Who decides whether Luton Airport expansion opposed by Hertfordshire councils goes ahead?
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By the mid-2040s, 32 million passengers could soar over Beds, Herts and Bucks each year as they take off from or land at Luton Airport.
Luton Rising, which owns the easyJet and Wizz Air hub, wants to expand – a move which it says will help “make the best use of the existing runway” and add £1.5billion to the economy.
The airport’s current capacity is a maximum 18 million passengers per annum.
To lift this cap, the airport needs consent to carry out a range of works – with plans for a new second terminal and new taxiways to reach the runway.
Throughout the first half of this year, councils and neighbours have shared their views on proposed work with the Westminster Government’s Planning Inspectorate.
A meeting to discuss how these views will be weighed up is set to take place at Luton’s Venue 360 on Thursday 10 August.
Luton Rising, the trading name of London Luton Airport, is wholly owned by Luton Council.
The firm argues its airport is “strategically placed” to make an economic impact which will be felt nationally – at “the heart of the Golden Triangle” between London, Cambridge and Oxford, and just 28 miles from Trafalgar Square.
“Growing the airport will act as a catalyst for Luton to become a leading hub for green technology, research and finance,” a statement on the Luton Rising website reads.
“It will therefore play a crucial role in delivering a more sustainable, prosperous and healthier future for the people of Luton – a very important example of levelling up.”
What are the expansion plans?
Luton Rising has a two-phase expansion plan.
First, it will extend the existing terminal building, which will raise the capacity to 21.5mppa.
Airside, the terminal building currently houses a Frankie and Benny’s restaurant, Aelia Duty Free, a Hamleys Toy Store and three WHSmiths.
The expansion plans would see new self-service kiosks added to check-in, extra seats in the departure lounge, and new hold baggage X-ray machines.
In the second phase, Luton Rising would build a whole new terminal building (T2).
The firm admits 10 years could pass before it opens.
“T2 would process passengers and their baggage as they arrive and depart from the airport an an easy to understand and functionally efficient environment,” a statement sets out.
“The passenger experience would be supported with a range of facilities including food kiosks, cafés, restaurants, retail and welfare facilities.”
Luton Rising would also build new aprons – enough space for 28 Airbus A320s or other code C planes and six code Es, such as the Boeing 777.
An existing taxiway would be lengthened with two entry points at each end of the runway “to provide flexibility to air traffic controllers”.
A second parallel taxiway would help link the runway with the new T2 apron, while rapid exit taxiways will allow landing planes to exit the runway at speed and boost capacity.
And 32 million passengers, along with airport employees, need parking.
Luton Rising would add 2,100 short-stay car parking spaces to its campus, bringing the total to 5,800.
The proposed total number of long stay spaces is 6,550, with 5,200 employee spaces – up from 3,800.
Lost open space and habitats would be replaced with new scrub, meadow and woodland – at least 10 per cent larger than the missing area.
Who decides whether Luton Airport expands?
Luton Rising’s plans straddle the Luton, North Hertfordshire and Central Bedfordshire boundaries.
Council teams in Luton, Letchworth and Dunstable have the power to grant or refuse most planning applications in their areas.
But some airport development falls into a category known as “nationally significant infrastructure”.
Examples of nationally important infrastructure includes the M1 junction 10a flyover near Luton which received consent in October 2013, the A303 Stonehenge tunnel which received consent last month, and a plan to bring Gatwick Airport’s emergency runway into routine use.
In Luton Airport’s case, the Planning Inspectorate will go through the evidence and must decide whether plans meet national policies, are “sustainable” – mitigating climate change and achieving good design – and whether their benefits outweigh adverse impacts.
A panel of inspectors, led by Jo Dowling, will then make a recommendation to the secretary of state, urging them to either grant or refuse consent.
Only the secretary of state – at the moment Michael Gove – will make the final ruling, unless a legal challenge comes forward after he makes his decision.
Mayor of London, Chilterns Conservation Board and Herts County Council: What ‘evidence’ does the panel have?
The planning inspectors will consider how neighbours and local authorities feel about the development, look at what concerns they have, and think about how to abate negative impacts.
There are some organisations which the inspector has to consult.
One of these is Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, who is in charge of Transport for London.
“The Mayor of London is greatly concerned about the environmental impacts associated with this development, and in particular, with regard to carbon – both in terms of the significant increase in aircraft movements as well as the very substantial additional highways trips,” TfL’s submission reads.
“On this basis, the Mayor is unable to support the proposed development.
“The aviation sector needs to play its part in meeting UK climate change targets.
“The applicant fails to set out how its proposed 139 per cent increase in aircraft movements compared to today can be compatible with these climate change commitments.”
TfL’s submission adds Luton Rising needs a “credible plan” to reduce car trips.
“Rail has a key part to play but this should also include the instigation of new bus and coach services in corridors where rail is not a competitive alternative – including to London suburbs away from the Midland Main Line,” it reads.
The Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB) is in charge of “conserving and enhancing the natural beauty” of surrounding countryside.
It fears a “direct impact” on the tranquillity and air quality in the Chiltern Hills.
The board added: “CCB’s position is that the potential impacts on the existing Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, its setting and associated habitats, such as the Chiltern chalk streams, should have weight in the consideration of the proposal.
“Overall, while recognising that it remains national policy for aviation to expand, even in a climate emergency and biodiversity crisis, CCB considers that any decision for the general expansion of aviation to take place in the vicinity of the Chilterns … needs very careful justification and attention to detail.”
St Albans City and District Council has raised “strong objections” to the proposal, raising traffic and aircraft noise concerns.
Hertfordshire County, Dacorum Borough and North Hertfordshire District councils have teamed up to object to the application in its current form, with biodiversity and climate fears.
The inspectorate has also asked air traffic controller NATS for its views.
The firm raised concerns about control towers’ lines of sight, but said it is “engaged with the applicant” and that it is “in principle supportive of the scheme”.
Luton Business Improvement District, which has submitted a response, praised Luton Rising for its £287 million contribution to the region’s economy since 1998.
“The additional revenue from the expansion will also mean more funding for Luton Council to deliver more services to the town and the communities within it,” its submission read.
“The new T2 would enable passengers to increase to 32 million, delivering 4,800 extra jobs in Luton.
“The increase in passengers would naturally increase the levels of overnight stays in Luton and therefore visitors into the town.
“The airport expansion will also help to boost the profile of Luton and should attract more businesses with improved international connectivity.”