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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 76-viii
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
An Air Transport Strategy for Northern Ireland
Wednesday 24 October 2012
DR Liz Fawcett, Jenny Simon, Barney Gadd and Joe McGlade
John Rooney and Glyn Roberts
Evidence heard in Public Questions 574 - 632
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
on Wednesday 24 October 2012
Mr Laurence Robertson (Chair)
Mr David Anderson
Mr Stephen Hepburn
Dr Alasdair McDonnell
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr Liz Fawcett, Chair, Steering Group, Belfast City Airport Watch, Jenny Simon, Sydenham resident, Barney Gadd, BCAW Steering Group/Old Stranmillis Residents’ Association, and Joe McGlade, BCAW Steering Group/Park Road and District Residents’ Association, gave evidence.
Q574 Chair: Thank you very much for joining us. We are carrying out an inquiry into aviation policy, with particular respect to the impact on Northern Ireland in terms of business, tourism, families and so forth. You are very welcome; we are delighted to see you here. Could you quickly introduce yourselves and tell us very briefly about the work you do and the work you have done in the past?
Dr Fawcett: My name is Dr Liz Fawcett. I am Chair of the Steering Group for Belfast City Airport Watch. Jenny Simon is a resident from Sydenham and a member of ours. Joe McGlade is a member of our Steering Group and represents the Park Road and District Residents’ Association in South Belfast. Barney Gadd is also a member of our Steering Group and he represents the Old Stranmillis Residents’ Association, which is also in South Belfast.
First of all, we would like to thank the Chairman and members of the Committee very much indeed for being good enough to hear us today. We would also like to say that we really welcome the inquiry you are holding. We feel it is a very important topic.
Our group, Belfast City Airport Watch, is an umbrella organisation. It has 21 affiliated organisations. Twenty of those are residents’ associations and community groups, which represent areas that are under or close to one of the two flight paths in and out of City Airport. We also have 550 associate members and individual supporters.
We have been campaigning about the issue of airport noise, which has a serious impact. As you may be aware, City Airport is one of just three airports that have been designated by the European Union as having city status. It is recognised that it is very close to a builtup, urban, residential area and therefore is likely to have a serious noise impact. We thought it might be helpful if we say a little bit about the individual impact of aircraft noise on family life in our areas and then a few words about our case and why we want to see the Committee today. Is that helpful or not?
Q575 Chair: It would be helpful, but I am concerned about the time. Can I suggest that we ask questions, and then if there is time at the end and you feel we have not covered anything, I will ask you to come back in? Is it okay if we do it that way?
Dr Fawcett: That is absolutely fine.
Q576 Naomi Long: You are very welcome; it is good to see you at the Committee this afternoon. In paragraph 3.4 of your written submission you mention that pilots prefer to fly into the prevailing westerly winds, so that "most flights take off and land over a huge swathe of east and south Belfast". Do you have any evidence for that assessment and what is your estimate of how many flights take off and land over those areas and how many take off and land over Belfast Lough?
Dr Fawcett: Belfast City Airport keeps statistics and publishes them on its website. They try to keep it to a maximum-I think it is usually about 55%-of flights taking off and landing over the lough, and 45% over the city. I cannot remember which way around it is, but they do publish those statistics. The preference comes from aviation sector websites, which talk about what pilots prefer. It is knowledge ascertained from websites.
Q577 Naomi Long: Further on that point, we took evidence early in the session from BALPA, the British Airline Pilots Association, who raised the issue of direction of travel in and out of the airport. They argued that taking off into the wind, or not with a tail wind, is not done as a matter of preference but as a matter of safety. To fly against or with the wind is not an option that they can explore; they have to take off into the prevailing wind. Therefore, do you feel that that is a measure of the airport or simply of the safety issues around flying generally, so it is not a preference of the pilots but something they have to do for safety reasons and therefore it cannot be interfered with to enable the balance to be achieved?
Dr Fawcett: It is hard to know whether, with the current balance achieved for the airport, every single one of those that goes in and out over the city is done for safety reasons or not. I totally accept your point and take on board that there are safety issues there and pilots would be conscious of those. From our point of view, the strategic argument is important, which your Committee is looking at, and particularly the Draft Aviation Policy Framework, which is being produced by the Department for Transport. There are big issues around regulation and noise.
Belfast City Airport is in an unfortunate location given that a fairly large proportion of flights do have to go out over the city, for whatever reason. At the same time, we want to stress the importance of robust, external regulation. We believe that noise pollution from aircraft noise should be seen like other forms of pollution, such as air and water pollution, and indeed other forms of noise pollution. We are not experts in how these other forms of pollution are regulated, but we do know that they are regulated in a more robust fashion than airport noise currently is.
Q578 Lady Hermon: It is very nice to see all of you here this afternoon. I am going to follow on from Naomi Long’s point about adverse noise. In particular, I would like to tease out a bit more detail from your submission. Paragraph 4.3 says that, at present George Best Belfast City Airport has a "serious adverse noise impact on tens of thousands of local residents" and this is expected to grow. How do you measure the tens of thousands of local residents for whom there is a "serious adverse noise impact" from George Best Belfast City Airport?
Dr Fawcett: There are two ways of measuring it. There are the airport’s own figures, which come from them commissioning a company to do noise monitoring every year on their behalf. So there are published statistics from that. Our issue with that is that the actual benchmarks used in that monitoring are not sufficiently representative of the full impact of noise on residents living under or close to the flight path. To total up the numbers, we looked at the population in each of the electoral wards under or close to the flight paths; then we worked out what proportion were under or close to the flight path. Our estimate is that about 38,000 residents in the Belfast City Council area live under or close to the flight path and would therefore be impacted by noise.
Q579 Lady Hermon: In the past year, how many letters of complaint have you received from people talking about "serious adverse noise" from Belfast City Airport? Those can be letters of complaint, e-mails of complaint or telephone calls of complaint.
Dr Fawcett: The complaints would not be directed to us as a residents’ organisation. We do not know how many complaints City Airport have had this year. Last year, I think they said there were 41, but that would need to be checked.
Q580 Lady Hermon: Just 41?
Dr Fawcett: They have argued that this shows very few people are concerned about the issue. We are told that, first of all, people do not know how to complain to the airport or do not realise that they can. Those that have often find it quite a disillusioning experience because nothing appears to be likely to change as a result. Generally, the airport will write and respond to them-I do not know if they always do but they generally will-and they will explain why something happened but that they are allowed to do it. So it is not really having an impact.
There are indications of the numbers concerned about the issue other than from complaints. The Department of the Environment held a public consultation earlier this year on proposals put forward by the airport for a noise cap, which would permit much more noise than exists at the moment. There were over 1,300 responses to that; they are all on the DOE’s website. The vast majority of those that we saw objected to proposals.
Q581 Lady Hermon: That is very helpful. The wording is "A serious adverse noise impact on tens of thousands of local residents", and I wanted to know what the evidential base was for that claim.
Dr Fawcett: There is an issue in terms of the airport’s own figures and the metrics that are accepted by the Government at the moment. This is one of the issues that goes back to the Draft Aviation Policy Framework. The Department for Transport is asking consultees, including this Committee, whether the current benchmark the Government uses of 57 LAeq averaged over 16 hours is satisfactory as a recognition of where serious community annoyance kicks in. There is a lot of detailed evidence in the appendix to our submission that there are serious impacts at lower levels than that. We do not feel it is satisfactory. If you look at that specific metric, last year about 6,000 people, according to City Airport’s monitoring, were affected at that level. In 2010, it was about 11,500. Between 2007 and 2010, the rates jumped considerably from about 3,500 to 11,500. About 24,000 were impacted in 2010 at a lower, 54 LAeq level. Sorry, this is all getting highly technical.
Lady Hermon: Yes it is.
Dr Fawcett: What we are saying is that even the airport’s own figures show that, as recently as 2010, tens of thousands were being impacted.
Q582 Oliver Colvile: Have you noticed what has happened to house prices? Have they gone down?
Joe McGlade: Well, they have gone down anyway.
Q583 Oliver Colvile: Generally, do you think this issue has affected house prices at all?
Joe McGlade: It is difficult to put a figure on that because there has been very little house movement in the past years anyway. When attending a recent annual general meeting of the residents’ association, some people told me if they had known how bad the noise was they would not have moved in there.
Q584 Oliver Colvile: I have a house in Battersea and I get woken up at 5 o’clock in the morning by aircraft coming into Heathrow.
Barney Gadd: In response to your question, people do not think it is worth while to write in about the noise because it is the same every day; it is a constant.
Joe McGlade: I used to complain in writing and I would get any one of a shortlist of standard answers. The last time I phoned, on a Sunday afternoon, I was left on the switchboard for ages, and eventually when someone did come back to me, they said that the office dealing with complaints is closed at the weekend and I should phone back the next day.
Q585 Lady Hermon: I do not want the exact address but whereabouts in Belfast do you live?
Joe McGlade: I live in South Parade, which is on the central line of the flight path and about two miles from the end of the runway.
Lady Hermon: I should explain my curiosity. As the Member for North Down, I am on the flight path, which comes over my home in Donaghadee and past Bangor. What is interesting and curious to me is that, since coming to this post in the 2001 general election-and I am not inviting people to do this-I have noticed that the number of complaints to the constituency office has gone down. Mr McGlade and Mr Gadd have both said that people do not feel it is worth their while to complain. It is always worthwhile complaining to an MP.
Chair: Our e-mail boxes suggest that people still love complaining about things, but we are half way through our half hour already, so perhaps we could move on a bit.
Dr McDonnell: Could I suggest that some of you write a few letters of complaint to Sylvia because she is feeling left out. It is not fair that I get complaints and Naomi gets complaints but she does not get any.
Lady Hermon: I was just curious.
Q586 Dr McDonnell: You are getting double value here today because you have the Committee listening to you formally and a heavy contingent from the Assembly behind you, so your words will be doubly effective. In your submission, you refer to the failure of the Northern Ireland Executive to establish and implement robust noise controls, despite having the power to do so. What discussions have you had with the Executive about this and what reasons have they given?
Dr Fawcett: We met the Environment Minister and we have also met the Minister for Regional Development. The Environment Minister decided that there should be a public inquiry into the current airport proposals for the amending of its planning agreement, which are on the table and I referred to earlier. We really welcome that move. We met the Minister for Regional Development because the Department for Regional Development, like the Department for Transport, does have powers to institute noise control measures. In theory, Danny Kennedy, the Minister for Regional Development, could decide tomorrow that he will do whatever he wishes to ensure the noise is under greater control.
Part of our submission to the Department for Transport with regards to its consultation on the Draft Aviation Policy Framework is saying that these powers should be used, both by the Department for Transport and the Department for Regional Development. The current system is that noise regulation is being largely left to planning agreements. We have seen a previous Environment Minister try to get rid of one clause of the agreement, and it is also subject to whether or not it will be enforced; not every clause of the planning agreement is currently being enforced. You have a Draft Aviation Policy Framework saying the way ahead is more consultation between airports and local communities. That is brilliant, but the owners of airports can change tomorrow. We would like to see the issue of noise pollution in terms of aircraft noise being taken as seriously and treated in the same way as other forms of pollution. We would like to see a consistent approach. It could go right across the UK, and it would be good if the Republic of Ireland could be brought in as well. We do not feel it is fair to residents to simply depend on the goodwill, or otherwise, of their local airport.
Q587 Dr McDonnell: You have indicated a number of meetings, but do you have any formal feedback from the Executive?
Dr Fawcett: After our meeting with the Environment Minister last November, we did get a letter from him. We followed up on two issues, one of which was that we would like to see the late flights clause in the planning agreement enforced. There are not supposed to be flights after 9.30, except in exceptional circumstances; in fact, there were hundreds of late flights last year and there have been every year for many years now. We are in further correspondence on that matter. He agreed at that meeting that he would look at that issue. We await his response because we have now analysed more closely the reasons given by the airport. I do not want to get too detailed for other members of the Committee not so familiar with the planning agreement, but there is another clause currently being enforced and which we hope will continue to be: the seats for sale clause. Those are ongoing issues.
The Minister for Regional Development wrote us a letter a few days ago thanking us for our submission on the Draft Aviation Policy Framework and saying that he retains an interest. We do not have a specific written response from the Department for Regional Development on the issue of how they would view their legal powers.
Q588 Dr McDonnell: What depth of discussion have you had with the airport itself, or the airport management, about your concerns? I know from experience on the ground that they have very different objectives from you. Allowing for that, do you feel satisfied with the response you have had from them?
Dr Fawcett: We held a public meeting in 2010, and we invited the airport chief executive to come along and address that meeting. He declined our invitation and did not say that that date did not suit, but he was more than happy to meet up. So, although we have met, it is not on any formal basis. The airport has a consultative committee. Belfast City Airport Watch has not sought to be represented as a body because we are concerned that then other residents’ groups might be denied the opportunity. We feel it is more beneficial to encourage individual residents’ associations to sit on that. Two of our affiliated associations do sit on the airport forum. The airport regards any consultations done as going through that body. When Mr Ambrose declined our invitation two years ago, he did state in the letter that the forum was there, as far as I recall. That is how the airport sees its consultations.
Q589 David Simpson: Do you accept that not only MPs but the heavyweights that were sitting in here a moment ago from the Assembly-and I am not referring to their physique-and the Executive have a very difficult job to do? We are in a recession. We are trying to grow the economy of Northern Ireland. We are trying to encourage businesses to come from all over the world and encourage inward investment; we raised that today in Northern Ireland questions. Do you not think it will have a detrimental effect if we continue to tell businesses in Northern Ireland that they can come into Belfast but only at half nine at night and not after that? We understand there is a balance to be done on this, but do you accept that difficult decisions have to be made within the industry today? If you do not provide the infrastructure, the flights or the facilities that other countries have, which they want to see in Belfast, that could have a detrimental effect on the overall economy and on residents living in that area because the jobs will not be there.
Dr Fawcett: We absolutely understand where you are coming from. We would say that you have to look at the bigger economic picture. This point has been made to your Committee, in a slightly different way to how we would make it, by BALPA. You have a region that is not that large with three airports at the moment. We have no issue about City Airport existing and being a domestic and business oriented airport. We do have an issue about international flights being added. If you are looking at the wider economy, you are looking at a situation where between 2007 and 2010 the number of passengers coming through City Airport doubled, but the number of passengers at International went down. There is an undoubted tension there. The more successful City Airport is and the more it gets into the international markets, the worse news that is for International Airport.
That is typified most strongly by the move of Aer Lingus from International to City Airport. That causes more of a noise issue for residents because they intend to have international flights. In the short term, it takes a Heathrow route away from International, leaving the main airport in Northern Ireland without a Heathrow connection. It also removes what we understand would have been one of the best possible future opportunities for longhaul, because Aer Lingus was being touted as being one of the airlines able to add to the one longhaul flight the International Airport currently has. For noise reasons, as well as other reasons, it is not ever going to be able to operate long-haul out of City Airport.
Looking at the nature of the international routes operated out by City Airport, Aer Lingus will be starting up with two destinations: Faro and Malaga. How many people are going to come in from there? They are essentially seaside bucket and spade destinations. While bmibaby was operating international flights, it had eight routes out of City Airport, six of which were in that category. They actually had big billboards tempting people to come out. International Airport has those sorts of routes as well, but what is that doing for the local economy? The more people are tempted to spend their holidays elsewhere, the less money there is for the Northern Ireland local economy.
We would ask the Committee to scrutinise carefully the claims any airport is making about overall benefits to the economy. We are particularly concerned about international flights at City Airport because they require more fuel, heavier planes, and they do seem to be noisier. It so happens that those noisier flights are mostly the bucket and spade type, which are not really benefitting the local economy.
We totally take your point. We can understand it is irritating for people if they are diverted to International after 9.30 and want to fly back to City. We would say to those 100 people in the plane: think of the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of residents who are being impacted in terms of their sleep. We would also say: please look at the bigger economic picture.
Q590 Naomi Long: Could you define the late night flights for members of the Committee who may not be familiar with how that works? I know there is a window within which, in exceptional circumstances, you are permitted to land and then beyond that you cannot.
The other thing I would challenge you on is that when we had evidence from ABTA or the Northern Irish association of travel agents, their argument was in contrast to yours. They said outbound tourism is a significant part of the Northern Ireland economy. There are people who book it, arrange it and it is provided by people working in the tourism industry. It is actually quite a significant thing. It is something they have challenged Government about as well: that we should not only be focusing on inbound tourism, which is part of the package, but outbound tourism creates jobs, employment and economic growth. Do you have any comment to make on that? And could you clarify for other members what the issue is around late night flights and the rules and regulations around that?
Dr Fawcett: I will deal with the late flights issue in a moment. We would not dispute the point about travel agents at all. What we would say is that those jobs are going to be there whichever airport people fly out of. To the extent that they contribute to the economy, it does not matter whether those flights are going out of City or International.
We are not economic experts and this is for the Committee to decide, but if the viability of International Airport has been or is in the future impacted by the continual growth of City, then you have to look at the overall picture. Those travel agents might be benefitting from International being permitted to grow in international flights rather than City.
For the information of some Committee members, it is important to bear Dublin Airport in mind. That is the real competitor for International Airport, and is a serious competitor for City Airport as well. Looking at this from the outside, and as affected residents, you have International and City trying to get the same type of passengers and airlines. Who benefits from that at the end of the day? Who is steadily growing in the meantime? Dublin. That is partly where BALPA might have been coming from. We would not go so far as to say that there should just be one airport for Northern Ireland, but it does create a strategic challenge and one that, no doubt, exercises the Committee.
What it says in the airport’s planning agreement about late flights is that there should be no flights after 9.30 at night until 6.30 the following morning, except in exceptional circumstances. In exceptional circumstances, they can go on up to midnight. Our issue is over what exactly are exceptional circumstances. We are in correspondence with the Minister about this at the moment. Our analysis would suggest that the vast majority of late flights do not fall into those exceptional circumstances.
Chair: We are going to run over a little bit as we have one or two more questions to cover, but we will have to be brief.
Q591 Nigel Mills: You just mentioned BALPA. What they said to us when they were here was that Belfast City has the ideal location and Belfast International has the ideal runway. One way of fixing that would be to extend the runway at City Airport. I will not be too surprised if you tell us that is not what you would prefer to see as the solution to that quandary.
Dr Fawcett: Coming back to the Department for Transport’s Draft Aviation Policy Framework, we would really like to see the Government taking a strategic approach. We are not the only airport in the UK. There are a few others, aside from Heathrow obviously, that are really seriously impacted. It is a very difficult choice to make. Just because you are one of 100 residents somewhere affected badly by an airport, it does not make you feel your case is any less. We believe that if the Government or Civil Aviation Authority started to do external monitoring and mapping and then took some strategic decisions about where growth might be encouraged or where airports would be asked to reduce noise levels, that would be really helpful. The situation that exists in Northern Ireland is perhaps particularly ironic and absurd in many ways.
Joe McGlade: I would state it differently. We see the City Airport as the ideal business airport and the International Airport as the ideal international and leisure airport.
Jenny Simon: To be fair, traffic in Belfast is not bad; it takes 25 minutes within the speed limit to get to the International Airport. It is not far for anybody.
Q592 Oliver Colvile: You say in paragraph 2.2 of your submission that the International Airport "should be considered to be of strategic regional interest" and "if any further expansion of aviation capacity is to take place in Northern Ireland, it should be at Belfast International Airport and certainly not at Belfast City Airport". Do you want to see all commercial flights at City Airport ended and an end to the expansion of flight numbers there, or some other outcome? What are you looking for?
Dr Fawcett: We do not wish for further expansion at City Airport. We are not asking for an end to all flights. There is a qualitative difference there.
Q593 Oliver Colvile: Do you think there has also been some academic research done into the impact of the airport on the local economy as well?
Dr Fawcett: The airport, as part of its proposals for this noise cap, has put forward an economic case that would be subject to scrutiny at the public inquiry. We have not done detailed economic analysis ourselves, but we can say that the airport very recently talked about being responsible for 1,400 jobs. It has previously claimed 1,500. When it was claiming 1,500, we got one of the residents’ associations on the airport forum to write to the airport and ask on what basis these figures were put together. We discovered that, at the time, in 2011, the airport was only responsible for 90 jobs directly. It only directly employs 90 people. Some of the others are in more indirect employment, and some of that figure is an assumption about how many spinoff jobs are likely to be created. Our point would be that, given how close City and International Airport are, many of those people if they were not employed at one airport would be employed at the other. When Aer Lingus moved, they said that everybody employed by them at International was going to be employed at City.
Q594 Oliver Colvile: I may be mistaken, but I think David was saying that actually this is a message that will be sent to the international market as to whether Belfast and Northern Ireland is open for business.
Dr Fawcett: Obviously, we totally support Northern Ireland being open for business, but we are saying that would be assisted in both economic terms and resident noise issues by the Department for Transport-because they have the relevant power at the moment-and also the Northern Ireland Executive taking a strategic approach to this. They could decide that the biggest airport, which is on a greenfield site and impacting only on hundreds of people through noise, according to the figures we have seen, should be the one where growth is permitted.
Barney Gadd: It can operate 24 hours.
Dr Fawcett: It has a spare runway that is not being used at the moment. It has two runways.
Barney Gadd: There is plenty of scope there.
Q595 Jack Lopresti: Aircraft are getting quieter as technology improves; they are getting quieter all the time. Can you see a situation in the short or medium term where aircraft technology increases so much it will enable noise levels to either be eliminated or brought down to acceptable levels for local residents? Do you see technology in the future as being the answer?
Dr Fawcett: Potentially, it could be. Our understanding is that technological developments are not getting ahead terribly quickly in that area at the moment. At the end of the day, any airport is a commercial entity. It is going to operate within the parameters set by Government. The biggest incentive, within the UK, would be if the UK Government put some robust noise controls in place. There is one idea that I would like to draw to the Committee’s attention. We are not experts, but we were particularly interested in a study sponsored by the EU that has developed a model of tradable noise permits for airports. We are asking that the Government should give that serious consideration. Maybe that would have to be on an EUwide basis, but I bet the airlines would quickly find quieter aircraft if they had to.
Q596 Jack Lopresti: I know there are already pressures in that direction and it is happening; it is about whether it is happening quickly enough to satisfy your residents.
Barney Gadd: It is not entirely noise, though. There is an elderly couple near me who told me that they would be in their garden and would hear a roar and the next thing just over the hedge would appear a huge Airbus. They said they just feel intimidated. It is not solely noise, but the size and closeness that they seem to be on Malone Ridge, which is slightly higher than the rest of Belfast, so they get it immediately.
Q597 Ian Paisley: I would like to outline what success would look like. It would not be unfair to say that, if you drove more business to Aldergrove, I would share your view of success, not that it is in my constituency, but it is on the route to my constituency, so there would certainly be spinoff. If you were successful in reducing the amount of business at City, which is essentially what you are saying, and pushing that business to maximise the benefit at Aldergrove, would there then be an orchestrated campaign by residents in Antrim, Lisburn, Dunadry, Templepatrick and other hamlets and villages similar to your own, who would then say they did not want that amount of noise coming over their villages and their houses? Do you see that that might be a follow on? Can you give us a guarantee you would not be leading and championing that campaign? As a person who is a consultant but also an environmentalist I assume that part of your view is based on an environmental argument to all of this. Is this ultimately an anti-airport argument we are hearing?
Dr Fawcett: No, it really is not. We do not get into other environmental issues beyond the impact on residents and the Government’s commitments. We are not saying there should be a further reduction at City Airport. We are not talking about taking flights out of there. As you know, it had gone the other way a bit with the Aer Lingus move. It is about taking a strategic approach. We have every sympathy with those impacted; we probably all know people affected by noise at International. If you look at the published figures, the International Airport is affecting far fewer people. Belfast International had nearly 2,500 affected at 55 LAeq and above in 2007. I think there is a misprint here but I think it was 897 at 57 LAeq or over. I do not want to be too precise, as all this is being published, and we can get the figures we have for the Committee. Those figures come from the International Airport’s Noise Action Plan.
These numbers are tiny compared to City Airport. You have a really built up, residential area. People often turn around to us and say, "You should not have chosen to live there." Well actually, most people lived there a long time before there started being a noise issue with the airport. Those inner East Belfast areas that are affected are very deprived and already suffering from a lot of other issues. Jenny was hoping to speak about her local school in East Belfast, which we were not going to name, where, from her perspective and that of a teacher, there are serious issues that impact on the teaching of children. There is international educational research to back this up. They are already suffering from issues to do with deprivation and are now further disadvantaged by the impact of aircraft noise.
Q598 Ian Paisley: Can I just push you again on the Aer Lingus move? Are you saying if that was simply a business move with flights from Belfast City to Heathrow you really would not object because it is in that business run, but it is the additional Aer Lingus flights from Belfast to Faro that are causing the most objections?
Dr Fawcett: That is what would give us concern. For the short period when we had eight international routes operated by bmibaby, the feedback we were getting and our own personal experience was that they seemed to be an awful lot noisier. It is very difficult because we do not have our own noise monitoring equipment. One thing we would like to see put in place as a regulation is not just about averages but something that captures the individual noise event. The airport itself has said that if its proposals go ahead on this noise cap, it has named 21 schools that would be affected. If you look at the research, it is about individual noise events, unsurprisingly. It might be that an airport has an acceptable overall average noise level, but that is not much help to the teacher standing there trying to conduct a lesson.
Q599 Mr Anderson: I would like to raise a couple of issues about numbers. You have cast doubt on whether it is 1,400 or as low as 90 people employed at the airport.
Dr Fawcett: That was directly by the airport.
Q600 Mr Anderson: Do you have any idea how many jobs are dependent on the airport?
Dr Fawcett: City Airport most recently told Belfast City Council that there were 1,400 jobs. They were previously saying 1,500. Something we would like applied to all UK airports is more transparency on how those figures are produced. It was a bit of a shock to us to discover the airport only directly employ 90 people, of which only 16 come from East Belfast, as we were told. We are just saying we would like more evidence. The evidence they provided to the forum was not sufficient to say that we are satisfied there are obviously 1,400 jobs there.
Q601 Mr Anderson: We fly in and out of Belfast on a regular basis. On any individual time we go through the airport, we would probably see 90 people working. There will be 20 taxi drivers standing outside the building. Have you any idea how many members of BCAW are employed at the airport or have jobs dependent on the airport?
Dr Fawcett: We are not aware of anybody who has a job dependent on the airport. Having said that, it is not a question we ask when people apply to join us. I would be very surprised if there are not some with at least indirect connections with the airport.
Q602 Mr Anderson: I will be devil’s advocate here. In your opening remarks you said about the "unfortunate position" the airport is in. Right across this country, there are people in unfortunate positions. People live next door to nuclear power. I myself live next door to one of the biggest coal mining pit heaps, which has been there for almost 200 years. The reality was that that was to help the economic development of the country. Is that not something that has to be looked at very seriously by people? We need to look at the impact of what will happen if we do not develop this airport either through longer hours or extended runway capacity and whether that will have a negative impact on the economy.
Dr Fawcett: We are not here as flag wavers for Belfast International, but something we hear time and again from residents who are affected is that there is a perfectly good airport up the road. If there is to be further airport development, why can’t it happen at Belfast International? We are talking about an airport that is just a 30 minute drive from the centre of Belfast.
Q603 Mr Anderson: People do not want to use it. They vote with their feet and they prefer not to use it.
Dr Fawcett: I would take issue with that.
Q604 Mr Anderson: You can ask the people around here who go there every week.
Dr Fawcett: I would have to take issue with that. EasyJet is on the record as having tried a route at City Airport and then pulled back to International. They actually publically said at the time that they found no benefit in passenger numbers from being at City Airport. The competition between airports is for airlines. It is about where airlines feel they can get the best deal. You would have to question International Airport and City Airport about their views on landing fees and other charges. At the time of the Aer Lingus move, it was being asserted, and it would hardly be a surprise, that City Airport had been offering lower landing fees than International were charging.
Q605 Mr Anderson: Do you know that for a fact?
Dr Fawcett: No. I think either Aer Lingus or City Airport denied that, so it may or may not be true. It is hard to believe it did not come down to a degree of commercial interest and that they would not have done it for commercial reasons. Aer Lingus seemed to be perfectly popular up at International. All we are saying is that the airports are in a market for the airlines primarily.
Q606 Kate Hoey: As someone who does avoid City Airport when I can-like my colleague over there I much prefer International-I want to ask a very simple question. Do you all never fly from City Airport? Do you always avoid it? Have you ever flown from City Airport?
Dr Fawcett: Yes. We all flew from there this morning.
Q607 Kate Hoey: So you are not against it.
Dr Fawcett: No, we are totally not against the airport.
Q608 Kate Hoey: So what are you against? You are flying from City Airport during the day and saying you do not want fewer flights. Are you saying you want some flights from City Airport? It seems to me that you are not quite clear what you want. I thought you were going to come along and say you think there should be one airport in Belfast.
I have Vauxhall across the way. There are hundreds of people complaining about noise. I visited a school in Windsor the other week where every 10 minutes or so they have to literally stop while the aircraft go over. As my colleague said, we all have things in our area. What is so special about City Airport that you think there should be special arrangements?
Dr Fawcett: No, this is an issue that applies to all UK airports at the moment. One of the big problems with the Department for Transport’s Draft Aviation Policy Framework is that it differentiates between three designated airports-Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick-and the others. It is saying that all the other airports can deal with their local communities and we should leave it at that. That is an over-generalisation, but that is essentially what is in there at the moment. We are saying no; we think all UK airports should be subject to proper, robust regulation. We are not saying we want to see City Airport close.
Chair: We are going to have to finish. We have people waiting to speak and we have a vote at 4 o’clock. Thank you very much indeed.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: John Rooney, Rooney Fish, Vice Chair of the NI Assembly and Business Trust and Regional Liaison Officer, Federation of Small Businesses, and Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, gave evidence.
Q609 Chair: Sorry about the delay. You heard my introduction earlier, so there is no need to go through it again. Would you like to briefly introduce yourselves and make a brief opening statement? There will be a vote at 4 o’clock and I do not propose to bring the Committee back after that, so we should bear that in mind.
John Rooney: I am John Rooney. I have a seafood exporting business in Kilkeel, Northern Ireland. I am Vice Chair of the Assembly and Business Trust and Liaison Officer for FSB Northern Ireland.
Glyn Roberts: I am Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association. I am a Board member of the Assembly and Business Trust.
Ian Paisley: Can I declare an interest? I have eaten many of John’s products.
Lady Hermon: And enjoyed them.
Ian Paisley: Very much so.
Naomi Long: I have already declared my interest in Glyn. I do not want that to sound salacious, but he is the chairman of our party.
Q610 Mr Hepburn: To what extent are your businesses involved with or affected by air transport?
John Rooney: I export all over Europe, and we are branching out into Asia. The only place with fresh seafood-and frozen, too, but mainly fresh-that I can work from is Dublin. They have built up a hub, so we can put our stuff into storage in Dublin and then it goes from there to Dubai. Dublin has two flights a day: one to Abu Dhabi and one to Dubai. Dubai is the better hub at this moment in time, but it will change. When it goes to Dubai, they have another hub, which is second to none, so it can go anywhere in Asia. This is what they have built up for the Irish market. We export to Dubai and China, but we have to go through Dublin. If customers want to fly into Northern Ireland, nine times out of 10, they fly into Dublin. They stay overnight in Dublin and then, whenever they go back, they may stay overnight in Dublin again. So everybody is losing out on hospitality, but mainly we are losing out on time. To customers, time is money.
Q611 Mr Hepburn: That is your particular business. What about other members of the business community; how reliant are they?
John Rooney: They are reliant on it for flying to different destinations in the world. Invest NI at this moment in time are trying to push us to go further afield, which all businesses in Northern Ireland are doing. My son has come home from Hong Kong with Invest NI and a group of people who they flew out there. There is no direct link; you cannot fly direct. We have one direct flight to the USA. It is crazy that Northern Ireland has only one direct flight out there. I think Dublin has 10 flights a day out there-to New York JFK or somewhere like that. We only have one, so we need a better airline system.
They talk about inward investment. We are looking for people to come into the country to invest. Again, they either have to go to Dublin or London and take a link over to Belfast. They are going to try and take the quickest link they can get, which is into Dublin. We have to have more streamlined flights to suit. Even flying home from the UK, we only have maybe one flight a day coming here, so you cannot get home if you are at a meeting.
On Friday morning, I have to go to Cardiff to meet the Agriculture Ministers. I have to fly to Bristol early on Friday morning, hire a car and go up to Cardiff. I would not get to the meeting if I was waiting on a flight from Belfast to Cardiff. Then getting back home again, I would only be in the meeting for two hours and would have to leave and get a flight back. That is where the impact is. That is impacting on everybody who flies into the EU. Everybody is losing time, and time is money. Businesses cannot afford that.
Q612 Mr Hepburn: Apart from the actual flights, what sort of business is there and how important are the airports to the local economy and general economy in Northern Ireland?
John Rooney: They are quite important. Statistics show we have 360,000 visitors coming to Belfast; 150,000 arrive by air. The more flights you have, the more visitors you would have. Dublin has taken away from Northern Ireland, because they have that good hub of an airport for ordinary passengers and goods transport. It does not matter what goods you are travelling with, all goods nowadays are sent by flight; you have to work with it. That is the impact. We need a better system in Northern Ireland.
Glyn Roberts: To answer Mr Hepburn’s question, I have an opening submission that may give a bit of context.
Chair: Very briefly please.
Glyn Roberts: Yes, I will skim it down. Firstly, we welcome this inquiry. Many of the written and oral submissions members have received show that air connectivity, as my colleague John has said, is crucial to the long term future of our economy. It has been said that aviation unlocks the key of foreign direct investment. We have always taken the view that having two airports is a good thing for Northern Ireland. Firstly, it offers more competition, and it offers consumers more choice. We want to see both airports developed to their maximum potential. With the Executive looking to expand the number of exports to BRIC countries, having an expanded air route network is absolutely essential. That is particularly true if we are looking to develop tourism to £1 billion by 2020. We need to see continued expansion of air routes.
Some of the figures you have from the Northern Ireland Chamber are that one in 10 jobs depend on foreign investment and foreign tourists spend £195 million in Northern Ireland. From a retail perspective, that is crucially important. This boils down to some basic facts. The more tourists we get, the more customers and more shoppers. If we are going to build a retail sector in Northern Ireland that is one of the key ways we are going to do it. We should not forget that our retail sector in Northern Ireland is our largest sector. We need to build on that £195 million. We also need to develop a more coherent strategy to develop business tourism. We are very supportive of the new convention centre that is hoped to be built in Belfast.
The regional connectivity to Heathrow is absolutely essential. As Members know, Heathrow is a world hub and our links there are absolutely essential. On the question of air passenger duty, we have made some progress on this in longhaul. We do need to make better progress on shorthaul. I know Dr McDonnell referred to that in PMQs today. There will be a significant cost to the Executive. I think it is something the Executive certainly should look at because, given the vast majority of flights in Northern Ireland are shorthaul and we are at a competitive disadvantage with the Republic of Ireland, who are well on the way to phase out air passenger duty in the vast majority of flights. We do need to make sure those people are flying through both our airports.
I do not agree with the approach of your last contributors. I believe that having two strong airports that compete and contribute is something positive. I want to see the City Airport developed to its maximum potential. We are on record supporting the extension to the runway. I am sure the two Belfast MPs on this Committee will agree with me on this: we do not want to see shops vacant. Belfast has one in four shops vacant. We need to see more tourism, and we need to develop the City Airport and the International Airport. The Assembly and the Finance Minister need to take a long serious look at reducing air passenger duty to shorthaul flights. Yes, there might be a cost, but there is a parallel with corporation tax. There is a short-term loss for long-term gain. Both are essential for building our FDI base and for building the long term potential of our economy.
Chair: Thank you, that is very useful.
Q613 Dr McDonnell: Mr Roberts, I am somewhat shocked that you appear to be welcoming aeroplanes flying over the chimney of your house and not getting disturbed by it. There we are; I will leave that for the moment. Evidence we received from DETI earlier set out a number of key targets for the Northern Ireland Executive to consider as necessary for growth. What in your view are the main obstacles preventing growth? Is it a lack of regional or international connectivity; is it air passenger duty, corporation tax, something else, or all the above?
Glyn Roberts: It is all of those. Air passenger duty is something that we need alongside corporation tax. It is about developing a long-term vision for the Northern Ireland economy. At times, we have looked at the economy too much through short-term fixes. Both these things are essential for developing our export potential and our FDI potential. Then there is the question of enterprise zones. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that does not have enterprise zones. That is something we would like to see the Executive look at. Perhaps they could do something bold and different and not a straight cutandpaste job from the rest of the UK.
Yes, I am a resident of Sydenham, a long-term resident, and I live right beside the airport. I listened to the previous speakers and wondered if they are talking about the same part of East Belfast that I come from. I do not recognise much of what they say. I live in that community. My daughter goes to Ashfield Girls’ High School. My parents live even closer to the airport, and I do not hear any of these complaints from anybody in the local community. I have no doubt there are issues there, but they are not in the same way your previous witnesses were describing. I think they must be talking about a different Sydenham to the one I live in.
Lady Hermon: That is a very interesting comment, Mr Roberts, thank you.
Q614 Nigel Mills: What are the most common patterns for flying amongst your members? Is it flying elsewhere in the UK, international shorthaul or longhaul?
John Rooney: Shorthaul or longhaul. They are coming from all over the UK and the world. We had people from Dubai three or four weeks ago. We had people from China and Hong Kong. There are people coming from everywhere. From Europe, they are coming in from Italy and France. On Monday, I had someone come in from France. He flew into Dublin, hired a car and drove up on Sunday night. If he had come over on Monday morning, he would have lost a day. He was going back to the South of Ireland to visit another customer of his, but he still had to fly into Dublin because he could not get a direct flight into Belfast that suited him.
Q615 Nigel Mills: Do you sense that most people arriving in Northern Ireland on business are coming from the rest of the UK or the rest of Europe?
John Rooney: It is getting to be more so from the rest of Europe. It used to mainly be the UK. A lot of Europe’s hub would have been in the UK, with their head offices there. Now, because of the downturn, they have downscaled on their offices and are using their own offices to come over directly and visit.
Glyn Roberts: To illustrate that point further, one of the things we are very keen to see the tourist board develop is Northern Ireland as a weekend shopping destination. I look in envy at other cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool who have successfully done that. They have significant retail offering and are attracting shoppers from across the UK and Ireland. I want Northern Ireland to be a weekend shopping destination. There are a lot of positive things. We have world-class food; our agrifood sector is a very strong performer. We have world-class tourism events. Coupled with that, we are developing an increasingly modern retail offer in Belfast and many other towns. Yes, we have our problems, but we need to do more in terms of domestic tourists from the UK and the island of Ireland. There is a lot of potential there. Yes, within the UK we have a better variety of flights, but we need to build on that. We need to build within Western Europe. We have no air links to Germany either. There are a lot of things we need to get right. Air passenger duty is essential to that.
John Rooney: As I said, my son was in Hong Kong for a few weeks with Invest NI. Because of the connection of flights, he had a six-hour stopover-I am not sure at which airport in London-to get a connection back to Belfast.
Q616 Ian Paisley: I think it is important to underline what you said right at the beginning. You are probably so used to doing it that it is water off a duck’s back, but you harvest from our seas around Northern Ireland and you export to China and the Middle East. Is that correct?
John Rooney: Yes.
Ian Paisley: Very few companies in Northern Ireland export to China and Middle East, so it says something very important about our product.
Q617 Lady Hermon: The only other thing I would ask is if you could just elaborate on the quantities. I am really fascinated by what you said at the very beginning, but could you give us an idea of quantities?
John Rooney: It is a market that is generally building. The South of Ireland have captured that market. I have been doing exhibitions in Dubai for the past three years and exhibiting every year in February. Now they have a dedicated seafood show in Dubai this November. We have been working on that. It is slow but sure and it is coming. The South of Ireland, I would say, put out at least 25 to 30 tonnes of fresh seafood every weekend.
Q618 Ian Paisley: You will know, from working in the agrifood sector, that export of our product beyond the British Isles is not unusual. Pork products are a huge seller in the Middle East, and the Far East in particular. Poultry product is a huge seller in the Middle East. If that is the trend of where our markets are going, are you saying you want to see a decisive effort made to get a carrier to operate out of Northern Ireland that looks east and carries product and people east?
John Rooney: Yes, that is what we are looking for. It is not just for fresh product or seafood. There are numerous things. Take airline seats: B/E Aerospace sends them to London and then they are sent on the China, or wherever else, to be fitted out. There is no direct link for them. Agricultural people send out beef. There is a variety. People send out cheese. We have that and we have the industry in Northern Ireland to do that. We could sell them numerous items, but we just do not have the infrastructure to get it out there.
Q619 Ian Paisley: Would you say a decisive effort needs to be made to recognise that and attract investment?
John Rooney: If we are trying to attract inward investment to Northern Ireland to grow the economy, we need something to back it up. If you are in Asia, it does not matter where-Hong Kong, China, Dubai or Abu Dhabi-you need to get here as quickly as possible and get home as quickly as possible. From Dubai, they can fly in to Dublin and back home and do the trip within 48 hours. If you go to London and have a stopover in London, you lose half a day. Then you have to do another link-up. You cannot do it in 48 hours; we have done that in the past. It is not just Europe; we need more direct links to Northern Ireland from the UK.
Q620 Mr Anderson: Can I just confirm what Mr Rooney’s just said? They started running a service from Newcastle to Dubai about five years ago and saw an amazing impact on the place, because you avoid having to go to London or Amsterdam.
Mr Hepburn: They are putting an extra one on.
Mr Anderson: As Stephen says, they are going to extend it to two services.
John Rooney: It has to be built on what is there.
Q621 Naomi Long: We heard evidence earlier in this inquiry from the CBI. They said that larger businesses rely very heavily on transport and attach a higher importance to use of the international connections through Heathrow. Would that also hold true to members of the Assembly and Business Trust and the businesses represented there? Are the Heathrow connections crucial for those businesses, as they would be for those represented by the CBI?
Glyn Roberts: Firstly, the Assembly and Business Trust takes in people from small businesses to very large businesses, so it is a very diverse membership. Northern Ireland only has a population of 1.8 million and the fact we have that link to a major international hub in Heathrow is absolutely crucial. It is absolutely vital that we build on that and expand on that.
You asked the previous speakers what route they flew. We all flew from International at a very early hour. We want to see both airports developed to their maximum potential. Too much has been talked about doing one airport down at the expense of another. I think there is potential for developing both and having real competition. Oxford Economics have done some very valuable work on this. They made it very clear that aviation is the key to unlocking more FDI. Assuming that the Prime Minister gives the okay for corporation tax and in the long term we get more foreign direct investment, having an expanded suite or expanded number of international flights is absolutely crucial. If we are really serious about raising our game and attracting more FDI, we simply need to build our infrastructure.
Air infrastructure is an essential part of that. There are other things we need to do as well, but the blunt reality is that we cannot walk from Northern Ireland. We have some fantastic ferries as well, which are particularly fantastic for Scotland, but we have no choice: air is absolutely vital for us, whether you are the very smallest business or the very largest business.
John Rooney: If you are in the UK, for example in Scotland, you have a train service. We do not have that. We do not even have that in Belfast to get from the airport to Belfast. You cannot go from one airport to the other. Trying to link a train service to each airport is another item.
Q622 Oliver Colvile: Which is better for the Northern Ireland economy: a third runway at Heathrow or second runway at Gatwick?
Glyn Roberts: I would be tempted to say both.
Oliver Colvile: That is greedy.
Glyn Roberts: I know that probably is a bit of a cop out answer. The expansion of Heathrow is an issue the coalition Government may decide in the next term.
Oliver Colvile: Hopefully, it will not be a coalition Government.
Mr Anderson: Hopefully, it will not be.
Oliver Colvile: It will be a Conservative Government in its own right. Let’s just make sure we get the facts right.
Glyn Roberts: Let’s say the next Government of whatever colour has to make a serious judgment call on that. If we are serious about developing the UK economy and building air links with the BRIC countries, we need to expand at Heathrow. That may be an unpopular thing, but we need to look at the long-term economy in the UK. A third runway is something that should not be ruled out, nor should an extension of City Airport’s runway. In both of our own airports, perhaps we do need to look at better connections between Belfast and those two airports. There are rail links very near to them. I know the Minister for Regional Development has ruled that out in the short term, but perhaps we need to revisit that at some point because our infrastructure is in serious need of overhaul, particularly in the west of the Province. If we get all these new tourists coming in, I want to ensure they do not just stay in the Greater Belfast area, but visit many areas west of the Bann as well.
Q623 Oliver Colvile: Mr Rooney, what do you think?
John Rooney: I do not fly to London that much. With my FSB hat on, I would fly in to London Gatwick, or whichever one suits my flight. Really and truly, it does not make an awful lot of difference to me.
Q624 Oliver Colvile: What about your members at the FSB?
John Rooney: The membership we have in Northern Ireland are mainly small to medium-sized. They are in their own hub. If they are going to London, they are not going every week but maybe going once a month. It is those going every week or twice a week that it impacts on. It depends where they live and what the nearest point is. There are a lot of factors that they have to build in.
Oliver Colvile: I should declare an interest as a member of the FSB as well.
Q625 Naomi Long: You earlier mentioned the issue of air passenger duty, and I wanted to explore that a bit. There has been some work done on longhaul APD but, as you say, that affects one flight only; although, if we were able build on that one flight, it may be more beneficial. If the UK rate of APD was either reduced or removed from shorthaul flights, what impact would that have on small businesses in Northern Ireland and independent retailers? Would your members be able to change their business model by employing more people, reducing their prices or bringing other benefits to their customers? How do you think it would impact on how they were able to do business?
John Rooney: A lot of goods are brought in by air link. If you have customers coming over to visit, they would come to visit more. I would not say the goods would get much cheaper, but you would be able to go and see people more. The duty for me coming over here was something like €39 on one flight. If somebody was going to a show every week to buy their goods as cheaply as possible, that is £400 a year, roughly. It is all money.
Glyn Roberts: The Executive have set some very ambitious targets on tourism, and rightly so. If we are to achieve that £1 billion in terms of net contribution to the Northern Ireland economy by 2020, we can only do that by an expanded amount of air routes. As I said at the outset, more tourists means more shoppers. Not only that; it is good for our hospitality sector as a whole. We have to focus on that and an expanded number of air routes is absolutely essential. The dynamic in all this is that the Republic of Ireland are close to removing air passenger duty from all their flights. That would put Northern Ireland at a serious competitive disadvantage. There are comparisons with corporation tax on this in so many ways. Let us not forget that the Republic of Ireland’s economy is moving out of recession fast-it is bouncing back-and 12.5% corporation tax is a major reason why they are still attracting more FDI than Northern Ireland is by a long way. It is all about the long-term vision for the Northern Ireland economy.
I realise that the Finance Minister in Northern Ireland has ruled this out in the short term, but I think it deserves serious consideration. I know the Chairman on the ETI Committee in the Assembly is fully supportive of that there. He talks about us reaching maximum potential. The question the Executive needs to ask itself is whether this is a price worth paying. There has been talk about figures of £50 million. We do not know the exact amount it would cost, but if it means that we reach £1 billion in tourism potential, that is a long-term investment we should be seriously considering.
John Rooney: Seafood was always a brilliant product in the South of Ireland. In Northern Ireland, it is starting to become more so. The more tourists you have, the more money they spend and the more food they eat. A lot more seafood is being eaten. This is where the economy would benefit from tourists as well. That is where your tax comes in.
Glyn Roberts: We are not fulfilling the potential of business tourism; particularly, there could be more conventions and conferences in Belfast. That is why we welcome Belfast City Council’s commitment to opening a convention centre. There is a lot of potential there, because you could run a decent conference in Northern Ireland very effectively. We are only scratching the service of the potential of that.
Q626 Lady Hermon: It is very nice to see the two of you here today. It is very nice to see Mr Roberts back from the North Down constituency.
Glyn Roberts: It is always a delight to be back.
Q627 Lady Hermon: Can I just slightly clarify your remarks about air passenger duty? Am I right in thinking that, just as you would be in favour of a lower corporation tax in Northern Ireland compared to Great Britain, you are saying you want to see APD scrapped for domestic flights from Northern Ireland, as compared to the rest of the UK, or do you want to see APD scrapped totally, as in the Netherlands, Belgium and other European countries? Can I just clarify which version you and your members support?
Glyn Roberts: Concerning corporation tax, we are part of the Grow NI coalition of business organisations that wants to see devolution of that and a rolling rate towards 12.5% corporation tax. APD is something the Executive needs to have another look at. We need to see what the short-term cost would be and weigh that against the long-term gain. The reality is that Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another EU member state. That member state is fast moving out of recession, while the Northern Ireland economy is still very sluggish in its recovery, if there even is a recovery. I believe that if we are to develop to our full potential, we need to be looking at long-term investments. That means corporation tax, and it may mean air passenger duty as well. We welcome that there is progress there, particularly as at one point we were in real danger of losing that New York flight, which would have been a big blow. One thing we need to look at is whether we want to make the long-term gain.
Q628 Lady Hermon: Could I just pin you down on this: are you in favour of APD on domestic flights being removed for Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK, or does your association believe that APD should be scrapped across the country?
Glyn Roberts: We would like to see Northern Ireland, given its reliance on air, have a much reduced APD that puts us on a level playing field with the Republic of Ireland.
Q629 Lady Hermon: Interestingly, earlier today, we had Northern Ireland questions and this issue of APD came up; I do not know whether you were present or not. What was interesting was that in the response from the Minister of State, who is new to this portfolio but very competent indeed, he said on two separate occasions that there had not been a request to the Government from the Northern Ireland Executive. Can I ask whether either of your associations have formally requested from the Executive at Stormont that APD for Northern Ireland should be scrapped?
John Rooney: FSB have discussed it in Stormont. I have not been there, but they have discussed it with the Executive. Coming back to the issue of air passenger duty, corporation tax would be a big advantage, but air passenger duty would be a bigger advantage to the small to medium business that would not be paying corporation tax anyway. They will be using flights. Like I said, Northern Ireland is going further afield. In my mind it needs to be scrapped every place to give the small to medium-sized business that extra push.
Q630 Lady Hermon: I agree with that line. Sorry, Mr Roberts?
Glyn Roberts: I have no problem with that, but I think it is something the Executive needs to seriously look at.
Q631 Lady Hermon: Has your association asked them to do so?
Glyn Roberts: Not as yet. We are always looking at new policy and new policy priorities. This is about a long-term issue. We are engaged with the Executive all the time. At our next meeting with the Finance Minister, that is something we will be raising.
Q632 Lady Hermon: On a completely different subject, in response to an earlier question from a colleague, you were scathing about the evidence we received, just prior to your taking your seats as witnesses, from Belfast City Airport Watch as a group. Was that because you felt their evidence was not sufficiently based on fact or reality? What was it that you found most objectionable about the evidence they gave to us as a Committee?
Glyn Roberts: I would not say I was scathing, but I would say I fundamentally disagree with what they said. I recognise the huge contribution the City Airport makes to the economy of East Belfast and the wider economy. I have to say, and this is me speaking personally as a resident in East Belfast, that I do not even notice those flights. I do not see people campaigning or chomping at the bit to do down the City Airport or complaining all the time. Obviously, it is for them to justify that, but I do not see complaints at the same magnitude that they are talking about. I am not saying there are not genuine concerns, but I think the airport has made real efforts in recent years to try and address some of the residents’ concerns. They have formed a community forum to engage on this. I just do not recognise the scenario they are painting. I have no doubt there are some genuine concerns, but I do not even notice those flights as they fly over.
Chair: There is a vote being called, so we will have to finish the meeting there. Thank you very much for coming.