Stuart Andrew (Pudsey, Conservative): Thank you, Sir Christopher. It is a great honour to be able to raise this very important issue. I am particularly grateful to have secured a debate on connectivity to Leeds Bradford international airport, given its significance for many of my constituents, particularly those living in the Horsforth, Rawdon, Guiseley and Yeadon areas, but also those in areas much further beyond. When I was preparing for the debate, I reflected on the fact that when I was first elected to Leeds city council back in 2003, it coincided with the publication of the then Government’s White Paper, “The Future of Air Transport”, which said that the growth in air travel would continue, and that airports such as Leeds Bradford would need improvements to surface access to accommodate that growth. Since then, I have taken a keen interest in the matter, and I note that surface access improvements featured in the recent report by Howard Davies on air travel in this country. More than a decade after the first report, when it comes to getting to and from Leeds Bradford airport, all we have seen are some improvements to signalling and traffic lights at the most congested local junctions, and some increase in bus services. That is hardly adequate if we are serious about finding ways to cope with increased numbers of passengers.

Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on this debate, which we have been looking forward to. My constituency welcomes the commitment to expand the potential of the airport and we are fully behind it, but he is absolutely right that we need the connecting transport that will allow us to get to that hub. It costs only about £55 or £60 to fly to Heathrow—what a bargain! Compare that with the cost of travelling on the east coast main line.

Stuart Andrew: I will come on to the point that extra flights of that sort will mean that more and more people use the airport. Access to Leeds Bradford airport is notoriously poor. The airport is primarily accessed via single-carriageway roads, some of which are densely residential and some of which are merely country lanes. Given that since the publication of the report, the number of passengers has increased by more than a third, from some 2 million a year in 2003 to more than 3.3 million this year, the current standard of surface access is totally inadequate, not only for the passengers but for my constituents who live nearby.

Let me say how pleased I am that, at long last, the Department for Transport has commissioned a study on connectivity to Leeds Bradford international airport. The vast majority of passengers arrive by car. Whether they arrive by private car, Hackney carriage or private hire vehicle, some 85% to 95% of people travel to the airport on local roads, such as the horrendously congested A65 and A658. Local residents are frustrated by the amount of traffic on those roads. Despite the installation of traffic calming measures, many still use totally unsuitable roads, such as Scotland lane in Horsforth and Bayton lane in Rawdon, which causes all sorts of rat-running through those communities and many others.

One of the main reasons why I wanted to secure the debate was to make my position absolutely clear. The answer has to be a new rail link to serve Leeds Bradford international airport. As I mentioned, passenger numbers have grown significantly at the airport, and all commentators expect that growth to continue. The types of passengers using the airport are likely to add to the problem, with more business passengers than ever before.

Barry Sheerman: What would be the increase in traffic if, like the Isle of Man, we had a regular flight to London City airport? Would that not be an even greater reason to get a rail link to Leeds Bradford airport?

Stuart Andrew: The hon. Gentleman is in danger of giving my speech for me. He is absolutely right that new services would mean that more people used the airport. I will give the projections shortly.Leeds Bradford airport is already one of the UK’s fastest growing airports, and it already supports more than 2,600 local jobs. All those people have to travel, of course, so they would need to use the rail link. The airport contributes more than £118 million to the city region economy. The Department for Transport has forecast that there is potential for the 3.3 million passengers to increase to 7.3 million by 2030, and to more than 9 million by 2050. Just this afternoon, the executive board of Leeds city council is discussing the potential for growth at the airport, and how it might be managed.

It is therefore imperative that instead of talking about the need to improve surface access, we start to do something about it and plan ahead. In my constituency, many of the old mills and factories have been replaced by new residential estates. Thousands of new houses are being built with barely any improvements to infrastructure. What is the result? We have caused real problems for my constituents. In a sense, we put the cart before the horse. We built the houses and caused a lack of school places and GP surgeries, and our road networks have become increasingly congested. I do not want us to make the same mistake with the airport.

As we have heard, passenger numbers are already increasing. The airport is working to increase the number of services, and its representatives are going to shows across the world to encourage new airlines to use its facilities. In the past two years, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said, British Airways has introduced domestic flights to and from London. Aer Lingus is about to introduce flights to Dublin and on to the United States. The airport is encouraging more business travel, with flights to more European cities, such as Frankfurt, Brussels and Madrid. That, coupled with the huge success of the Tour de France, is seeing Yorkshire take its rightful place as a wonderful tourist destination.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West, Liberal Democrat): The airport is in my hon. Friend’s constituency and mine, and the links will be built in our constituencies, but it is great to see colleagues from across the region here, because this affects the whole region. I fully support the rail link. My hon. Friend has mentioned our delivery of the Tour de France. We do not want talk on these issues; we want action. Does he agree that, with the Leeds city region having an economy worth more than £50 billion, we should be able to take such decisions for ourselves, including on whether we have light rail in Leeds, rather than having to go cap in hand to Whitehall? We need to make such decisions in Yorkshire, so that we can get on and have this rail link and the kind of modern, 21st-century transport system that we deserve.

Stuart Andrew: I could not agree more. We definitely need the system that we want. We know our local areas and the benefits that a rail link would bring. I hope this is the start of a joint mission to give a loud Yorkshire clout to securing the investment that we need. My hon. Friend is right about the increase in tourists and business passengers. We can see how quickly the passenger numbers could rise to those predicted by the Department for Transport. The airport could become one of the largest airports down the east side of England, and it could be bigger than the airports in Liverpool, Newcastle, Doncaster and the east midlands.

I am aware that the current study considers a range of options, one of which is a new link road from the ring road at Horsforth through the fields that are the natural border between Horsforth and Rawdon, past the airport and joining the A658. The West Yorkshire transport fund is carrying out further studies into that solution, but it will not solve the problem. In fact, it could make the situation a lot worse for my constituents, because passengers arriving at the airport by car will still have to use the roads through Apperley Bridge, Rawdon and Horsforth to get to the link road. The increased traffic that the new road would bring will make a bad situation much worse. Additionally, I fear that the road could become a new rat run for drivers wanting a short cut from the M62 to the A1 heading north. If we are serious about coming up with a long-term solution that will provide better connectivity to the airport while improving the experience for passengers and, more importantly, reducing the impact on my constituents and the constituents of other hon. Members, the only option is to create a new rail link.

David Ward (Bradford East, Liberal Democrat): My hon. Friend mentions Apperley Bridge, and everyone here is familiar with the dreadful Greengates junction. This is all a false economy, because we now have to invest a huge amount of money to address the jams occurring in those areas. If we invested in a rail link, we might be able to save money that would otherwise have to be spent on clearing up problems caused by those traffic jams.

Stuart Andrew: My hon. Friend is another constituency neighbour, and he is absolutely right about the traffic jams that go right through Greengates, which people try to avoid as much as they can. Adding a new link road up to the airport would do nothing to alleviate the traffic on that road. In fact, as I said, a new link road would make the traffic much worse.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell, Conservative): Does my hon. Friend agree that the biggest problem when assessing accessibility to the airport is that solutions have always been sought in and around the airport’s immediate vicinity, rather than across the whole region? Many people from my constituency also access the airport, so we must look for solutions on a much wider scale.

Stuart Andrew: Absolutely. I hope that the rail link to the airport is the start of a wider connection improvement across Yorkshire. The new rail link is the only option for me, because it offers an opportunity for greater modal shift, which will mean that we are better placed to cope with any future expansion. We need only look at other airports across the country that have direct rail links to see how successful they have been; I am thinking of places such as Manchester airport. A number of rail options are available to us. Some of them are gold-plated, but I would advocate going with a stage 1 approach that links the airport to the existing Leeds, Horsforth and Harrogate line. That would mean that a journey time of as little as nine minutes would be possible from the centre of Leeds, which is a pipe dream for anyone trying to achieve the same journey by road.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer, Conservative): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. The rail line he is talking about runs through my constituency, too, which shows how important Leeds Bradford airport is for connecting our region. If we are truly to connect the whole region, it must be through the rail infrastructure, rather than by tinkering with the road infrastructure. That means long-term investment, not short-term investment that means only short-term gains.

Stuart Andrew: I could not agree more. If we were to have such a spur, we could connect Harrogate, York and places much further afield, so that people had a decent transport system that offered a real alternative to those who might be thinking about using the car.

We have to be mindful of costs, and here again there are often great variations. We have all had transport projects in our constituencies and been staggered by the costs that some consultants seem to add. I had a meeting with the airport last week; the Horsforth spur that I suggested would cost some £50 million, and the Harrogate spur would cost an extra £25 million to £30 million. With all the other costs that would be added, the total is some £98 million. I know others have suggested that it would be much more expensive, and I realise that it is a considerable amount of money, but if we are serious about connecting the north, we need to invest and take a long-term approach, as my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) suggested.

I praise the Government for their investment in the northern hub and the massive electrification programme, but it would be perverse in the extreme not to link one of the region’s largest airports to that new and improved network. When officials and Ministers are looking at the options, they will of course have to consider the cost-benefit ratios, but I hope that they will bear in mind the cost-benefit ratios for the Jubilee line, which were poor at the time but improved significantly once the line was in operation.

I would also argue that the playing field is not level. Traditional DFT assessments of benefits relate to the value of time saved to business and leisure users over a 60-year period, meaning that a highways scheme, such as a new bypass, has a clear and large time-saving value for each road user. In turn, that becomes a large financial benefit in the appraisal. Until recently, there was an assumption that public transport travel was made up of non-working time, so that if there was a shift from using cars to using a new train service, the true value of time saved for business users was not accounted for, and neither was the regeneration or the economic impact of a new rail service. Although that has changed with more recent DFT appraisal methods, the uncertainty over the value attached to working time in the case of rail, and over the economic benefits, means that the value of time benefits for road users will more than likely be more pronounced in any appraisal.

It is imperative that we do not see a rail link in isolation. I have already mentioned the northern hub and the electrification programme, but we must not forget that we also have one of the largest infrastructure projects this country has seen in centuries coming into Leeds within the next 20 years. I am, of course, talking about HS2. What a missed opportunity it would be if people were to get off a brand new, shiny, high-speed rail link in Leeds station—one of the busiest in the country—and discover that they could not get to the airport by train. Even a three-year-old child would not come up with such a hare-brained scheme.

In conclusion, there is much that I welcome: at long last, the Department seems to be taking the issue of surface access to Leeds Bradford airport seriously, for which I am thankful. Nevertheless, this is our opportunity to be ambitious and to get it right, because this is not just about getting passengers to the airport, or the airport wanting to fulfil its expansion plans; it is also about looking after the people I represent, who live in the area. If we were simply to go with the easy option of a new road, I feel sure that within the next 20 years, or possibly even sooner, whoever is representing my seat—I hope it is me—will be calling for another debate asking for a rail link.

The time to do this is now. When the airport talks to airlines about its facilities, the question that is always asked is, “How do people get there?” For too long, it has been by car. A rail link would offer new capacity to deal with a long-standing problem and improve the attractiveness of Yorkshire and beyond, through inward investment. It would help us to cope with new tourists who want to visit the wonderful county of Yorkshire, and would also help us to spread the benefits of HS2 and the northern hub. I plead with the Minister; he could become the greatest living Yorkshireman if he is bold, takes the decision we need, and gives us the rail link that we want.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby, Conservative): I must say that the greatest living Yorkshireman has to be Geoffrey Boycott, and I could not even hope to compete with him. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing this debate about connections to Leeds Bradford International airport, my local airport, which I have used many hundreds of times to fly to various places around Europe.

I was pleased to visit Leeds Bradford International airport, or Yeadon aerodrome, as many people still refer to it, in my official capacity on 1 May this year, when I saw some of the surface access problems. I made it clear to my officials that I wanted to visit the airport using public transport, so I embarked on the Yorkshire Tiger bus, which took me from outside Leeds station up to the airport. Although the service was very good, it was not particularly quick. Perhaps we have a general problem with railway stations and rail companies not encouraging people to take buses, but it was not immediately clear which bus stop to use or how to get to it. It occurred to me that it might have been nice to have a little aeroplane symbol next to the correct bus number on the electronic display at the bus stop.

Greg Mulholland: I am delighted that the Minister visited Leeds Bradford airport in my constituency, and I accepted his apology for his officials’ forgetting to tell me. I would have been delighted to join him and hope that I can do so the next time he visits. I am delighted that the Minister has already offered some support to the idea of a rail link to Leeds Bradford airport, but such a link must be connected to the modernisation and electrification of, and the improvement of rolling stock on, the important Leeds-Harrogate-York line. That is such an important line but currently cannot be used because of those issues.

Robert Goodwill: The gradients involved in potential rail access to the airport are sufficiently steep that I suspect one would need an electrically powered train to have the correct number of driving wheels, and I have been advised that doing that is not just a straightforward engineering challenge. I am well aware of the surface access issues at Leeds Bradford airport—indeed, my constituents on the coast at Scarborough and Whitby often tell me that it is more convenient to use Manchester airport because there is a direct trans-Pennine express service from Scarborough and through York and Leeds. They can get on the train in Scarborough and get off the train in the terminal at Manchester airport.

The debate is timely because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey indicated, the feasibility study that we commissioned into connectivity to Leeds Bradford International airport is nearly complete, and Ministers will shortly be considering its recommendations. Members’ contributions to today’s debate will be a vital input to our consideration. My hon. Friend has been campaigning hard on the need for a rail link and has wasted no time in taking his case to both the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chancellor. Today’s debate is another part of the process.

Before I come to the study itself, I want to say a few words about the role of regional airports. The Government have always made it clear that regional airports make a vital contribution to the growth of regional and local economies and are a way to provide convenience and travel choice for air passengers. That was recognised in the Government’s aviation policy framework, which was published in March last year. The UK’s airports help to encourage investment and exports by providing valuable local jobs and fuelling opportunities for economic rebalancing in their wider region or area.

The aviation policy framework also recognised regional airports’ very important role in providing domestic and international connections. The local availability of direct air services from such airports can reduce the need for air passengers and freight to travel long distances to reach larger UK airports. New or more frequent international connections attract business activity, boosting the regions’ economies and providing new opportunities and better access to new markets for existing businesses. The Civil Aviation Authority’s statistics for last year show that the UK’s regional airports handled 90 million passengers—around 39% of the UK’s total—and services from regional airports operated to more than 100 domestic and international destinations. We should therefore start referring to these airports as local international airports rather than regional airports.

Airports act as focal points for local business development and employment by diversifying into other aviation-related areas such as hosting on-site aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul companies, and aviation training facilities, as well as into non-aviation businesses. Leeds Bradford International airport is home to Multiflight, a flight training and aircraft engineering organisation that provides helicopter and fixed-wing charter flights, aircraft sales and management. It is also home to the Aviation Academy, which is affiliated to the universities of Leeds and Bradford and trains and prepares students to work in the aviation industry.

I am aware that many UK airports were affected by the economic downturn and that some have struggled to maintain their commercial viability. In that regard, I was saddened to learn of the closure of Manston airport in May and, just recently, Blackpool airport. I know that those closures have caused concern for people and businesses in, respectively, the east Kent and Fylde areas. However, airports operate in a competitive market and, although regrettable, the operators’ decisions to close them have been made on commercial grounds. I must say that the story is much better for Leeds Bradford airport: since the advent of Jet2, it has many times more passengers than it had in the old days when I used to fly to Brussels with Sabena.

Just like our economy, however, many of our airports are seeing real growth again. For example, Leeds Bradford and Belfast City airports saw passenger growth of more than 10% between 2012 and 2013, and we want that growth to continue. We warmly welcome the ambition of the UK’s regional airports. They are responding to local and regional demands by investing in their infrastructure, to enable services to more destinations, and to offer better facilities and more choice to their passengers.

As hon. Members will be aware, LBIA recently completed an £11 million passenger terminal development to increase airside space by 65%. That development is being replicated around the country with major investment at other airports, such as Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Glasgow. Given the important role that regional airports play across the UK, by providing domestic and international connections and making vital contributions towards local growth, I want to see their development continue, and I want to see LBIA reach its full potential.

The Government recognise that good surface access to airports is a key part of their success. That is why the “Investing in Britain’s Future” document, published by the Treasury in June 2013, included a commitment from the Government to undertake a feasibility study into improving connectivity to LBIA, to consider problems and identify potential solutions, some of which we have heard about today. That study has recently been completed and my ministerial colleagues and I will consider its findings and recommendations during the next few weeks, before deciding how to proceed. So, as I indicated earlier, this debate is very timely, and I welcome the opportunity to hear from my hon. Friend and other Members.

The Government wanted to understand the issues that affected the airport, which is why we commissioned a study to identify and appraise potential improvements that would substantially improve the connectivity of LBIA to its catchment area, taking into account the aspiration of the airport to grow, and including both road and public transport options. There have been a number of studies over the years to look at various aspects of surface access to the airport. Given the significance of regional airports to the economy, we thought it was important to take a fresh look at this issue, taking the previous studies and reports into account, but also undertaking some new analysis in the context of today’s air travel market.

Therefore, WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff was appointed to conduct a study in April and is due to submit its final report shortly. It has looked at the evidence and reviewed the existing body of work on the issue, identified and shortlisted options, appraised the shortlisted options and set out its conclusions. I am pleased to say that the study has also drawn on the knowledge and expertise of local stakeholders, through the stakeholder reference group, which included representatives from the airport, local councils, Network Rail, bus operators, environmental organisations and the LBIA air transport forum. My colleague, Baroness Kramer, has provided updates to local MPs and ran a briefing session for them this morning.

I recognise that hon. Members may have concerns about the impact of potential solutions to this issue on their constituencies. All modes of transport have been considered in the study, including consideration of the case for new and improved highways, as well as bus and rail options. It may be that some of these potential impacts may be positive if congestion is reduced and connectivity improved, but I am well aware that some of the proposals for both road and rail schemes could require the construction of new infrastructure in what is now open space. That is naturally a cause for local concern and I can assure hon. Members that environmental considerations form part of the assessment process.

Whatever action the Government decide to take on the study’s recommendation, individual scheme proposals such as a new road or rail link would need to be subject to further evaluation, and would require statutory consents before they could proceed. This process would provide the opportunity for further consultation and public comment if people have concerns that they wish to bring forward.