Hertfordshire MPs react as Luton Airport gets green light to lift passenger cap by one million

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Two Hertfordshire MPs have shared their dismay that London Luton Airport is now allowed to raise its capacity

One million extra passengers can be accommodated at Luton Airport, after a decision taken by ministers in Westminster.

Two Hertfordshire MPs have shared their dismay that London Luton Airport is now allowed to raise its capacity from 18 to 19 million passengers per annum (mppa).

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The easyJet and Wizz Air hub in Bedfordshire has a roughly east-west runway, which means planes taking off and landing fly over parts of Hertfordshire in either direction – including St Paul’s Walden, Stevenage and Markyate.

An easyJet Airbus A320Neo departs from London Luton Airport in Bedfordshire. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRSAn easyJet Airbus A320Neo departs from London Luton Airport in Bedfordshire. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRS
An easyJet Airbus A320Neo departs from London Luton Airport in Bedfordshire. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRS

Conservative MP Bim Afolami, who represents the Hitchin and Harpenden constituency immediately east of the airport, said: “I totally disagree with the decision to allow Luton Airport to expand to 19 million passengers per annum.

“My position has not changed.”

This application was put forward by London Luton Airport Operations Limited (LLAOL), which is responsible for running the airport.

Luton Rising, which owns the airport, has major expansion plans – for a second terminal to accommodate up to 32mppa.

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Inspectors are looking at this proposal as part of a separate process referred to as National Infrastructure Planning, with the examination stage due to end in February 2024.

Mr Afolami said: “This decision will not stop me fighting against the much bigger expansion that Luton Airport has planned in their attempt to try and create an airport the size of Gatwick – for which Luton will get the gain, and Hertfordshire will get the pain.”

Lee Rowley MP in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Richard Holden MP in the Department for Transport jointly granted Luton Airport’s operators permission to lift the cap, on behalf of their secretaries of state.

They made their ruling on the advice of three planning inspectors.

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Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans, described the decision as a “slap in the face for local communities across Hertfordshire who are concerned by the climate emergency”.

Ms Cooper said: “Luton Airport, supported by Luton Council, made this application retrospectively because they’d already breached the legal noise and passenger limits in 2019, and wanted approval to press on and keep doing so.

“The decision issued today by the Conservative secretaries of state acknowledges that there will be more emissions from aircraft and ground transport, and that air quality will be adversely impacted as a result of this expansion, but they’ve given Luton the green light to go ahead anyway.

“The government also continues to rely on hopes that airlines might one day use quieter aircraft, to minimise the disruption to those in the flight paths whose daily lives are blighted by the din – especially in north St Albans.”

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Luton Airport has stated that Daisy Cooper’s claim is inaccurate as the airport did not breach the passenger limit. The Airport states its total passenger number for 2019 was 17.9million.

Airport had 71 per cent growth in just six years

According to documents put forward by the airport’s operators, throughput at London Luton rose from 10.5mppa in 2014 to 18mppa – the cap – in 2019, which is a 71 per cent rise in just six years.

“Notwithstanding the temporary implications of Covid-19 [and restrictions on international travel], the long-term growth of demand is set to continue and raising the cap to 19mppa would allow the airport to continue to grow effectively within sustainable limits,” an application document reads.

“As one of the largest employers in the area, it will assist in economic recovery both nationally and locally.”

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It notes Luton Borough Council, when it granted permission for an expanded terminal and an Airport Way dual-carriageway in 2014, “acknowledged” the airport could have a potential capacity for 20mppa.

Inspectors concluded the planning application aligns with the government’s Jet Zero policy.

The Jet Zero Strategy looks at how the aviation sector can achieve net zero by 2050, with domestic flights achieving this goal 10 years earlier, in 2040.

It suggests focusing on a series of emerging technologies including airspace management, sustainable aviation fuels and zero-carbon flights “at the tailpipe” with energy from hydrogen – with Cranfield University near Bedford installing a hydrogen refuelling station to serve its co-located airport in May 2022.

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The inspectors wrote: “The expansion of airport capacity which the government has envisaged in achieving Jet Zero far exceeds anything at issue in this case.

“For example, the government has assumed expansion of London Luton Airport’s capacity to 32mppa.”

The inspectors decided expansion to 19mppa will “not impede nor have a material impact on the UK’s climate policy in reaching carbon net zero by 2050”.

They acknowledged there had been noise breaches at night in 2017 and 2018, and both day and night in 2019.

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Weighing up the application, they said there is local opposition “underlain by mistrust due to past breaches of the noise contours condition”.

But they said there would be “limited harm” caused by greenhouse gas emissions, and “very limited harm in respect of air quality”.

The inspectors concluded: “The airport plays an important role in the economic and social life of Luton and the surrounding area.

“Given the unemployment and deprivation within the borough, the benefits which the proposal would provide in terms of direct and indirect employment opportunities, together with an uplift in gross value added are of particular important and carry considerable weight.

“These benefits which would flow from the proposal clearly outweigh the harms which we have identified.”