Luton airport delays expansion plans, due to Covid and stated intention to be “greener”

In 2019 Luton airport put out plans to expand, from 18 million passenger per year, (mppa) up to 32 million. This expansion, being over 10 mppa, needs to go through the Development Consent Order (DCO) route, rather than a normal planning application.  The airport is owned by Luton Borough Council which is also the local authority that should regulate it.  Now with a massive decline in air travel demand, due to Covid, Luton airport has decided to delay the process, and not submit its DCO this summer, as originally intended, but in 2021. It claims it wants to be more “green” with less environmental impact, etc etc (tricky with so many more passengers and flights, and thus more noise, more CO2,  more air pollution and more congested surface transport). Local opposition groups are pleased about the delay, as is Hertfordshire County Council, which is against the plans due to the adverse noise impact. Luton is too dependant on the airport, and so has suffered from the loss of jobs, and income from the airport, due to the pandemic. It would be wiser to delay until there is clarity on the government policy on aviation carbon, in its ambition of aiming for zero carbon by 2050.


Luton Airport expansion application delayed as focus shifts to delivering ‘greener model’

17 June 2020

By  Georgia Barrow

The application to expand Luton Airport has been delayed, as the company looks to make it the “UK’s most sustainable airport over the next 20 years”.

Luton airport is working on creating a greener development model for its expansion plans before submitting an application.

Campaign groups and Herts County Council have welcomed the news of the delay, which comes as the aviation industry faces uncertainty amid the coronavirus outbreak.

London Luton Airport Ltd’s new approach says it recognises the challenges of delivering a greener development model for an expanded airport in Luton, and supporting essential economic recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for the region and the UK.

A Development Consent Order application to support expansion of the airport from 18 to 32 million passengers per year is now expected to be submitted to the government during 2021, rather than in summer 2020 as originally outlined.

Cllr Andy Malcolm, who is chair of LLAL and also Luton Council’s portfolio holder for finance, said: “We are an airport owner entirely focused on supporting and improving people’s lives, and driving economic and employment growth, both in Luton and neighbouring communities.

“Since the second public consultation on our expansion proposals late last year, we have been listening carefully to feedback and a clear message that people want us to go even further to mitigate environmental issues, including noise, air quality and particularly climate change which has become significantly more important to people since our first consultation.

“We are also acutely aware that COVID-19 has sadly impacted on every area of people’s lives and wellbeing, and the effects on aviation have been stark.

“We are confirming that we want to set out a plan for how London Luton can build on its position as arguably the most socially conscious airport in the UK by also becoming its most sustainable.

“This is the right thing to do to support Luton, the region and the environment. We are instructing our teams now to invest all the time they need to work up the proposals in detail.”

LLAL is currently working to support its operator and airlines with ongoing safe travel and passage through London Luton. At the same time, its shareholder Luton Council is preparing an emergency budget to deal with the loss of airport-related and other incomes, and costs experienced during the response to coronavirus.

Andrew Lambourne, speaking for the members of campaign group LADACAN said: “Thanks to strong opposition by campaign groups and local councils, LLAL had already decided to postpone its expansion application to consider the serious environmental impacts we highlighted during consultation.

“But now Luton Council is also facing a self-inflicted financial crisis due to over-reliance on airport revenue – and there is a simple reason for that. Hundreds of millions of pounds of airport fees have been allocated by the board of LLAL to capital projects such as the DART (Direct Air-Rail Transit) and access roads – without adequate transparency and accountability over the risks involved in these investment decisions.”

The delay in the expansion has also been welcomed by Herts County Council.

Cllr Derrick Ashley – executive member for growth, infrastructure, planning and the economy – said: “We have serious concerns about the environmental impact of expanding the airport, including the impact of aircraft noise on neighbouring communities. I hope that the airport will also use this time to look at how an extra 14 million passengers a year will actually get to the airport without this causing serious problems on the roads.

“This delay presents us with an opportunity for some strategic direction from the government, in the form of its forthcoming new national aviation strategy.

“That strategy will need to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government’s net zero greenhouse gas emissions target, the delay to Heathrow’s third runway, and government’s environmental expectations of the aviation industry. I strongly believe that the growth of Luton Airport beyond its currently permitted operations should be put on hold until this strategic direction from government is in place.

“Crucially, local communities and key stakeholders need to be engaged and I look forward to the airport providing clarity on how this is going to happen.”

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See earlier:

Environmentalists protest outside Luton Airport expansion consultation event in Stevenage

Environmental campaigners gathered to protest against the proposed expansion of Luton Airport outside a consultation event. Protesters from Extinction Rebellion, Friends of the Earth, LADACAN and SLAE joined forces for the peaceful demonstration. The airport plans to build a new terminal and increase passenger numbers from the current 18 million per year to 32 million a year. Former Herts county councillor Amanda King is now an active member of Extinction Rebellion which she set up locally in Stevenage; the airport expansion demo was its first action.  She said: “Flying has the highest carbon footprint of all forms of transport. Taking one return flight generates more carbon than people in some countries produce in an entire year. …[aviation] is expected to account for 25% of CO2 emission by 2050.”  As well as CO2, the protesters emphasised the airport expansion will also increase noise, traffic congestion and air pollution. The airport knows there will be hugely increased carbon impact from the expansion, as well as the other negative consequences, but falls back on the old chestnut of there being more jobs and more local prosperity.  In reality, most passengers using Luton are British people taking leisure trips abroad (spending their money there).

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Hertfordshire County Council objects to Luton Airport expansion, due to negative environmental impacts

Proposals to expand Luton Airport have been described as “madness” by a Hertfordshire county councillor.  The council unanimously voted to oppose further expansion of Luton airport at a meeting on 26th November, as they realised the expansion plans to increase to 32 million passengers a year by 2039 (from almost 17m now) would harm the environment. The airport’s proposals – to be decided by Luton Borough Council – include a second terminal north of the runway, an extensive new airfield infrastructure and a third station. There is a huge conflict of interest, as Luton Council both owns the airport, and decides on its planning applications.  At a time of growing realisation of the climate crises the planet faces, and with no realistic ways to reduce the carbon emissions from aviation, the industry should NOT be given permission to expand. The growth plans of airports across the country add up to a massive expansion in the number of flights and passengers, way above what could be compatible even with aiming for net-zero carbon by 2050 (and that is at least 20 years too late). The motion also called for Luton’s plans to be deferred until the new government has set out the Aviation Strategy, for the UK aviation sector, taking into account the advice of the CCC.

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Groups write to Government asking for a moratorium on airport expansion planning applications

Representatives of groups at some of the largest UK airports have written to both the Secretaries of State for Transport, and Housing, Communities and Local Government, to request a halt to airport expansion.  The letter asks them to suspend the determination by all planning authorities of applications to increase the physical capacity of UK airports, or their approved operating caps, until there is a settled UK policy position against which such applications can be judged.  Many UK airports are seeking – or have announced their intention to seek – planning approval to increase their capacity and/or their operating caps. In aggregate it has been estimated that proposals announced by UK airports would increase the country’s airport capacity by over 70% compared to 2017.  There is no settled UK policy on aircraft noise, or  policy on aviation carbon and how the sector will, as the CCC advises,  “limit growth in demand to at most 25% above current levels by 2050”. The letter says: “Until a settled policy with set limits is established for greenhouse gas emissions and noise there should be a moratorium on all airport expansion planning applications.”

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Bim Afolami, MP for Hitchin & Harpenden, says Luton Airport expansion plans to 38 mppa ‘unsuitable’

Conservative Bim Afolami, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, has said the proposed expansion of Luton Airport is both “unsuitable” and “unsustainable”, and its growth would be “Bedfordshire’s gain – Hertfordshire’s pain” in terms of noise and pollution. The airport, owned by Luton Borough Council, published its ambitious growth plan – to expand not only to 18 million annual passengers, but to 36 – 38 million  – in December. It hopes to reach the 38 million by 2050 with 240,000 flights a year, using its one existing runway. The local geography is such that adding a second runway would be virtually impossible – slopes. Mr Afolami told a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday that he “was not against airports” and “recognised the jobs and economic growth the airport brings to the UK and to Luton” ….but “The proposed expansion to more than double Luton’s passenger numbers is both unsuitable to the local area and unsustainable in the context of the constraints that exist in rural Hertfordshire.  Luton is just not the right place for an airport of the proposed size of 38m passengers. However, Transport Minister Paul Maynard said that the airport was already “actively engaged” in local consultation.

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Luton airport now hoping not only for 18 million annual passengers, but up to 38 million

Luton airport is planning to increase its annual number of passengers to 18 million, from around 15 million at present. Work is under way to achieve this, with new buildings, new taxiways etc. However, the airport is now saying it plans to take advantage of an apparent shortage of runway capacity in the south east, in the coming decade, to try to grow to 36 – 38 million annual passengers.  This has come as a surprise to many. Only two weeks earlier an airport senior manager was asked what happens when Luton reaches 18mppa, and he said they would flat-line as the terminal could not cope with any more people. The Chairman of LLACC (the Consultative Committee) did not about it either. Also, LLAL (the arm of Luton BC that owns the airport) recently purchased a huge tract of land nearby (Wigmore Park) and said it would not be used to expand the airport but to diversify business-land investment. However it appears that the airport may be planning a new terminal on the land, as the only way to achieve new growth aspirations.  Hertfordshire County Council are doubtful about the expansion, raising many possible negative impacts for the area, including surface access traffic.

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