Luton Airport expansion to go ahead

Luton Airport operators LLAOL have announced that Eric Pickles, Secretary of State, has decided not to call in the expansion plans, meaning that Luton Borough Council can now grant planning permission for works designed to achieve a doubling of annual passenger capacity.

The government is clearly hell-bent on expanding airport capacity in the South East, come what may. Regardless of the fact that 70% of the public who responded to the consultation over Luton Airport Expansion said NO, ignoring the fact that aviation is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases, and despite the application technically constituting a nationally significant infrastructure project, Eric Pickles has failed to call this application in for proper scrutiny.

The airport’s announcement this morning mentions everything except the key local issues: the effect of an extra 9 million passengers per year on the already crowded transport infrastructure, and the effect of noise from 60% more flights. The throwaway comment at the end about being a good neighbour is meaningless unless the airport takes seriously the concerns about noise and puts in place measures to make a difference. That means a Noise Action Plan which has some real bite, and Planning Conditions which control noise over local communities.

Luton Airport update

Although the Luton Airport expansion planning application was approved by Luton Borough Council last December, the matter has been referred to the Secretary of State to consider whether it should be called in for independent scrutiny. In the meantime an Article 25 direction has been issued preventing the Council from issuing planning permission pending the decision by Eric Pickles.

HALE has pointed out clear shortcomings in the Planning Conditions laid down by Luton Borough Council, including the omission of the airport operator’s own commitment to reduce the night noise violation limit from 82dB to 80dB by Jan 2015, and thereafter to reduce it to 77dB. The Planning Conditions replace this by a requirement for a plan to phase out noisier aircraft at night by an unspecified date, and set equal noise violation levels for day and night movements, thus failing to incentivise quieter night-time flights.

Luton Airport has meantime launched a consultation on the introduction of RNAV, a modern navigation technology, on one of the westerly departure routes. This system keeps aircraft on more tightly defined tracks, though track-keeping is not as reliable as hoped during windy weather and HALE has encouraged the airport to move as quickly as possible to the next-generation system, RNP1. Associated with the trials of RNAV is a welcome mandate that aircraft should not be given “short cut” headings by Air Traffic Control until they reach 4000ft or have crossed the railway between Harpenden and St Albans. This reduces wayward flights.

Details of the RNAV consultation can be found on the airport’s website.

There is still time to make a difference!

You can still submit planning objections to Luton Borough Council by emailing developmentcontrol@luton.gov.uk even though the original deadline has passed. Remember to refer to planning application 12/01400/FUL and include your name and address.

The planning team recognises that the magnitude of the project – and in particular the sheer number of documents which have been submitted and are on the planning portal – made it difficult for people to respond within the restricted period. Therefore although the LBC planning website form is no longer open, people and campaign groups may still provide their comments and objections by email.

The planning team is working through the technical objections in particular, producing a summary of the main points to present to the Planning Committe when it meets. The date for that meeting is the final deadline, and has not yet been set.

In the meantime HALE encourages everybody who has not yet submitted their objection to do so – and also to keep an eye out for news of forthcoming publicity events which will help to spread the word more sidely to local people.

NightFlights 3See our Objections pages for more guidance, and sign our petition against night flights if you have not yet done so by clicking this link: www.change.org/luton-night-flights

73% of public oppose expansion plans

The Planning Application for Luton Airport Expansion has been made public on the Luton Borough Council planning portal at http://www.eplan.luton.gov.uk and can be found by searching for planning application 12/01400/FUL.

Contrary to Luton Airport’s misleading claims in its press release, the revised MasterPlan consultation response showed an overwhelming rejection of expansion proposals by the general public. 73% of people who wrote, emailed, filled in questionnaires on paper or online said NO to airport expansion.

In order to spin the response to be apparently positive, the airport has included a block of 612 responses from airlines, airport staff, Unite union members and third party onsite and external organisations associated with the airport. Unsurprisingly, this “block vote” was 100% supportive – and indeed outnumbers the responses from the public. So when Luton Airport misleadingly claims 65% support they conveniently omit to mention that the sample is clearly not representative.

To put the record straight, HALE presents the figures from the airport’s own Statement of Community Involvement document which can be downloaded from the planning portal:

91% of people who responded by letters, emails, phone calls OPPOSE the plans.

74% of people who filled in forms at public exhibitions OPPOSE the plans.

58% of people who conducted the online web survey OPPOSE the plans.

So that’s a very big NO then. Why? Because people are already fed up with the noise of planes droning past day and night and do not want 60% more of them. Because they are concerned about traffic congestion on local roads. And because there is a real concern about health effects and pollution from all that kerosene being burnt. Finally, because they know that 80% of flights from Luton are holiday flights, which export British jobs overseas.

HALE responds

HALE today issued its hard-hitting response in opposition to the consultation on Luton Airport’s revised Masterplan for expansion. In it, HALE strongly opposes the plans for 60% extra flights and focuses particular attention on the Airport’s Noise Action Plan and six new noise mitigations, showing that they are too weak to have any significant impact on the noise footprint even of current flight levels, let alone if flights are increased by an extra 160 per day as proposed.

HALE draws on the Draft Aviation Policy Framework of July 2012 to show that current attitudes to airport noise are substantially changing, and that the government is challenging planners and airport operators to pay much more heed to the detrimental impact of aircraft noise to health and quality of life. HALE points out that the policy places significant emphasis on a tougher noise management regime including independent and transparent monitoring and enforcement, and realistic noise limits linked to penalties which incentivise noise reduction.

The policy also states that Noise Action Plans are intended to describe actions to reduce noise impacts, and attention is drawn to the National Planning Policy framework which says that planning policies and decisions should avoid noise from giving rise to significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life. The consultation response includes quotes from people living all around the airport who have simply had enough of the growing noise burden.

“Through very clear and explicit guidance, the Draft Aviation Policy Framework emphasises the need for airports to act in order to reduce noise, not just to pay lipservice in order to tick political boxes. Provision after provision – for example working with local communities to develop acceptable solutions, changing routes and aircraft height, striving for continuous improvement in mitigation of noise, review of departure noise limits and setting significantly higher penalties, setting lower noise limits, greater investment in noise monitoring and a more independent overseeing of noise management by the CAA and Consultative Committees – make it absolutely clear that this is an issue on which action is required that leads to significant improvement, not just monitor, publish and forget” says Andrew Lambourne of HALE.

Given this context, HALE has provided in its response opposing the expansion plans a detailed critique of the current Luton Airport Noise Action Plan and its six new noise mitigation measures. Both are judged to be weak and ineffective, and HALE’s verdict is that the noise management measures proposed by Luton Airport are simply not tough or explicit enough to deliver any significant improvement in the noise burden experienced by local communities.

“Any action plan genuinely intended to change something has to have clear and definite objectives and deadlines” says Andrew Lambourne. “Luton Airport’s Noise Action Plan is long on monitoring and discussion, and very short on delivering noise reduction. In fact, there is not a single tough action which will have a significant effect on the noise pollution which this airport produces. Where are the deadlines by which the noisiest aircraft will be banned? Where are noise violation limits which will actually bite into the top 10% of noisiest flights?  Where are the actual noise targets, reducing year on year, which the airport will meet? The answer is that there are none. In a so-called Noise Action Plan of 55 measures, the word ‘monitor’ appears 7 times, ‘review’ 11, ‘reduce’ none. 44 of those 55 measures involve monitoring, reviewing and liaising – none of them delivers tough and definite action to reduce noise.”

HALE delivers the same verdict on the six new noise mitigations incorporated into the Masterplan. “Most of them are just vague and meaningless – or deliberately ineffective: like setting a new lower noise violation limit which is actually well above the noise levels of 97% of the flights. It just proves the Luton Airport does not yet take the noise issue seriously enough – we want that to change. People living all around the airport demand better than that – and they deserve better than that.” concludes Andrew.

The full HALE response can be downloaded by clicking this link.

Expansion plans

The revised expansion plan for Luton Airport has been issued today 3rd Sep and can be downloaded from the airport website by clicking the link at the end of this article.

Compared to 2011 the main measures include:

  • More planes – a 58% increase in the number of flights
  • More often – frequency up 17% to one every 90 seconds at peak
  • More intrusive – the peak time at 06:00-08:30 will become longer
  • More traffic – an 87% increase in passenger capacity from 9.6m to 18m
  • More emissions – the airport ignores emissions once a plane is airborne
  • More impact – a new 4-storey carpark is to be built on the top of the hill

Mitigation Plans and Action Plans abound, but these involve monitoring rather than aggressively tackling the issues which affect local communities even with the current level of flights and passengers: noise, pollution, night flights and road bottlenecks.

The Environmental Impact statement has not yet been published, so the detail on what these proposals will mean to the local environment in terms of air quality and climate, water quality and usage, landscape and visual impact, noise and vibration, traffic and transportation is still not clear.

HALE is working closely with other campaign groups as well as local councils, however everyone can play a part by ensuring that their views are sent to the airport and to local councillors, and making other people aware of how to feed back their opinions.

Glyn Jones, MD of Luton Airport Operators, has claimed that their previous plans are “broadly supported” by 2/3 of respondents. Since many of the proposals (to improve the terminal facilities, speed up security and baggage collection and make the drop-off easier) are generally welcome, there is a risk that “support” could be misinterpreted. Local people need to make it very clear that the surrounding community experience counts just as much as the passenger experience.

A 6-week public consultation starts today, and there are some local meetings planned – see Public Exhibitions for a timetable.

Luton Airport website link describing plans with download available: click here

Comments can be emailed to: londonslocalairport@ltn.aero

Public exhibitions

The new combined Luton Airport expansion plan was published on 3rd Sep 2012. This plan proposes expansion to a capacity of 18 million passengers per annum, with a 60% increase in number of flights and increases to flight frequency as a result of taxiway extensions. The proposals will be illustrated in more detail at a series of public exhibitions at which airport personnel will be attending to field questions and hear public feedback first hand. The timetable is:

Thu 6th Sep  15:00-20:00  Flamstead Village Hall, Church Road, Flamstead

Tue 11th Sep  15:00-20:00  Harpenden Public Halls, Southdown Rd, Harpenden

Thu 20th Sep  15:00-20:00  Breachwood Green Village Hall, Chapel Road, BW Green

Tue 25th Sep  15:00-20:00  Luton Airport Onward Travel Centre (free parking)

Wed 26th Sep  15:00-20:00  Old Town Hall, Market Place, St Albans

Fri 28th Sep  15:00-20:00  Slip End Parish Hall, Markyate Road, Slip End

Tue 2nd Oct  15:00-20:00  Stevenage Arts & Leisure Centre

Tue 9th Oct  15:00-19:30  The Hat Factory, 65-67 Bute Street, Luton

Glyn Jones, MD of the airport operators, currently believes that the majority of the public is broadly in favour of the expansion plans, based on feedback to their online questionnaire. Everybody who is concerned about this issue should therefore make an effort to visit the roadshows, find out what is being proposed, and then engage in the consultation process.

Airport no-show

Luton Airport operators and owners failed to show up at a meeting at Breachwood Green where more than 80 residents from local towns and villages expected to engage in dialogue about plans to expand the airport. Although claiming to want to consult with people about their views, the empty chairs tell us that there is no real commitment to listen to what people are saying about these proposals.

HALE co-founders Tim Moss and Andrew Lambourne outlined what we know so far about the plans to expand the capacity of the airport from 10m to around 16m passengers per year, and what this would mean in terms of extra flights, increased frequency, bigger planes and more passenger journeys. The meeting then gave residents the chance to express their concerns – the concerns which they had wanted to put directly to the invited representatives of the airport management and owners.

“Disgusted that Robin Harris is not here. Pollution in our gardens in South Luton is terrible and is getting worse and worse and we get little or no benefit from the airport.”

“People under the arrivals flight path have literally had nervous breakdowns because of the incessant noise – even at today’s flight levels.”

“It’s terrible that people are now leaving the area because of this airport – it’s in totally the wrong place for further expansion. We love our towns and villages – why should they blight them?”

“Would the airport operators be so keen to expand the airport if they had to pay compensation for noise pollution in the same way that road-builders do: just because the noise is over our heads it is ignored.”

“There are no legal constraints on the level of night flights from Luton - unlike Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted: this needs to be addressed.”

“Stevenage was not mentioned in the consultation presentations yet the town is bisected by all arrivals from the eastern side – and people cannot enjoy their gardens any more.”

“I’ve just spent a lot of money on loft insulation but it does not help – the noise just keeps on getting worse.”

“Airport owners refused to meet with residents from Slip End – the operators did at least have a meeting and seemed more pragmatic, but we will see if they take onboard the concerns of residents.”

The concensus at the end of the meeting was that people need to write to their MPs and keep them focused on opposing the expansion plans, as well as emailing Luton Borough Council with their opposition. Details are available on this link. The HALE website can be used as a platform for people to express their views – simply post a reply at the end of this story.

The meeting expected dialogue but got none: Neil Thompson the Luton Airport Operations Director had said he would come but then pulled out, so residents made their views known in a graphic way with a rally outside the Village Hall.

Media coverage of this event:
Luton today – Angry residents protest against airport plans
Anglia TV News – Ross Hutchinson on morning news (20 sec into this piece)
Anglia TV News -  Evening news item reporting the meeting - great 2 minute piece
Welwyn and Hatfield Times – Protest meeting over Luton expansion bid

Communities represented at the meeting:
Barton, Breachwood Green, Darley Hall, Flamstead, Harpenden, Kings Walden, Ley Green, Lilley, Luton, Slip End, St Albans, St Paul’s Walden, Stevenage, Stopsley, Whitwell

Triple or bust

Herts County Council has just discovered that Luton Airport’s owners are hatching plans to increase capacity not just to 18m passengers per year – double current levels – but to 30m : triple what the airport currently handles. Their pre-application to the National Infrastructure Planning body refers to a planning application as early as end of 2013.

LLAL have indicated from the start that they would eventually like to see the capacity increased to 30m passengers per year. Yet the planning consultation they put forward publicly only talks of 18m. The current airport operators made it very clear that even this would consitute over-investment, and that a realistic maximum for this “local” airport would be more like 16m passengers per year, given that it is only a quarter of the size of Stansted in land area, and only has one runway.

Yet behind the scenes it now seems that LLAL do indeed intend to apply for a further huge hike in passenger numbers.

A serious proposition to grow Luton Airport to 30m passengers a year – triple the current numbers – would massively disrupt the M1 and rail transport infrastructure, as well as blighting local communities with increased noise, pollution and night flights. It would seem very unlikely that the necessary development could be contained on the existing site, and the project would trigger being called-in by government.

It would then become very clear exactly what this govenment’s priorities are in planning and development terms: rational growth based on sound judgement, or support for a ludicrous airport expansion proposal in the middle an already crowded airspace and an already congested urban area, with insufficient transport infrastructure to meet even its current needs.

The pre-application details can be found by clicking on this link. Herts County Council’s press release can be downloaded by clicking here.

Latest details to emerge: minutes of a meeting between LLAL’s consultants and the Infrastructure Planning Commission can be accessed on this link.

Your voice?

The London Luton Airport Consultative Committee (LLACC) is a key forum for those affected by the airport. As its website says: “The aim of the Committee is to ensure that as wide a range of views as possible is made available to the London Luton Airport management team so that they can take account of the issues which are of concern to those using the airport, working at it or living around it.”

LLACC’s response to the LLAOL expansion consultation is a carefully worded letter which welcomes development of the airport provided it can be balanced with being a good neighbour, though it expresses a number of significant reservations. Those reservations cover:

  • the impact on the local road network if capacity is expanded
  • whether the terminal improvements would be adequate for more passengers
  • the increase in noise, numbers of flights and likely increase in night flights
  • the need for a tighter noise policy and more noise mitigation measures

You can read the letter for yourself by clicking LLACC MasterPlanResponse.

Members of the Committee are drawn from local councils and campaign groups, and their role is to represent the views of local people. A full list of members can be viewed by clicking LLACC List of Members and Representation October 2011.

The aims of the Committee are ”to represent as wide a range of views as possible“. It’s therefore important for the representatives on the committee to hear people’s views so that they can be adequately taken into account at this crucial time.

HALE would like to hear whether you were aware of the LLACC. Do you know how to contact your representative? Do you support its response to the airport? Do you have any suggestions having read more about its work?

You can share your views by posting a reply below.