24 May 2023
Heathrow Airport Expansion

Jesse Norman, Minister of State (Decarbonisation and Technology) at the Department for Transport, replies on behalf of the Government to a Westminster Hall debate on the future of Heathrow Airport expansion.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Jesse Norman)

It is a delight to see you in the Chair, Ms Elliott. What a very interesting debate this has been. I congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) on securing it. She is right that this is a very important matter.

As the debate has shown, many Members have very strong views on this issue, not only in relation to the benefits that expansion could bring to the national and local economy, but also because of the potential impacts that they have highlighted on those living around the airport and wider environmental commitments.

I admire the chutzpah of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), in raising London bridges, when the London Mayor and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham have so abjectly failed to reopen Hammersmith bridge over the last four years.

Andy Slaughter 

That is a whole ’nother debate. Given that the Government will not fund major strategic infrastructure because it is in London—if it were anywhere else in the country, they would be paying 80% or 90%—and given how much they have dragged their feet for years on this project, the Minister has a cheek, quite frankly, to make the comment he has just made.

Jesse Norman 

I do not have much time, but I think the Chamber knows that the funding per head and the sources of revenue that exist in London are vastly greater than in other parts of the country, and it is appropriate that that money should be properly invested alongside any other support that can be given.

We are not going to be distracted from this important topic. On a more constructive point, it is noticeable that the Opposition’s position on the issue of Heathrow expansion is not so very different from that of the Government. It is important to explore what the Government’s position is.

Hon. Members will recall that, in 2015, the independent Airports Commission’s final report concluded that a new north-west runway at Heathrow airport was the best solution to deliver the future additional airport capacity the country required. The Government considered the commission’s recommendation and announced in October 2016 that they agreed with the conclusions.

The Government then developed a draft airports national policy statement that provided the framework and criteria against which a development consent application would be judged. The draft statement was published for consultation in 2017 and scrutinised by the Transport Committee, before being laid before Parliament. In June 2018, the airports national policy statement was designated, following Parliament voting overwhelmingly in favour of the north-west runway proposal, by 415 votes to 119. That is an overwhelming majority in favour of the north-west runway proposal. Following its designation, the airports national policy statement was subject to a number of legal challenges, which have been heard in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The legal challenges concluded in December 2020, when the Supreme Court unanimously concluded that the airports national policy statement is lawful.

Challenges against the statement, however, did not end there. The Planning Act 2008 requires the Secretary of State to review a national policy statement whenever they consider it appropriate to do so. Between 2019 and 2021, the Department received numerous requests from third parties to review it. When the Supreme Court determined that the airports national policy statement once again had legal effect, those review requests were considered. In September 2021, the then Secretary of State for Transport decided that it was not appropriate at that time to review the airports national policy statement. The Government said that the matter would be considered again after the jet zero strategy was published, and that the timing of re-consideration would need to have regard to the availability of long-term aviation demand forecasts.

The jet zero strategy was published in July last year and sets out the Government’s approach to achieving net zero aviation by 2050. The idea that the Government have not thought at length and in depth about this, and set out a strategy for achieving it, as was raised earlier in the debate, is nonsense. The jet zero strategy and its accompanying documents set that out. The strategy focuses on the rapid development of technologies in a way that maintains the benefits of air travel while maximising the opportunities that decarbonisation can bring to the UK. It creates a strategic framework for aviation decarbonisation.

It is clear that the Government continue to support airport growth where it is justified, and that expansion of any airport in England must meet our strict climate change obligations to be able to proceed. The Government’s approach to sustainable aviation growth is supported by analysis that shows that the country can achieve net zero emissions by 2050 without the need to intervene directly to limit aviation growth. The jet zero strategy set out a range of measures to meet net zero. I will touch on three of those.

First, we are supporting the development of new, zero-carbon emission aircraft technology through the Aerospace Technology Institute programme. An example of that is the announcement last week by Rolls-Royce that it has commenced the testing of its UltraFan technology, which will enable efficiency improvements in current and future aircraft and is 100% SAF compatible.

Secondly, this year the Government have conducted a call for evidence on implementation of a 2040 zero-emission airport operations target in England. My Department is currently considering responses and will publish a Government response shortly. Thirdly, the suggestion that this country is behind its international competitors on sustainable aviation fuels is entirely wrong. We have published a consultation on the SAF mandate, and that is currently available for discussion.

Gavin Newlands 

Will the Minister give way?

Jesse Norman 

I have no time, I am afraid. I have to stop in half a minute in order to allow the hon. Member for Putney to wind up the debate. I wish I had more time, but I am afraid that interventions and other speeches have not allowed for it.

Turning quickly back to covid-19, Members will be aware that covid-19 drastically revised the use of air transport. Almost overnight, most of the country’s aircraft fleet was grounded. Thankfully, the UK is now on the way to recovery, but we have not yet returned to the demand before the pandemic, and uncertainty remains around the long-term impact that the pandemic has had on aviation demand. Further work therefore needs to be undertaken before any future forecasts can be developed.

I think I had better wind up there. I apologise, Ms Elliott, for having to truncate my speech owing to the pressure of time.