HC Deb 15 June 1999 vol 333 cc141-2
4. Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull)

If he will make a statement on the future of regional airports. [85782]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson)

We shall encourage the growth of regional airports to maximise the contribution that they make to local and regional economies, always consistent with sustainable development principles.

Mr. Taylor

Would the Minister welcome and encourage the involvement of Birmingham airport, the National Exhibition Centre, Virgin and Railtrack in the development of an efficient transit system between the airport, the railway station and the exhibition centre, with the private sector in the lead? Will she pay a visit to Birmingham airport to find out what transport needs it has?

Ms Jackson

I should be delighted to make another visit to Birmingham. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we strongly support the development of a public transport interchange, including a new people mover system. We have forwarded an application to the European Commission for trans-European network funding for phase 1 of the interchange scheme, and we expect to receive a reply in the next few months.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will my hon. Friend hold urgent talks with the companies that are increasingly using the slots of south-east airports which enable the regional airports to use their services? They are losing their slots because they are being handed over to transatlantic flights. Will she look hard at what is happening to regional airports, because if they lose their access to the south-east, they will be badly damaged, and passengers will be very upset?

Ms Jackson

As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, the Government have been concentrating on that issue for some considerable time. We have been at the forefront in urging the European Commission, when it eventually submits its proposals for slot allocation, to make its main consideration our arguments about protecting the regions.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I hope that the Minister will not mind if I mention Manchester international airport, which is also a regional airport. Does she accept that it is essential not only to have integrated public transport to ensure that the second runway at Manchester is fully used—as I believe it will be—but that the road network feeding Manchester airport, particularly from the east, north-east and south-east, is completed if the area around the airport is not to be submerged under an unacceptable volume of commercial and domestic traffic?

Ms Jackson

I am of course delighted to highlight the success of Manchester airport, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to congratulate the Government on their policy for our regional airports. We have ensured the relaxation of borrowing limits for those airports that have demonstrated that they are eminently capable of balancing their books, and of course Manchester is one of those airports. We have consistently made it clear that surface access to all airports is central to their being able to operate within our requirements for sustainable development.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)

It is nice to hear my hon. Friend's warm words about Manchester airport because it has just purchased an 82 per cent. share in Humberside airport. Will she congratulate Manchester airport, particularly on its announcement of a £6 million investment in Humberside? Also, will she guarantee that regional airports will have the necessary commercial freedom to develop their capacity?

Ms Jackson

I have already sent my congratulations to Manchester airport, and I am delighted to send them also to Humberside. I am sure that my hon. Friend shares my delight in the practical application of the Government's foresight in making possible a relaxation of borrowing controls for our airports. It is another indication of the Government's long-term aim of ensuring that regional airports work together in the interests not only of their own regions, but of the entire United Kingdom.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

What progress has been made in investigating whether a public service obligation can be imposed for the provision of regional air services, particularly those between London Heathrow and Inverness?

Ms Jackson

It is my understanding that there were fruitful discussions with representatives from Inverness. The hon. Gentleman raises an issue on which I have already touched—the importance that we attach to access from the regions to important airports in the south-east, which is why we have consistently argued to the Commission that when it eventually presents its revised proposals for slot allocation, regional factors should be at the forefront of its consideration.