Lib Dems resign from board of Luton Airport company over ‘gagging order’

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Two Liberal Democract councillors resigned from the board of London Luton Airport Limited (LLAL) last week after they say they were told by lawyers they could not publicly criticise its decisions.

Councillors David Franks and Alan Skepelhorn say they “won’t be gagged” and their decision is fully supported by the local Liberal Democrats.

“We have consistently opposed and voted against plans to build on Wigmore Valley Park, and to make Ashcroft Road and Wigmore Lane major access routes to the airport,” said councillor Franks.

“We are seriously concerned that not enough is being done to deal with the effects of air pollution on the health of thousands of children attending schools near the airport and close to the flight paths.”

Their letters of resignation also refer to insufficient work being undertaken to reduce noise pollution.

“Now we have been told lawyers say we are not allowed to publicly disagree with and criticise the decisions about which we have a serious concern, unless the Labour members of the board agree that we may do so,” he added.

“This is a situation with which we cannot and will not live. We will not be gagged, so we have both resigned from the board with immediate effect.”

The ten-strong board of directors is chaired by Labour High Town councillor Andy Malcolm.

There are five Labour councillors, two Liberal Democrats, who have now resigned, one Conservative, and two advisory members on the board.

The advisory members are former Labour minister Lord McKenzie of Luton and Dr Romano Pagliari, who’s a senior lecturer in the Department of Air Transport at Cranfield University.

LLAL is the company which owns the airport, and has as its majority shareholder Luton Borough Council.

This means that the airport is effectively in the public ownership of the town’s residents.

The Liberal Demcrats’ letter also said: “Please note my resignation from the board of London Luton Airport Limited with immediate effect, and register my resignation with Companies House.

“I have discussed this situation with my Liberal Democrat colleagues, and they have decided that they will not be nominating a replacement candidate for the board.

“This means all decisions henceforth will be made by Labour and Tory councillors, and I will be free to criticise them as much as I feel I need to.”

Labour council leader Hazel Simmons said: “I think the decision by the two Liberal Democrat councillors to resign from the LLAL board is a cold and calculated political move, and more to do with the fact we are heading towards the local elections for May 2019 than anything else.

“It is disappointing that they have decided to forego their opportunity to influence the future expansion of the airport, especially as they supported the development consent order (DCO) planning strategy and were supportive of policy LP6 of the Luton Adopted Plan 2011 to 2031.

“The two councillors are well aware of the legal requirements of board members. This is nothing new and is company law.

“We remain totally committed to growing our airport for the benefit of everyone in Luton and the surrounding area.

“And we take the wellbeing of our local communities very seriously, hence our commissioning of the most comprehensive air quality monitoring of any major airport.”

Councillor Andy Malcolm, who chairs LLAL, said: “We both regret and respect this decision.

“LLAL has brought forward early proposals for sustainable growth of London Luton Airport after serious thought and because of the benefits it will deliver for the local, regional and national economies.

“We absolutely understand the importance of talking with everyone in our local and nearby communities to make sure our emerging strategies for minimising and mitigating impacts are the very best they can be.

“This process is well under way and we will remain completely committed to it. We are continuing to analyse and evolve our proposals in response to feedback provided during our first consultation last summer. And, next month, we expect to announce our draft masterplan layout and the next steps.”