Airport, Community,

Luton DART: Getting Social Values on Track

By Graham Olver, CEO Luton Rising

I took the opportunity recently to take a track walk at our Luton DART project. The DART – Direct Air-Rail Transit – will take passengers from Luton Parkway train station to the Luton Airport passenger terminal in under 4 minutes. This means from that next year, combined with the new Luton Express train service from St Pancras, you can get from Central London to Luton Airport in 30 minutes.

It is a major feat of engineering ingenuity. The DART has to rise 30m over its 2.1km journey – this is too steep for a regular train. In effect what we have built is a giant, very fast cable car.

You can get a sense of this by watching this fly-through:

But it is a major feat in other, less obviously spectacular ways.

Just a short while ago, Glen was homeless. He had no experience of the construction industry, had lost confidence and was looking for direction. Our main contractor on the scheme, VolkerFitzpatrick-Kier (VFK), encouraged Glen to attend their introductory training to help him achieve a CSCS card and other qualifications.

The Construction Skills Training Hub was established on the Luton DART site by Luton Council in November 2018 with £1m funding provided by the Construction Industry Training Board.

In 15 months, it successfully passed its target of providing training in a variety of construction skills to more than 720 people – 45 per cent of whom came from under-represented groups, and 15 per cent of recruits looking to switch careers.

Glen enjoyed learning and achieved his qualifications, which boosted his confidence. As he showed great commitment and enthusiasm, VFK then offered Glen further training – to achieve a trained plant operator qualification – and introduced him to one of our subcontractors, who offered Glen a role on the DART project.

Glen has been working on DART since March 2019, even winning an award from his employer in recognition of his commitment.

This, in microcosm, is what we do at Luton Rising: placing social values at the heart of our enterprise. We don’t have any commercial shareholders – indeed just one shareholder: Luton Borough Council. Luton Rising has transferred over £400m either directly to the Council for frontline services, or to community non-profit organisations through our Community Fund.

As we look to expand the airport, with our Development Consent Order application next year, far from rowing back on these social values, we are deepening them. We are conscious that airports, for all the good they do in creating economic activity and increasing connectivity, have serious negative environmental impacts too. Our Green Controlled Growth framework will ensure that we will have binding targets, that are independently monitored. If we are in danger of missing a target, the next stage of the construction will not be contracted. That’s the difference between an aspiration and a real, accountable commitment.

The Luton DART is not only built with social values at the heart, it is also a key to one strand of those green commitments: the modal shift of passengers from travelling to and from the airport by car, to travelling by train.

I believe that approaching major infrastructure projects in this way – with social values built in – is, in all senses of the word, the only sustainable way forward.