Previous Section Index Home Page

We are already investing £10 billion in the railways over the next five years, to add capacity while improving reliability and safety. However, given the time that it takes to plan and build new rail infrastructure, we need to look well beyond 2014. Electrification is advantageous on heavily used parts of the rail network. Electric trains are lighter, accelerate faster, are quieter and emit less carbon dioxide. We are well advanced in procuring
15 Jan 2009 : Column 356
replacement trains for the inter-city routes, but before we finalise our plans we need to decide whether new parts of the network should be electrified.

Initial work suggests that the case for electrification appears strongest on the most heavily used parts of the Great Western main line from Paddington and the midland main line north of Bedford. Alongside the work on our new inter-city trains, we will analyse the value for money, affordability and financing options of the electrification proposals that Network Rail will put to me shortly. I intend to make a further statement later this year.

Because of the need to plan for the long term, I can also announce that I am today forming a new company, High Speed 2, to consider the case for new high-speed rail services from London to Scotland. As a first stage, we have asked the company to develop a proposal for an entirely new line between London and the west midlands; that would enable faster journeys to other destinations in the north of England and Scotland, using both existing lines and a new high-speed rail network.

Our experience with Crossrail and the channel tunnel rail link has demonstrated that advance detailed planning is required to progress such major infrastructure schemes. The purpose of the new company will be to advise Ministers on the feasibility and credibility of a new line, with specific route options and financing proposals. Sir David Rowlands will chair the company in the interim. I see a strong case for this new line approaching London via a Heathrow international hub station on the Great Western line, to provide a direct four-way interchange between the airport, the new north-south line, existing Great Western rail services and Crossrail, into the heart of London. My intention is that by the end of this year the company will have advised us on the most promising route, or routes, with their individual costs and benefits.

In the 2003 air transport White Paper, the Government set out their support—in principle—for a third runway at Heathrow airport: that support was conditional on any development meeting strict local environmental conditions. Heathrow airport supports more than 100,000 British jobs. A third runway is forecast to create up to 8,000 new on-site jobs by 2030 and will provide further employment benefits to the surrounding area. Its construction alone would provide up to 60,000 jobs. But, more significantly for businesses across the United Kingdom, Heathrow is the only hub airport—it is our most important international gateway. It serves destinations that none of our other airports serve, and it provides more frequent services to key international destinations such as Mumbai and Beijing. It connects us to the growth markets of the future—essential for every great trading nation. In doing so, it benefits every region of the United Kingdom. But Heathrow is now operating at around 99 per cent. of its maximum capacity, leading to delays and constraints on future economic growth. Heathrow is already losing ground to international hub airports in other competitor countries. This makes the UK a progressively less attractive place for mobile international businesses. Delays damage the efficiency of the airport, but they also cause unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions as up to four stacks of aircraft circle London waiting to land.

The Government remain convinced, therefore, that additional capacity at Heathrow is critical to this country’s long-term economic prosperity. We consulted in November
15 Jan 2009 : Column 357
2007 on three options for providing additional capacity, and on whether the environmental conditions could be met. We received nearly 70,000 replies. I have now considered the responses and reached my conclusions. Two of the options would use the existing runways for both arrivals and take-offs, otherwise known as mixed mode. This would improve resilience, reduce delays and has the potential also to provide early additional capacity. It is clear from the consultation, however, that residents under the flight paths greatly value the present alternation of runway operations at around 3 pm, which gives them respite from overhead aircraft noise for at least eight hours a day. Having carefully considered the evidence, including from the consultation, I have decided not to proceed with mixed mode. I have also decided to extend the benefits of runway alternation to those affected by aircraft taking off and landing when the wind is blowing from the east. I will therefore end the Cranford agreement, which generally prohibits easterly take-offs on the northern runway. This will benefit the residents of Windsor and others to the west of the airport, and Hatton and north Feltham to the east. I support the continuation of the other operating procedures as set out in the consultation.

This leaves the question of a third runway. Let me first explain my conclusions, in the light of the conditions on noise, air quality and surface access set out in the 2003 White Paper. In 1974, some 2 million people around Heathrow were affected by average levels of noise at or above 57 dB. By 2002, that number had reduced to 258,000 people as the result of significant improvements in aircraft technology. In the White Paper, the Government committed not to enlarge the area within which average noise exceeded 57 dB. In the light of all the evidence, including from the consultation, I have decided that this condition can be met, even with a third runway. Indeed, because newer aircraft are quieter, the numbers of people within the 57 dB contour by 2020 is expected to fall by a further 15,000 from 2002, even with more aircraft movements in 2020. And the number of people affected by higher levels of noise is expected to fall even more significantly: for example, a 68 per cent. reduction—more than 20,000 fewer people—in the number of those affected by noise averaging 66 dB and above.

On air quality, the Government are committed to meeting our EU obligations. The relevant pollutant at Heathrow is nitrogen dioxide, for which the EU has set a 2010 target of an annual average of no more than 40 micrograms per cubic metre. As with most other major European economies, the UK does not yet fully comply with this limit, largely as a result of emissions from motor vehicles. The area around Heathrow is by no means the worst example in the country, and the limit is currently exceeded in a number of places in the UK, in most cases by more than is the case near Heathrow. Meeting EU air quality targets is an issue that must be addressed right across the United Kingdom, not simply around Heathrow airport. The European Commission has agreed that member states could be allowed an extension to 2015 if member states can show that they have plans in place to meet the targets. This presents a significant challenge, but I am committed to supporting the actions, mainly in relation to motor vehicle emissions, necessary to achieve it. Immediately around Heathrow, action will be necessary to ensure
15 Jan 2009 : Column 358
that we meet the air quality limits by 2015. Our forecasts predict that, in any event, we will be meeting the limits by 2020 even with airport expansion.

Usually these decisions would be taken on the basis of forward projections and modelling. To reinforce our commitments on noise and air quality, I have decided, however, that additional flights could be allowed only when the independent Civil Aviation Authority is satisfied, first, that the noise and air quality conditions have already been met—the air quality limit is already statutory, and we will also give the noise limits legal force—and secondly, that any additional capacity will not compromise the legal air quality and noise limits. We will give the CAA a new statutory environmental duty to ensure that it acts in the interests of the environment in addition to its existing obligations and duties, and that it follows guidance from myself and my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for Energy and Climate Change. Moreover, in the event that air quality or noise limits were breached, the independent regulators would have a legal duty and the necessary powers to take the action needed—or require others to take it—to come back into compliance. In the case of noise, the matter would be for the CAA. In the case of air quality, where emissions from roads and rail around Heathrow also need to be considered, the Environment Agency will act as the enforcement body, with appropriate guidance from Ministers.

The third local condition for expansion for Heathrow was the provision of adequate public transport. Major improvements in rail access have already been announced, including increases in capacity on the Piccadilly line and the introduction of Crossrail services from 2017. This will provide a maximum capacity of 6,000 passengers per hour, which will be able to accommodate the estimated demand for rail access to a three-runway airport. The Government also welcome the lead being taken by BAA to promote the Airtrack project providing direct rail access to the airport at terminal 5 from the south and west. The Department will work with BAA and Network Rail to consider this and other schemes to improve connections from Heathrow to places such as Waterloo and Guildford, Reading and other stations on the Great Western main line.

Having considered all the evidence, I have decided that all three of the Government’s conditions for supporting a third runway at Heathrow can be met. I can therefore confirm that an additional terminal and the slightly longer runway proposed in the consultation are the best way to maximise the efficiency of a larger airport. However, I want there to be a limit on the initial use of the third runway so that the increase in aircraft movements does not exceed 125,000 a year rather than—at this stage—allowing the full additional 222,000 aircraft movements on which we consulted. I have also decided that any additional capacity available on the third runway will, after consultation, be subject to a new “green slot” principle to incentivise the use at Heathrow of the most modern aircraft, with further benefits for air quality and noise—and, indeed, carbon dioxide emissions.

It is of course crucial for transport, including aviation, to play its full part in meeting our goal to limit carbon dioxide emissions. As a result of UK leadership on aviation emissions in particular, carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation were included in the EU’s
15 Jan 2009 : Column 359
20 per cent. greenhouse gas reduction target for 2020, agreed by the Prime Minister with other European leaders in December last year. Under the EU emissions trading scheme, this reduction will occur whether or not Heathrow is expanded. With a fixed cap for aviation across Europe, doing nothing at Heathrow would allow extra capacity at other hub airports such as Frankfurt, Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle. Doing nothing will damage our economy and have no impact on climate change. The framework for reducing emissions across the EU covers international aviation and all sectors of each member state’s domestic economy. This includes emissions from domestic transport within the UK. The Government have already made it clear that they will respond to the advice of the Committee on Climate Change on carbon budgets, taking into account aviation, and we will set our carbon budgets later this year. Those budgets will reflect the measures in the EU 2020 package, such as tough new limits on emissions from new cars.

To reinforce the delivery of carbon dioxide savings, and to lay the ground for greater savings beyond 2020, I am announcing today funding of £250 million to promote the take-up, and commercialisation within the UK, of ultra low-emission road vehicles. With road transport emissions so much greater than those of aviation, even a relatively modest take-up of electric vehicles beyond 2020 could, on its own, match all the additional carbon dioxide generated by the expansion of Heathrow.

However, action in relation to domestic transport is not sufficient. We need to take the same tough approach to aviation emissions as we are taking to other transport emissions. Having taken the lead in promoting the inclusion of aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme, the Government will be pressing hard for international aviation to be part of the global deal on climate change at Copenhagen later this year. I have asked the Committee on Climate Change to report back later this year on the best way in which such a deal for aviation could be structured.

I can announce my intention to promote an international agreement to secure the same kind of progressively stricter limits on carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft as are already in place for cars within the EU. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), has been in Tokyo this week setting that out to a meeting of G7 Transport Ministers. However, I want to go further. Work published by the aviation industry illustrates how it could reduce UK emissions below 2005 levels by 2050. That could include the use of new technologies such as blended wings and the sustainable introduction of renewable fuels. I can announce that we will establish a new target to get aviation emissions in 2050 below 2005 levels, and I have asked the Committee on Climate Change to advise on the best basis for its development.

The Government will monitor carefully the emissions from aviation, with the help of the Committee on Climate Change. Any future capacity increases at Heathrow beyond the decision that I have announced today will be approved by the Government only after a review by the Committee on Climate Change in 2020 of whether we are on track to achieve the 2050 target that I have announced.

We are effectively taking three steps to limit any increase in carbon dioxide emissions. First, we are limiting the initial extra capacity to around half of what was
15 Jan 2009 : Column 360
originally proposed. Secondly, we intend that new slots at Heathrow will have to be green slots. Only the cleanest planes will be allowed to use the new slots that will be made available. Thirdly, we will establish a new target to limit aviation emissions in the UK to below 2005 levels by 2050. Taken together, that gives us the toughest climate change regime for aviation of any country in the world, which gives Ministers the confidence that we will achieve our 80 per cent. emissions reduction target. In addition, we will make it one of our highest priorities to secure international agreement on measures to reduce aviation emissions.

The airport clearly needs new capacity as soon as possible to reduce delays and improve resilience. Since I am not willing to allow the two existing runways to operate on mixed mode, I anticipate that the airport operator will bring forward a planning application for a new runway to be operational early in the period envisaged in the White Paper, between 2015 and 2020.

The parallel review of the economic regulation of airports is focusing on how best to improve the passenger experience and encourage investment. In the regulatory framework that results from that work, I expect the first call on new capacity to be ensuring that journeys are more reliable for existing passengers. We will therefore have a better airport.

These announcements on transport infrastructure, on motorways, on railways, on Heathrow, and on carbon reductions from transport show the Government taking the right decisions for the long term. We are delivering real help with job creation today, creating real hope for Britain’s long-term growth prospects, and giving real help in securing carbon reductions, real help for rail passengers and real help in increasing the long-term competitiveness of the UK economy by creating excellent transport links to the global economy, ensuring that this country remains an attractive place in which to do business. I commend this statement to the House.

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, but frankly, if this is the result of the great row in the Cabinet, his colleagues did not get a very good deal out of it. Let us be in no doubt: this is a bleak day for our environment and for all of us who care about safeguarding it. Labour’s plans for a third runway at Heathrow would inflict devastating damage on the environment and on quality of life, and the Conservatives will fight them every step of the way.

I begin with the Secretary of State’s commitment to restrict the initial use of the runway, and that at this stage he would give the go-ahead for only 125,000 more flights, rather than 222,000. When does he propose to lift that cap? How long is that tenuous guarantee going to last?

The Secretary of State has admitted again today that Heathrow is already in breach of the EU air quality directive, which will become binding in a year’s time. Will he explain how an airport with a massive increase in flights and car journeys to support another 55 million passengers can possibly comply with the directive? Why does he continue to be deaf to the Environment Agency’s warning that pollution from a third runway will increase the risk of serious illness and early death around the airport?

15 Jan 2009 : Column 361

Is the Secretary of State concerned that in the debate in the House last year, Members from as far apart as Reading and Greenwich expressed concern about the impact on their constituents of aircraft noise from Heathrow at its present size? Is it not recklessly irresponsible to compound an already serious problem with a new flight path over a densely populated area?

I welcome the Secretary of State’s apparent retreat on mixed mode. He says that he will not proceed with it, but again, how long will that guarantee last? How long will residents have that protection?

The Secretary of State claims that only low-emission planes will be allowed to use the new slots generated by a third runway. Which planes will qualify for the green slots that he talked about? Will he admit that there are no planes on the market that are clean or quiet enough to meet the environmental promises that he has already made, never mind the vague pledges on green slots that we have heard today? Will he admit that his Department’s expectation of future compliance with the environmental preconditions depends heavily on fantasy green planes that no manufacturer has plans to produce?

The Secretary of State’s apparent conversion to high-speed rail gives us little more than warm words and the possibility of a link to Birmingham. Why does he still refuse to accept that high-speed rail could provide an alternative to a third runway by providing an alternative to thousands of short-haul flights? Why will he not admit that the economic arguments for a third runway have been conclusively rebutted, and that there is no convincing evidence that Heathrow will go into a spiral of decline without major expansion?

Frankly, no one believes what the Secretary of State has to say about a limit of 125,000 flights. How does he propose to reconcile a massive increase in flights every year, the equivalent of bolting on to Heathrow a new airport the size of Gatwick, with Labour’s legally binding commitment to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent.? Does he really want his political legacy to be the bulldozers rolling out to construct a runway to blight the lives of millions, when instead he could have gone down in history as the man who finally put the brakes on the relentless outward expansion of Heathrow, and demonstrated that the political class has at last woken up to the compelling urgency of climate change?

The Secretary of State has given us assurances on flight caps, on green slots and on a 2050 date for restricting aviation emissions, but the Government’s credibility is wholly undermined by their record. They have made every effort to dodge their environmental promises by reverse-engineering the data to get the answers that they wanted. They are seeking a derogation from the EU air quality rules, which are a fundamental pillar of Labour’s environmental safeguards. They are the Government who were pushing to lift the terminal 5 flight cap less than a year after the right hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers) stood at the Dispatch Box and pledged to impose it. They are in disarray over Heathrow, their consultation has been a sham and their aviation White Paper is no longer fit for purpose.

The world has moved on when it comes to Heathrow, but Labour just has not moved with it. The Government are on the wrong side of the argument and their environmental credibility is in tatters. It is time for Labour to scrap its plans for a third runway. If it will
15 Jan 2009 : Column 362
not do that, it is time for it to call a general election so that the country can elect a Conservative Government who will prevent this environmental disaster from going ahead.

Mr. Hoon: In weighing the evidence when making difficult decisions, such as those that I outlined to the House today, any Government or potential Government have to consider it carefully and reach often difficult conclusions. I am sorry that the hon. Lady demonstrated in her remarks today that she had clearly reached her conclusions long before any examination of the evidence. She also showed—I encourage her researchers to provide her with some assistance on the matter—that she simply does not understand the terms of the EU air quality directive or the enormous improvements in technology for producing modern aircraft. I am disappointed, albeit not particularly surprised, by her response. Her comments are entirely representative of the do-nothing attitude of the modern Conservative party.

In contrast to the action and decisions that we are taking, the Conservative party would do nothing to give businesses and families real help now and in future. It would do nothing to provide a genuine financial stimulus to the economy; it has opposed the £3 billion capital investment that we introduced for infrastructure projects, including £1 billion extra for transport. It would do nothing to tackle the capacity problems at Heathrow, which will increasingly damage the economy and British jobs.

Doing nothing is the worst of all possible worlds. By encouraging our European competitors to expand at our expense, doing nothing would damage the country economically and save not a single gram of carbon. That is why British business has roundly condemned the Conservative party’s position.

It may surprise the House to learn that there is a Conservative position on aviation, which, unlike that of Conservative Front Benchers, has the benefit of being intellectually coherent— [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. We are considering an extremely important matter. The House would serve its interests and those of hon. Members by hearing the questions and the answers in comparative silence.

Mr. Hoon: I do not agree with the comments of the Mayor of London about developing an estuary airport, but it is significant that his approach recognises the requirement for extra capacity for Heathrow. Although I disagree with his conclusion, at least he recognises the problem that the country and its businesses face. He said:

Next Section Index Home Page