New Century Park and its access road is the project that was launched in 2017 to be the much-heralded provider of top-quality employment opportunities in Luton.
Planning Application 17/02300/EIA was lodged on the 3rd January 2018:-
17/02300/EIA | 1) Outline permission for a new Business Park comprising office space (Class B1), warehouse and industrial space (Class B2 and B8), mixed employment space (Class B1/B2/B8), a hotel (Class C1), café space (Class A3); energy centre (sui generis), internal access roads; car parking, landscaping and associated works including earthworks, utility diversions, sustainable drainage systems, tree removal and tree protection; and relocation of the airport car hire centre.
2) Full permission for the construction of a 2km Century Park Access Road incorporating a new junction on the A1081, alterations to the existing Airport Way roundabout, alterations to Frank Lester Way, a newly created access from Eaton Green Road, a new roundabout providing access into the Business Park, demolition of buildings, provision of replacement car parking (temporary and permanent), associated earthworks, landscaping, surface water drainage and utilities diversions; the creation of new public open space including footpaths, landscaping and ecological mitigation; extension and alterations to Wigmore pavilion building to provide cafe (Class A3) and additional community space; construction of a new skate park and children’s play area; and construction of a replacement airport technical services building and associated parking. | Airport Way – Century Park Luton Bedfordshire.
In September 2018 the Programme Director of London Luton Airport Ltd, the applicant, sent the residents of East Luton a letter detailing amendments to the scheme in response to representations made by Luton Borough Council and members of the public after the consultations on the project. They detailed the anticipated timescales on the project assuming a determination in autumn 2018.
Winter 2018/ spring 2019: Start of work of new open space and pavilion refurbishment.
Spring 2019: Start of works on Skate Park and play equipment.
Autumn 2019: Enabling works for Century Park Access Road (CPAR) to begin.
Late 2019: New open space available for use.
Winter 2019/20: Start of main works on CPAR.
2020: Early start for commercial development (SUBJECT TO MARKET CONDITIONS)
The application didn’t actually go before the Development Control Committee of Luton Borough Council (LBC) until March 2019. Then despite 426 public comments (the vast majority against the plan on environmental grounds), it was unanimously passed by the Labour majority on the Committee, subject to conditions written into the Section 106 Deed.
Let us now fast forward to November 2020, and a presentation at the London Luton Airport Consultative Committee by the Planning Officer appointed by LBC for this project. He informed that Committee that the final Section 106 Deed had still not been signed off by LBC, and that the legal advisors of LLAL had indeed only just written to ask for a clarification on one of these Section agreements.
What is a Section 106 agreement?
Planning obligations under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended), commonly known as S106 agreements, are a mechanism which make a development proposal acceptable in planning terms, that would not otherwise be acceptable. They are focused on site-specific mitigation of the impact of development. S106 agreements are often referred to as ‘developer contributions’ along with highway contributions and the Community Infrastructure Levy.
There are seven such agreements on the latest Deed filed on the LBC planning portal posted on the 4th March 2020. As well as the physical conditions, they involve the total sum of circa £4.3 million being paid to LBC before any works can commence.
Now we have filled in the background, let us get to the crux of this article, and the grey if not very black areas that have only deepened in the lifetime of this project.
It was patently obvious from the outset of this application that the actual employment opportunities though much vaunted, would never actually exist beyond the access road and yet more airport car parking. The sole reason for the project was LBC/LLAL’s airport expansion plan. This – strangely enough – wasn’t even a glimmer in the Planner’s eyes then, yet within months Terminal 2 was rooted firmly at the end of this access road; indeed this road is the crucial deliverer of the whole expansion plan. This road will be totally funded by LBC, at a last-noted cost of £124 million just for the first single carriageway phase.
Yet LBC are in dire straits as the revenue stream from the airport has disappeared, and as the return of it is speculative at best. So where will this money come from? We already know that service budget cuts of £4 million per year would be required, and indeed are actually being planned, just to pay the interest on those loans. The actual commercial development on New Century Park was – as mentioned earlier – SUBJECT TO MARKET CONDITIONS. Surely the current and future financial stresses LBC are enduring, means all further expenditure should stop now, as there is no market for a business park or airport expansion anymore?
There are also questions over land ownership. Wigmore Valley Park, which is the location for New Century Park, is meant to be owned by Luton Borough Council but licensed to London Luton Airport Ltd. The Council’s intention is to pass ownership to London Luton Airport Ltd before work on either New Century Park or airport expansion can start.
To protect Wigmore Valley Park from development, neighbouring Hertfordshire Parish Councils, Offley and King’s Walden have each placed two Asset of Community Value orders on the land, and this has been acknowledged by Luton Borough Council.
When LBC wants to dispose of this land through a sale or long lease to London Luton Airport Ltd, the Law dictates that there will be a moratorium period of up to 6 months to allow time for these Parishes to develop a bid. This means that LBC must ensure that these Parishes are informed when they decide to dispose of the Park.
Draft Deeds seen by this group state that London Luton Airport Ltd is now the owner of Wigmore Valley Park so we have serious concerns that the Law has been deliberately broken.
We feel these examples are but the tip of the iceberg. Any reasoned thinker would see that LBC’s plans for its grand airport ambitions are fatally flawed, but then – when has LBC ever been reasonable when it comes to wasting ratepayers’ money?