Unmitigated growth at Luton Airport

In 2013 Luton Borough Council granted its airport permission to double the passenger numbers from 9 to 18 million per year, to make more money for the town. The airport operator LLAOL had been given a stark choice: invest to increase capacity, or lose your operating concession. They chose to invest, proposing a 15-year plan for development, growth and mitigation.

LLAOL’s shareholders – French fund manager Ardian and Spanish airport owners Aena – spent over £160m in dualling the access road, adding more onsite parking for cars and planes, increasing passenger throughput at the terminal, and modifying the taxiways to ramp up the runway capacity. Ardian sold its 49% stake to AMP Capital after completing phase one.

The plan which was consulted on spread growth over 15 years until 2028, allowing time for quieter and more fuel-efficient aircraft to be introduced. Government policy on airport expansion is clear: growth must be balanced by mitigation. In Luton’s case this has not been respected: once planning was agreed, the Council’s owning company incentivised rapid growth, and:

– Promises to achieve higher altitude on departure have not been delivered
– Flight numbers have significantly outstripped delivery of quieter aircraft
– Concentration of flight tracks has created “noise motorways in the sky”
– Permitted NOx levels are regularly being exceeded in parts of the airfield
– The night noise footprint limit has been exceeded for two years running

Luton Airport expansion has not delivered balanced growth and mitigation but has been focused on securing as much business as possible before other airports get it – apparently regardless of planning limits. The local saying “Luton gets the gain, Hertfordshire gets the pain” rings true. Hertfordshire County Council is clear: “The County Council is of the view that the actions of the Airport have fallen considerably short of Government expectations.”

Passenger numbers will hit 18-million in 2020, 8 years early, and the airport operator and owner are both pressing for further expansion, requiring the planning limits agreed in 2013 to be set aside. If they succeed, Hertfordshire will suffer increased traffic congestion and pollution, more crowded trains, and the noise and emissions from some 100,000 additional flights per year.