The Secretaries of State for Transport and for Levelling up, Housing and Communities have granted the called-in planning decision to permit Luton Airport 1 million more passengers and a bigger noise footprint after planning conditions and prudent slot management were ignored in a dash for cash. The Inspectors who conducted the Inquiry in 2022 observed that local people had lost trust in the planning system, and there is now a condition that the Noise Management Plan is followed.
In addition, Luton Airport cannot expand beyond 18 million passengers until it produces:
- a strategy to reduce its long term noise footprint
- a Transport Plan
- a Carbon Reduction Strategy
There are some significant imbalances in the decision which seem to favour the Airport over the community:
The Inspectors refer to the noise conditions being breached due to increased demand and modernisation of the fleet not having kept up with that – but didn’t highlight the need to keep the two in balance, and ignored the clear evidence of the financial incentivisation for faster-than-balanced growth which continued even after a breach was forecast.
LADACAN and the Harpenden Society showed that the Airport’s forecasts of which planes would be in the Luton fleet in future years did not stand up to scrutiny, but the Inspectors felt they could not accept our findings because we had not spoken to the airlines – even though airlines are clear commercial beneficiaries of the application.
LADACAN showed that there were errors in the data feeding the Airport’s noise contour model, which would have affected the assessment, but the Inspectors felt unable to accept this because we did not have an alternative model – even though it’s impossible to set one up without full access to all the relevant data which the Airport keeps to itself.
The Inspectors didn’t appreciate the distinction between calibrating a noise model by setting departure profiles, and validating it with annual aircraft type noisiness data, and so discounted clear evidence which showed that the model had been adjusted in 2015 to reduce contours by 6% to the benefit of the Airport, based on unrepresentative data.
Our analysis of the noise monitoring setup showed that Noise Monitor 3 is giving unreliable readings due to being so close to the M1, a higher trigger threshold, and low aircraft elevations, with higher Sound Exposure Level readings than Monitor 2 in every case, yet the Inspectors for some reason chose only to consider the peak noise averages.
No evidence was provided to prove the Airport’s assertion that 85% of passengers driving to the Airport would use the M1, yet the Inspectors decided to go along with that even though motorists coming from areas to the East would be more likely to avoid the M25 due to its likelihood of traffic jams and to shorten their journeys.
The Inspectors acknowledge there was strong opposition across all aspects of the proposal from the Hertfordshire Councils, from many Parish Councils and from individuals and organisations, but did not appear to attach weight to it in the planning balance – they seemed over-reliant on just the evidence presented during the Inquiry.
The decision effectively weighed in the balance a few hundred extra jobs versus a few hundred extra people subject to more noise and health harms, and decided the jobs won because of the high deprivation (which may be because the income from the airport has been spent on vanity projects rather than on reducing deprivation in Luton).
The Inspectors agreed that the expansion of capacity would add to carbon emissions, but believed the government’s Jet Zero aspiration that aviation emissions (one of the hardest sectors to decarbonise) will be reduced – an aspiration without clear pathways and made less likely to succeed given Rishi Sunak’s relaxation of the drive towards net zero.
There was a commitment to a proposed new noise insulation scheme with £4,500 (index linked) per property within an uncapped annual fund to ensure that all properties meeting the relevant criteria can be insulated within 5 years, but this does not appear to be secured by a planning condition or obligation.
The full decision document can be downloaded here: 19mppa decision document
There were some key themes in the Inquiry:
- The implications of the proposal for meeting the challenge of climate change
=> we argued that all emissions matter when seeking to meet the challenges of Net Zero
- The effect of noise associated with the proposal on health, quality of life, and the character of the area
=> we showed that there are significant flaws in the Airport’s noise data analysis and contour model
- The effect of the proposal on air quality
=> local people spoke of smelling fumes from the fuel and finding smuts in their gardens
- The effect of the proposal on sustainable transport objectives and transport infrastructure
=> the Inspectors focused hard on the extra traffic burden in the light of the already crowded network
- The socio-economic implications of the proposed development
=> we argued that the jobs figures are over-estimated and there is risk in not diversifying
- Whether the proposed development would be consistent with the Development Plan and other relevant policies
=> we argued that the proposals will not lead to longer term noise reduction and are against the local plan
- The effect of other considerations on the overall planning balance
=> we highlighted the financially-incentivised accelerated growth which led to this expansion proposal
- The Airport Operator flouted the Borough Council’s planning conditions
=> we highlighted the collusion between Owning Company, Operator and Council
Anyone living locally and impacted by the noise from Luton Airport is welcome to join LADACAN to ensure their voice is heard: please see https://ladacan.org/about-us/ for details.
Do follow us on social media using the handle @GoLadacan
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