Daisy Cooper, the MP for St Albans, has called in parliament for an application by Luton Airport to increase passenger numbers to 19 million a year to be ‘called in’ for scrutiny by central government.
Daisy was leading a debate in the House of Commons about the proposed expansion of Luton Airport, which also included Richard Fuller, MP for North East Bedfordshire, and Bim Afolami, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden.
She pointed out that in the 10 years to 2019, passenger numbers more than doubled from 9 million a year to exceed the approved capacity of 18 million. The airport is applying for permission to formally expand to 19 million passengers per year to remedy the breach.
Doubled in size in half the time
Luton was not due to hit the threshold of 18 million passengers per year until 2028, meaning it has doubled in size in half the projected time. The airport is also drawing up longer-term plans to expand to 32 million passengers per year.
The huge rise in the number of planes has resulted in a 50% increase in aircraft movements, and this in turn has been compounded by all planes being required to navigate a narrow corridor between St Albans and Harpenden, meaning that residents beneath the flightpath are affected over and over again.
“The most pressing concern of my constituents is the noise from those flights,” Daisy told the Commons. “For many, the noise disrupts their peace and quiet and their sleep and rest, and is a major distraction from work and recreation. There is also increasing evidence that this noise can have a profound effect on physical and mental health.”
Meaningful noise limitation measures
“Approval in 2012 for the increase to 18 million passengers went hand in hand with noise control limits to be achieved by modernisation of the operating fleet, so as the skies got busier, they would become quieter. But according to local campaign groups the opposite has happened,” she said.
Daisy pressed the transport minister, Robert Courts, on what steps he could take to compel Luton Airport to keep its promises to implement real, meaningful noise-mitigation measures, and to speed up the much-needed improvements to already congested airspace to reduce the noise impact on Hertfordshire residents.
As it was, trust from community groups and residents has completely broken down, she said.
Fobbed off with talk of quieter planes
“They describe how they have been fobbed off with talk of the introduction of quieter planes, and asked to ignore real-world data showing that they are at best only marginally quieter than the ones they replaced.”
She also questioned how the minister could reconcile the further expansion of operations at Luton with the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee, the independent statutory body advising the Government, that “demand cannot continue to grow unfettered”.
And she asked the minister to commit to ensuring that there is no further growth in capacity at Luton until the promised noise reductions are delivered and aircraft have switched to sustainable aviation fuel.
Devastating impact on climate change
“Any further expansion to the airport must take into account the devastating impact of increased air traffic on climate change and the great health consequences of further air pollution on neighbouring districts,” she said.
Daisy also raised the “real or perceived conflict of interest” at the heart of the airport’s expansion plans whereby Luton Borough Council owns the airport but the airport is run at arms’ length. As a result, the authority charged with making impartial judgments on planning and enforcement at the airport stood to lose the most from rejecting applications for expansion and from enforcement.
“There is understandable concern that although noise control limits were breached over the three years to 2019, no apparent enforcement action has been taken by the planning authority to remedy the situation in the same period. Instead, we see the submission of a further planning application to regularise the breaches to make the problem go away.”
Critical to restore trust of local communities
Daisy called on the minister to ensure that the decision on the airport’s current application for a development control order is ‘called in’ for scrutiny by the secretary of state.
“That is absolutely critical to restore the trust of our local communities. A first step on that journey would be to make sure that the decision is not only impartial, but seen to be impartial.”