Previous Section Index Home Page

16 Jun 2009 : Column 6WH—continued

On noise, there has been a lot of noise from the campaign against the third runway, and a lot of noise from the Government arguing a case that seems untenable. As the shadow Minister for Science and Innovation, it
16 Jun 2009 : Column 7WH
seems to me that one must base one’s judgments on evidence and studies as far as one can, where such evidence is available. The Government commissioned the ANASE—“Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England”—study, which, even though the data range was, to a certain degree, fixed to include noisier aircraft from the past, concluded that people are more irritated by noise than they ever were. What did the Government do? They simply said that the study was marginally flawed and that they were not going to pay much attention to it. That is not the behaviour of a Government who want to engage in rational and reasonable debate to find a solution to the challenges.

Mr. Hurd: Following on from the issues of noise and increased road congestion, particularly on local roads in Hillingdon, there are also health implications. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that there has been no local health impact assessment and that Hillingdon primary care trust has not been consulted on the expansion of Heathrow?

Adam Afriyie: Absolutely; this is a fascinating story is it not? It is bizarre that every Government who wish to appear to be caring and to work in the interests of the economy and people’s quality of life fail to consider the health impacts. I hope that the Minister has a sensible and reasonable answer as to why the Government do not wish to look into the health of people in and around the airport.

I return briefly, as we have already covered it marginally, to the concept of hubs. I have spoken to BAA and BA, I have scoured the internet and I have researched the issue as best I can to try to work out mathematically and logically, on whichever calculation should be used, what constitutes a hub and whether the five airports can be considered part of a hub. So far, I have failed to come up with anything other than people’s bold assertions that if we have two or three fewer destinations, the whole thing will crumble. However, with the projections for just the existing two runways, we are already hitting the flight limit of 480,000 flights, so the evidence does not seem to be there.

There is also the issue of transit passengers and what contribution they make to the UK economy. I do not have the quote to hand, sadly, but several notable people have pointed out that simply having the wheels touch down and people transit to another country does not add much to the UK’s gross domestic product. Indeed, it does not add a vast amount to BAA’s revenue. One must consider that BAA is merely one company of thousands in the UK, and one has to look at its profits and revenue in the light of those of other organisations.

Mr. Wilshire: I have heard time and again the argument that transit passengers are only worth a cup of tea. Does my hon. Friend accept that if 35 to 40 per cent. of passengers—indeed, well over half on some flights—are transferring through Heathrow and going out again on different flights, many flights would not be economically viable, and more routes would be lost, if that were to change?

Adam Afriyie: I do not say that there is no value from transit passengers; I merely observe that there is little value from them directly to the UK economy.

16 Jun 2009 : Column 8WH

There are a couple of broader arguments that we sometimes overlook. If we are saying that the UK aerospace and airport industries, or even BAA, the Spanish company, would suffer from a gradual reduction in the number of routes—not that that will necessarily continue—can we not look at the issue more broadly? If we think that transit passengers will begin to go via Schiphol or other European airports, what is to prevent people from investing in airports elsewhere?

Mr. Letwin: I am immensely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he has been very patient with interventions. May I urge him to consider that, as far as we can make out, as the Government have never produced a study that has shown this definitively, a high proportion of so-called transit passengers come from other parts of the UK and transfer to flights out of the UK? Again, with high-speed rail links into Heathrow, a great number of those passengers will find their way to Heathrow and take off on the same flights, but will not have to come in on a flight to Heathrow. Do we need clarification from the Government—

David Taylor (in the Chair): Order. Interventions are getting increasingly long.

Adam Afriyie: I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point very clearly and, I thought, rather succinctly, but I accept the steer of the Chair in these matters. I shall attempt to bring my remarks to a close in approximately two to three minutes.

Susan Kramer: May I make a point speedily? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many other hub airports across the world operate with something like 20 per cent. transit passengers and find that more than sufficient? Heathrow is out of the league altogether in trying to go for 35 to 45 per cent. transit passengers.

Adam Afriyie: I accept all those observations, particularly about high-speed rail. If a large number of transit passengers are from within the UK, it makes complete sense environmentally, and probably economically, for them to come to Heathrow that way or to fly direct, point to point. I have been in business for many years before becoming a Member of Parliament and to try to second-guess the detail of somebody else’s business model is never a wise idea—although it is, of course, interesting to make observations on it.

Graham Stringer: I know that the hon. Gentleman takes looking at the objective facts about aviation and the airport system in the south-east seriously. I suggest that he looks at international experience, and the experience of Glasgow where they have tried but failed to use more than one airport as a hub. In Toronto, Washington and Glasgow such airports eventually had to be consolidated.

Adam Afriyie: That is a fair observation, but if we look at various places around the world, we could make all sorts of observations—for example, the Government have tried to harangue and make light of the idea of having an airport offshore somewhere. However, Hong Kong has managed very well to have such an airport. That should certainly inform our debate.

There is also a world trend towards point-to-point travel, but if one looks at the examples in the United States we see a different picture. That is why the issue of aviation is not as simple as the Government try to make
16 Jun 2009 : Column 9WH
out, why a hub is difficult to define and why no one has managed to come up with a proper tangible or robust definition.

Mr. Wilshire: My hon. Friend mentions Hong Kong and makes the point well that the new Hong Kong airport flourishes and is wonderful. The old Hong Kong airport is a golf driving range.

Adam Afriyie: Wonderful. I hope that my hon. Friend has played golf on the range.

Mr. Wilshire: But my hon. Friend does not want to shut Heathrow.

Adam Afriyie: Okay. As I said, no one is arguing for Heathrow to be closed down, and I do not want the debate to be characterised in that way. We are happy with the level of employment there and we hope that the levels of noise and pollution are reduced.

The Government have not studied the alternatives properly in light of the developments in technology and the proposals put forward for high-speed rail. Various models have been put forward and it is time for the Government to step back and give them consideration. The Government have not properly looked at the alternative of having a new airport. If air travel is to double over the next 20 or 30 years, none of the airports will be able to take that level of capacity, so surely now is the time to have a bit of vision and look towards the long-term rather than the short-term goal.

Briefly, I have the following questions for the Minister. We are going through a massive economic downturn at the moment and air travel has been declining—I think there was an 8 per cent. reduction in the last month of 2008. That buys us a window for decision making and, on that basis, I urge the Minister to step away and perhaps give us a chink of light—a possibility that the Government will reconsider the matter. Is the Minister honestly confident that the Government can meet pollution targets if we have a third runway at Heathrow? Is he genuinely confident of that? Have the Government recently—not five or 10 years ago—looked seriously at the alternatives to expansion at Heathrow? If I go back to the ancients, I think the Greeks said that we can win the argument or get our way by force, trickery or persuasion. I have seen a lot of force and a little bit of trickery in the Government’s argument. Will the Minister now resort to the means of persuasion, rather than using more brutal methods?

10.3 am

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) for initiating the debate. I agree with him: we should use the debate as a progress report and as an opportunity to consider some of the issues again so that we will perhaps get some assistance from the Government on how we can move forward.

The hon. Gentleman has covered the economic arguments. The intervention of the business sector—the representatives who came out against the expansion—was catastrophic for the case of the Government and BAA. May I update him on the union side? During the past week, we gained another union when the Communication Workers Union came out against the third runway at its
16 Jun 2009 : Column 10WH
conference. There is mounting trade union pressure against the development of the third runway. On the economic arguments, it is interesting to note that the Government and others are preparing alternatives in terms of high-speed rail—there is the Government’s HS2 development study and, obviously, 2M is now looking at the high-speed north link. Those matters have moved on.

On the environmental impact, the Committee on Climate Change will look at reducing the CO2 emissions of aviation to below 2005 levels by 2050, and it will be reporting in December. Again, that study will look at the modal shift and—exactly as the hon. Gentleman has requested—will provide the Government with the opportunity to stand back at that stage and see whether the target of reducing emissions can be achieved with the expansion of Heathrow.

On noise, BAA’s plans on the reduction of the noise impact are now being produced in a consultative form. Having looked at the draft, I know that much of what has been said in the draft proposals is not much different from what is happening at the moment. Many of us cannot see what the visible impact will be as a result of the plans being introduced. In addition, there has not really been any movement on air quality because it now seems that Heathrow will remain an air quality hotspot into 2010. The Government will look for a derogation from the EU limits that come into force at that stage, and yet no quantifiable measures have been put forward to mitigate the air quality problems in our area. If the Government are to seek a derogation, they must at least put forward some form of a plan. However, there does not seem to be anything forthcoming.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) made a point that has also been made by hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and me when meeting the local primary care trust: we have had no information about the health impact assessment that is supposed to be undertaken by the Government. That was promised to us on the Floor of the House by the Secretary of State. The PCT has not been approached, and there has been no consultation or discussion. We thought that, at least at this stage, we would be examining the brief for that health impact assessment because our constituents need some assurances about that matter. We have seen the issues that have come from the Chicago study with regard to cancer and we have had survey after survey in the areas around Heathrow about the respiratory conditions from which our constituents suffer. It behoves the Government to come rapidly into discussions with the PCT and bring forward the proposals on the health assessment.

On the question of who will cover the cost of the expansion of Heathrow, the situation gets worse. Demand for air travel is plummeting at the moment and the aviation industry is, in some sectors, in crisis. It does not inspire confidence that there was a story in The Guardian business pages over a week ago that BAA has approached the Government to talk about what happens if it goes into administration. It has asked for the arrangements to be changed so that the Government no longer appoint the administrator—it has asked for it done by BAA or whoever its successor is in terms of ownership.

As I say, that does not inspire confidence, but it also worries me because it raises fears that the Government will be forced to subsidise this development. We know
16 Jun 2009 : Column 11WH
that if the development goes ahead, the Government will have to pay for the collateral damage that will impact on local communities—the shifting of populations, the new schools that will be needed and the creation of new communities elsewhere for people to live in. We now believe that there will be direct subsidy as a result of BAA’s precarious financial position and the precarious position of Grupo Ferrovial globally, and that the development itself—the construction of the runway and the terminal—will have to be subsided. Again, I do not think that that information was available to Members when the decision was made by the Government earlier this year. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), who is not in his place at the moment—I know that he has other business—that if we have to intervene on any significant scale to subsidise the expansion of Heathrow, it will impact on the Government’s transport investment programme for the next decade.

On the legal challenge, letters of action have gone in and we will know the decision on whether a judicial review will take place in the next few weeks. I believe that it will take place and that we will be in court in the autumn. That case will inevitably drag on for a time. I say to the Government that the information that will come out will expose not only their argument, but the collusion that has gone on between BAA and the Government at various levels. On the planning process, we are now told that BAA will not even be in a position to put forward proposals about what could be laid before a planning inquiry until late 2010 at the earliest.

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): Is this not the nub of the issue? By the time we have a national policy statement it could be 10 years from when the White Paper on aviation was published, yet that is still the key document on which everything is based. What has been said today has shown that so much has changed that surely we need an independent review of aviation policy, on which the planning process can be based.

John McDonnell: That is exactly the point. It has been made on a cross-party basis repeatedly over the last few months as we have come to know more clearly not just how the aviation White Paper will be converted into some form of national policy statement but also the fact that we will have no say about it on the Floor of the House. There will be no vote on the national policy statement itself. We have been told that it may be ready for consideration by April 2011 at the earliest.

The process that we are involved in now is an absolute pig’s breakfast. There is mounting unrest and protest, and people are not accepting the Government’s decision because they do not believe that they have in any way participated in consenting to it. In Iran, demonstrations have resulted in even the Supreme Leader getting the message. Perhaps we could take a message back to our supreme leader, Lord Mandelson, the First Secretary of State, that we have a problem here. Perhaps that message could go out from this debate, because we need rationally to stand back and see where we are.

Let me briefly outline what the uncertainty, which is worsening, is doing to my constituents. The uncertainty and blight mean that they cannot plan for their future.
16 Jun 2009 : Column 12WH
They live under the threat of the loss of their home and the destruction of their community. They cannot plan the basics of life. Their homes are threatened with demolition, but they cannot plan where they will live in the long term. Those in Sipson and other parts of the area where it has been confirmed that BAA’s plans will involve demolition have been offered a bond scheme to pay for relocation—not compensation but simply payment for relocation—but it will be implemented only when the planning application is submitted. That could result in another year or more of uncertainty for them.

BAA refused to attend a public meeting that I convened. I spoke to the then Secretary of State, and BAA eventually decided to come. It told us at that meeting that it wants to bring forth implementation of the bond scheme. We were told that that would be done in weeks, but residents associations at the meeting said that they had been told that six months earlier. We have heard nothing further. Why? Because BAA is dependent on individual airline industry companies standing to cover the liabilities of the bond scheme if it is implemented earlier, and it cannot get agreement among them.

For those who live in the other villages of Harmondsworth, Harlington, Longford, Cranford Cross and, yes, parts of Hayes itself, there is no scheme on offer whatsoever to pay or compensate for relocation. People do not know where the final boundaries of the airport will be or even whether their homes are threatened with demolition. They do know that their homes will be rendered unliveable as a result of noise and air pollution, but they have not been offered a penny except for limited amounts of support for additional insulation, which will fail to protect them.

Because schools are to be demolished or rendered unusable, families cannot plan the education of their children. Because there is no binding commitment on whether a road will go through our local cemetery at Cherry Lane, we cannot even plan where we bury our dead at present. Local businesses, some of which are small businesses, will be affected. Jacqui Clarke, the local hairdresser who lives above her shop, will get nothing; there is no compensation for her. Several local businesses are in a precarious position because they cannot plan for long-term investment in their businesses, and that will impact on local employment.

We know from the Government’s figures that 2,000 people will be relocated, but more likely it will be 10,000—the largest evacuation of people in living memory, given what we know from studies done in the 1990s. The Government’s response up until now has been that it is up to individuals themselves to plan their future. The then Secretary of State said that at a public meeting that we had with local residents. Well, they cannot. The alternative is that it is up to local authorities, Hillingdon in particular, to plan for the development of new communities and the relocation of individuals, but local authorities have had no guidelines from the Government. There has been no consultation or extra resources for Hillingdon to enable it to start the planning process.

My constituents have been left in limbo. Most want to remain, but they want to know what their position will be in the future. They want a secure future. Some inevitably have to move—families grow up, or the elderly may want to relocate to live with their families elsewhere—but they are trapped because the bond scheme cannot
16 Jun 2009 : Column 13WH
be implemented, the Government’s decisions have been so tentative, and the process is so long-winded and insecure.

Residents are protesting. They resent how they have been treated as a result of their peaceful protests. They have been harassed by police, and photographs and films have been taken of them. They want the evidence that has been collected to be given to them or destroyed. They are not criminals; they have simply been involved in peaceful protests. The use of anti-terrorist legislation to stop people photographing homes that will be demolished is extraordinary behaviour and an inappropriate use of legislation.

Yes, there is anger at the Government’s decision—of course there is—but people are worried about their future. That is fuelling a growing fury at the way in which the whole process has been handled by the Government.

Finally, we still have not had a single Minister visit any of the villages to meet local residents. That is an abrogation of ministerial duty and the Government’s responsibility to my constituents. We will continue to fight the proposal, but we expect to be treated in a manner that respects people’s concerns about their future. We will continue to protest and to demand a change in Government policy, and I make it clear that at the next election, whatever is in the Labour party’s manifesto, I shall stand on a manifesto that opposes the expansion of Heathrow. The democratic wishes of the population around Heathrow should be respected.

David Taylor (in the Chair): Order. Two hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. Please bear in mind that there are 14 minutes left before I call the Front-Bench spokesmen. I call Mr. John Randall.

Next Section Index Home Page