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.

Beds Against Night Noise !

A group of protestors arrived at Luton Borough Council yesterday to deliver a bed signed by people who are fed up with night noise from Luton Airport. The BANN protest was given good media coverage and made the point that it’s not only Hertfordshire which suffers noise and disturbance – plenty of residents in Bedfordshire are also woken up by late night arrivals, cargo planes and early morning departures.


One of the protestors, Chris Nickolay, said “When the Airport stops listening and just rides roughshod over local communities, we have to make our point loud and clear. The PR spin in their Master Plan claimed they would ”consult” the public, and said they were taking noise seriously by adding 6 new noise mitigations. Well now we know the truth. Those so-called mitigations would only affect a fraction of a percent of the total flights – and they plan to double night flights between 10pm and midnight and start the morning departure rush at 5am. That’s utterly unacceptable, and hundreds of local people are now demanding that there is legislation to control night flights at Luton in the same way as at other London airports. Just letting market greed cause sleep disruption to thousands of people is simply not an adequate control: we want a night noise curfew backed up by strict planning restrictions.”

The petition launched by local campaign groups calling for a significant reduction in night flights from Luton Airport can be accessed by clicking here >> Night flights


Airport plans 50% increase in night flights

Luton Airport’s expansion plans are based on projections to increase flights at night by 50%. Information in the Airport’s planning application shows that the number of takeoffs and landings between 11pm and 7am is projected to rise to 52 by 2028, compared to 34 in 2011. This is just the average figure – during the summer peak there could be as many as 80 flights each night. The data also shows that the main wave of early morning departures would start to ramp up at 5am rather than 6am.

“This is going to come as a very rude awakening to people – in more ways than one” said Tim Moss of HALE. “Just look at the rhetoric of the Master Plan, when the airport was keen to make us believe in its commitment to noise mitigation: they told us how much they wanted the airport to be the best neighbour it could be, and that they would ‘promote measures to minimise noise from aircraft operated at night’. How does that square with a proposal to increase flights at night by 50%, and to start the early morning departures at 5am? At the end of the day this expansion proposal is purely driven by commercial gain, regardless of community pain.”

HALE has also discovered that assurances from the Airport to monitor noise levels and fine airlines which exceed noise violation thresholds are almost meaningless at night, because the fines only apply to departures, and yet according to Airport annual reports 72% of flights at night are arrivals. “Arrivals often make even more noise than departures because although the engines are throttled back, the planes are that much lower” said Andrew Lambourne of HALE. “The commitment to fine night noise offenders is just ludicrous when the noisiest two thirds of night flights are actually being ignored. We urge people to respond to this planning application by demanding that Luton Borough Council forces its Airport to reduce, not increase, night flights; to monitor and fine night arrivals as well as night departures; and to install a noise monitor on the approach track to runway 08 for the purpose” he added.

See Proposals for more details and a summary of the expansion proposals, and Objections for details on how to object. Objections need to be submitted by 18th February 2013.

Graphs of the current and proposed hourly arrivals and departures are provided below, taken from the Environmental Statement Appendix H Noise Appendix N(3) accompanying the planning application. Adding up the hourly movements at night between 23:00 and 07:00, the timeframe used for the night noise contours, shows the 50% increase projected by 2028 compared to 2011. NB: they have changed the scale between the two graphs to make the lines look the same length – they are not!

Mvmts 2011

Mvmts 2028

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

They’re listening?

Stewart White of BBC Look East interviewed Glyn Jones, MD of Luton Airport, on 14th September 2012 and asked about the issues of aircraft noise: this is what Glyn had to say, along with HALE comments about the responses.

SW: “The number of flights between 2005 and 2010 registering 76dBA has doubled – you can understand why people don’t like it?”

GJ: “We understand very well what the concerns about noise are, which is why we are undertaking a listening exercise at the moment. We are very keen to hear the opinions of people about noise… very keen to hear what people will say.”

HALE: Glyn Jones accepts that the mix of aircraft is getting noisier over time, but all he can say is that they’re listening. Well, he has extended the invitation, so email and tell them what YOU think about aircraft noise around Luton Airport. Is it likely to reduce with 60% more flights? Certainly not – there is going to be 60% more noise on top of what we have now. But the airport can hide behind noise contours which smooth this out over a 16-hour day, masking the true picture which HALE exposed – see Noise Gate.

SW: “You can understand that the worry is that it’s going to get noisier for people who live in that area?”

GJ: “That’s why we’re putting forward six completely new measures as well as the 55 measures already approved in our Noise Action Plan in order to try to deal with this issue. Noise is a key issue and we’ll deal with noise.”

HALE: Of the 55 Action Plan measures, 44 are just monitoring. The six new measures do not contain specific, independently verifiable commitments which will provably lead to a substantial reduction in overall noise. With 60% more flights envisaged compared to 2011, fining the handful at the very noisiest end of the scale is by no means enough. Many of the measures involve “encouraging” airlines to take “voluntary” measures or ”reviewing” policies and procedures. These are not definite, measurable commitments to deliver quantifiable improvement. We propose a very simple and straightforward action: IMPLEMENT STEADILY REDUCING CAPS ON DEPARTURE AND ARRIVAL NOISE, AND BAN REPEAT OFFENDERS.

SW: “What about night flights – are you going to increase that number or are you going to give an assurance that you won’t?”

GJ: “A lot of the activities within the six new measures that we’re proposing are designed to deal with that. What we are proposing is to reduce the proportion of night noise. People are often very concerned about cargo flights – the number of cargo flights only increases by 1 every 2 days at the absolute peak. We’re very conscious about night noise – it is the biggest source of irritation and we’re trying to do the best that we can about it.”

HALE: Luton Airport have said they will reduce the proportion of night flights – not the number. The overall number of flights is set to increase by 60% compared to 2011, so overall the number of night flights will increase – as Glyn eventually admits. For the MD of the airport to say “we’re trying to do the best we can about it” is effectively to say “we’re not prepared to do much about it”. Why? Because it’s profitable. Because knowing what a key issue it is for local people, he would have trumpeted any definite measure to substantially reduce night noise. HALE would say REDUCE THE NUMBER OF NIGHT FLIGHTS OR BAN THEM ALTOGETHER, AND SET MUCH STRICTER NOISE CAPS. What they are actually telling us is that night noise will increase, because there will be more flights at night – and night flights are already the noisiest in the mix.

It is vitally important for you to have your say – email and copy giving your opinion on the issue of aircraft noise.

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:

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.

Stealth fighter

Luton Airport’s operator LLAOL has announced its own plan for expansion over the next 15 years, to rival the one proposed by its owners Luton Borough Council. We believe they are trying to get this in “under the radar” while people are distracted in fighting LBC’s plans. Key aspects of the LLAOL plan are as follows:

More traffic: LLAOL plans to increase capacity by nearly 60%, to 16 million passengers per year over the next 15 years. That’s an extra 6 million people travelling to and from the airport each year, or 16,000 EACH DAY on the already congested road and rail systems.

More planes: LLAOL will increase the number of flights by 33%, ie 37,000 extra flights a year or 100 more flights EACH DAY, with planes coming over EVERY 90 SECONDS at peak times.

More noise: they propose to use even bigger planes which are heavier and therefore noisier. The percentage of flights above 76dbA has already DOUBLED in the last 5 years, and this trend looks set to continue.

More sleepless nights: they say the proportion of night flights will reduce, but we can safely assume that the NUMBER of night flights will actually increase, otherwise they would have made this clearer.

More hours of plane pain: very weasel words are used to break the bad news that the early morning “peak time” for flights (currently 6am till 9:30am) will be extended, and they carefully avoid being clear about whether it might start EVEN EARLIER.

More overflights: there is no commitment in the plan to avoid overflying towns and villages around the airport. Stevenage for example gets the arrivals coming in directly over the town. Hitchin, Welwyn, St Albans, Hemel Hempstead, Harpenden, Gaddesden Row are all affected NOW.

More pollution: there is already great concern over nitrogen dioxide levels in the air, and jet engines in particular create more of this pollutant. The plan talks of carbon footprint reduction at the airport but we believe they are not including the biggest carbon footprint of all – from the planes themselves!

So in summary it looks like 100 extra planes a day, 16,000 extra people a day on road and rail, planes every 90 seconds, more noise, a longer peak time, more night flights and more pollution. Thanks, Luton Airport!

To fight this, post us a reply below and contact the Airport by emailing to officially register your objections by 24th April.

Rival plan

The current operator of Luton Airport, LLAOL, has today announced its own plans for investment and growth over the next 15 years, to rival the one put forward by its owners Luton Borough Council.

LLAOL’s proposals are based on increasing capacity from nearly 10 million passengers per year to 15-16 million over the next 10 years. To achieve this they would increase the number and frequency of flights to one every 90 seconds at peak times. Their proposals also include improvements to the terminal building and the access roads – both of which are in urgent need of attention even for the current level of flights. Interestingly they only plan to get a return on this investment over 15 years, not the 30 years of the LBC proposal.

A key negative to their plans is that though the proportion of night flights is said to reduce, the number of night flights is not specified and may increase in step with the total number of flights. Local people want a reduction in night flights and night noise.

Another major negative is the admission that the number of flights will increase by 33% – and the number of passengers by 58%, hence they confirm that there will be a further increase in aircraft size. This means a continued increase in noisiness year on year, as we know from our research.

The proposal talks airily of monitoring and action plans to do with noise, pollution and other environmental impacts. Remember what LLAOL have delivered in the past:

  • a steady increase in the noisiness of planes since 2005
  • route changes that involve speed limits which increase noise and pollution
  • overflights of local towns and villages at night
  • flight trials which divert planes over local villages with no concern for the residents

Great credentials!

Local people are concerned about four key things in relation to Luton Airport:

  • the increasing noisiness of the flights – how will this be reversed?
  • the impact on road and rail congestion – how will this be controlled ?
  • night flights – how will this nuisance be reduced year on year ?
  • pollution – what is the impact of aircraft emissions on our health ?

LLAOL has a real opportunity here to commit to being a good neighbour – not just in words, but matched by actions. That means listening to local people. Glyn Jones the MD really needs to understand what it means to be living under a “wall of sound” as flights become ever more intrusive – starting at 6 in the morning and waking people at night. HALE will continue to ensure that these issues remain firmly on the agenda.

Full details of the LLAOL Master Plan can be found on the airport website – click here
Our initial comments on this plan can be downloaded from this link: HALE on master plan

This means yet another 6-week public consultation, with the need to feed questions and comments to or by 25th April. We have asked LBC to ensure that each respondent to their online questionnaire is sent a copy of their input, and this will make it easier to submit the questions to LLAOL. So far LBC has yet to respond, but watch this space…

Let us know your thoughts by posting a reply below.