Update on the proposed expansion of Luton airport

Update on the proposed expansion of Luton airport

Luton airport plans to increase its yearly passenger capacity from 18 million to 32 million per year by 2043.

Government policy discourages aircraft flying over areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) and seeks airport developments that sensitively respect protected landscapes. Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB) carefully reviewed the current proposals for Luton against a variety of environmental factors, including the volume and proximity of overflying aircraft, the use of road access routes to the airport through the Chilterns, and the special qualities of the AONB – like its inherent tranquillity and dark skies.

Overhead aircraft impact the enjoyment of the northern Chilterns landscape and its many archaeological sites. Planes below 7,000ft altitude are generally visible in the landscape and currently fly over the northern parts of the AONB over Tring, Ivinghoe, Whipsnade, Dunstable, and Luton.

CCB approached this proposal positively – what would the impacts of expansion be? Can they be controlled or lessened by mitigation in the planning system?

Luton Rising (the airport’s owners) undertook a study to assess these impacts, and CCB made the following key points:


  • Natural England recognises tranquillity as a component of natural beauty when designating AONBs.
  • An increase in the number of planes flying over the AONB will lessen people’s appreciation of the landscape.
  • More aircraft will fly over the AONB at an altitude that impacts tranquillity – 7,000ft or lower and with external lighting.
  • Much of the flight corridor from Ivinghoe to Dunstable is a landscape rich in archaeological heritage, including hillforts, and Bronze and Iron Age archaeology.

Road access

  • Travel to and from the airport will increase and involve travel through the Chilterns.
  • The Aylesbury to Dunstable corridor does not have a public transport link.
  • Luton Rising set out an ambitious framework to address access issues – the Green Controlled Growth Framework.
    • This sets out a list of environmental goals to reduce future car-based travellers and other green incentives like greenhouse gas emissions in airport buildings, and noise and air quality measures.
  • By 2043 about half of all passengers are projected to arrive by public transport.
  • Buckinghamshire Council have called for a dedicated bus link from Aylesbury to the airport.

New aircraft

  • New planes are predicted to be quieter than current models.
  • New planes are not expected to become available until the mid-2030s.

Luton Rising argued that the increased movements by 2043 would “have no significant effects on the special qualities of the AONB”.  They went on to say that their assessment “acknowledges that the proposed development would result in significant adverse effects on the perceptual and aesthetic qualities of the AONB… [but] these effects would occur solely as a result of increased aircraft movements over the AONB”.

In their response, the joint statement by Dacorum Borough Council, Hertfordshire County Council and North Herts Council took a more robust view that “the proposed development is not consistent with the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 amendment to Section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 in relation to impacts on the Chilterns AONB”.

Increased aircraft, along with other associated environmental impacts, will inevitably harm the Chilterns and the public benefits derived from the health and wellbeing of those who enjoy, reside within, and visit this outstanding landscape. The Examining Authority, a panel of independent planning inspectors, and the Secretary of State for Transport must balance the benefits of this proposal against any harmful outcomes, as applies in all planning matters.

CCB must protect and further the aims of the AONB, and we concluded that the proposal will cause harm to the area. We have asked the Secretary of State to give ‘great weight’ to the conservation and enhancement of the AONB when balancing these matters. A final decision is anticipated by August 2024.

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