09 September 2010

S3M-6881 Edinburgh Airport (Drop-off Charges)

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 9 September 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 09:15]
... ... ...
Edinburgh Airport
(Drop-off Charges)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-6881, in the name of Gavin Brown, on drop-off charges at Edinburgh airport. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament regrets the decision taken by Edinburgh Airport to introduce a £1 drop-off charge, due to start in October 2010; notes that no other BAA airport in the United Kingdom currently has a drop-off charge; considers that BAA failed to consult widely with passengers ahead of taking the decision; notes that, since the decision has been made public, thousands of residents, businesses and other organisations across the Lothians and elsewhere in Scotland have voiced their opposition to the charge; considers that for many people, including older residents and those with young children, taking public transport to the airport is not a viable option, and notes that over 71% of businesses who responded to the Midlothian and East Lothian Chamber of Commerce survey believed that the introduction of the drop-off fee would have a negative effect on Scottish business and tourism.

... ... ...

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I join the others who have participated in the debate and thank Gavin Brown for securing time to discuss an issue that is important to the wide range of people who use Edinburgh airport. I assure Mr Brown and others who have contributed to the debate that I fully appreciate the strength of feeling that BAA's proposed drop-off charge has stimulated amongst some airport users and others who benefit from the airport's presence. If I did not appreciate that before coming to the debate tonight—and I think I did—the debate has certainly served its purpose.

I would like to pick up on some of the points that members have made. Gavin Brown delineated clearly that there has been a lack of clarity—I put it in those terms—about why the charge is being introduced and what the benefits of doing so are, and I hope that BAA thinks deeply about the contrast between what the consultation process adumbrated and what actually happened.

Among the reasons that were given for the measure was that of getting people on to public transport. It is worth picking up on what Mary Mulligan said in that regard. I have gone to the airport by public transport on a number of occasions. I have travelled to it from Linlithgow by bus, which involved being dropped off on the A8 and walking the mile. I do not intend to repeat the experience. I did check the weather before choosing that option because I thought that walking a mile in pouring rain would not be much fun. I have gone to Haymarket and caught the 100 bus. Although it is possible to get to the airport from Linlithgow by public transport, when one compares it with the option of doing the journey by car, which takes between 12 and 14 minutes, not many people will be attracted to the public transport option.

In addition, I have used the 100 service from the centre of Edinburgh, as well as the 747 service from Inverkeithing station, which goes directly to the airport's forecourt. I did not know about the Whitburn bus, but I will pursue that with interest. A range of options is available to a limited number of people, but it is clear that the car will remain a significant option that some people will be forced to choose to get to the airport.

Gavin Brown described the proposed charge as an insult to our wallets; I suspect that other members who have contributed to the debate took the insult somewhat more widely. Mr Brown ended by calling for the idea to be scrapped.

Mary Mulligan pointed, quite naturally, to the bad publicity that the proposal has generated. Whatever finesse our arguments might have, I do not think that anyone in BAA will imagine that this is where the company wanted to be or the process by which it wanted to get here. Public relations is important for all organisations that provide a service to the public, as Mary Mulligan said.

Margaret Smith said that opposition to the charge was pretty universal, and that it was being introduced to make money and simply because BAA can do so. I say openly that there are always genuine difficulties to do with how to regulate quasi-monopolies, and there are some lessons—

Gil Paterson: Will the minister take an intervention on that point?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes—the member is a specialist in that area.

Gil Paterson: The minister will be aware that BAA's London airports are regulated by the Department for Transport, whereas its operations in Scotland are self-regulated. Does the minister agree that, unless the DFT allowed it, BAA would not get away with introducing such a measure in London because the relevant act would not permit it? Will the Scottish Government consider designating airports, such as Edinburgh airport, which would give the Scottish authorities the right to regulate BAA's operations instead of their being self-regulated? I think that that is the key to the way in which BAA operates on drop-off charges and on many other issues—it fills its pockets instead of filling aeroplanes.

Stewart Stevenson: I understand the point that the member makes. The power to designate an airport is not available to me, although it has been discussed. The effect of designation would not be limited to the subject that we are discussing, so I would caution against the exercising of designation powers to get some assistance with that, because it might be less helpful on a range of other issues.

Ian McKee referred to the 2006 master plan. In fairness, I think that things can change over four years. He compared the situation at the airport with that at the Gyle centre, where Marks and Spencer operates, which is among the many places where there is free parking.

Mr McLetchie posed the question: are charges coming elsewhere? Well, just as the referendum on road charging in Edinburgh perhaps stalled any prospect of something happening on that in the near future, what has happened here may be illustrative for others. He said that the key point—I merely repeat his numbers without knowing their veracity or source—is that there is a £1 million a year revenue stream to pay for a £1 million asset. That is something that many who have listened to the debate will pick up on and perhaps use. Thankfully, he pleaded for a Government minister not to interfere. However, the minister will use the content of the debate to form part of his discussions with BAA next time he meets them, as members would expect.

Malcolm Chisholm highlighted many of the issues that others raised. He praised the trams in particular.

I welcome Robin Harper's comments on high-speed rail between central Scotland and the south-east, and on under the Channel. That is certainly important. He used the words "tedious", "mindless" and so on, and I suspect that he might have added to his list the temper of the users.

It has been a useful debate. While clearly it is a commercial matter for BAA to consider the introduction of the charges, we have an all-encompassing interest in seeing the continuing success of an important contributor to our economy. Route development is an issue in which we are very interested, and BAA must consider whether its actions promote or impact adversely on its success in future and the success that it delivers to our economy. I am interested in improvements to public transport connections to Edinburgh airport. The proportion of people who travel there by public transport is already relatively high, but clearly there are opportunities for more to happen.

I thank all who have participated in this timely and useful debate. I hope that people outside the chamber have been listening.

Meeting closed at 17:42.

Stewart Stevenson
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