Air Invasion of Hertfordshire

Home / Words / Issues / Air Invasion of Hertfordshire

Whatever will they try next...?

  1. Luton Council decides on applications for planning permission in the area
  2. London Luton airport is now owned by Luton Council
  3. London Luton airport is seeking planning permission for massive expansion
  4. ???
  5. Profit!

Please sign this petition before 15th July 2013, as this is clearly a gross conflict of interests.

[The Government's consultation period ended on June 30th 2003.
They published the White Paper 'The Future of Air Transport' on 16 December 2003.
That future does not look bright for Hertfordshire.
For the latest news please visit LADACAN and Airport Watch.
This page is left here for reference, and may be updated later.

The threat of airport growth

Our skies are under attack from an increasing number of aeroplanes, and now the government has issued a Consultation Document [1] where it outlines its plans for vast new expansions at airports in the South East. They cite the rapid increase in air travel as a reason for justifying predictions, e.g. of a five-fold increase in passenger numbers for Luton airport by 2030. Put away your crystal balls - this is just statistical massaging by the corporate machine. The reality is that this recent upturn is just a blip on the graph, due to the influx of cheap-rate airlines such as EasyJet and RyanAir. The rate of exaggerated growth is unsustainable - remember what happened to the industry a few years ago. Meeting this predicted demand would require the equivalent of a new airport the current size of Stansted every year for the next 30 years, which would be unfeasible and irresponsible [2]. Interestingly, the study into The Contribution of Aviation to the UK Economy was commissioned by the Government, but 95% paid for by the aviation industry! [3] All independent studies on this subject do not support the claims of this report. Enough said.

There is also the growing new threat of airline terrorism (now acknowledged by government) to consider, as well as the world economic downturn, a situation which (despite the glossy messages from business) is only getting worse. The rising death rate from AIDS will reduce the productive working population of many countries, including the UK, and the global shortage of oil will certainly mean that flying will (rightly) become a luxury again.

Another worrying issue is that Air Traffic Control is currently stretched to breaking point, and can in no way cope with still more aircraft in the crowded skies. Operators are saying that the current situation is an accident waiting to happen.

Not In My Back Yard

The government proposals outline plans for development at various different airports around the UK, a clever 'divide and rule' scheme to isolate public opinion and encourage the moving of the problem into someone else's area. It is no good campaigning for 'NO LUTON RUNWAY' at the expense of residents of Stansted; objections should be raised not to individual plans, but to the whole concept of unmanaged, unsustainable expansion of air travel.

The various options presented in the Consultation Document [1] are all equally unacceptable:

All of the proposed sites would present increased "demand for water which may be difficult to meet, even with supply and demand management and water saving technology." [1]

Noise annoys

Aviation has been immune to legal action on noise grounds since the 1920's. Whilst building a new airport, runway or road requires planning consent, increased traffic or extending flightpaths, does not. Hence communities have little protection against the air industry, unless they stand together. The Luton And District Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (LADACAN) was established in the 1960's to ensure that a reasonable balance is struck between airport operation and peace and quiet in the surrounding area.

The government Consultation Document only gives vague graphical indications of the areas likely to be affected by noise levels above 57dB(A) (a measurement which averages noise levels through the day and so underestimates the impact of peak noise events) and is above the World Health Organisation recommendation for an upper limit. So in reality, many more people would be affected than the curves on the maps show. And just because you live outside the designated area, does not mean no noise. Due to the logarithmic nature of the decibel scale, the areas exposed to lower noise levels will be much larger; currently many complaints come from people outside the 57dB(A) noise contour. Aircraft noise is much more noticeable and disturbing at night, when all else is silent. One loud jumbo can easily wake you up, but has little effect on a statistical noise graph. The Consultation Document threatens a big increase in night cargo flights, and already there are threats that cheap-rate passenger airlines will also seek to use the less-used night period more in future. Bear in mind that a 10dB increase is perceived as twice as loud, so 67dB is twice as noisy as 57dB, which is twice as loud as 47dB. Typical examples of the decibel scale include a whisper at 20dB, a busy city street at 70dB, and a jet engine (close up) at 120dB.

Aircraft noise has been shown to increase blood pressure, affect health, impair memory and reduce learning in children, as confirmed in a government study.

Another fine mess

Aviation accounts for 3.5% of man-made climate change, and is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. The UK is bound by the Kyoto Protocol on climate change to reduce its CO2 emissions by 2010, but, paradoxically, most air travel was declared exempt from this agreement. The air industry is heavily subsidised, with no VAT paid on new planes, servicing or air fares, and aviation fuel is tax-free, costing just 18p per gallon. If aviation is so successful, why does it not pay its fair share of tax? Not to mention the hidden environmental cost of pollution. No wonder flying seems so cheap compared to road and rail travel.

Despite public transport investment, most people drive to the airport, thus causing more pollution and road congestion. Hertfordshire has just over 1,000,000 people yet 500,000 cars. That gives just 7 metres of road space per car (!). End to end they would stretch from Hertford to Rome (!!). Hertfordshire's roads are twice as busy as the national average, and road maintenance has nearly trebled in the last five years to £30,000,000. Thinking about the concept of massively developing two major international airports at Stansted and Luton within one (already congested) county is alarming, and will produce traffic chaos. Even with recently proposed road-building schemes to widen the M1 and M25, the motorways will not be able to cope will the vast numbers of tourists being ferried from Heathrow to Luton and Stansted for connecting flights, and the county will be gridlocked, thus adversely affecting the regional economy instead of bringing the benefits promised.

In a recent study by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Sir Tom Blundell urged the government to "divert resources into encouraging a shift from air to high-speed rail". Since aircraft use up to 20% of their fuel just getting airborne, the RCEP called for a reduction in short haul flights, which account for most of the low cost flights. The previous day, another report from the government's own Sustainable Development Commission declared the Consultation "deeply flawed - requires a total rethink", commenting:

"We need an engaged national debate, set within a proper sustainable development framework" [instead of] "the flawed and old concept of 'predict and provide', which will only lead to unconstrained growth."

New attitudes

The EU is proposing a pollution charge of £20 per tonne of CO2, which would add £40 to the cost of a return transatlantic flight. (Support this!) High-speed rail links are much less destructive to the environment, and are often quicker for short-haul flights - no need to check in an hour early or travel by coach from a remote airport. Businesses should consider video-conferencing as a much cheaper option than actually sending people round the world. Holidaymakers could help support our tourist industry by visiting local resorts and discovering the beautiful places on their doorstep; this would benefit the economy, instead of the current situation which sees an annual deficit of £11 billion each year - that is the difference between what Britons spend abroad and what visitors spend in the UK. Jetting off to somewhere hot and exotic may be fun for a week for those who can, but is it worth everyone else suffering noise and pollution for the rest of the year? That eye-catching £22.50 (single only) ticket to Nice wouldn't seem quite as nice if the real costs were paid by the consumer rather than the taxpayer. And by the way, how much would it cost to come back?

What you can do

Telephone the Luton Airport Noise Complaints Line on 01582 395382 every time a plane flies over your home creating any considerable noise, especially at night or while enjoying a pleasant sunny afternoon in the garden. This is a 24 hour answering machine service to leave your name and address along with details of the noise; they should write back to you, and all complaints are taken into account at the meetings of the airport consultative committee. Alternatively you can fax them on 01582 395500 or e-mail:

The Department for Transport issued a document [1] called The Future Development of Air Transport in the United Kingdom: South East - A National Consultation. Free printed copies are available from:

DfT Free Literature
PO Box 236
West Yorkshire
LS23 7NB
Tel: 0845 100 5554
Fax: 0870 122 6237

It is important that you (yes, you!) write a letter to:

Future Development of Air Transport - South East
Department for Transport
Zone 1/28C
Freepost LON 17806

and tell them your views. They have drawn up a questionnaire, but it is so loaded and biased in favour of airport expansion, that answering it is a minefield. So a letter is better. It needn't be long, so long as it outlines your own individual concerns. (The original closing date for comments was 30th November 2002, but this has now been extended until 30th June 2003 following the High Court ruling that the Consultation Document was unfair to not include Gatwick, forcing them to issue a new revised document.) Be sure to ask a question, because then they are legally bound to write back with an answer. Get your children, members of your household, your neighbours, colleagues at work, your school, to write in, in order to show the amount of people affected. And tell anyone you know who might also write - if everyone tells four people..., that's a lot of letters!

If you're stuck for words, or would like more ideas, LADACAN have produced an excellent formal response to the Consultation Document [79KB MS Word Document]. In addition Luton Friends of the Earth put together a good set of points to address; see also their response. A letter I wrote is also available as a guide.

A new briefing "FLYING INTO TROUBLE - THE THREAT OF AIRPORT GROWTH" [2] is available from:

c/o Aviation Environment Federation
Sir John Lyon House
5 High Timber Street
Tel: 0207 248 2223

See also the public consultation for Regional Planning Guidance proposals RPG14 which affect the East of England up until 2021, and the response of the East of England Development Agency.


© copyright Malcolm Smith 2002-09-23 - last updated 2013-02-16 - links verified 2003-02-11