Calling Luton photographers!

What is a greener Luton going to look like? What does climate action in the town look like so far? We’d like to answer these questions with a photo gallery of environmental action in the area. It will be a collection of images that are free to use and solution focused, available for use in schools, reports, media – anyone that needs to illustrate a greener Luton.

If you’re a photographer – professional or amateur – with an interest in environmental themes, we’d welcome your contribution to the gallery. If you have press images in an existing collection that you’d like to add to ours, or links to them, please do get in touch too.

Here’s some of what we have so far, and we’ll be collecting good quality images on the following themes:

  • Transport and travel – walking and cycling, buses and trains, electric cars. And yes, planes and the airport too, why not?
  • Buildings, homes and energy – renewable energy, solar power, insulation, retrofitting, and sustainable architecture.
  • Waste, recycling and repair – waste and how we reduce it, including repair and refurbishment.
  • Green spaces and biodiversity – parks and gardens, woodlands, growing spaces, wildlife, etc. Let’s put rivers and water in here too.
  • Protest and action – images of protest and demonstrations, awareness raising, events.
  • Graphs and graphics – a file for infographics, maps, graphs and so on to do with the environment in Luton.

Get in touch at for more information.


How many electric cars are there in Luton?

I recently read a report that Luton Council has secured funding to provide 165 more electric car charging points around the town by 2025. In response to this, one online commenter wondered if this was money well spent, asking how many electric cars (EVs) there were in Luton anyway?

In some ways the question misses the point, because charging points are being installed in anticipation of a major shift towards greener motoring. In time petrol and diesel cars will be phased out entirely, and Luton needs to keep ahead of this change, same as everywhere else. But it also made me curious – how many EVs are there in the town? And how is that number growing over time?

This information is available from the Department of Transport, as the DVLA keeps vehicle licencing statistics. Looking at the latest dataset for 2022, we can see that there were a total of 523 electric cars in the town. While the numbers are low, it’s worth remembering that there were only 13 electric cars in 2012!

Looking at a trend graph, we can also see growth accelerating dramatically from 2020. Numbers were rising slowly, for private cars and business fleets. In 2020 that changed, as more electric cars came to market and charging became easier. As elsewhere, the number of EVs started to rise.

Let’s put this in perspective though. Luton has a lot of cars – 88,000 in total. That means that less than 1% of the town’s cars are electric. That rapid growth needs to continue for many more years before we start making a difference to air pollution and carbon emissions.

It’s also important that electric cars are replacing petrol and diesel cars, rather than just adding to the total. We need to see the number of petrol and diesel cars falling. So far there is no sign of that.

Over the last decade, the number of diesels on our roads rose from 19,900 to 33,800, and this is the source of Luton’s air pollution problem. There are now almost six thousand hybrids on the road that are making a difference, but we need a lot more electric cars before we start to see any improvement!

If we want to see an improvement to traffic as well, then it’s a reduction in car numbers overall that we should be after. That means more bus transport, and more walking and cycling too.

Luton DART officially open

The Luton Airport Direct Air to Rail Transit system, or DART, officially opened to paying passengers on March 27th. The link replaces the bus service between Luton Airport Parkway station and the airport.

A fast and efficient connection from the station improves the journey time and convenience for those choosing to arrive by rail. It’s also fully accessible, making it easier than ever for those with mobility challenges or towing heavy luggage.

The opening of the DART also enables a new Luton Airport Express service for passengers travelling between the airport and London. In partnership with East Midlands Railway, passengers can get an all-in-one ticket that delivers them from St Pancras station to the airport in just 32 minutes. Trains run every half an hour.

Making the train an attractive choice for passengers supports the airport’s target of getting 45% of journeys to and from the airport by public transport by 2029. Choosing to take the train in turns helps to limit air pollution, congestion and greenhouse gas emissions from journeys to and from the airport.

Those hoping for net reductions in air pollution, congestion and emissions are likely to be disappointed however, as the DART also serves the airport’s long term expansion plans. More people might be taking public transport, but there would be double the number of passengers and so no actual decrease in local impacts. Residents should expect “an increase in traffic as a result of the expanded airport”, with recent consultation documents including potential changes to roads and junctions.

From a climate change point of view then, the DART reduces the emissions of individual passenger journeys, and that is very positive. But in the context of airport expansion, it won’t make much of a dent in the the enormous increase in climate pollution.

The DART is owned and operated by Luton Rising on behalf of the council, and local residents can buy tickets at half price – though you have to apply in advance for this.

Application submitted for airport growth

The formal application process for Luton’s airport expansion has begun, with documents filed with the Planning Inspectorate at the end of February. This confirms the plan to grow the airport from the current cap of 18 million passengers a year to 32 million. A new terminal will be built to accomodate these numbers.

As a result of the consultation on the project, the plan now includes increased environmental protections and a ‘Green Controlled Growth’ framework. However, this only deals with the local effects of noise, traffic, air pollution and ground-based carbon emissions.

Climate change is of course a global phenomenon, so it is not enough to only focus on local effects. The biggest source of emissions is from the flights themselves, which the airport takes no responsibility for. Expanding Luton airport will result in an enormous increase in emissions at a time of climate crisis, regardless of the Green Controlled Growth strategy.

Because the airport’s plans are such a major infrastructure project, full permission rests with central government rather than the council. The submission will be reviewed by a panel of five planning inspectors. They will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who will make the final decision on the airport expansion.

Private jet protests at Luton Airport

Extinction Rebellion activists blockaded entrances to Luton Airport’s private jet terminal on Valentine’s Day as part of a coordinated international protest against private planes. The protestors towed a sailing boat across the entrance to Harrods Aviation and Signature, demanding a ban to private jets and a tax on frequent flyers.

Among the protestors was former pilot Todd Smith, who left the job after coming to understand the excessive emissions of the industry. “The people want a ban on private jets, as Climate Assembly UK demonstrated in 2020,” he said. “But nothing has been done. I can only assume the government has ignored the will of the people to protect the interests of their rich mates. We are here today to make them listen.”

Private planes are a particular focus for Extinction Rebellion because they are untaxed and effectively subsidised, even though they are only used by the very rich. A flight on a private plane is ten times worse than a flight on a commercial passenger jet, and fifty times worse than the same journey done by train.

Luton Airport was the UK’s busiest airport for private jets before the pandemic. A request to the press office was unable to confirm if that it still the case.

Extinction Rebellion will be returning to London on April 23rd and 24th, with Luton’s XR group taking part in will be an inclusive (and non-arrestable!) protest event.

Join XR Luton in London

An invitation from XR Luton

Climate protest group Extinction Rebellion (XR) have announced a change of tactics for 2022. On the 1st of January the national leadership issued a ‘new year’s resolution‘ to “temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic.” Road blocks and disruptive stunts will be put to one side for this year, with a focus on participation and unity instead.

The centrepiece of this new approach will be a gathering billed as The Big One, in the diary for Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd of April. XR is hoping to rally 100,000 people in Parliament Square in London in support of faster action on the climate emergency. The event will be inclusive and family friendly. “Gathering at the Houses of Parliament day after day in large numbers means we can leave the locks, glue and paint behind and instead demonstrate faith in a critical mass of people to create a moment that’s impossible to ignore.”

The Luton branch of Extinction Rebellion will be supporting the action, and they are inviting anyone who would like to find out more to join them this weekend: “There will be a social meeting on Saturday 11th February at 11.00am at Youthscape in the centre of town. Please come and meet us and talk about how we can deal with the future.

Last chance to feed back on net zero plans

There’s one week left to have your say on Luton Council’s draft net zero plan. It’s your opportunity to review the roadmap and make your suggestions – and few things are going to be more important to the future of the town.

The consultation is for residents, businesses and anyone who would like to participate. Creating a climate friendly town will take all of us, so we’re all stakeholders here.

To take part, you’ll need to visit the council’s public consultation page and review the net zero documents, and then fill in the survey.

The consultation closes on January 27th, 2023.

Luton station discussed in Parliament

Rachel Hopkins, MP for Luton South, secured a Parliamentary debate on Luton Station this week. It was an opportunity to directly challenge the Transport Secretary, Huw Merriman.

Luton residents will need no reminder about the problem. Despite 3.5 million journeys via the station in 2019-2020, it is decrepit and out-dated, and inaccessible to the disabled and elderly. The leaking roof is a well known water hazard for disembarking commuters. It’s not fit for purpose, and a town of Luton’s size deserves better.

There are several reasons why Luton Station needs a complete redevelopment. Accessibility is the most urgent. Development is another, as Hopkins said in her remarks to Parliament. “A train station is a gateway to a town.” It creates a first impression. “Improving the station as that gateway to our town centre would increase the attractiveness of Luton to residents and visitors, which is key to creating jobs, attracting investment and encouraging businesses to come to Luton.”

Hopkins also made the climate connection: “Improving Luton’s rail offer also aligns with the UK’s wider aim of reaching net zero. A positive rail passenger experience is vital to encouraging the shift from cars to rail. It is clear that the current experience of Luton residents is not encouraging them to make that shift.” A better station would encourage more sustainable travel, including for the fans travelling in support of a rising Luton Town FC.

Hopkins challenged the Minister to detail when the works on a new lift would happen, and she also invited him to visit Luton to see the station for himself. He agreed to a visit, and pledged to work with Luton’s two MPs and partners for a solution.

Followers of the Luton station saga will know better than to hold their breath. But it’s good to see high level discussion of the problem, and we will keep you up to date on any important news, or campaigns you can join to improve the station.

Airport protest targets private planes

Protestors have targeted private aviation at Luton Airport as part of a coordinated day of action around the world. A small group of Extinction Rebellion members blocked entrances to Harrods Aviation, holding signs saying ‘ban private jets’ and ‘tax frequent flyers’.

Similar protests were held elsewhere in the UK and at airports in Berlin, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Melbourne, a total of 13 different countries. Activists aimed to raise awareness of the high emissions of private planes ahead of the COP27 climate talks. All aviation has high emissions, but private planes have a vastly disporportionate impact. Taking a flight on a private plane is among the most damaging things an individual can do to the climate.

Luton Airport is the UK’s leading airport for corporate jets, according to the Civil Aviation Authority. Their report for 2020 record 11,929 aircraft movements in the business aviation category.

An XR spokesperson explained that “the campaign is targeting the climate destroying, jet-setting life-styles of billionaires and multi-millionaires which are exacerbating climate breakdown and condemning the global majority to a lifetime of poverty. Research has shown that just one per cent of the global population produces over half of total aviation emissions while 80% of the global population have never actually stepped foot onboard an aircraft.”

The Mall harvests its first honey

In 2021 The Mall installed a beehive on the roof, swiftly followed by a second one and a pollinator garden. In September this year they extracted their first honey harvest and sold it to shoppers, raising £680 for Luton Foodbank.

Two members of staff have volunteered as trainee beekeepers, who removed 30 frames from the bee hives and processed them in the kitchen. 75lbs of honey was collected and packed in jars for resale. Having sold most of the harvest to shoppers, the team kept some back for Bedfordshire Beekeepers Centenary Honey Show.

“We were so excited for the installation of our rooftop hive back in 2021,” says Tracey Bateman, Business Manager and one of The Mall’s trainee beekeepers. “It’s been so rewarding finally reaping the rewards of our (and the bees!) hard work. We are so grateful that shoppers were as excited as we were to buy jars of our delicious honey. All proceeds will go such a long way for Luton Foodbank, a charity very close to our hearts. Hopefully we will have many more jars to come in future seasons!”

The bee hives on the roof are part of the Mall’s environmental pledge, which includes recycling, and reducing water and energy use.

At Zero Carbon Luton we are interested in good use of rooftops – whether that is for rooftop gardens, solar, rainwater harvesting, or other uses. If you know of any other rooftop projects we should know about, tell us about it in the comments.