'Don't back Luton airport expansion' protesters tell festival goers attending Big Weekend

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Environmental activists staged a protest during Radio 1’s Big Weekend, urging festival goers not to back the expansion proposed for Luton airport.

In February 2023, Luton Borough Council’s airport company, trading as Luton Rising, submitted its DCO plans to increase passenger capacity from 18 million to 32 million per annum.

Luton Green Party, Stay Grounded and Luton Friends of the Earth were part of the protest outside of Luton’s main train station and in the town centre during the festival.

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Mike Oliver, from Luton Green Party, said: "Most people in Luton do not have a clue about airport expansion.

Protester with sign outside Luton train station during the Big Weekend festival.Protester with sign outside Luton train station during the Big Weekend festival.
Protester with sign outside Luton train station during the Big Weekend festival.

"Expanding the airport could be a disaster, costing council tax payers a fortune for many years to come. And, of course, there will be twice as much noise, much more traffic and air pollution. So about 10 different groups decided independently to tell people the facts this weekend.

He added: "Expanding the airport is bad for Luton, Britain and the planet."

London Luton Airport Operations Ltd (LLAOL) and LLAL (Luton Rising) are unconnected companies. Luton Rising is owned by Luton Borough Council (LBC) and is the freeholder of the airport site. LLAO is a separate private company which is not owned, controlled or funded by LBC or Luton Rising. LLAO was granted a concession by LBC and LR to operate the airport, which runs until 2032.

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Nick Platts, managing director of Luton Rising, the Luton Council company that owns the airport, said: “We are confident that the people of Luton are aware of, and significantly understand, the benefits of our proposals and the issues involved.

“There have been three extensive public consultations. More than 10,000 people have signed a community-led petition, and 140 businesses have backed an open letter, in support of our proposals. This is set against a small number of protesters in the town centre at the weekend.

“Our application has been examined in detail and has now been sent to the Government for a decision. This is expected later in the year and we look forward to a positive outcome.”

“Our proposals for the long-term and sustainable growth of our airport are vital to the future prosperity and wellbeing of our town and its communities, and the economic, employment and social impact benefits would stretch well beyond Luton.

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Nick said that Luton Rising has “sought to put environmental considerations at the forefront of our proposals”. He explained: “The result has been the submission of a unique and, we believe, industry-leading Green Controlled Growth framework, that for the first time in the UK would restrict expansion if environmental limits that will be independently monitored cannot be adhered to.

“Our ownership of the airport has led to half a billion pounds being invested in Luton’s public services and its voluntary and community sector over the last 25 years. That continues at the rate of some £40m a year, including £7m annual support for the voluntary and community sector that supports the lives of the most vulnerable people in Luton who most need our help. This amount would grow substantially as a result of our proposed growth.

But Mike said: “Estimated to cost £2.6 billion, it will almost certainly cost several times that. The airport [Luton Rising] has made a loss of £550 million in the last three years. Luton Council has lent the airport over half a billion pounds (as of February 2023).”

Nick disputed this and added: “The council’s lending to Luton Rising is less than half the value of all our assets, and it means that interest payments return to the Council rather than to a private investor. This is a benefit, not a cost to the council tax payer. The reported “loss” is not an operating loss, instead it mostly relates to the impact of Covid on airport operations.”