I am against Luton Airport expansion beyond the existing limit of 18 million, and have communicated that to Ministers very directly.
Luton Airport expansion is one of the main issues facing my constituents, and is one of my biggest focuses. I have been extremely concerned by the increase in complaints I have received regarding aircraft noise, and I submitted both a strongly-worded response to the Post-Implementation Review in October, and a response to the survey on the PIR capturing some experiences of local people. The Civil Aviation Authority has said that it will respond later this year.
I hosted an open meeting late last year to discuss flight noise in Sandridge that was attended by over 200 people, so I understand the very real impact that excessive flight noise (especially night flights) has on the lives of residents. I also held a debate in Parliament on the 9th January 2018 on the proposed expansion following the announcement that the airport seeks to increase passenger numbers from 18 million to 38 million by 2050 (that would make it the size of Gatwick Airport today). During this debate the Government confirmed for the first time ever, that Luton Airport will not be allowed to expand beyond its current 18 million passenger limit without approval from central Government – so therefore Luton Borough Council (who own the airport) will not be able to approve its own planning application.
Discussions with Luton Airport itself
I have been in constant discussions with Luton Airport about its proposed expansion plans, and have made clear to them that such expansion should not even be countenanced unless they made good on their initial promises on noise mitigation for Hertfordshire residents. To the extent that such issues are those for the Civil Aviation Authority or NATS to sort out, then Luton Airport should be working harder and much more visibly in getting solutions to the obvious difficulties left from airspace route changes.
I voted in favour of Heathrow expansion. Let me explain why, because it is directly relevant for us here in Hertfordshire in the context of Luton expansion. I was happy to support the 3rd runway for Heathrow, for two principal reasons. The first is that Heathrow expansion will generate growth and jobs for the UK economy, and in a post Brexit world, we will need to do more, not less, to attract business and keep business in the UK. Heathrow expansion is one way of achieving that, and it has been welcomed by all international airlines – who want more opportunities to fly in and out of Heathrow.
The second reason is much closer to home. In our constituency, we have Luton Airport trying to grow as aggressively as it can, and this has several negative effects on our area – notably increased pollution and noise from flights. Heathrow expansion will mean less of a need, from a national strategic perspective, for significant growth of regional airports such as Luton. This point was brought out by many in the debate, by those both supporting and opposing Heathrow expansion. I expect that Heathrow will crowd out investment in small airports in and around the South East. Therefore, I support major expansion at the major hub airport of Heathrow rather than local regional airports like Luton, and that will create improved lives for people in rural constituencies like ours.
Aviation Minister meeting
I met the Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg in Westminster last week, outlining my clear position that Luton Airport should (i) not be expanded, and (ii) needs to do much more in dealing with existing problems of excessive noise of planes over our constituency. The Minister said the following after our meeting:
“Luton airport already has strict noise controls on its operations, but it’s an area we recognise as particularly important to communities living near airports. That’s why we’re exploring the impact of noise in relation to airport growth as part of the Aviation Strategy which we will consult on later this year.”
Discussions with CAA/NATS
I have had several meetings with the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS over recent months. So far, neither organisation has been acting with particular speed on this issue (or on anything else as far as I can tell), so it has been heavy going, but they know and understand our predicament and they have said that they will consider the issue carefully going forward. Does that mean anything? Not sure, but I will be pressing them again later this month to make sure that it does.