so I look forward to finding out when he will give it the go-ahead.
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Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that one of the effects of the   Government's airports policy is to encourage the development of Nottingham East Midlands airport as a national air freight hub? The development clearly brings economic benefits to both the businesses that use air freight services and the people who work in the airport, which is welcome. However, does he acknowledge that one of the effects of growing air freight activity at the airport has been an increase in night-flights activity, which has resulted in environmental burdens for the surrounding community? Would it not be right for a Government who are encouraging the development of air freight activity at Nottingham East Midlands airport for entirely understandable reasons also to accept responsibility for regulating the environmental impact by introducing a designation of the airport? The Government would thus accept responsibility for the environmental impact of the decisions that they are taking.

Mr. Darling: The right hon. Gentleman puts his case extremely reasonably. He is absolutely right that there is a tension between the development of Nottingham East Midlands airport, which of course brings huge economic benefit to the area as well as benefit to people who want to travel, and the fact that air freight almost necessarily involves night flights, which have noise associated with them. There was quite a discussion about that last Question Time. The Government are conscious of the matter and we will do everything that we can to try to mitigate the situation and put the right controls in place to ensure that noise is kept to a minimum. However, as the right hon. Gentleman recognises, the airport itself brings a lot of benefit to the area. We are trying to tread a fine line between the development of the airport and ensuring that we protect the well-being of people who live nearby.

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