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Viscount Goschen: The Franchising Director's annual report for 1995-96, which records the very good progress achieved in franchising during that period, has been laid before Parliament today. Copies have been placed in the Library.
Viscount Goschen: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has today written to the Franchising Director instructing him under Section 5 of the Railways Act 1993 to take into account any government policies which are relevant to the provision of passenger services in so far as they affect, or may be affected by, the fulfilment of his objectives. A copy of the letter has been placed in the Library of the House.
Viscount Goschen: The Department of Transport has confirmed to the Transport Select Committee that it does not consider Northolt to be a suitable site for the development of a civil airport on the scale that would be necessary to provide significant relief to Heathrow, as the committee had supported. However, RAF Northolt does have the potential to provide useful, if limited, facilities for business aviation.
The Government have made clear their recognition that business aviation can bring economic and wider benefits to national competitiveness as well as to local and regional economies. While they would not subsidise the necessary facilities, the Government are keen to ensure that the industry is not unreasonably denied access to capacity.
The pressure on runway capacity in the south-east of England has already led to RAF Northolt becoming an increasingly attractive option for business aviation seeking access to London. The Government have been considering how the needs of business aviation can best be accommodated alongside the continuing military requirements at the station. Last year the Government announced that they would not proceed with the option of a separate civil enclave at RAF Northolt; consultation with interested parties had shown that the high capital costs and physical constraints would not make it commercially viable. Instead, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Transport have been working jointly to identify possible changes to working arrangements at the station to improve the service offered to users and to businesses in the south-east more generally.
The two departments are now able to announce a package of practical measures which arise from further consultation with existing users of the aerodrome but which also recognise the concerns of the local communities about the impact of aviation activities. We believe these measures respond to the needs of the business aviation industry while preserving RAF Northolt's operational effectiveness and safeguarding the interests of local people.
The key element of the package is an extension to the station's operating hours of one hour each weekday morning on a trial basis. From 1st October 1996 RAF Northolt will open for civil use at 07.00, rather than 08.00 as at present. There will be no change to the closing time of 20.00 or to the standard closure at weekends, nor will the existing arrangements under which military operations take precedence be affected. This change will give business aviation extra flexibility, and in particular it will make it able to deliver its customers to European destinations early enough to meet Continental business schedules. Air traffic control constraints will in any case limit the use that can be made of the extra hour.
Over the coming months the MoD and DoT will closely monitor the number of civil movements to assess the amount of flexibility provided by the existing movement limit; in the meantime, the station will continue to operate on the basis of a maximum of 7,000 civil movements per year. This figure includes business aviation and other civil operations but excludes movements on MoD or other government business. The station expects around 6,000 civil movements in the current financial year.
The extended opening hours will begin on a trial basis for six months. The MoD and DoT will be assessing the practical impact of the change on the industry and on local residents, as well as on the station itself, before a decision on its continuation is taken.
The other elements of the package, whose impact will largely be restricted to the users themselves, will not form part of that review. In addition to minor operational improvements at the station, there will be readiness on the part of the MoD to consider any proposals from private sector operators to utilise currently unused areas of the RAF Northolt site to establish their own hangars, subject to operational considerations. This would mean that civil users could in the longer term base some of their aircraft on site, thus reducing the need for positioning movements at the beginning and end of the day. Responsibility for taking forward any such development through the necessary planning procedures would of course rest with the civil promoter.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): The Government's response to the report of the multidepartmental efficiency scrutiny of public sector research establishments announced a series of prior option reviews. As part of this series the Scottish Office Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department will conduct a prior options review of the Rowett Research Institute.
The review will address whether the research conducted at the Rowett continues to be needed, whether it requires public funding, the relationship of the Rowett to others working in similar or related areas of science and the potential for privatisation or rationalisation.
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