So, after a three-year construction project that actually took five years to compete, the DART that links the airport with Luton Airport Parkway, is now officially opened – but at what cost to the town?
According to the Luton Borough Council’s propaganda machine and several Councillors, it hasn’t cost the town’s taxpayers a single penny, which is being somewhat economical with the truth. The initial cost was estimated to be £200m but that soon became £225m once the work started. This has steadily climbed over the years to around £300m – so has it really cost the town’s taxpayers nothing?
According to the last Auditor’s Report for the year ending 31st March 2021, the Auditors carried out an impairment assessment to determine the recoverable value of the DART. Their conclusion was that there would be a shortfall of £184.7m based on future revenue projections and a then construction cost of below £270m.
So, with a shortfall now that will be in excess of £200m, the Council’s airport company Luton Rising announced mid project that they will no longer be paying an airport dividend to the Council that helped to pay for social services. Instead, the Council will have to rely on creaming off the difference between the interest rate on payments on its loans to Luton Rising, who paid for the DART, and what the Council is paying to borrow the money in the first place.
So why was the DART actually built? In 2019, the airport reached its legal capacity of 18 million passengers by using shuttle busses that operated between the station and airport. Crucially, that service was funded by Thameslink, at no cost to the Council, but it didn’t stop the airport reaching its legal limits.
The DART was actually built to provide capacity for a 32m passenger Luton Airport except there is one major problem the Council refuses to mention. It has built the DART before the Independent Government appointed Planning Inspectors have even announced the date of a public inquiry. If the Government turns down the application, then Luton Borough Council has blown £300m on a project that was not even needed.
The big claim is that the DART will take traffic off the roads. If true, then why do the Consultation documents for airport expansion state that the existing 14,100 car parking spaces at the airport will need to be increased to 22,025? Why do the Consultation documents also state that major road upgrades are required between the M1 and the A1M due to the sheer amounts of new traffic expected?
At a cost of £136,000 per metre, 54 metres of track would have paid for this year’s shortfall for Council services except with no debts Luton Rising would have been paying the Council a dividend. Let’s also not forget that Luton Rising had to be bailed out by the Council with a credit line of £199m of fresh loans to stop it going bankrupt and that the Council had to be bailed out by the government.
Despite the hype, the Luton Borough Council is in a mess. With the DART about to be separated into a new company owned by Luton Rising, the seeds are being sown for the DART to be sold off within the next few years leaving the council taxpayer staring at that £187.4m write-down.
So much for costing the residents nothing; residents who are already paying a high price with Council cutbacks due to Luton Rising’s debt mountain and years of Council mismanagement of large projects funded with borrowed money.