Bold plans to more than double Luton Airport’s capacity could be the linchpin to Luton’s prosperity – but not without overcoming significant hurdles.
On Monday, London Luton Airport Ltd (LLAL) presented its ‘Vision for Sustainable Growth 2020-2050’.
This included plans to more than double capacity from 18m passengers per year to between 36m and 38m, with around 240,000 annual flights.
Luton Borough Council is the sole shareholder in LLAL and the airport’s expansion is regarded as crucial to Luton’s ‘Investment Framework’ – a 20-year economic plan that hopes to secure £1.5bn investment to the town and create around 18,500 jobs.
Chairman of LLAL and the council’s portfolio holder for finance, Cllr Andy Malcolm said: “For every one million additional passengers, we can expect up to 800 new jobs and £76m to the economy.”
Luton Airport is currently the fifth largest in the UK and according to Cllr Malcolm, it injects around £1.5bn into the UK economy annually, contributing around £500m to the Beds, Bucks and Herts economic region.
Leader of Luton Borough Council, Cllr Hazel Simmons added: “Facing the uncertainty of Brexit, budget cuts and austerity, Luton’s Investment Framework and our vision for the airport is our response to these challenges.”
Following two consultation periods, LLAL intends to submit its application to the Planning Inspectorate in late 2019, with a decision hoped for by 2021.
But already, opposition is lining up. Hertfordshire County Council has indicated it intends to oppose the plans, with its leader Cllr David Williams claiming his residents’ lives are “already blighted” by aircraft noise.
He added: “My other immediate concern is the transport implications. How can that level of growth possibly be achieved without compromising the capacity of our road and rail systems and how can it be done in a way which shifts journeys to the airport away from the car and towards public transport?”
Some transport solutions have been suggested by LLAL. As part of the London Luton Airport Enterprise Zone, Wigmore Valley Park is tipped to make way for a revamped ‘New Century Park’ subject to planning permission being given.
Alongside a re-designed play area and skate park, New Century Park would provide a new dual carriageway connecting to the A1081 in order to alleviate road pressure.
Construction also begins next year on the £225m mass passenger transit system, linking Luton Airport Parkway Station to the airport terminal within minutes. Now named ‘DART’ (Direct Air to Rail Transit), LLAL claims this will reduce travel by car to the airport and allow a rail journey from St Pancras to the terminal within 30 minutes.
But there are environmental concerns over the airport’s expansion. Britain is party to the 2016 Paris Agreement – an international bid to prevent runaway climate change by keeping the earth’s temperature rise this century no more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels.
Simon Bullock, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: “Luton like every other airport desperately needs a new business model which is not based on endless expansion.
“Airport expansion means more carbon pollution, which is already fuelling catastrophic climate disasters around the world and threatening the planet’s life-support systems.”
LLAL’s ‘Vision for Sustainable Growth 2020 to 2050’ has just three paragraphs addressing climate change, in which it stated that a “comprehensive” strategy would be developed ahead of expansion.
A Luton Borough Council spokesman said: “Luton Council and its airport company LLAL are committed to the London Luton Airport Vision for Sustainable Growth 2020-2050 as a fantastic opportunity to contribute to the forecast shortfall in national aviation capacity and to generate economic growth, jobs, prosperity and aspiration across the sub-region.
“LLAL absolutely understands that airport operations can bring adverse impacts. We will work tirelessly to minimise and mitigate these as the proposal is developed, and have already begun developing our plans for improvement within a new long-term environmental strategy for the airport.
“We will work with stakeholders to ensure all aspects of our plans are as good as they can be, including highways matters, and are committed to a full, robust and thorough approach to engagement with all our partners and communities.
“We anticipate that a clearer understanding of the scope of the project should emerge by spring or summer 2018, and look forward to beginning the initial round of informal public consultation in mid-2018.”