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London Luton Airport expansion will help Luton soar

Luton Rising | Luton Rising

6 min read Partner content

At a recent event with the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Nick Platts – Managing Director of Luton Rising – spoke in depth about the long-term environmental, economic and social vision of the expansion of London Luton Airport in front of 50 expert guests attending the Property, Construction and Infrastructure Networking Club.

Luton Rising, the trading name of London Luton Airport Ltd, is not just a business. The Luton Council-owned initiative is also a social enterprise, using its largest asset for the community’s benefit, not private shareholders. In pursuit of this, it has also become an infrastructure provider and property developer.

Luton Rising believes that “partnership comes from trust and a shared vision”, so this is the approach it is taking in its work.

In his speech, Platts started with the obvious, the economic benefits, which he says are the foundation on which they can build their environmental and social impact work. London Luton Airport supports 28,000+ jobs in the UK; with nearly 11,000 through direct employment. This has a huge impact on the local area, and also provides a substantial contribution to UK GDP (£1.8 billion in 2019).

Paul Kehoe addresses 50 expert guests attending the Property, Construction and Infrastructure Networking Club
Nick Platts addresses guests at the Property, Construction and Infrastructure Networking Club on the long-term environmental, economic and social vision of the expansion of London Luton Airport.

Oxford Economics agrees that the levelling-up of Luton and its airport is felt not just in the town but across the wider economy. As of 2019, every £1 the airport directly contributed to the economy created a further £1.30 elsewhere in the UK. Platts wants to expand further to deliver more; for Luton, the surrounding communities and the UK.

The expansion plans would create up to a further 4,400 jobs in Luton alone and support up to 6,100 new jobs across Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. With an unemployment rate nearly double the national average, Platts believes it is vital that the town plays its part in addressing this in a sustainable and community-driven way that provides long-term stability.

Platts spoke about his genuine affection for the local area. He considers confronting the incorrect and harmful stereotypes about Luton as one of the most important battles for Luton Rising and the wider community to tackle. Luton has changed substantially over the last 10 years and census information shows the population has continued to grow and change.

There are pockets of wealth as well as areas of deprivation across the town and Platts hopes continued investment into the area can help end this disparity. For Luton Rising, this is about much more than London Luton Airport and growing passenger numbers, it is also inherently about giving back to a community it serves. Even the commercial proposals focus on what they can deliver for the local area, including:

  • A Science and Innovation Park delivering 3,200 jobs with the aim to be the UK’s first carbon-negative park of its kind.
  • Development of a new hotel, office space, retail and car park bringing 2,000 jobs for local people and investment in the area.
  • A new skills, innovation and business hub that will create up to 200 jobs and will be built near Luton Airport Parkway Station.

Pointing to the airport’s unique geographical position, Platts explained it is the only international airport in the ‘Golden Triangle’ – sitting in the middle of London, Cambridge and Oxford. He is, however, realistic. The project is leading in its connectivity from London, just 32 minutes from London St Pancras, but there is still much to be done to provide efficient and timely public transport from Oxford and Cambridge. Given his previous experience delivering whole large-scale residential developments in Dubai, it wouldn’t be a surprise if both routes were somewhere on Platts’ to-do list.

London Luton Airport has already delivered a new direct air-rail transit (DART) system which connects Luton Airport Parkway Station to the terminal in just four minutes. The route has been designed with accessibility in mind for passengers coming into the airport from over 60 railway stations with a direct route. The DART is not only key to enhancing the airport’s connectivity, but also a core element in Luton Rising’s sustainability programme, encouraging what Platts calls a “modal shift from road to rail”. In the year since the DART began operation, nearly 3 million travellers have already used it.

It is rare for a council to own such a substantial asset, but Platts repeatedly makes clear that the benefit will be shared with the town. The aim is to make and maintain Luton as the UK’s most socially impactful airport. This has been baked into the core of every endeavor and the proof is in the results:

  • London Luton Airport has provided more than £300 million to support vital front-line services since 1998, supplemented by £180 million for vital voluntary, community and charitable organisations.   
  • In 2022 alone, £7.4million was provided to the voluntary and community sector, reaching more than 50 local community organisations. This annual provision means vital community organisations can not only continue their work across the town but can develop long-term plans as a result of funding stability.
  • In 2019, the airport invested 20 times per passenger more than any other UK airport into local community causes. 

While many expansion projects unintentionally end up at odds with the local area and its residents, Luton Rising has included community impact commitments within its proposals. The project is levelling up in action.

The expansion would support the creation of a new Community First Fund to directly assist areas of high deprivation and finance decarbonisation programmes. Platts explains that this would be funded through the direct revenues of the airport expansion. On top of current funding, it would provide an extra £1 per additional passenger travelling through the airport, raising up to £13m per year.

Luton Rising’s environmental promises are another point of pride for Platts. The ‘Green Controlled Growth’ (GCG) framework it has proposed places legally binding limits on a range of impacts to ensure that growth does not come at the cost of the environment. The GCG robustly limits carbon emissions from ground operations and surface access, air quality, noise from aircraft, the percentage of passengers arriving by car and staff trips by non-sustainable modes of transport. It places the burden of measuring their impacts on the airport.

The expansion plans also commit to a number of infrastructure enhancements and initiatives all aimed at a sole target: achieving zero-emission ground operations by 2040 – a requirement of the Government’s ‘Jet Zero’ Strategy that was announced in July 2022. 

In the “first-of-its-kind" scheme, Luton Airport’s performance will be overseen by an independent Environmental Scrutiny Group. This will include representation from the local authorities most affected by the expansion plans, in keeping with Platts’ commitment to ensuring partnership based on shared vision. No other airport expansion is proposing such an approach – it’s a world-first from Luton Rising.

Throughout his talk, Platts’ knowledge of and passion for this project is evident. Social and environmental ambitions are held at the core of the business and its proposals for expansion, which consistently champion Luton, its residents and its local communities.

Luton Rising is currently petitioning for support of their expansion plans of the airport, to bring in 11,000 jobs and £1 billion to the local economy. You can show your support by signing the petition or the open letter for businesses and community organisations here.

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