£600k to defend Luton Airport expansion plans called in by Government

A budget of £600,000 has been agreed by Luton Borough Council’s executive to contest a public inquiry after an airport-related planning application was called in by the government.

By Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 1st June 2022, 12:50 pm

London Luton Airport Operations Limited’s (LLAOL) plans to increase the passenger capacity from 18m to 19m a year, and amend the day and night noise contours, were approved by the council’s development management committee in December.

But a decision was taken on behalf of the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove to hold a local inquiry to consider “all the relevant aspects of the proposed development”.

The inquiry date is set for September 27 covering a period of 10 weeks, with a pre-inquiry meeting scheduled for July 6, according to a report to the executive.

Luton Airport

“Background documentation, notifications to third parties, statements of case and a statement of common ground are in progress,” said the report. “If the inquiry lasts longer than the ten weeks indicated, there’s a risk that the cost could increase.”

Labour Limbury councillor Rob Roche told the executive: “The Secretary of State issued an Article 31 direction, preventing the council from granting planning permission, to determine whether the application should be referred to him.

“The council received a letter in April confirming he’d directed under his powers of section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 that the proposals should be called in, instead of being dealt with by the local planning authority.

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“This means the scheme will be subject to a public inquiry, which has now placed an unexpected cost on the council which wasn’t budgeted for. The report requests an extra fund of up to £600,000 to support the inquiry process.

“The amount relates to legal and specialist advice required to defend the council’s decision, and the cost of a programme officer. Detailed work has begun already to prepare the local authority’s evidence, while the programme officer has been appointed.

“The service director of finance has identified that the cost could be covered by 2022/23 underspends or, if required, from the general contingency. That’s set out in the recommendation.

“I want the executive to approve a further recommendation by authorising the direct appointment of external legal services, as permitted by paragraph ten of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015.

“A direct award is needed given the time critical nature of the advice required. Barristers for this kind of matter aren’t governed by the Public Contracts Regulations,” added councillor Roche, the new finance portfolio holder.

“There’s a need for specialist expertise on a subject matter which is complex. The contract will be entered on to the contracts register to give transparency around spend.”

Chief executive Robin Porter explained: “For absolute clarity, members will be getting the outturn (financial) report for 2021/22 in the coming weeks.

“We’re anticipating funding this amount from an underspend during the last financial year, because of some late in-year windfalls, rather than having it impact on this year’s budget.”

The committee unanimously agreed the recommendations.

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