On Friday 18th November a Planning Inquiry into expanding the airport to 19 million passengers and to increase aircraft noise levels reached a conclusion with closing statements. After eight weeks of discussions and site visits to areas affected by airport operations, there were no real surprises in the closing statements made.
The Public Inquiry was called after the airport owner, Luton Borough Council (LBC), approved a Planning Application by the airport operator London Luton Airport Operations Ltd (LLAOL). Two groups objecting to this Application were represented at the inquiry – LADACAN on behalf of local opposition groups and The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE Herts).
A key part of the inquiry focused on the Council allowing variations to the noise contour (permitted noise levels) conditions set out in a previous Planning permission that allowed the airport to expand to 18 million. This Application was approved several years ago. The latest Application to breach those limits received 923 objections, which were ignored.
The opponents to this Application spoke about the environmental impact of this expansion, and how avarice and arrogance had led to it being approved. They also pointed out the flaws in the data behind it and how it was open to many interpretations. As expected, the legal teams for the applicant, and the Planning Authority spoke for longer than the opposition speakers and produced a flowery eulogy as to how this Application should be allowed because it met all the Central Government aspects when it came to airport expansion.
So how did we get here?
In 2016 LBC became aware that due to the rampant growth they had induced by their Growth Incentive Scheme at the airport, there was a clear and present danger that the noise contours would be breached in 2017, and planning conditions broken. According to the witness statement by the Planning Consultant that LBC employ for airport projects, LBC employed a raft of experts in 2016/17, to find a way to stop those breaches occurring. Under Planning Law, they couldn’t actually do anything until after the noise contours had been breached. So, in a complete shock to no one, in the summer of 2017, noise contours were breached in the daytime. However, it was claimed that those experts could not find an answer, and so in summer seasons 2018 and 2019, both the day and night-time contours were then broken.
A solution then became clear to LBC: get LLAOL to apply to vary those noise contour conditions until 2030, and then just wave it through the LBC Development Control Committee. And while they were at it, stick on that Application a request for another one million passengers. After all it was LBC’s fault that passenger throughput hit 18 million NINE YEARS EARLY.
At the Inquiry, a member of the public asked the LBC planning witness, why when they supposedly visited all the options in 2016/17 to stop these noise contour breaches, did they not consider stopping the Growth Incentive Scheme? It has created the situation, so it could surely solve it?
A mumbled reply came that to do that would have been a financial decision, not a planning one, so was not considered.
In a nutshell this is the crux of the approval of this planning Application.
As we have mentioned in previous articles, LBC has – since the early 2010s – set its stall out that expansion of Luton Airport is THE ONLY answer to the high levels of poverty and deprivation in Luton. Nothing must be allowed to stop that happening, and if that expansion can be done in such a way that it will be in such small increments of passenger capacity increases, that it can be voted through at local government level by themselves, and not at national level by a Development Consent Order (DCO) for significant infrastructure changes, then all the better.
LBC appear to be so arrogant and egotistical that they think they are cleverer than the system, and indeed are above that system by marking their own homework to ensure top marks. Is it any wonder that when it comes to airport developments both in this case, and for the doubling in size LBC are planning for the future, the public has no trust or belief that their mantra of “Green Controlled Growth only” will be only words on the glossy propaganda they produce.
It is now down to the Inquiry Inspectors to look beneath the propaganda they have been presented with, and to see the truth of this matter, which we believe they will. Their decision will then go to the Secretaries of State for Transport, and Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for final approval. We can expect that answer, hopefully, between March and June next year. It will of course be dependent on what the Government policies are on Climate Change and Aviation growth in the meantime. It is worth noting that it was The Secretary for Levelling Up, who initiated this Inquiry, so there is hope that he has seen through the greenwash already?
We fully expect LBC’s Application, through Luton Rising, for its Development Consent Order (DCO) for expansion to not be submitted until the decision on this case is known. If, sadly, it is passed, then LBC will just keep accepting Applications by the airport operator every 12-18 months to add another 1 million to the passenger cap, until it reaches 22 million passengers per annum. This is the figure that can be accommodated within the current airport footprint, and is Phase 1 of their DCO Plan. That phase can then be removed as it will have been achieved already, exactly the way LBC would appear to have planned all along.
We believe public trust in both Luton Borough Council and the airport operator is possibly now at an all-time low. Its “we did no wrong and we do it all for you” performance over the last two months, will have done nothing to rebuild that trust.