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Hertfordshire professor says “human beings do not need to fly”

A Hertfordshire professor has warned “survival in the face of global heating” trumps any consumer demand for flights.

Professor Hartley Dean is Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and a resident of the Hertfordshire village Flamstead.

At a National Infrastructure Planning hearing into Luton Airport’s proposed expansion, the Understanding Human Need author said there is no “need” for human beings to fly abroad.

“Consumer demand is not the same as need,” Professor Dean told a panel of five inspectors, led by Jo Dowling, on August 11.

“I would challenge the applicant’s case airport expansion is needed.

“Human beings do not need to fly.

“Air transport may be an intermediate satisfier of certain needs, and has a part to play in sustaining human welfare.

“I wouldn’t dispute human beings need recreation.

“A holiday in the sun might reasonably satisfy a need, but does this accord a right that trumps the right of others to the quiet enjoyment of their homes.

“Paradoxically, it appears the effects of climate change, to which aviation is a major contributor, will soon render many popular holiday destinations less appealing and the forecasted demand for holiday flights may prove to be wrong.

“But more important is the need of the human species for survival in the face of the existential threat posed by global heating.

“I implore the authority to pay close attention to whether on the evidence, the proposals by which the applicant claims they will comply with net zero targets are in fact achievable.”

Professor Dean said he had been “directly experiencing disturbance from aircraft taking off from Luton” for 30 years.

Luton Borough Council’s company Luton Rising, which owns the airport, wants to build a second terminal and new aircraft stands to increase its capacity – from 18 million passengers per annum (mppa) to 32mppa.

Hertfordshire professor says "human beings do not need to fly" Harrow Online
A sign advertising the Luton Airport Development Consent Order (DCO) hearing at Venue 360, Luton. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRS

Mayor of London ‘greatly concerned’ about expansion’s eco credentials

The London School of Economics and Political Science professor is not the only person to have raised environmental complaints.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan “recognises the economic and connectivity benefits that airports bring to London – but also that the environmental and health impacts of aviation must be fully acknowledged and addressed”, according to a Transport for London submission to the panel.

“The Mayor of London is greatly concerned about the environmental impacts associated with this development, and in particular with regard to carbon – both in terms of the significant increase in aircraft movements, as well as the very substantial additional highway trips,” the representation reads.

“The severe health impacts of air pollution have been brought into sharp focus in recent years and the applicant must demonstrate how it is addressing this, including from aircraft themselves, in the vicinity of the airport, as well as surface access to and from the airport.”

Hertfordshire County Council warned there will be a “long lag time” before the polluting infrastructure can be “unambiguously measured” – to assess the environmental impacts of expansion.

The authority warned of “a large increase in car trips to or from the airport through North Herts, and associated worsening of congestion”.

A Climate Change Committee (CCC) report to Parliament, published in June 2023 has called for a framework to manage airport capacity UK-wide.

“There has been continued airport expansion in recent years, counter to our assessment there should be no net airport expansion across the UK,” it reads.

“No airport expansions should proceed until a UK-wide capacity management framework is in place to assess annually and, if required, control sector CO2 emissions and non-CO2 effects.”

Luton, City Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted all have expansion plans.

According to House of Commons research, aviation accounted for around eight per cent of the UK’s CO2 equivalent emissions.

Luton Airport to ‘encourage’ airlines to use efficient aircraft

The Planning Inspectorate process must be completed within six months, after a series of hearings, visits and deadlines.

The panel will make a recommendation to the secretary of state, who will grant or refuse development consent for Luton Airport expansion.

In a bundle of documents which form part of the application, Luton Rising has set out its “outline operational air quality plan”.

Luton Rising would “encourage the take up of more efficient aircraft through operating policy or strategy”.

It would also:

  • make sustainable aviation fuels more widely available by 2030
  • force new ground handlers to use electric or zero-emission vehicles by 2032
  • make sure as many airside vehicles as possible are electric by 2035
  • develop a strategy or guide to reduce landing and take-off emissions by 2037
  • have a maximum 55 per cent of passengers arriving by car in 2039.

As part of the hearing, Tom Henderson, solicitor on behalf of Luton Rising, said: “We have been listening carefully, and we will welcome the opportunity to respond to these points through the course of the examination.”

Mr Henderson added: “A number of contributors have raised concerns about greenhouse gases and the CCC report.”

He said: “The CCC is the statutory advisor to government, and clearly carries weight in shaping and influencing government policy on climate change.

“However, we think it’s important to note their reports don’t represent government policy.

“Government policy for the determination for this planning process is set out in the Jet Zero Strategy.

“On the subject of the CCC’s June 2023 report advising the government to consider putting in place a capacity management framework, clearly the government will need to respond to that.”

Mr Henderson said the government had previously responded to a similar recommendation.

“Its policy position is that the aviation sector can achieve net zero carbon emissions without the need for intervention directly to limit aviation growth,” he said.