A leading county councillor signalled a need to review a review airport growth policy after being questioned about low flights plaguing the city.

Conservative councillor Annie Brewster highlighted Luton Airport’s expansion plan when she asked Cllr Derrick Ashley, who is responsible for growth, infrastructure, planning and the economy, about the airport’s ambition to increase the maximum number of passengers to 32 million a year.

The question at Tuesday's full council meeting came on the same day the council declared a climate emergency.

Cllr Brewster – who is also a member of St Albans District Council - highlighted the impact previous increases were having on the county, including “excessively low over-flying since their last expansion”.

She said: “I believe our policy was to avoid the building of an additional runway at Luton,” she said.

“But not designed to encourage the packing of every second with maximum aircraft movement.”

And she asked Cllr Ashley: “While we wish to support economic growth do to agree that this should not be at any environmental cost?”

Cllr Ashley said the county council had always taken the view that economic benefits of airports needed to be balanced with the impact on the environment.

He accepted that in recent years there had been a much bigger increase in passenger numbers than they might have anticipated.

And he said larger planes with more passengers on every flight were having a “substantial” impact, in the air and on the ground.

He suggested that, in the future, greater weight could be given to environmental concerns.

He said: “I think the balance is now shifting more towards the environmental issues and away from strictly economic issues,  that I think were the priorities in the past.

“So I would agree that we do need to look now at how we view airport expansion – the impact on the ground, the impact relative to climate change and whether the environmental impact now takes a much higher priority than perceived economic benefits.”