The pace of growth at London Luton Airport condensed 15 years’ progress into five, impacting the local area in the process, a planning inquiry heard.

Airport operator London Luton Airport Operations Limited’s plans to increase the capacity to 19m passengers annually and vary noise contours were called in, after being approved by the borough council.

Luton and district association for the control of aircraft noise (LADACAN) opposes the planning application.

“The concern of its members are shared by other community groups, local town, parish and district councils, as well as Hertfordshire County Council,” according to Richard Wald KC.

Representing the community group, he said: “It informs, liaises with and represents the interests of people across the local area adversely affected by the environmental impact of the airport, specifically noise, but with a growing focus on its carbon emissions in light of climate change.

“The alignment of the runway is such that much of the environmental impact falls on the towns and villages on north and west Hertfordshire, west into the Aylesbury Vale and Chilterns, and north into Huntingdonshire.

“This is a retrospective application which seeks to regularise three successive years of worsening breach of a statutory 92-day summer noise contour limit, first by night and then by both day and night.

“The passenger cap was also reached in 2019, nine full years ahead of both its agreed expiry and the achievement of a long-term reduction of noise contour areas in 2028.

“This is an application borne of over rapid and non-mitigated increase in throughput, which delivered 15 years’ growth in just five years, causing an out of balance increase in impacts.

“The evidence compellingly indicates this was avoidable,” added Mr Wald. “The council was aware and involved in the accelerated growth without taking any effective steps to enforce against known planning breaches.

“In 2019, by the applicant’s own admission, some 30 flights during the day and 13 by night were being flown during the busy summer period over and above what was properly permitted, largely by unmodernised aircraft making more noise and carbon emissions.”

Referring to “a history of non-enforcement” of noise impacts, Gethin Thomas, for independent charity CPRE Hertfordshire, told the inquiry: “It shares all the concerns raised by LADACAN, other community groups, and town and parish councils.

“This will result in an increase of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases compared to the previous application,” he explained.

“The future reductions promised from 2027 onwards are contingent on the same promise made previously, better and quieter aircraft, coupled with a long-term noise strategy.

“CRPE Hertfordshire remains deeply concerned those promises wouldn’t be fulfilled, and the impact on the countryside will be substantial and long lasting.”

Counsel for the local authority John Steel KC said: “The council’s acoustic consultants concluded there’d be no material adverse impact caused by the proposed increase in passengers to 19m, while the change would be imperceptible and negligible.”

He suggested: “No policy proposes a cap on or no growth of airports” nationally, adding: “The opposite is true. Growth would be supported where justified.”

The six-week inquiry at Luton Town Hall continues.