HC Deb 16 July 1997 vol 298 cc351-9 12.30 pm
Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)

I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about an issue that is very important to many of my constituents. I promise to be brief, both because I believe in brevity and to allow other hon. Members—including some with a long involvement in the issue—to have their say.

This is not a routine debate and its subject is not a routine issue. I represent many dismayed people who feel that their land and their homes are being taken from them against their will without sufficient reason. The hour is late; the official inquiry went against them and the heavy equipment will be moving on to the site any day now to begin the work of construction and, it must be said, destruction.

We are the small platoons up against the big battalions. Only one statutory body is left standing in the field and fighting in the last ditch: Mobberley parish council. The council has gone to the European Commission with a complaint that deserves—and, indeed, is receiving—a hearing: that the funding of Manchester airport with public money infringes the treaty of Rome by distorting competition within the European Community. Government money is luring airlines to Manchester that would not otherwise fly there.

Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, although Manchester airport is in the public sector, no public subsidy has been provided by the town authorities that own it? They have lent the airport money borrowed from the public works loan board—which could have been borrowed from any other source on commercial grounds. The parish council's case is that a subsidy has been provided, but it has not.

Mr. Bell

The European Commission is now reviewing the position and will make a decision.

In its complaint, the parish council cites an agreement between Manchester airport and Continental Airlines to offer slots for five years in return for landing fees at less than the market rate and a roughly similar agreement with American Airlines. There is a pattern of development that is promoting Manchester as the Heathrow of the north. While that may seem a laudable municipal ambition, it carries certain consequences, one of which is Manchester's probable expansion at the expense of other airports. Another is that 1,000 acres of Cheshire countryside will be sacrificed. That is not the march of progress; it is the march of conflict.

A further consequence is that the travelling public—who could travel more conveniently, especially on charter flights from other regional airports such as Liverpool and Leeds-Bradford—will take the long journey to Manchester, putting a further strain on a road system that is already close to gridlock for much of the time.

The figure of 50,000 new jobs was originally conjured out of a hat. On cross-examination, that figure fell to about 8,000. Many of those jobs would be created by the continuing expansion of the airport within its existing boundaries and the concentration of traffic in Manchester will clearly be to the disadvantage of Liverpool. The planners talk of disbenefit to Liverpool. That means damage and the possible loss of jobs.

Mr. Stringer

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the growth of Manchester airport that was projected at the planning inquiry—it was forecast that 30,000 people would use it in 2005—will create more jobs in Liverpool and the Merseyside area than any proposed immediate expansion of Liverpool airport?

Mr. Bell

I am coming on to the projections of passenger growth—and I think that the hon. Gentleman means 30 million people, not 30,000.

Refusing permission for the expansion of Liverpool airport, the Deputy Prime Minister said that this was by no means the end of the story. He added that he intended to take a close look at the role of regional airports in contributing to regional development—but the time to do that, surely, is before the Bollin valley has been concreted over, not after.

Much of the debate—this will be familiar to the House—depends on forecasts of future traffic. The figures in those forecasts have not been rising so fast lately. A more plausible figure for the year 2005 at Manchester airport is 20 million. Today Gatwick airport handles more than 20 million passengers a year on one runway, and it expects to be able to handle 35 million on one runway by 2012. Gatwick is a model example of what can be done with one runway. If Gatwick can do it, why cannot Manchester?

The argument is not about process and procedure, although we may well wonder about the fairness of a system that allows one side to outspend the other in the planning period by a factor of more than 10 to one. The argument is about the best way in which we should now proceed. The inspector accepted that the second runway was an inappropriate development of green-belt land and would be harmful to it and that such development could be approved only in exceptional circumstances, which he set out.

I submit that we now have a new special circumstance: the election of a new Government who are committed to an integrated transport policy. The Deputy Prime Minister emphasised that again on Monday, when he said: Integration is a serious matter—not a buzz word. It is about how we can use existing capacity better than we do at present. It is about putting things together so that the whole is better than the sum of the parts". The second runway at Manchester has nothing to do with an integrated transport policy. I argue that it has more to do with a disintegrated transport policy. Manchester may well prosper at the expense of other airports. Its development was not considered with that of Liverpool, or that of the region's road and rail system; it was considered separately. If we are to have an integrated transport policy, let us have one, and let us consider—even at this late stage—whether the loss of the Cheshire countryside is in any way justifiable.

The Minister may consider that hands are tied by the last Government's decision and the result of the public inquiry, but there is the option of switching charter flights, above a certain limit, from Manchester to other regional airports, particularly Liverpool. That would relieve congestion at Manchester during the rush hours and help the development of other airports. Exactly that kind of action was taken in the early 1980s, when charter flights were redirected from Heathrow to Gatwick, and it started the regeneration of Gatwick. If such action could be taken then in the south of England, it can be taken now in the north.

Even in the present circumstances, the suggestion that Manchester's traffic growth exceeds its capacity is hard to square with common observation. I have received a letter from one of my constituents, a British Airways captain who flies out of Manchester and sees it more closely than most people, who states: My daily experience of airport operations makes it abundantly clear that the airport's existing runway is under-utilised. For extended periods, there are few, if any, aircraft movements. The case for a second runway is not convincing. Those who walk the local fields and footpaths, as I did last weekend, between fences of a size and complexity that I have not seen since the end of the cold war, will wonder how convincing that case can be. In fact, there is no sufficient case, but there is every case for a pause and a review of airport and road and rail policies. Those policies hang together, or they fail together.

It would be useful at this point to pre-empt and answer the charge of NIMBYism. That unappealing acronym now has a different meaning: "not in Manchester's back yard". This is not a case against Manchester; it is a case for Manchester. Manchester must breathe, and the Cheshire green belt is one of its lungs. The development of the second runway will damage its lungs, and that damage cannot be made good.

Let us also counter the arguments that can and will be advanced about the necessary action of mitigation and damage limitation. Bats and badgers will be rehoused, hedges will be planted and ancient woodland will be replanted. We are promised the greatest migration of forestry since Birnam wood came to Dunsinane. This is about people, however. It is also about woodlands: ancient woodlands cannot be transplanted, but they can be destroyed.

The victims, however, will be people, such as those whose homes will be taken from them. There are two people observing this debate whose 17th-century farmhouse with its landscaped garden will go under the end of the runway. People have security guards living in their outbuildings, but no compensation has yet been agreed. The victims will be the people whose farms, footpaths and fields will be taken from them and the people who live beyond the perimeter of the new runway and who are unable to sell their homes, so they are, in effect, prisoners of their own property. Altogether a quarter of a million people will be affected by the noise and the extra risk factor associated with the second runway.

Those figures are not small. Behind these large issues lies the even larger issue of what kind of people we are. Are we the kind of people who will promote one airport at the expense of others? Are we the kind of people who will concrete over our inheritance? Or are we the kind of people who will pause to think, even at this late hour, and save what needs to be saved?

I have seen too much destruction in my previous life to condone it in this one. I have seen too much indifference to be indifferent now. I believe that we should pause, reflect and start anew.

12.40 pm
Mr. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this brief debate, and I thank the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) for his approach to it and for allowing time for other hon. Members to contribute. I congratulate him on the result on 1 May. Although we disagree on this issue, I acknowledge that he represents his constituents with honesty and integrity.

Half of runway two will be in my constituency, in addition to the two terminals and the 280 businesses that currently constitute the commercial community of Manchester international airport. The hon. Member for Tatton expressed his view and the views of a number of his constituents, but there is another view on runway two, which was endorsed by the inspector after a public inquiry that lasted more than 100 days and took evidence from 180 witnesses. That view is backed by the whole of the region's business community and, according to a recent MORI opinion poll, supported by 80 per cent. of local residents. I also support the view that the decision to go ahead with runway two is the most important strategic decision that has been made in the north-west region for decades, and that the extra capacity that will flow from that decision will unlock the region's economic potential and make the north-west a focal point in the global economy.

I must dispute some of the figures that the hon. Member for Tatton gave. The current and projected rate of growth in air passenger travel will result in 30 million passengers passing through Manchester airport by 2005, not 20 million as he stated. That is double the current rate. With those additional passengers will come 15,000 new airport jobs and as many as 35,000 further jobs elsewhere in the region. Those figures were not plucked out of a hat, as the hon. Gentleman said, but are well researched and well founded projections.

Some 2,000 of my constituents who live barely a mile from Manchester airport are out of work. Some of the young people in Wythenshawe, whom I represent, are third generation unemployed. They have given up hope of ever finding a job. The hon. Gentleman described the people of Tatton as concerned and dismayed. I ask them to put themselves in the place of those unemployed people and to imagine what it is like. Runway two may be their only chance of ever finding employment.

The least well known aspect of the £172 million investment, of which runway two is a part, is the environmental mitigation package, which the hon. Gentleman acknowledged. The eco-warriors labelled it as window dressing, but it will mean more ponds, new hedgerows and new grasslands and woodlands. Manchester airport has a 15-year management plan, so those 850 acres of countryside will be protected.

No one wants unwarranted destruction of the environment, but sustainable development requires social cohesion and economic progress as well as environmental protection. I believe that the plans for runway two have all three elements.

12.44 pm
Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley)

I welcome this opportunity to put arguments in favour of the second runway and the development of Manchester airport, in addition to those put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins).

The essence of the case made by the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) was that the extra traffic could be diverted to Liverpool airport and that the people of Merseyside would welcome that. He misunderstands European law and the freedom of airlines to travel where they want. Neither United Kingdom nor European law provides a power to tell airlines to land at Liverpool when they want to land at Manchester. If there were such a law, I hope that the hon. Member for Tatton would oppose it. Why should people who want to fly from Manchester have to go to Liverpool or anywhere else?

Airlines use airports because of the facilities that they offer. They can benefit from being able to transfer passengers to other airlines. In cities around the world, such as Glasgow, Toronto and Washington, attempts to run two airports separately have failed, and they have had to be amalgamated.

It was often said during the inquiry that Liverpool airport could be used instead of a second runway. If passengers were changing planes, even if a new route were built, would they want to arrive at Manchester and then take the train to Liverpool? I suspect that they would not welcome that.

I wish Liverpool well. I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister's statement on Monday that Liverpool and Manchester airports should work together for the benefit of the whole region, but it should not be done by some dictatorial distribution of traffic, which I believe would be unlawful.

The opponents of the second runway often use contradictory arguments. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Tatton falls into the category of people who say that demand is insufficient to justify the expansion of the airport. Other people argue that demand will grow too much, that the airport is not used efficiently enough, or that it is too efficient.

It has been argued that Gatwick can manage 35 million passengers on one runway. The aircraft that use Gatwick are larger. Jumbo jets use Gatwick in a way and in a mix that is not possible at Manchester. If Manchester could accommodate as many large aircraft, it could manage with one runway. Flights from Manchester are mainly short-haul to other parts of Europe and the United Kingdom, so jumbo jets do not fly from Manchester to Schiphol or Glasgow. Smaller aircraft require a greater number of movements and have fewer passengers.

An opinion poll carried out four years ago in every constituency in the north-west of England, including Tatton, showed majority support for the second runway because of the benefit for jobs. An opinion poll carried out in January showed majority support in every constituency except Tatton, where there was a small majority against it. People in the north-west know that the second runway would produce more jobs than any other investment in the whole of the north of England.

12.48 pm
Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

I have only 60 seconds. I listened carefully to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell). I call him my hon. Friend because he should have hon. Friends on both sides of the House, given the way in which he entered Parliament. He is ably looking after his constituents, and I understand that well. My home, where I have lived nearly all my life, is probably nearer to Manchester airport than the homes of many of my hon. Friend's constituents. I understand the problems, but it is important to have an international airport north of London, and Manchester has such an airport. It is the only such airport outside the south of England, and it is more important to the whole of the north of England and even to Scotland than some of the others that have been mentioned, which are feeder links to London. However, Manchester airport stands on its own. To reverse the move to the south, Manchester should have its second runway.

12.50 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Ms Glenda Jackson)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) on raising an issue that is important not only for his constituents but for all those who live and work in the north-west. I thank him for his generosity in allowing time for contributions by my hon. Friends the Members for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins) and for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon). They underlined my point that the issue is of great importance to the whole of the north-west.

Manchester airport is already the 18th busiest in the world, and handles more international passengers than Chicago's O'Hare airport. The proposal to build a second runway inevitably involved a wide range of aviation, economic, environmental and other issues and it became one of the biggest planning issues of the past decade. The Secretary of State at the time decided to call in the proposal because of its regional and national importance. A nine-month public inquiry was held from June 1994 to March 1995, at which parties that supported and those who opposed the runway gave evidence. Some 15,000 written representations were also taken into account. The inspector reported in August 1996 and recommended that planning permission should be granted. The then Secretary of State announced the granting of such permission in January this year.

Since the decision, opposition to the new runway has continued, and the Government have received numerous requests to revoke or review the decision. We have taken those requests seriously and examined the issues carefully. As a Cheshire girl, I would never have considered accusing the hon. Member for Tatton or any of his constituents of NIMBYism. We have concluded that it would be wrong to reopen the decision.

I am grateful for this opportunity to comment on some of the issues that were raised by the planning application, but I shall first give a brief outline of the policy background. We are committed to bringing together transport and environmental decision-making. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in the House on 5 June that we had launched a fundamental review of transport policy to provide an integrated transport system that meets the environmental and transport needs of all regions for today and the future. The review will look at short and long-term actions that are necessary to deliver an integrated transport system, and we aim to publish a White Paper in the spring. Its publication will mark the initial analytical goal setting and consultation phase in the development of that policy.

The hon. Member for Tatton spoke about possible investigation by the European Commission. There is no official investigation by the Commission. The current position is that it has asked the United Kingdom for comments on a dossier of papers that was provided to it. My Department is considering the dossier and will reply shortly. It will then be for the Commission to decide whether to take the matter further.

The accusation of state subsidy to British Airways relates to new facilities that are currently being constructed in terminal 1. The airport company agreed with BA and the other users of terminal 1 to redevelop the terminal following the opening of the first phase of the new terminal 2. The planning of that redevelopment has concentrated on increasing capacity, providing better facilities for passengers transferring between domestic and international flights and increasing the amount of retail space.

The first element of the redevelopment was a hub facility for Lufthansa and its partners. It opened last summer. Elements of the retail development are opening this summer. The final element is a new pier and associated facilities attached to the domestic part of the terminal which, in combination, will enable British Airways to combine its domestic and international operations in one part of the terminal. British Airways will not have exclusive use of those facilities. The airport company's arrangements with BA are consistent with the principles of the arrangements with other airlines for customisation of airport facilities. Airport charges will remain the same for BA as for all other users of the airport, as was explained to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission as part of the economics of the airport's charges.

Manchester airport has experienced sustained long-term growth in demand. It has retained its position as the UK's third busiest airport and has increased its market share over the years from 8 per cent. of all UK airport traffic in 1983 to 11 per cent. in 1993. It expects demand to grow from 12.9 million passengers in 1993 to 29.4 million in 2005, if the second runway goes ahead.

Even if the airport were restricted to one runway, demand is still expected to grow to 22.8 million passengers by 2005. However, the constraint of having only one runway would mean that there would be more pressure to find slots in off-peak times and more inconvenience to passengers. The inquiry discussed whether there could be other ways to meet the demand and decided that there was no other clear solution. The inspector recommended that there was no guarantee that demand could be diverted from Manchester airport, if it were restricted to one runway, to other northern airports.

The hon. Member for Tatton spoke about the issue that was raised by some objectors—the possibility of expanding Liverpool airport as an alternative to building a second runway at Manchester. A separate planning inquiry was held into proposals to expand Liverpool airport, as each of the Manchester and Liverpool proposals raised its own aviation, economic and environmental issues. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions recently announced that planning permission had been refused for the proposed expansion of Liverpool airport.

There is nothing that I can add to that decision other than to reiterate that those proposals would have caused more environmental harm than was justified by the need. We hope that Manchester and Liverpool airports will develop in a co-operative and complementary way. That is clearly a matter for the Manchester airport management to discuss with Liverpool airport's new owners.

The hon. Member for Tatton referred to the destruction that he has seen, and said that the central issue of the debate relates to people. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East said, we have seen the destruction not only of the environment but of people brought about by economic decay. That is why the runway is so important to the whole of the north-west. The airport management has calculated that its planned expansion will lead to the creation of an extra 50,000 jobs by 2005, either directly or indirectly, compared with 1993. Some 18,000 of those jobs will be attributable to the second runway rather than to some other aspect of airport expansion. We are aware that objectors have queried those forecasts, and we do not necessarily subscribe to any one set of forecasts, but we agree with the inspector's conclusion that the only real dispute is over the scale of the impact.

We are confident that the growth of Manchester airport can be achieved in line with the principles of sustainable development. The public inquiry concluded that airport expansion should not lead to extra urbanisation as there should be sufficient capacity in the conurbation to accommodate the new jobs and the extra work force. We are pleased to see that the airport authorities have entered into a commitment to increase the proportion of passengers using public transport, hopefully to 25 per cent. We have given a grant to the airport for a new rail siding so that construction material can be brought to the site without disturbing the local community.

The second runway is in the green belt and is not the sort of development that would normally be appreciated in such a belt. I have two comments about that. First, national green belt policy allows exceptions in special circumstances and the previous Secretary of State considered that the need for the runway and the economic benefit that it would bring constituted special circumstances in this case. Secondly, the decision does not represent a general relaxation of green belt policy.

The benefits that the second runway will bring to the north-west must be weighed against local environmental impacts—the hon. Member for Tatton made several points on the issue—principally on the local ecology and landscape. A development of this type and scale will inevitably have some impact on the area, and that should be taken into account in any planning decision.

The airport management has drawn up an impressive environmental mitigation package that won the endorsement of English Nature, the statutory advisers on ecological issues, and that persuaded Cheshire county council to drop its objections to the planning application. The package includes the replacement of ponds and hedgerows and improved management of the ponds and hedgerows that will remain in place—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I hope that hon. Members will have noted the difficulty in half-hour Adjournment debates secured by one Member: interventions may prevent a full reply from the Minister.