HL Deb 12 July 1993 vol 548 cc1-4

Viscount Mersey asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they favour improving the existing runway at Speke, Liverpool, rather than building a new runway on green belt land next to the existing runway at Manchester airport.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, it is for airport operators to consider the scale and timing of investment and to bring forward proposals in the light of their own commercial judgment.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reasonably helpful reply. But surely he can tell us what is the point of ripping up at least 3,000 yards of prime Cheshire countryside and smothering it with concrete when there is another runway only about a 15-minute drive away which is at the moment greatly underused. Is he aware that flight paths out of that Liverpool runway would be over the unpopulated mudflats of the Mersey estuary whereas flight paths out of Manchester airport are over the heavily populated areas of Wilmslow, Knutsford and Mobberley?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we await with anticipation any proposals that Manchester may wish to bring forward. But I think that my noble friend will understand that it is difficult for me to give him the kind of answers he would like because of the quasi judicial position of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. Any planning application that is submitted might very well come to my right honourable friend.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, I accept what the Minister has just said—of course it would be difficult to decide between the two planning applications. However, in view of the importance of the issue to the North West and, if I may say so, to the nation's airport system, can the noble Earl give us an assurance that before the decision is taken a proper inquiry will be held into the whole situation between the Manchester and Liverpool airports, which I consider to be an entity, and that a report will be submitted to both Houses of Parliament before a final decision is taken?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the situation is that the normal planning procedures will prevail. A planning application might very well be submitted by Manchester. It will be up to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to decide whether or not to call it in.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, as someone who lives in the village of Mobberley, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Mersey, I feel that I ought to declare an interest in this Question. Will my noble friend give an assurance that any application for a second runway will be bound to be subject to a full public inquiry and that the Government will take no steps whatever to prejudge any issue until they have heard the outcome of that inquiry?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am taking extreme care not to prejudge anything at the moment with regard to these two possible proposals. I can tell my noble friend that it will go through the proper planning procedure and it might well be that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State calls in these applications, which he has the power to do.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, does it not, however, make sense, as the noble Viscount has suggested, that someone should take a strategic view of air transport in the North West? The noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, lives in Mobberley. I used to live in Knutsford, so I have some knowledge of this area. Surely the Minister cannot believe that it makes sense to be considering building a new runway at Manchester when there is adequate capacity at Liverpool. It seems to me that someone needs to take the issue, bang a few heads together and not just leave it to market forces to work it out as they go along.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that is the difference between the noble Lord and the Government on this issue. We do not believe it is right for the centre to dictate. It is for, on the one hand, Liverpool airport, which is privately owned, and, on the other hand, Manchester airport, which is local authority controlled, to decide what is best in their interests. Then the procedure will go through the normal planning route.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I understand the constraints under which my noble friend is operating but can he give an indication of how long all this will take? When will the planning application be considered; and how long is a public inquiry likely to take when and if that is called for?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I have to take my noble friend a stage further back even from what he said, because we do not yet have a planning application from Manchester. Until that comes in it is very difficult to give the kind of answer to my noble friend that he would like.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, what we are asking for is a little bit more than the usual planning applications and the appeals that take place afterwards. We are asking that, in view of the regional interest—and there is a dickens of a lot of regional interest in this matter—it can be considered by both Houses of Parliament.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I hear very clearly what the noble Lord says on this matter. There are the proper procedures which one has to go through.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, the Minister is in a difficult position at this point. Can he tell us when he expects the result of the exercise into the runway capacity in the South East to be published? Does the noble Earl agree that we are at the stage where air traffic is growing at an incredible rate and that leaving the issue to market forces is far too slack an approach? As my noble friend said, we must look at the matter in a strategic way. There is the question of Manchester airport increasing capacity from 10 million to perhaps 20 million passengers which will be about two-thirds that of the capacity of Heathrow. Is the Minister further aware that there is another runway available which is well under 30 miles away at Liverpool? Does he agree that from the national point of view this issue is much more important than purely commercial considerations?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am very grateful for the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, because it seeks to underline the great success of the Government's regional airport policy over the past 14 years. It is very good for the travelling public that there has been such a dramatic increase in traffic to Manchester and the other regional airports. As regards airport capacity in the South East, there is to be another meeting in the near future. If agreement can be reached at that meeting I hope that publication of the RUCATSE report will follow fairly soon thereafter.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is it not obvious that either the planning procedures are in order, correct and adequate—in which case they ought not to be pre-empted—or they are not, in which case they ought to be altered?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble and learned friend is right. We believe that the planning procedures are the right procedures. They have worked extremely well in the past and doubtless they will do so in the future.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that a great part of this problem arises from the fact that commercially Manchester airport has been eminently successful but that, unfortunately, Liverpool has not been so far? As the Minister said, is it not the case that Manchester airport is owned by the local authorities and that Liverpool airport has been privatised? Would not a shotgun marriage be to the detriment of a publicly-owned airport?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it is extremely good news that the air services agreement that we have renegotiated with fellow member states around the world has provided benefit for Manchester through increased traffic and the 165 destinations which it now has.

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