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.

easyJet signs 10-year deal at Luton Airport

easyJet has announced a new 10-year deal with Luton Airport, and foresees passenger expansion from 4 million to 9 million over the next 10 years if the proposed expansion goes ahead, with a 20% growth next year. When asked by HALE about investing in quieter aircraft, easyJet’s Group Commercial Director Cath Lynn confirmed plans to introduce new quieter types by 2017. She also committed to adding new flights in the daytime hours rather than at night.

Nevertheless in light of the serious concerns being expressed about global warming, easyJet’s announcement may be seen as moving in the wrong direction. Aviation’s contribution to greenhouse gases is growing faster than any other source, and is in danger of eclipsing attempts at reduction in other areas (George Monbiot, 2006). Aircraft emissions high in the atmosphere have a greater impact than at ground level.

Last winter’s severe storms, and strong warnings by the UN’s Panel on Climate Change, are a strong signal that the price of yet more cheap flights may turn out to be very high indeed. If aviation growth is to be curbed, a tax on aviation fuel would be a sensible and well overdue measure. At the end of the day, airlines depend on people to fill their seats – and we all need to weigh up whether the true cost is worth it.

Democratic deficit day

A hastily reconvened development control meeting at Luton Borough Council today decides on the planning application for doubling the capacity of Luton Airport from 9 million to 18 million passengers per annum. But because it is being held on the last Friday before Christmas, many people who wanted to go and speak at the meeting are unable to attend. Cllr Amy O’Callaghan who represents Luton South Ward – one of the areas most affected by aircraft noise – has said in an email that she is away for Christmas. This is hardly democracy at work for her constituents. And of course the decision is being made by the Council which owns the airport in any case.

In the opinion of campaigners, this decision should not be made by airport shareholders – it should be called in for independent scrutiny. It appears to be a hugely unpopular plan: 88% of the respondents are opposed to further expansion, with only 9% in support. 75% of the public who responded to the original consultation said NO to the proposal to double the capacity of this airport. These figures indicate that local people do not want further expansion at Luton Airport – which is already running at twice the 5 million passenger capacity it asked for in its last planning application. Remember that it was Luton Council which forced the airport operators to make the application in the first place – by threatening to take away their operating concession if they did not comply. Campaigners say that this is not democracy – it’s strong-arm tactics by a desperate Council with has no vision for creating greater economic diversity in the Luton area.

Cllr Richard Thake of Hertfordshire County Council has succeeded in getting an article 25 planning order issued which prevents Luton Council from actually granting planning permission until the Secretary of State decides whether or not to call in the planning application. Campaigners agree that the scale of the proposed works are such that the application counts as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, based on the extra capacity this would allow. If an airport expansion adds additional handling capability exceeding 10 million passengers per annum, the project is legally required to be referred to central government for determination. Experts have concluded that the Luton project falls into this category because the key test is capability, not predicted throughput. Luton Council has bought a QC opinion to support their case that this is not an NSIP, but few campaigners are convinced because, like the planning report, it appears to have been rushed through and to be very much open to question.

On the face of it, the expansion proposals fly in the face of national policy, which is to reduce the number of people affected by aircraft noise, and to avoid giving rise to adverse health effects due to noise. Reports by the World Health Organisation and the CAA confirm that aircraft noise at night is considered injurious to health, and yet the airport wants to double the flights between 10pm and midnight, and between 5 and 7am. Given its location, and the existing capacity issues on local roads and rail services, Luton Airport is operating at a scale where campaigners say that the environmental impact of further expansion is likely to cause blight rather than extra prosperity.

Spanish fly

Spanish infrastructure group AENA, along with AXA Private Equity, have purchased the operating concession for Luton Airport from Abertis, a separate Spanish infrastructure group which has decided to divest itself of airports and concentrate on toll roads.

AENA’s Executive Chairman has said “We aim to substantially build up London Luton in consultation with all its stakeholders.”

In response, HALE has issued the following statement: “AENA is no doubt referring to the planning application submitted in January to double passenger capacity and increase the number of planes by 60%. Because Luton Airport is so close to big towns with crowded roads and trains, this plan has already met strong headwinds. We look forward as local stakeholders to consulting with AENA about reducing the already substantial environmental impact, rather than making it worse.”

Noise mitigations “affect less than 1% of flights”

An official response by Terence O’Rourke to questions raised by the Hitchin Forum proves that the so-called noise mitigations proposed by Luton Airport are so feeble as to be almost worthless. The much-vaunted commitments to take seriously the noise concerns of local people have been exposed as hollow by the Airport’s own planning consultants.

Just look at what the Airport said in its September 2012 Master Plan – we have added emphasis to show the commitments which the Airport told us it would be making:

“10.13 The current national aviation policy is the Future of Air Transport White Paper 2003 (FATWP). In this White Paper, the government supports development at
the Airport which makes full use of its single runway on condition that the overall environmental impacts of such development will be carefully controlled and adequate mitigation provided.” (Master Plan Sep 2012)

“10.17 Regarding land use planning and management, paragraph 4.34 states that ‘planning policies and decisions should aim to avoid noise from giving rise to significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life as a result of new development, and mitigate and reduce to a minimum other adverse impacts … including through the use of conditions’. As demonstrated in section 9, we are incorporating a robust package of noise mitigation as part of the proposed development, which aligns fully with the APF.”

Now look at Terence O’Rourke’s responses to the questions raised by Hitchin Forum:

Q: How many flights would have been affected in 2011 by the Chapter 2 ban?
A: Less than 1% of night flights would have been banned in 2012.

Q: How many aircraft in 2012 exceeded the 82dB(A) night noise violation limit and would have exceeded the proposed 80bd(A) night noise violation limit?
A: In 2012, less than 1% of aircraft (3) exceeded the 82 dB(A) night time noise limit.
In 2012, less than 1% of aircraft (14) would have exceeded an 80 dB(A) night time noise limit.

Q: How many aircraft in 2012 were vectored out of the NPR swathes below 4,000ft?
A: LLAOL estimates that less than 1% of flights are currently vectored off NPR swathes between 3,000 and 4,000 ft.

Q: How many flights in 2012 would have exceeded the proposed daytime noise limits?
A: The total number and percentage of aircraft that would have exceeded each of the three proposed daytime noise limits in 2012 is summarised below. • 85 dB(A): 29 (less than 1%) • 82 dB(A): 62 (less than 1%) • 80 dB(A): 138 (less than 1%)

And in case you’re wondering, “less than 1%” is developer-speak for miniscule fractions of a percent: for example 138 aircraft per year in 2012 is about 0.1% of the total. And as a further insult to our intelligence, they describe the above as “a robust response”…

You can read the full set of questions and answers by clicking here >> Hitchin Forum Q&A

Noise footprint “could affect twice as many people”

The noise footprint from Luton Airport could affect twice as many people by 2028 as it does now, according to figures in the Airport’s planning application. The number of people affected by the so-called annoyance threshold of 57dB is set to rise from 6,726 in 2011, to 11,784 by 2028 in the worst case scenario. But this figure assumes no more houses will have been built in the noise threshold area, so it could easily reach double the 2011 levels.

The “worst case scenario” assumes that the airlines will not have substantially modernised their fleets to quieter planes, or fitted quieter engines to their existing aircraft. But in this economic climate – particularly with the ruling that airlines have to compensate passengers for delays – it is not a certainty that fleets would modernise. And even if they did, it is not necessarily the case that the planes would be quieter, since larger planes tend to be noisier than smaller ones of the same class. Airport operators cannot make binding predictions about what airlines might or might not do, and when money is tight economies are made.

These proposals are certainly not in line with government policy. The DfT’s 2012 Draft Aviation Policy Framework supports the growth of aviation “…within a framework which maintains a balance between the benefits of aviation and its costs, particularly climate change and noise”. It proposes to retain the objective set out in the 2003 Future of Air Transport White Paper “to limit and, where possible, reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise”. Luton’s planning application fails to maintain this balance and fails to limit or reduce the number of people affected by aircraft noise, and therefore should be rejected.

Noise Footprint

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.

Luton Hooey!

Just when we thought airport expansion proposals could not get any crazier, they have. The Policy Exchange think tank has put forward a proposal to demolish Luton Hoo and build a 4-runway airport there, just up the road from Harpenden. London’s Heathrow and Stansted airports would then close, transferring their flights to the new hub airport along with substantially extra services to the new locations in China and the developing world. Passengers would fly in from around the UK and Europe to transfer on to long-haul flights to the new economies, and business people from China would fly in to Luton and set up their headquarters there.

Quite apart from the almost incredible arrogance of the proposals in dismissing at a stroke the interests of the local communities, they miss such obvious practical issues that it’s clear they’ve been produced by a lot of web-surfing rather than an actual first-hand appreciation of the area being discussed and its existing infrastructure. One could almost imagine the date was 1st April not 5th October.

Hills: For a start, the whole area around Luton Airport is very hilly, and while the report acknowledges this it seems to suggest it would be reasonably achievable to level it all off so that new runways could be planted.

Noise: The author blithely asserts that the noise nuisance from each aircraft will be reduced, massively. This assertion is utterly without foundation, and in fact because they are talking long-haul, the larger heavier planes will be inherently noisier and will take longer to climb to altitude and so the noise will last longer as well.

Trains: The suggestion is made that there would be fast trains every 5 minutes to London on the existing 4 tracks. Brilliant – that means that the current semi-fast services on which Harpenden and St Albans rely would be just swept away ?

Flight paths: The planes taking off from Luton Hooey Airport would normally be facing in the wrong direction to get to China – the prevailing wind is from the west, so they take off to the west and would then need to turn to head east – and because they’d be starting from a more southerly position, their tracks would go directly over Hemel, St Albans and Welwyn. on the way out. Fantastic proposal we don’t think!

Oil: The oil that fuels planes is a finite resource. Before long – if not already – the good people of planet Earth will have passed the peak of oil production capability and then the supplies will start to run down. So arguing for more and more increases in airport capacity rather flies in the face of the economic logic which says that dwindling resources start to get more expensive, and then the demand reduces.

Carbon: The government’s own website says that aircraft contributed 6.4% of the UK carbon footprint in 2006, and this will rise to 10% by 2020 if nothing is done to reverse the trend. Climate change is not going to be slowed down by furthering the myth that nobody can do business unless it involves flying.

Roads: Are the M1, M25 and the A1 quiet roads with very little traffic and no tendency to snarl up? Er, no. So how would they be affected by adding the combined traffic from Heathrow, Stansted and Luton airports plus further expansion? Er, very badly.

Just in case anyone is crazy enough to take these proposals seriously, we’d all better write yet again to our long-suffering local MPs Peter Lilley, Ann Maine, Mike Penning, Stephen McPartland and Grant Shapps – see Contacts Page for details.

You can find the think tank document at this link: click here

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:

Double whammy

Luton Airport owners and operators have kissed and made up, with a deal now signed which extends the current operating franchise to 2031 subject to an application to increase airport capacity to from 10 million to 18 million passengers per year. This represents a combination of the two separate plans discussed earlier in the year.

In almost doubling the passenger throughput, Luton Airport would add something like 100 flights a day, and would pack many extra flights into the already busy 6am-9am morning peak, delivering a plane every 90 seconds to fly over local residents.

What’s farcical is that they try to claim this is “sustainable growth” when clearly it is the exact opposite. The Directgov website has some very relevant things to say about air travel and its impact on the environment:

Air travel is a growing contributor to climate change and can have an impact on local traffic emissions and noise. You can help reduce your impact on the environment by choosing to travel by air less. In 2006, air travel accounted for 6.4 per cent of the UK’s emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas causing climate change. Forecasts suggest that this could grow. If no action is taken, carbon dioxide emissions from aviation could make up around 10 per cent of the UK’s total CO2 emissions by 2020. 

  • consider video or teleconferencing, instead of flying to business meetings
  • think about taking a holiday within the UK
  • taking one longer holiday will have a lower impact than going on several short trips if you are flying each time

When making journeys in the UK, and even internationally, there is often the option of getting there without flying.

Click on Directgov for the complete set of guidelines.

The point about taking holidays in the UK is very important, since it boosts the UK economy if we spend our money here rather than overseas: in 2011 the balance of payments deficit due to more people going overseas for holidays than coming to the UK was £13billion. So we can all help create jobs in Britain by flying less, not more.

Public consultation on the plans starts on September 3rd and it is essential for eveybody who cares about this issue to contact their local MP and councillors to express their views, as well as responding to the consultation questionnaire when it is published.