Plummeting passenger numbers at Luton Airport, which is owned by the Council, are contributing to a £49m shortfall at Luton Borough Council. The Council has projected a £37m dip in airport revenue amid a “catastrophic drop” in passengers. Chief executive Robin Porter said further shortfalls in tax, rents, fees and charges would add to the figure.
Mr Porter then went on to say in a BBC interview that there was a risk the authority may need to issue a Section 114 notice banning all new spending. With the Council-owned airport operated as a limited company, we do not know whether this means that already loaned Council money can still be thrown at its plans to expand the airport, rather than giving it back.
The BBC were reporting that the last Council to take such measures was Northamptonshire County Council, when it ran out of cash in 2018.
SLAE has discovered that in September 2015 London Luton Airport Ltd paid £11.4m for Winch Hill Farm, which borders the boundary of the airport. This was for land to build a business park but since then the Council has dropped all plans to use any of this land for a business park.
In 2019 the airport paid an additional £8m for adjoining land at Winch Hill Cottage. This was at a time when Council services were being squeezed and Children and Family Services were being condemned.
With the Council now putting out the begging bowl to central government for taxpayers’ money, we have to ask the question:- should not the Council and its airport be putting this land back on to the open market to raise an estimated £19m, rather than expecting the taxpayer to pick up the bill for years of alleged mismanagement?
We remind readers that the Council has lent its airport hundreds of millions of pounds – money the Council never had in the first place. £19m will not meet all the shortfall but it will help reduce the loss of revenue that the Council wants the government to pay for.