Campaigners and councillors oppose Luton Airport’s plan to expand into green space

Members of the steering group for Stop Luton Airport Expansion. Picture: SLAE

Members of the steering group for Stop Luton Airport Expansion. Picture: SLAE - Credit: Archant

Campaigners have formed a new group to try to stop Luton Airport’s expansion plans and prevent the loss of green space at Wigmore Valley Park.

The Stop Luton Airport Expansion logo. Picture: SLAE

The Stop Luton Airport Expansion logo. Picture: SLAE - Credit: Archant

Members of the group Friends of Wigmore Park launched Stop Luton Airport Expansion (SLAE) due to fears that the expansion will have a negative impact on the local environment and surrounding countryside.

The airport’s vision for sustainable growth over the next 30 years would see an increase from 18 million to 38 million passengers per year, which campaigners warn will cause a significant increase in both air and noise pollution.

Scott Stalham, chair of Friends of Wigmore Park, said: “We would see a massive increase in traffic. London, Manchester and Birmingham are the only places busier and more congested than Luton.

“It’s such a big cause of air pollution, both from aircraft and traffic. Children growing up here have to walk to school past all the congested traffic, which causes long-term health effects such as chronic respiratory diseases.”

Scott and the other campaigners are also concerned about the effect the expansion will have on local green space.

“[The green space] covers over 70 acres and serves as a natural buffer between the airport and Wigmore. It’s very much under threat and would mean the destruction of Wigmore Valley Park, which is a much-loved community asset.

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“The park is home to thousands of trees which help mitigate some of the pollution.

“We just believe the negatives far outweigh the positives. We can’t have a situation where the local people are experiencing the brunt of the negatives and air quality is affected and the rest of the town profits.

“We really appreciate the value and importance of the airport but our views are that it’s simply far too much.”

Two Liberal Democrat Councillors from Luton borough council, Cllr Alan Skepelorn and Cllr, David Franks, resigned from the airport’s board of directors in protest of the plans to build on Wigmore Valley Park and turn Ashcroft Road and Wigmore Lane into major access routes for the airport.

They also believe not enough is being done to deal with effects of air pollution on people’s health, especially children who attend schools near the airport and flight paths.

Cllr Franks said: “We have been told lawyers say we are not allowed to publicly disagree with and criticise the decisions with which we have a sincere and serious concern unless the Labour members of the board agree that we may do so.

“This is a situation with which we cannot and will not live. We will not be gagged so we have both resigned from the board with immediate effect.”

In a joint resignation email from both councillors, they said: “I have discussed this situation with my Liberal Democrat colleagues, and they have decided that they will not be nominating a replacement candidate for the board.

“This means all decisions henceforth will be made by Labour and Tory councillors and I will be free to criticise them as much as I feel I need to.”

Cllr Andy Malcolm, chair of Luton council’s airport company London Luton Airport Ltd (LLAL), said: “We both regret and respect this decision.

“Directors who disagree with a board decision are not required by law to act as if they did, but it is their legal responsibility not to prevent or interfere with its implementation.

“LLAL has brought forward early proposals for sustainable growth of London Luton Airport after serious thought and because of the benefits it will deliver for the local, regional and national economies and the support it offers to help meet the ongoing increasing demand for aviation in London and the south-east.

“We absolutely understand the importance of talking with everyone in our local and nearby communities to make sure our emerging strategies for minimising and mitigating impacts are the very best they can be.

“This process is well under way and we will remain completely committed to it.

“We have already commissioned for example the most comprehensive air quality monitoring of any major UK airport so that our understanding of this issue will be unsurpassed.

“We are continuing to analyse and evolve our proposals in response to feedback provided during our first consultation last summer, and expect to announce next month our draft masterplan layout and the next steps.”