Relationship between Luton airport and council raises concerns

PUBLISHED: 18:45 01 February 2013

An Easyjet plane takes off from a snowy Luton Airport

An Easyjet plane takes off from a snowy Luton Airport

Archant

THE “hand-in-glove” relationship between Luton Airport and its owner has been criticised by St Albans villagers who have urged the government to establish greater external regulation of the airfield.

The airport has asked Luton borough council (LBC), its owner, for approval to expand to allow an extra 160 flights a day.

But Wheathampstead parish council (WPC) has warned the government that the airport has indulged in “growth by stealth over many years”.

In a tersely-worded response to the government’s Draft Aviation Policy, in which the council focuses on Luton’s expansion plans, it added: “It is essential that the self-serving relationship between the airport and LBC is scrutinised more closely.”

The parish council said steps should be taken to ensure local communities were not disadvantaged, “by a process that is stacked against them”.

Serious questions continue to be raised about the possible conflict of interest LBC has in determining an application from the airport, which is a major source of funding for the authority.

An investigation by the Herts Advertiser has revealed that two members of the council’s development control committee, which is to determine the application, are on the board of directors of London Luton Airport Ltd.

Both Mahmood Hussain and David Franks have been on the board since 2007.

Also, the council’s February issue of its own newspaper for taxpayers in the borough, Lutonline, has a front page boasting of a “funding boost for Luton”.

The story praises the airport for recently introducing four funding streams worth millions of pounds to organisations in Luton.

Luton councillor Robin Harris, who is chair of London Luton Airport Ltd, and has also been on the board of directors for the past six years, is quoted as saying the airport generated significant economic benefit to the borough.

Beside the promotional story is a much smaller sidebar asking for residents to comment on the “airport plan”.

It mentions the scheme in brief, including extensions and alterations to the terminal buildings, access, car parks and aircraft parking aprons.

But it does not explain that the airport wants to double passenger throughput to 18 million a year.

Wheathampstead parish council said that residents around the airport were already adversely affected by air pollution and congestion from cars, taxis and buses travelling to it.

The village’s 7,000 residents are overflown by both easterly and westerly flights.

WPC has called on the government to protect, “the process of democracy by ensuring that small communities such as Wheathampstead are not significantly disadvantaged by the lobbying efforts and potentially misleading information promoted by the powerful aviation industry”.

It added that Luton, “is a small city airport which unrealistically aspires to be larger than the land bank or the local infrastructure can accommodate.

“This is a result of poor regulation of the airport. There must be greater external regulation of Luton Airport rather than a continuation of laissez-faire growth.”

The airport’s expansion scheme can be seen online: www.eplan.luton.gov.uk (application number 12/01400).

n An online petition fighting the scheme has been set up by the Herts Advertiser’s sister paper, The Comet in Stevenage, with our full support. It can be found at: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/44069

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