Campaigners describe plan to increase Luton Airport passenger numbers as ‘morally repugnant’

London Luton Airport has launched a consultation for plans to expand passenger numbers. Picture: Luton Airport

London Luton Airport has launched a consultation for plans to expand passenger numbers. Picture: Luton Airport - Credit: Archant

Luton Airport’s plan to increase its annual passenger numbers from 18 million to 19 million has been described as “morally repugnant” by anti-noise campaigners.

London Luton Airport Operations Limited (LLA), which operates the airport, launched a consultation this month for passengers, business partners and the local community to have their say on the proposals.

Despite the impact of COVID-19, which will more than half the number of passengers using the airport this year, the airport is focused on ensuring they are on the best possible footing to bounce back and help the economy recover.

The application does not require any physical changes to the airport infrastructure, but will seek to vary conditions of the airport’s existing planning permission so that it is permitted to handle 19 million passengers per year in the future.

Andrew Lambourne, speaking for campaign group LADACAN (Luton and District Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise), said: “This proposal is unjustified and morally repugnant. Luton Airport signed up to a balanced deal of growth and mitigation, but has recklessly prioritised growth at the expense of local quality of life.

“Luton Airport – along with all the airports in the south east – should focus on delivering airspace modernisation which will benefit everyone by reducing fuel burn, emissions and noise across a wide area, rather than greedily coveting its next million.”

Neil MacArthur, who is chairman of campaign group HarpendenSky, also expressed concern that a higher frequency of flights will lead to increased noise disturbance for residents.

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He said: “This plan must be voted down as the pollution and noise consequences for residents in the post-COVID world are unimaginable. Luton Airport CEO Alberto Martin has introduced this consultation at a time when air traffic awareness is low due to the pandemic, but residents must connect with local councils and politicians to ensure robust opposition that will preserve our environmental future.”

Campaign groups have been arguing against the airport’s continued expansion since the introduction of the RNAV navigation system in 2015, which narrowed flight paths – and is therefore believed to have concentrated the noise over a smaller area.

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami said: “London Luton Airport Operations Limited’s plan to work around previous planning conditions to increase passenger numbers from 18 million to 19 million is poorly timed and ill-judged. I remain firmly opposed.

“Luton Airport and Luton Borough Council are currently facing immense financial hardship. The idea that doubling down on airport expansion will alleviate these pressures and help them to balance their books is misguided.

“Existing conditions minimise the impact from increased traffic and pollution on neighbouring towns and villages in our constituency. We should not have to pay the price for Luton Borough Council’s poor financial planning.

“I welcome all local residents and constituents to fill in this consultation to highlight their opposition.”

An environmental impact assessment (EIA) is also being carried out to identify any potential environmental affects that the project may have, the results of which will be published ahead of the application being made later in the year.

LLA’s chief executive Alberto Martin said: “While current circumstances mean we are unlikely to see this level of passenger volumes for several years, we are seeking to make these changes now so that our business is in a good position for the future.

“We want to continue to create benefits for our passengers, supply chain and the local economy, and it’s important that we hear a wide range of views before we submit the application.”

A spokesman for LLA added: “Our consultation is an opportunity for the local community, passengers and business partners to feedback on our proposals, ahead of a formal application, which will follow the relevant planning process.

“It’s essential we take steps now to safeguard the airport, jobs and support the region’s post-COVID recovery.

“The changes we are proposing will not result in any visible difference to the airport, and will work entirely within existing infrastructure.”