The airport and the environment
Sustainability at the airport
We believe our sustainability measures will be some of the most far-reaching commitments to minimise environmental impacts ever put forward by a UK airport.
Here they are in detail:
Carbon: Ground Operations
As the owner of the airport, we have influence over the emissions which arise from ground operations. These areas are also where the solutions which will enable low- and zero-carbon emissions are most well established.
By 2040, we will ensure that our ground operations are Net Zero carbon.
To achieve this, we will minimise CO2 emissions through a combination of four approaches:
- Replacing fossil fuel powered equipment and vehicles with electric alternatives,
- Generating clean energy on site
- Making existing buildings more energy efficient, and
- Purchasing only clean energy from the grid
We will then offset (through local projects where possible) any residual carbon which cannot be practicably removed from the operation.
Carbon: Road Traffic
As the airport’s owner, we can influence people’s journeys to and from the airport to reduce carbon impacts.
The opening of the DART rail service (in 2022) is a key first step on this journey, tempting passengers away from their cars and on to the train. As we develop proposed future growth of the airport, the key actions we will take to build on this towards a Carbon Neutral Surface Access impact will be:
- Providing electric vehicle charging points, supporting the shift from fossil-fuelled vehicles, and
- The introduction of environmentally-focused pricing to incentivise mode shift and the use of cleaner vehicles
- Introducing a target that at least 45% of all journeys to the airport should be made by sustainable transport modes, which we will secure through our GCG Framework
By far the largest contributor to the airport’s overall climate impact is the carbon emitted by aircraft engines, and aviation is recognised by the government as one of the sectors where full decarbonisation will be most challenging to achieve.
The Department for Transport’s draft Jet Zero policy envisages that over time in the context of continued growth in the UK aviation sector, a combination of demand management, improvements in aircraft engine efficiency, the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels, and new zero-emission aircraft will result in a reduction in direct carbon emissions from the sector.
We will play our part in supporting the action set out in the draft Jet Zero policy and delivering the maximum possible carbon saving at Luton by:
- Making the airport ready to supply Sustainable Aviation Fuel at scale
- Building an upgraded connection to the electrical grid for Terminal 2 into our expansion plans so that we are ready to welcome new zero emission electric aircraft
- Supplying mains power to aircraft stands at Terminal 2 to remove the need to run their engines to power essential systems while they are stationary on the ground
Changes as the result of expansion, if Future LuToN is approved:
The construction of major infrastructure like airports inevitably entails significant earthworks, use of materials, and other traditionally carbon-intensive activities.
We expect the carbon intensity of construction activity and materials to fall over the coming decade, and working with our supply chain partners we will drive out carbon emissions as far as we can, through:
- Prioritising materials reuse.
- Using low-carbon forms of concrete where possible.
- Using electrically powered vehicles and equipment wherever practicable.
Public Green Spaces
(including Wigmore Valley Park)
Clearly, expanding the airport will increase the footprint of the built environment. However, as part of the expansion proposals, we are seeking out new opportunities to enhance the attractiveness of the area within and around the airport, and to provide long-term protection and management of remaining, replacement, and expanded green spaces, so that the community is overall better served with green space.
We will do this by:
- Minimising the physical footprint of the expanded airport to maximise retained and additional green space for public enjoyment.
- Including planting throughout our airport designs (for example as part of forecourts, drop off areas, and car parks) to soften the physical environment and maximise the multiple benefits of planting.
- Integrating green walls and sedum roofs into new buildings where possible.
Wigmore Valley Park
We appreciate how important Wigmore Valley Park is to the people who use it. Like any neighbourhood park, it is a place to enjoy nature, to appreciate a moment of calm, to play, to walk your dog, to meet people, to sit and relax. Parks are also important for biodiversity, and this is very much the case at Wigmore Valley Park, which is a County Wildlife Site.
We have made the reprovision and extension of Wigmore Valley Park a key goal of our expansion designs, and through our separate New Century Park planning permission we already have the means to make real improvements there.
We will make Wigmore Valley Park a more family-orientated destination by:
- Providing two zones of fantastic new play facilities which will be many times the size of the current provision and will include an area specifically for smaller children and toddlers to play in safely under the close attention of their parents.
- Re-purposing the unused pavilion building, introducing a locally-run café and outdoor eating area overlooking the toddlers’ play area. This could benefit the adjacent allotments and soon-to-be-planted community orchard, a place of remembrance for local people lost to the Covid-19 pandemic.
- We will also relocate and enhance the skate park facilities, moving them away from the children’s and toddlers’ play area and providing a purpose-built, class-leading new concrete skate park, designed collaboratively with input from users of the existing skate park.
See the Biodiversity section below for more on Wigmore Valley Park.
The variety and number of plants, animals, and insects, and the amount of space available in which they can thrive is known as ‘biodiversity’.
As well as being a sign of the health and vitality of the natural world, biodiversity provides people with recreation opportunities and healthy contact with nature and support for mental wellbeing, as well as bringing more practical benefits such as pest control through the maintenance of natural predators of rodents and unwanted insects.
Infrastructure development has the potential to negatively affect natural habitats. As a result, it can lead to losses in biodiversity. While we cannot avoid impacts on the areas of land over which the additional facilities of the expanded airport will be constructed, we are taking great care in planning our proposals to ensure that we minimise this impact on biodiversity as far as possible and offset what cannot be avoided or minimised. We will minimise our impact by:
- Optimising the location of new infrastructure and minimising its size
- Retaining woodland wherever possible and avoiding impacts on areas of natural woodland.
- Protecting nocturnal species from light pollution and ensuring new lighting does not spill over onto existing habitat areas outside the development area
In addition to this, our proposals also involve the creation of new areas of natural habitat designed to more than offset the loss of habitat area which cannot be designed out. (We’ve already started this this process in some areas in our control, by introducing local wildflower mixes to reduce the enrichment of the soil through may years of arable farming.) Our proposals will include:
- Introducing new habitat areas within our designs – notably the area connecting to Wigmore Valley Park, as well as introducing grass or shrubs to smaller areas on the airport site
- Using hedgerows (which are home to many species) wherever possible where new visual and noise screening is required instead of using man-made infrastructure
- Physically moving anthills, and other natural features wherever possible, if direct impacts on their existing locations are unavoidable
As a result, our plans will result in an overall increase in biodiversity of at least 10% in the area around the airport compared to today’s levels, preserving the benefits of nature, and making it more accessible to those who live and work in the area so they can experience it.
Air Quality is understood as a significant determinant of negative health outcomes, especially for children and older people and those with long-term health conditions.
The chief pollutants arising from the operation of the airport are those which result from the combustion of fossil fuels and friction and wear in airport equipment, such as oxides of nitrogen and fine particulate matter. Vehicles travelling to and from the airport also emit pollutants.
We take this issue very seriously, and already measure a wider range of pollutants than any other airport in the UK, streaming that information in near real time on an independent website.
We have also taken significant steps over recent years to reduce, measure, and control pollutant emissions in the vicinity of the airport. In fact our analysis shows that the airport’s contribution to air quality pollution is already minimal in most areas around the airport where people spend time.
Our plans for expanding the airport include further measures to reduce our air quality impact, for example:
- Carefully planning the airport layout and construction activity so that equipment and activity that is likely to emit pollutants is located as far as it can be from places where people spend time, reducing exposure
- Using electric rather than fossil fuelled equipment wherever possible
- Encouraging the use of public transport and cleaner vehicles by passengers through emissions-based access and parking charges, and providing charging points for electric vehicles. The new Luton DART will tempt passengers away from their cars and on to the train.
As a result of this action, we are confident that the changes to air quality emissions as a result of our plans for expansion will not lead to significant changes to air pollution and individual sources of pollution (cars, airport vehicles, aircraft etc) will continue to improve in line with national trends.
Noise from aircraft is a key issue for many of those who live near the airport, including Luton residents and those living in neighbouring areas. This is an issue that is common to most airports around the world, and in response to this aircraft manufacturers are continuing to make significant steps to reduce the level of noise resulting from the operation of aeroplanes both on the ground and as they take off and land.
In addition to the benefits delivered by new aircraft design, we will also take action directly to mitigate noise impacts, for example by:
- Designing the airside infrastructure in such a way to reduce the amount of time aircraft engines need to run (eg by shortening the distances to the runway & by making taxiway infrastructure more efficient to reduce queueing)
- Providing a compensation scheme for households affected by noise above a certain level to cover the installation of noise insulation (we will also explore potential synergies with carbon-reduction measures for homes through the proposed local carbon offsetting scheme)
- Noise screening of noise-intensive areas, for example the engine ground running bay where engines are tested prior to flight operations to ensure they are running properly
- Introduction of new hedgerows to provide acoustic and visual screening (research indicates that visual screening can reduce the perception of noise even for the same level of actual noise)
- To provide certainty on airport growth and the level of noise experienced by communities in future, a ‘noise envelope’ has been developed. The noise envelope contains a suite of noise control measures that have been developed through consultation with stakeholders and community groups. This will include retention of the limit for aircraft movements at night. Secured through our GCG Framework, the airport will have a legal obligation to comply with the noise envelope.
Green Controlled Growth
Green Controlled Growth (GCG) is a unique framework that we are developing to make sure that environmental limits are observed as the airport grows. It is an important component of our expansion plans, and will be part of our Development Consent Order (DCO) application. Crucially, these environmental limits are not airy aspirations, but would be legally binding, with the assessment of whether limits have been breached carried out by an independent body.
Here is the outline of that structure. Full details will be given as part of the consultation procedure in the new year.
Environmental impact is to be considered in 4 categories: air quality, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, aircraft noise and road traffic. These are the key areas which change the most as passenger numbers grow. They will be measured as follows:
Aircraft noise – by the total area enclosed by noise contours
Air quality – by the concentration of 3 pollutants which are relevant to human health.
GHG emissions – in two categories: airport operations and surface access
Road traffic – by air passenger public transport mode share and also airport staff travel mode share.
Accountability would come from a new proposed body, the Environmental Scrutiny Group – ESG – made up of representatives from neighbouring councils. They would be supported by 4 technical panels, one for each of the GCG impacts.
Growth and mitigation overview
As the airport grows, the airport operator will be required to monitor and report the level of impact the airport is having within the four GCG areas. As the level of impact increases, a system of thresholds and limits will firstly require the airport operator to demonstrate that future stages of growth will not result in environmental limits being breached. If a breach does occur, further growth would need to be stopped and mitigation measures adopted to reduce the level of impact in this area.