HC Deb 01 July 1997 vol 297 cc103-4
37. Mr. John M. Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the future of Birmingham airport and the stage it has reached in its progress from municipal status to the private sector. [4700]

Dr. Strang

Birmingham airport moved into the private sector on 26 March. I understand that, subject to obtaining detailed planning permission, it hopes to begin the first phase of the expansion of the terminal building in the autumn.

Mr. Taylor

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that Birmingham airport, with its move away from local government status, has been a great success story? Given its current hybrid state, partly municipal and partly owned by the private sector, would it not be a good idea to finish the job and get the airport properly and thoroughly into the private sector, thus restoring significant capital to the local authorities?

Dr. Strang

No, I am not prepared to make a judgment on that. I remind the hon. Gentleman that Birmingham airport has been a tremendous success over the years: more than 5 million passengers passed through it in 1996. That was achieved under full municipal ownership. The airport has decided to move to being a company with the majority in the private sector, and I wish it well.

Mr. Burden

I also draw attention to the importance of Birmingham international airport to the local economy and welcome the new investment. I welcome the use to which the local authorities are putting the proceeds, including tackling youth joblessness and providing infrastructure for reduced class sizes. Is it not unfortunate that the previous Government left those local authorities in a Catch-22 situation by starving the airport of the investment that it needed? It is now expanding, but the partner organisation is a direct subsidiary of the Irish Government.

Dr. Strang

The House will agree that the plans on which the airport is currently working are important: an 80 per cent. expansion in the terminal capacity, and a 50 per cent. increase in the number of stands for aircraft. We all wish it well in its new ownership.

Miss McIntosh

Is the Minister happy with the level of investment in the British airports system as it—

Madam Speaker

Order. This is a narrow question on the future of Birmingham airport. The hon. Lady should restrict her remarks to Birmingham airport.

Miss McIntosh

Thank you, Madam Speaker. I apologise.

Is the Minister concerned that the level of investment in Birmingham airport may be radically reduced with the introduction of the windfall tax on the privatised utilities?

Dr. Strang

No, I am not concerned at all.