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11 Nov 2008 : Column 653

This is not the only step that is necessary, however. We are also looking to the London Underground public-private partnership to deliver important enhancements to Piccadilly line services, with an increase of up to 25 per cent. in capacity from 2014. We are looking, too, at new rail links, such as Airtrack, which would provide direct rail access from terminal 5 to the rail network south-west of the airport and Waterloo, Guildford and Reading, as well as the potential for new high-speed lines.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Hoon: I will give way shortly.

As a result, some people have asked why we need any more capacity at Heathrow; that is the position the official Opposition have adopted. Why cannot we simply curb domestic flights by investing in high-speed rail? It makes sense, of course, to use rail where this provides a viable, practical and cost-effective alternative. Passengers know that and, to a large degree, they are already taking those decisions for themselves. For example, the proportion of London to Manchester journeys is now two thirds by rail as against one third by air. In 2004, before the £8.8 billion investment this Government made in the west coast main line, the position was the reverse.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Hoon: I will give way once I have completed this point.

As a result of Eurostar and the high-speed line through the channel tunnel, London-Paris flights are down by more than 20 per cent. since 2000. I am, therefore, a big fan of high-speed rail, but it is wrong to suppose that a national network of high-speed lines in the UK could replace more than a fraction of Heathrow journeys, or provide a substitute for a third runway. Apart from anything else, domestic flights make up less than 10 per cent. of the airport’s traffic. The number of flights between Heathrow and Manchester and Leeds-Bradford last year was less than 3 per cent. of Heathrow’s total number of flights, with approximately 13,000 over the past 12 months. Even if every single one of those passengers was transferred on to a new high-speed rail line—which is the Opposition’s policy—Heathrow would still be operating at 97 per cent. of capacity, so high-speed rail could only ever make a modest reduction in that figure. As Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, has said,

I could not have put it any better.

Positing airport growth and high-speed rail as alternatives is an entirely false and bogus choice. I hope the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet will accept that. We need to make progress on both.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Before we lose sight of his comment on Airtrack, may I ask a question? That route will largely go through my constituency and will have a major new station at Staines. Does he agree that it will not only help passengers to get off the
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roads, but it will also help a very large number of people who work at Heathrow and live in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies to get to work by train, which they cannot do at present?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman makes a practical and serious point, which needs to be thought about in relation to the wider issues to do with airport expansion. We must not lose sight of the fact that some 70,000 people are employed at Heathrow and a further 30,000 people’s livelihoods are dependent on it.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): The Secretary of State has been on his feet for 40 minutes or so—it has felt longer—yet the words “climate change” have not fallen from his lips. Does he not understand that there is profound concern in the House that an emissions trading scheme that has so far categorically failed to reduce emissions will be inadequate for the task of controlling the fastest-growing source of emissions? Does he not appreciate that for many of our constituents the decision to give a green light to Heathrow’s expansion makes a mockery of the Government’s climate change strategy?

Mr. Hoon: I do not accept that for a moment, and I shall deal with the environmental arguments in due course. Although I have been on my feet for a while, I have been answering questions as well as making a speech. Given the hon. Gentleman’s implicit criticism, I shall make some further progress.

I need to deal with the suggestion that Heathrow might be replaced with a new airport in the Thames estuary. As I have said, 400 potential locations for a new airport in the south-east were assessed ahead of the 2003 White Paper, including a number in and around the Thames estuary area. After detailed analysis of the costs and benefits, the Government decided against a completely offshore airport, but consulted on a serious proposition for a new four-runway airport at Cliffe in north Kent. After careful consideration, that proposal was rejected for three major reasons—high up-front costs; lower benefits than the options for the development of existing airports; and a significant risk that the site would not be financially viable—and it should be noted that it was the best of the options for a completely new airport. The bird populations in the area were also a significant consideration, given the significant safety implications arising from the risk of bird strike.

I know that the new Mayor of London is an enthusiast of that scheme, but I am less clear on the position of the Conservative party. Just last Friday, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), to whom I would be delighted to give way, was asked whether her party liked the Mayor’s plan. Her answer was “That’s Boris’s proposal”, which reveals the chaos and confusion on the Benches opposite. I hope that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet will today be able to clarify her party’s position on the Thames estuary proposal, once and for all. I look forward to what she has to say.

The arguments against increasing capacity at Heathrow involve the impact on our environment. Some argue that capping capacity at Heathrow will somehow cap the climate change impact. It is clear, for all the reasons I have set out, that if there is not sufficient capacity at Heathrow, the reality is that more and more flights will
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simply move east to Schiphol, Paris or Frankfurt—other hub airports that are in direct competition for long-haul services. There will be no reduction in carbon emissions; they will simply be displaced and British jobs will be lost.

We should also remember that as Heathrow is now full and operating at 99 per cent. capacity, there is a good chance that without further development we will actually add to the environmental burden: the resilience of the airport will decrease, delays will increase and more planes will be stacked above us using fuel and producing carbon emissions across the south-east of England. The current congestion and lack of capacity wastes fuel and increases carbon emissions.

Lord Stern advocated international emissions trading as a central part of plans to reduce carbon emissions, and that is precisely the approach that this Government have pursued. We have been working hard over recent years to ensure that aviation is included in the EU emissions trading scheme, and that is exactly what is going to happen from 2012. It means that CO2 emissions from EU aviation, covering all departing and arriving flights, will be capped at 97 per cent. of average 2004 to 2006 emissions in 2012, tightening to 95 per cent. in 2013. As a result, any growth in aviation emissions from the expansion of Heathrow would be fully offset by a reduction in emissions elsewhere. Moreover, the scheme would be EU-wide, affecting all EU hub airports equally. It is simply wrong to say that more planes at Heathrow means there will be more CO2 emissions overall.

Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): May I just return to the idea of the Boris airport off the Isle of Sheppey? The Secretary of State has hinted that the Cliffe report shows that without a new M2 and a brand new rail track it would be impossible to get 100,000 people to Cliffe or to Sheppey, and, moreover, it would be impossible to get 185,000 people a day to an island airport. The crux of the matter is that no extra money is being offered by the Mayor of London, and that he would use only the existing communications system, which is already overloaded.

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point; the Conservative party, in its various guises, whether in support of the Mayor of London or not, seems to have completely overlooked the fact that 70,000 people work at Heathrow and a further 30,000 work in the immediate vicinity, and they will have to find a way to the Thames estuary if they are to continue in employment—although, historically, the Conservative party has not much cared about people’s employment prospects

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): Will the Secretary of State nail the lie on Cliffe and say that the Government will not reopen consideration of that site? Will he also ignore the siren voices of Conservatives on a new Thames estuary airport? Can he tell us whether any capacity is available in regional airports to take flights out of London Heathrow and the other London airports, especially inclusive tour and holiday flights, because it is economically and environmentally nonsense for such flights to go from London?

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Mr. Hoon: There may be capacity in some other airports, but that suggestion overlooks the unique position of Heathrow as a hub airport. Most major developed countries have one airport that acts as a hub, allowing their citizens to travel on from regional and local airports and make a connection with international flights. Historically, British Airways tried quite hard to use Gatwick as a separate hub, but for financial reasons that was unfortunately not possible. If we look at a map, it is apparent that very few countries are able to sustain more than one hub airport: there simply is not the regularity of flights necessary to support such a situation.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Hoon: I must reach a conclusion.

The global environmental issues that I have mentioned are also important in terms of the potential local impacts on people in and around Heathrow. That brings me back to the consultation we completed this year and the conditions contained in the air transport White Paper. The “Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport” consultation was a vast exercise, publicised extensively online and through local and national media. The Department for Transport sent out more than 217,000 summary documents to households in the Heathrow area. In addition, the Department held a series of public exhibitions from Hounslow in the east to Windsor in the west to West Drayton in the north. The Department also published 14 technical reports containing the evidence that we relied on.

More recently, we also completed a further consultation on the potential equalities impacts associated with Heathrow development. This examined the possible differential impacts on equality priority groups by reason of race, age, gender or disability, and closed last week.

We made it clear in the 2003 White Paper—and repeated in last November’s consultation on “Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport”—that our support for further development at Heathrow was subject to the three critical tests on air quality, noise and public transport. In the November consultation, we set out the results of our analysis and showed how we believed those conditions could be met in the future under the various development options, and we invited views, both generally and in response to specific questions.

The first condition concerns air quality. We do not intend to compromise on our European air quality obligations, especially concerning local nitrogen dioxide limits, the key pollutant of concern around Heathrow.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Hoon: I shall make a little more progress.

The key factor affecting local air quality around Heathrow is actually emissions from road vehicles. Our analysis shows that even immediately outside the airport, nitrogen dioxide emissions from road vehicles in 2002 exceeded that from airport sources, and near the M4, nitrogen dioxide from road use represents 70 per cent. of the total nitrogen dioxide emissions, with aviation accounting for only 4 per cent. That does not mean—[ Interruption.] I am not giving way. That does not mean that we take the issue any less seriously because of the source—it simply means that we have to keep working just as hard to make sure that we mitigate such effects no matter what the source of emissions.

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Reports that we are seeking to abrogate from our responsibilities in this area solely in order to promote expansion at Heathrow are completely and utterly wrong. Along with many member states, we recognise that we face a stiff challenge in meeting European air quality limits by the deadlines originally envisaged. The new directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, adopted in June, allows additional time for member states to meet the limit values for both particulates and nitrogen dioxide. We have an extra five years, to a target date of 2015, subject to Commission approval of a plan for securing compliance for nitrogen dioxide. The Dutch have already applied for this flexibility until 2015 and other member states will certainly follow suit. In the United Kingdom the problems are mainly to do with existing pollution from traffic in Greater London, including around Heathrow, and traffic in other major cities across the country. They are not to do with decisions about future capacity at Heathrow.

The second condition is a commitment not to increase the size of the area significantly affected by aircraft noise, as measured by the 57 dB noise contour in 2002. The Department for Transport works closely with industry to reduce noise and emissions wherever it can. Some of the progress we have made to date can already be seen in today’s modern aircraft. For example, the double-decker Airbus A380 generates no more departure noise than the Airbus A340-200 or A340-300 despite being more that twice their size. The number of people within the 57 dB noise contour has fallen by more than 80 per cent. since 1975, from around 2 million to just over a quarter of a million, despite an increase of more than 70 per cent. in the number of flights.

We can and we fully intend to do more. That leads me to the other condition included in the White Paper, which was the commitment to improve public transport access to the airport. Again, we set out in the consultation documents our assessment of the prospects for improving public transport access, especially by rail. I have already set out the range of measures that we have in progress, but we made it clear that, in the event of a confirmed policy decision to support expansion, it would be for the airport operator to develop a comprehensive transport assessment working with the Highways Agency and local authorities as appropriate.

We are not just thinking about Heathrow in isolation. Improving access to the airport is part of a long-term strategy for this country’s transport network as set out in our “Towards a Sustainable Transport System” document.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): The Secretary of State talks about not increasing the area in which noise will be a significant blight. Does he not understand that area is only one of the parameters? The other is the extent and the timing of the noise. One of the things that concerns most people about Heathrow is the end of runway alternation. At the moment, at least half of their days are silent. For the other half, of course, they live with aircraft noise, because of where they live. Does he not understand that area is immaterial? It is the timing of the noise that is important. Will he address that problem?

Mr. Hoon: I addressed that earlier in my remarks, when I referred to mixed mode. The consultation exercise in relation to mixed mode will certainly have the effects that my hon. Friend describes. It increases the resilience
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and capacity of the airport, and so it also means that the likely interval between flights will be reduced because of the greater flexibility that mixed mode would offer. Mixed mode would have a significant effect. That is why we are consulting about it, and why that decision will be subject to precisely the same conditions, which I have set out, as any decision to go ahead with either mixed mode or the third runway in combination. I have addressed those matters, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for emphasising them.

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): May I take the Secretary of State back to the aviation White Paper in 2003, and two specific points? The first concerned the need to improve surface access to Heathrow and the second was a solemn commitment that:

Does the Secretary of State not realise that five years down the track we do not have a single fast-track public transport link to Heathrow airport from the west, and so any increase in capacity will increase carbon emissions and gridlock? We are already asking for a derogation from the European air quality standards, so we do not have a snowball’s chance in hell of meeting the solemn objective set out in the White Paper in 2003.

Mr. Hoon: I have already set out the conditions that are required and the way in which they can be satisfied. I accept that part of the assessment that has to be made is that we have to be satisfied that those conditions can be met and can be met within the appropriate time frame.

Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): The Northern Way group of regional development agencies is totally in favour of putting together high-speed rail service connections from the west and the east to Heathrow airport, but it is also in favour of maintaining, improving and expanding the air connections too. It is not a case of either/or, but both.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I said something very similar earlier. I do not believe that the Conservative party is sensible to pose the two options as alternatives. It is important that we develop a high-speed rail link alongside taking important decisions about airport capacity across the UK. That is why we have been through one of the most comprehensive and thorough consultation exercises ever undertaken. That is entirely appropriate, as we are looking at policy decisions of crucial importance to west London, the south-east and the UK as a whole.

Taking all the issues into account, we have carefully analysed all the responses that we have received, either in written submissions or online. We are in the process of updating our assessments, taking into account all the information that we received during the consultation, as well as recent economic developments. It has been a massive effort that has stimulated a huge volume of data and opinions. As I said earlier, I am aiming to announce my conclusion to the House before the end of the year.

I am very conscious that we need to take account of all the available evidence before taking decisions. We have heard a range of views on the issue of Heathrow expansion, not just from people and businesses located close to the airport but from others right across the UK.

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I am grateful for the opportunity of this debate and I look forward to responding to points where I can, although I hope that the House will recognise that I may sometimes be constrained in my replies to ensure complete fairness and transparency. [ Interruption.] Nevertheless, I assure the House that I will reflect fully on all the issues that have been expressed on these questions before reaching my conclusion.

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