Village groups voice fears over airport expansion

ANTI-NOISE groups say plans to double the number of passengers at Luton Airport will mean “more sleepless nights” and are being pursued with “indecent haste”.

Plans that would see the airport expand to take 18 million passengers a year were announced on Monday, with Luton Borough Council saying up to 6,000 new jobs will be created.

But exactly how the airport will accommodate double its current number of passengers is currently unclear, as no detailed plans have yet been put forward.

London Luton Airport Limited (LLAL), the company that owns the airport on behalf of the council and Luton taxpayers, says it wants to lodge a planning application in April and will launch a four-week public consultation next month.

Luton Airport-based airline easyJet said the plan was “an important step” but that in the mean-time a focus was needed on improving “access to the airport and the speed at which passengers can transit through it”.

The announcement met with a mixed reaction on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, with new jobs being welcomed but concern raised over congestion on the road leading to the airport.

Michael Nidd of the London Luton Airport Town & Villages Communities Committee (LLATVCC), said people were being asked to take the plans “on trust”.

He said: “What they described as a plan is as far as anybody can see at the moment just an aspiration. Nevertheless they’re very, very anxious to get themselves into a position where they can lodge a planning application in April.

“But it will be so vague that it will undoubtedly be called in by the secretary of state.”

Mr Nidd said plane noise, traffic congestion and other issues would be doubled, and said he thought flights would have to take off and land throughout the night to accommodate the extra passengers.

He was also sceptical over the number of jobs promised, saying: “It is undoubtedly being overstated.”

LLAL says 440 extra on-site jobs will be created for every million new passengers, and that 1,750 ‘indirect jobs’ will be created.

A ‘break clause’ in the 30-year agreement that LLAL has with London Luton Airport Operations Limited (LLAOL) for the running of the airport means it will be able to end the contract in 2014.

LLAL says no decision on a break has yet been made and that it is “business as usual”, but Michael Holden of the Breachwood Green Society said he was “suspicious”.

“I think that behind the scenes there might be someone that would pay more money,” he said. “There seems to be indecent haste to reach planning application stage.”

Roger Wood, of residents’ group LADACAN (Luton and District Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise), said: “Growth on this scale will mean more and bigger planes making much more noise, and more sleepless nights for everyone living under the flight paths.

“We are always being promised quieter planes but there has been no improvement in the past 10 years so we don’t expect any progress before this new wave of noise hits us.

“The council promises this will generate 6,000 new jobs but aviation is a cost-sensitive industry and the direction is fewer staff, not more.

“Between 1997 and 2008 passenger numbers grew by 7 million but employment at the airport rose by only 900.”

Luton Borough Council deputy leader Robin Harris, who chairs the LLAL, said any growth in passenger numbers would be managed in “a responsible manner”.

He said: “We are committed to ensure the airport will continue to be a good neighbour.

“Impacts on the environment, noise and road traffic flows will be fully evaluated as part of the process.

“We will consult actively and listen carefully but we must be ready to embrace market demand in the future.

“This will ultimately bring huge benefits to Luton and the wider region – with jobs and much-needed income.”