Campaign to save a Luton park from airport-related development taken to COP26 climate change conference

Group wants Wigmore Valley Park situation to be advertised to a wider national and international audience

By Euan Duncan
Monday, 1st November 2021, 12:47 pm
Updated Monday, 1st November 2021, 12:48 pm

A Luton pressure group is taking its campaign to save a local park from airport-related development to the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow.

Two members of Friends of Wigmore Park and Stop Luton Airport Expansion (SLAE) plan to arrive in Scotland when a debate is being held on transport, including air travel, on Wednesday, November 10. They say they intend to "advertise our cause to a wider national and international audience".

"Our group seeks to protect Wigmore Valley Park (WVP) from Luton Borough Council plans to build car parks, roads and a new terminal over it for airport expansion," explained Chris Haden, from SLAE.

Wigmore Valley Park (Google)

"WVP is a well used community green space land and includes an established irreplaceable county wildlife site. There's no need to build over the park as sufficient brownfield space exists within the current airport footprint.

"With innovative and inexpensive thought and design, it could be used to achieve expansion aims. This would leave WVP to remain as the green buffer zone between local housing and the pollution of airport operations."

He added: "Public consultation on airport expansion returned a clear lack of support for growth of the site. This was rejected by the borough council, along with the options to build on brownfield land.

"The local authority decided to back the easier option of building on our park. Commercial gain is deemed more important than protecting green space, biodiversity and climate change.

"The park is a popular local amenity and contributes to the general health of the local population.

"An extended airport encourages more planes, extra flights, a larger number of passengers and increased road traffic, leading to greater climate change and pollution issues.

"The council's annual public health report for 2018 says its ownership of the airport presents a challenge in terms of potentially adverse environmental and social public impacts.

"But it provides an extra source of income which supports local authority and community projects."

Loans totalling more than £500m have been made to the council's airport company, London Luton Airport Limited (LLAL).

London Luton Airport Operations Limited (LLAOL) entered into a concession agreement for the management, operation and development of the airport with the local authority in 1998, which lasts until 2031.

The contract between the airport operating company (LLAOL) and airport owner LLAL includes clauses relating to ‘force majeure’.

These appear in many commercial contracts and relate to what happens when an event occurs outside the control of the parties, which prevents one of them from fulfilling their obligations.

The pandemic has focused attention on these clauses and how they now apply, which has been "the subject of considerable legal interest and interpretation", according to a recent report to the council's executive.

The committee is due to meet in private on Wednesday (Nov 3) to discuss this arrangement.

As well as assessing the robustness of LLAL’s financial stabilisation plan during the last year, the executive has to consider the potential further impact of the 'force majeure' clauses in the contract.

External auditors Ernst and Young asked the council to weigh up all options including disposal over the financial arrangements with its airport company.

"We've been hugely impacted by the devastation Covid has had on the aviation industry," the council has acknowledged.

"The loans to the airport company come at no net cost to the Luton taxpayer and will have no impact on council tax, services or the council’s reserves," it said in June.

"The money is being borrowed by the council at favourable rates on behalf of LLAL, which will pay it back at a higher rate of interest."