The Government has denied “dithering” over the long-awaited decision on airport expansion in the South East.
Transport minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon insisted at question time that it was important for ministers to consider environmental issues like air pollution before making a decision.
But Labour’s Lord Harris of Haringey said the Airports Commission had been set up by the previous coalition government “as a means of keeping this particular ball in the air because the government was not prepared to make a decision”.
He told peers: “The ball has now been kicked firmly into the long grass and every so often the Transport Secretary kicks it further away from a decision.
“If the Government really believe that this is an urgent and important decision to increase airport capacity, how much longer is it going to dither over this issue because they do not want to make a political decision?”
Lord Ahmad said the Government had been clear that it needs further time to consider environmental issues such as air pollution.
“This is not about keeping things up in the air. On the contrary, it is about getting those things in the air down on the ground,” he added.
Lord Ahmad said the Government announced in December that it accepted the commission’s case for new runway capacity in the South East, as well as the three shortlisted schemes involving Gatwick or Heathrow.
Challenged by peers to consider other regional airports like Birmingham, he said the Government would not be looking at any other options.
Tory former Cabinet minister and ex-pilot Lord Tebbit said major international airlines could not be compelled to fly into airports they did not wish to go to.
The alternative to Heathrow is not Birmingham or Stansted, but Schiphol, Paris and Frankfurt. “ Either we can have the business in this country, in London, or it will go to the continent,” he warned.
Lord Ahmad said commercial decisions on air slots are for the airlines to make. “As for the competitiveness of London vis-a-vis competitors in Europe, that is one reason why the Government are committed to further expansion of air capacity in the South East.”
Liberal Democrat Baroness Randerson asked if the views of people in the North and the Midlands are being taken into account.
“There is considerable resentment among both business and leisure passengers about the problems they face in travelling so far to reach a hub airport in the south of England,” she warned.
Lord Ahmad said Manchester Airport would benefit from £1 billion of investment over the next 10 years and other regional airports, like Luton, have benefited from investment as well.
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