Anger in St Albans over Eric Pickles’ support of Luton Airport’s expansion

A plane takes off from London Luton Airport

A plane takes off from London Luton Airport - Credit: Archant

Plane noise campaigners in St Albans have reacted angrily to today’s (Thursday) announcement that despite widespread concern, the Government has effectively given Luton Airport’s proposed expansion the go-ahead.

Luton Airport's managing director Glyn Jones has hailed Eric Pickles' decision

Luton Airport's managing director Glyn Jones has hailed Eric Pickles' decision - Credit: Photo supplied

One of the most vocal opponents, Hertfordshire Against Luton Expansion (HALE) co-founder Andrew Lambourne, of Flamstead, warned residents to expect increased “noise from 60 per cent more flights”.

Airport owner Luton borough council controversially gave the green light to near-doubling of passengers numbers, to 18 million a year, just before Christmas.

But the Department for Communities and Local Government had previously served the authority with a holding direction, so planning permission could not be immediately officially granted.

However Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has earned the wrath of campaigners after announcing that he decided against calling the application in for further scrutiny by independent planning officials.

In spite of concerns about the conflict of interest in the borough council deciding its airport’s major scheme, Mr Pickles added that he was “content it should be determined by the local planning authority”.

Andrew said: “The Government is hell-bent on expanding airport capacity in the south-east, come what may.”

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He questioned Mr Pickles’ decision in the face of 70 per cent of respondents to consultation on the expansion calling for it to be rejected.

Andrew warned that locals would have to prepare for, “the effect of an extra nine million passengers per year on the already crowded transport infrastructure”.

Harpenden town council’s airport working group chairman Cllr David Williams said: “I am very disappointed. This application should have been treated in a more transparent manner, other than by Luton borough council. There was an opportunity for that to have been provided by the planning inspectorate.”

He said it was “perplexing” the scheme had not been called in and examined as a nationally significant infrastructure project.

Cllr Williams also questioned the manner in which the scheme was considered by the council, as a development control committee meeting on the expansion was attended by just six of 11 councillors.

Sabra Swinson, spokeswoman for St Albans campaign group Save Our Skies, said: “We are not surprised, but I’m very concerned about the impact this is going to have on St Albans and the surrounding villages and towns.”

A spokesman for Luton borough council confirmed that it had received formal notification from Mr Pickles about the scheme.

However planning permission cannot be officially granted until the airport has met a raft of planning conditions associated with noise, highway infrastructure and night flights.

Expansion cannot begin until those details are finalised.

Glyn Jones, the airport’s managing director, said he expected the council to proceed with granting permission.

He considered the council’s approval as a “vote of confidence in the airport and its future”.

Glyn added that gaining the final go-ahead would help, “develop, radically improve and deliver a better airport experience for our passengers in the years to come.

“The opportunities it brings for the local economy in terms of jobs and investment are significant.”

Construction will take place over three phases, including a new parallel taxiway, multi-storey car park, and an increased seating, catering and retail area.

A spokeswoman for the airport said that Luton could not as yet confirm which area would be the first to undergo development.