Unresolved issues on noise and NSIP status delay Luton Airport planning application
Date added: November 25, 2013
The planning application for expansion at Luton airport remains unresolved. There was due have been a meeting of the Luton Borough Council Development Control committee to specifically debate the matter on 21st November, but this was cancelled. Two crucial issues remain unresolved. The first is whether the project counts as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (in which case it must be referred to the Secretary of State); the second is an apparent ambiguity on noise levels. Legislation is clear in defining whether an airport expansion project counts as an NSIP: if the work would deliver capability to handle more than an extra 10 million passengers/ year. It appears that the plans would indeed result in the capability to deliver 10 million/year. There is current argument about which set of noise levels in 1999 should be used as the baseline level. Luton Borough Council has postponed the planning meeting and engaged a QC to review the NSIP issue. It may also be the Commissioner for Local Government might issue a holding direction preventing LBC from granting planning permission – even though the application can still go to the committee.
Best laid plans?
Two crucial issues lie unresolved at the heart of the process to determine the airport planning application. The first is whether the project counts as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (in which case it must be referred to the Secretary of State); the second is an apparent ambiguity relating to the noise levels applying to the airport.
Legislation is clear in defining whether an airport expansion project counts as an NSIP: if the work would deliver capability to handle more than an extra 10 million passengers per year then the project must be referred to the Secretary of State. In the case of Luton’s expansion project, and based on a capacity report by Leigh Fisher, the airport operators LLAOL argued in their planning application that capacity would not be increased by more than 10 million. Luton Borough Council (LBC) commissioned a report from Chris Smith Aviation Consultancy which appeared to support this view. However, detailed analysis of these reports by experts from the local campaign groups indicates that the development would indeed result in the capability to deliver 10 million extra passengers per year. Hence the application should be treated as an NSIP.
Regarding noise levels, LBC’s local plan LLA1 states that the airport may be developed provided that noise does not exceed 1999 levels. However, there is an argument over precisely which 1999 levels were intended to act as the benchmark. On the one hand, the application appears to be working on the basis of 1999 levels which were predicted in 1997, whereas campaigners point out that the wording of the policy and planning inspector’s report would indicate that the actual 1999 levels should be used. These were substantially lower due to a change in the mix of the aircraft fleet before 1999. LBC commissioned a noise report from Cole Jarman which acknowledges that the 1999 levels are open to interpretation, but does not explore both options when applying its tests.
The current position is therefore that LBC is being requested to clarify the legal basis for its position on both the above issues, before a planning meeting is called. Largely as a result of assiduous correspondence by Cllr Richard Thake of Herts County Council, Letter_Cllr_Thake_19_11_13_(2) LBC has postponed the planning meeting and engaged a QC to review the approach in relation to capacity assessment and the provisions of the Planning Act 2008. We also understand from Herts County that the Commissioner for Local Government has exercised his power to issue a holding direction preventing LBC from granting planning permission – even though the application can still go to committee.
At the same time, deficiencies have been identified in the issued planning documents, which need to be corrected. In particular the erroneous statement was made that no submission had been received from the key North Herts District Council in response to the planning application. Also, campaign groups which submitted detailed responses have also pointed out that these were not summarised in an open and democratic way in the planning document, and have requested this to be done.
Luton Borough Council has postponed its Development Control Committee which was due to be held on 21st November 2013 at 16:00 in the Council Chamber at Luton Town Hall.
A new date for the meeting has not been announced, but when reconvened the meeting will consider, on planning grounds, the proposals by Luton Airport’s operating company LLAOL for works including alterations to Airport Way, infill extensions and alterations to terminal buildings, extensions to existing mid and long term car parks, a new taxiway and extensions to the existing taxiway and aircraft parking aprons and stands, and a new multi-storey car park linked to the terminal building.
The effect of these works will be to increase the capacity of the airport, and the operator projects that the number of passengers carried per annum will increase from 10 million to 18 million by 2028, with a corresponding 58% increase in flights from 99,000 to 157,000 per year. It foresees a significant increase in flights during the early morning and late evening periods, with a projected doubling of flights between 10pm and midnight and early morning departures starting before 6am. It envisages an almost doubling of the number of dwellings within the ”aircraft noise footprint” day and night.
The “mitigations” proposed by the operators – including so-called caps on numbers of flights – have been shown by independent noise consultants to be likely to have little impact on controlling noise, and more stringent planning controls would be required.
Anyone concerned by these planning proposals, and who wishes to draw to the attention of the Development Control Committee the seriousness of the noise, traffic and pollution impacts of capacity expansion, and the need for stringent controls, may request a 5-minute slot to speak at the meeting.
To register to speak, contact the Development Control Committee Administrator on 01582 546032, or write to them at Luton Town Hall, Luton LU1 2BQ.
The papers relevant to the meeting can be downloaded from LBC’s website by clicking the following link: Planning meeting papers