HL Deb 01 April 2004 vol 659 cc1432-5

11.3 a.m.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a resident of north-west Essex.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the scale of the British Airports Authority's plans to expand the site of Stansted Airport is in keeping with the White Paper The Future of Air Transport.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the White Paper supports the development of a new wide-spaced runway at Stansted. It is for BAA to decide how to take forward plans for expansion in the light of the White Paper.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. He saves me to some extent the trouble of reminding the Government of their own policy on expansion at Stansted. However, if I might be permitted to remind him exactly what the Government said, they said that the first new runway in the south-east should be at Stansted but that: Noise should be strictly controlled, and loss of heritage and countryside kept to a minimum. We do not support options for two or three new runways at Stansted". That was in the White Paper that was published last December.

Is my noble friend aware that BAA's current plans for the expansion show an increase in size of the site from 9.5 square kilometres to 16.5 square kilometres? Apart from the devastating impact that that would have on local communities, that naturally gives rise to the suspicion that BAA's ultimate aim is, indeed, to build yet more runways. Could he say what the Government will do to ensure that their own policy is not thwarted by transparently ambitious land-grabs by BAA?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the White Paper does not authorise or preclude any development; it merely sets out policies on how we respond to the obvious demand for increased air travel. It is for the British Airports Authority to pursue planning authorities in the usual way, through the planning system. I understand—and this may be a welcome indication for my noble friend—that 74 properties fall within the boundary published by BAA. Further work is being carried out in the coming months to see if it is possible to reduce the size of the area required.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, in the event of a second runway at Stansted, will the Government work with BAA to ensure that they will be satisfied with the provisions for generalised blight compensation? Will they ensure that that compensation is adequate?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the White Paper draws the parameters of airport development. The development of the airport is then dependent on the planning process which British airports need to go through. The issue with regard to compensation falls within those requirements.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the effect on the residents around Stansted will depend very much on the surface access to the airport? While he has passed to BAA certain things, in the remarks that he made to the noble Baroness who raised the Question, would he ensure that proper planning is put into the development of surface access? I am referring to access not only from London but also from Birmingham and elsewhere—and, possibly, from the west of London, from where it is very difficult to reach Stansted. If that is done in good time, the effects of the enhancement there will be mitigated. I am sure that the Minister will need no reminding that the Strategic Rail Authority must turn its attention to this sort of thing, rather than spending all its time with its head down, embedded in the wretched project to enhance the West Coast Main Line.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I was about to rise in almost full agreement with the noble Lord, apart from with his last jibe. However, let us concentrate on the issues that surround Stansted. He is absolutely right, of course, that it is necessary for plans to be developed to extend the rail communication between London Liverpool Street and Stansted. Work needs to be done and heavy investment made on that issue. With regard to roads, he will recognise that there has been significant improvement to the road structure of the M11 and its surrounding roads, in anticipation of the already developing expansion of passenger numbers at the airport. However, he is right that the infrastructure that supports and sustains air travel needs careful attention and investment. He is also right that that is the Government's responsibility, not the airport's.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords. did my noble friend see the reports in the press last week about research carried out by OAG, the timetable experts? It showed that last year, for the year up to March, the number of flights to Europe carried out by the low-cost no-frills airlines fell by 5 per cent and the number of domestic flights by those airlines fell by 21 per cent. Is it not time for the Government to take a rather more realistic view on airline expansion and demand when planning for airport expansion?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, it is important that the Government take a realistic perspective on these matters. My noble friend has identified some interesting figures. The projected expansion of Stansted airport is based not only on no-frills airlines but also on more extensive demand for air travel. He will recognise that, although the figures he quoted represent a slight check on the rapid expansion over the past decade, we dare not underestimate the demand for air travel. As noble Lords will recognise, it is clearly very buoyant. Our citizens choose to travel by air within the United Kingdom and to go abroad.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Sheppey Group, which seeks to safeguard east Essex and Kent from the adverse effects of airport development. Does the Minister accept that many thousands of people in east Essex and Kent, including Kent County Council, are delighted that the Government have chosen to expand at Stansted rather than pursue a grandiose scheme of airport development in the Thames estuary area—at places such as Cliffe Marsh, Sheppey and Foulness—which, as was found at the time of the Roskill commission, 30 to 35 years ago, would have been an environmental, economic and transport disaster?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the noble Lord reminds the House that the question of airport expansion is one of tough choices. Had the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, been in his place, I am not so sure that he would have had the same perspective on Essex. The noble Lord has indicated that one part of Essex is gaining, whereas someone else may think that it is losing.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, are we to understand from the Minister that BAA is at liberty to thwart the Government's declared intention with regard to airport policy?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the White Paper, which is based on very extensive prior consultation. is quite clear on the position regarding the south-east. The British Airports Authority has clearly indicated that it is following the broad strategy of the White Paper, as we expect it to do.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, now that a Bill has passed through your Lordships' House drawing attention to the necessity for limiting emissions and airport building on good agricultural land, and now that a committee of another place has recently reported along the same lines, it is time that the Government abandoned the "predict and provide" method of dealing with airports, just as they abandoned it for roads?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the Government are not following "predict and provide". We are taking into account the point which the noble Lord has put forward both today and in his Bill. He will recognise that the question of expansion at Heathrow depends on Heathrow's ability to meet clear environmental requirements, which on present predictions it is not able to do. Any expansion is contingent on improvements in that respect.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I declare an interest as an Essex resident although I live at a distance from Stansted. BAA is currently operating in agreement with many of the property owners in the airport vicinity and is purchasing property. That is a commercial decision with which it and the vendors will have to live. However, if at the end of the planning process there is any question of' there being a designated site for Stansted to expand, will the Minister assure the House that the designation will include only land to be used for purposes of airport development, and not land which might be used for other forms of commercial development that, although indirectly related to the airport, would more properly not be on the airport site? There is otherwise a risk that land might be designated and bought at one price but then sold on at a very high profit.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, everyone is aware that Stansted airport is located in an area of considerable architectural merit and attractive countryside. We have sought to identify the limitations in order to protect those features as much as we possibly can. The noble Lord will recognise that the White Paper identifies the broad area for airport expansion. It is now for the planning authorities to deal with BAA's proposals.