|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tony McNulty): I congratulate the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) on securing the debate on an issue that is important not only to his constituency but the wider region. As he rightly says, the White Paper acknowledges, among other things, the importance of regional airports to their local economies and the importance of links to London and elsewhere. Given that Bristol airport is the largest airport in the south-west, I recognise that its importance to residents as well as the economy of the region is paramount, as he suggested.
With passenger throughput almost doubling to nearly 4 million per annum between 2000 and 2003, the impact of access to the airport is becoming a concern to local communities on the affected routes, many of which are in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I appreciate the strong local opposition to the impact of the significant increase in traffic. I listened carefully to his case.
In responding, I want to examine the likely role for Bristol International airport as set out in the White Paper, which was presented last December, and the
24 May 2004 : Column 1415
Government's actions to deal with the specific issues that the hon. Gentleman raised in relation to airport access.
Ensuring easy and reliable access to airports that minimises congestion and other local effects is a key factor in considering any proposal for new airport capacity. The Government expect airport operators to develop appropriate access plans and to contribute to the cost of additional infrastructure or required services. Bristol International airport is actively working to fulfil the Government's requirement to produce a master plan by the end of 2004 to take account of the conclusions on future developments that the White Paper set out.
The final agreed master plan can then be adopted by the local council as supplementary planning guidance. Indeed, we shall shortly be issuing guidance on what should be in the master plans, as the plan for each regional airport will differ according to the local context. It is right and proper that each airport should come up with a master plan that shows, among other things, the infrastructure needs that follow from its plans for expansion.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the airport is some 8 miles south-west of the city centre and, although the main Bristol to Taunton rail route passes some 3 miles to the north-west of the airport, the difference in levels is about 175 m, making any conventional connection to heavy rail out of the question. He made a general point to the effect that, if we had known we were going to get to this situation, we would not have started from where we did. There are any number of airports to which that applies but, as he rightly says, we are where we are.
Strategic surface access links to Bristol airport are not as good as they are at many other airports of a similar size in the UK. The hon. Gentleman will clearly see that as an understatement and it is that issue that he is most concerned about. Links to the motorway network, which is some distance away, are via A and B roads that pass through the villages and other built-up areas that he so eloquently described. Consequently, more than 95 per cent. of passengers arrive at the airport via the unimproved A38the majority by private carand either park on-site or nearby, or arrive as "drop-offs".
The second most important mode of transport to and from the airport is the taxi. Bristol International Cars, the major provider, reports an increase of 17 per cent. to March 2004 to 165,518 bookings. Assuming an average of three persons per taxi, this represents some 13 per cent. of arrivals and departures. Obviously, people arriving by taxi do not generally reduce the number of vehicle arrivals at the airport, merely the demand for on-site parking.
The only significant public transport provision is the Bristol international flyer, which caters for about 4 per cent. of passengers. That coach service operates three times an hour between about 5 am and midnight, commencing at Bristol coach station and calling at Temple Meads and one other stop in south Bristol. By the by, when travelling to Bristol by rail, it is now possible to book a through ticket to the airport on the Bristol international flyer from Temple Meads station. In the 12 months to March 2004, some 140,000 passengers used the flyer to access the airport. While I
24 May 2004 : Column 1416
accept that that was only just over 3.5 per cent. of the air passenger throughput, it represented a 20 per cent. increase over the previous year.
In keeping with other airports, Bristol has set itself a target to increase public transport arrivals, in its case, by 5 per cent. above the growth in passenger numbers. Since the latter increased by 11 per cent. to March 2004, that target was met for the last financial year, which the airport is, in part, to be congratulated on. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Bristol city council has integrated the flyer with its showcase bus route, which provides significant bus priority measures in south Bristol as well as real-time information. The flyer has been re-routed to take advantage of the improved infrastructure.
As a result of the on-site constraints on land available for car parking, there are certain periods during the year when the on-site car park nears capacity. The hon. Gentleman is obviously aware that certain local landowners have seized the opportunity to provide long-term parking for the airport at rates that are very competitive compared with those for on-site parking. That is viewed as unhelpful in terms of encouraging the use of public transport. North Somerset council has recently been successful in taking action to close one site and is pursuing a similar action against the others. If those actions are successful, it should result in an increase in the mode share arriving by public transport, because the cost of parking on site will increase and the on-site constraints will mean that the number of parking spaces is unlikely to increase at the same rate as passenger growth.
Although everyone accepts that the increase in air travel provides a welcome boost to the local economy, the hon. Gentleman is well aware that it brings attendant traffic problems. However, there is some evidence that the airport operator's access policy is beginning to have an impact, in that despite an 11 per cent. increase in passengers in the year to March 2004, vehicle arrivals increased by only 9 per cent. However, I fully accept what he says about the poor transport infrastructure, particularly the road links.
Dr. Fox: Earlier in his remarks, the Minister said that his Department would shortly advise local authorities on the plan and planning guidance. As a point of principle, will he accept that it makes no sense to encourage airport expansion until transport infrastructure has been addressed? The current approach will exacerbate the situation. Will his Department take that factor into account when it issues guidance to local authorities?
Mr. McNulty: I am grateful for that intervention. In many cases, the approach depends on the airport. In cases such as Bristol, I freely admit that, in seeking a master plan and asking the airport to implement the provisions in the White Paper as part of its expansion, we are playing catch up, given that many regional airports grew significantly over the two to three years before the White Paper.
The master plan's purpose is to regularise growth and to identify, first, the nature of the expansion, and, secondly, how airports will work with other bodies and contribute to surface links. We cannot say to airports,
24 May 2004 : Column 1417
"Whatever growth there has been thus far, you can stop now until we work through this White Paper." I accept that the process contains a time lag, and equally accept that, as a result of traffic using rat runs through local villages, North Somerset council and others are under pressure to improve road access to the airport.
To that end, I recently commissioned a study into the feasibility of a link road between the A370 and the A38. The objectives of the study were threefoldto improve access to the airport, to relieve congestion in south Bristol and to encourage regeneration in south Bristol. As the hon. Member for Woodspring made clear, to improve access to the airport without having strong cognisance of how that impacts on traffic patterns in the south Bristol area is in no one's interests and is not practical.
Mr. McNulty: With the greatest respect, if the hon. Gentleman had had the courtesy to let me know that he wanted to intervene, it would have been helpful, but on this occasion, because I feel generous, I give way.
Mr. Sayeed: I am very grateful to the Minister. I listened to the debate because I was the MP for Bristol, East before I became the MP for Mid-Bedfordshire. I know the area and recognise how pressurised local people have become because of the increase in traffic. Because the number of schemes is small, the Minister has few places to visit to see the effects of airport expansion. Will he get in the car and drive around all the villages and small towns affected, particularly around Bristol airport, to see what the increase in traffic means to the ordinary lives of ordinary people?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|