Luton Airport car park has to be knocked down after fire damages hundreds of vehicles

3 November 2023, 22:49

Police have arrested a man in connection with the Luton Airport fire
Police have arrested a man in connection with the Luton Airport fire. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

The car park at Luton Airport where more than 1,000 cars were destroyed in a fire will have to be bulldozed.

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The Luton fire, which broke out on level three of the airport's multi-storey car park in October, is thought to have started in a diesel car and spread rapidly, causing structural damage and destroying as many as 1,500 cars.

Some 235 flights were cancelled, affecting around 40,000 passengers.

Police said last week that they had arrested a man in connection with the fire.

Airport bosses said they were still trying to remove about 100 vehicles from the top deck of the car park.

Luton Airport car park
Luton Airport car park. Picture: Getty

Neil Thompson, operations director at London Luton Airport, said that the car park will be "fully demolished" as will any cars parked from the ground floor to third level.

He said in a statement: "I know the past few weeks since the fire have been extremely challenging and difficult for you.

"Regrettably, I can now confirm, that due to the extent of the structural damage, the car park will need to be fully demolished, and any cars parked on levels ground to three are not recoverable, ahead of the demolition work.

"This is consistent with our initial assessment, which has now been confirmed following a full structural report.

Luton Airport car park
Luton Airport car park. Picture: Getty

"The process to remove around 100 vehicles from the top deck to stabilise the structure is ongoing.

"This has been a painstaking task and has taken longer than expected, not least because we have been hampered by periods of bad weather and strong winds."

It comes after Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service said that as many as 1,500 cars were inside, and they would probably not be saveable.

Luton said it had provided the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB) with the registration details of 1,405 vehicles. The airport said it had responded to almost 16,500 customer queries since the blaze.

Mr Thompson said: "If you believe your car may be one of these and you would like further information please contact your insurance company directly, as they and their partners have begun the process of retrieving these vehicles.

Luton Airport car park
Luton Airport car park. Picture: Getty

"It is reassuring to note that the vast majority of insurance claims have been settled.

"If you have yet to receive your final settlement, the advice is to contact your insurance company as soon as possible.

"I understand that this has been a distressing situation and we have tried to keep you updated as best we can throughout, whilst working with the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB) and the Association of British Insurers to enable the claims process to be managed as quickly as possible.

"On behalf of everyone at London Luton Airport, I would like to thank you for your patience and understanding as we have worked through this unprecedented situation."

An ABI spokeswoman said: "While we understand the majority of claims have been resolved, we appreciate that the situation and news that Luton Airport's Terminal Car Park 2 will be demolished is very distressing for those affected.

"Our members have worked hard to provide urgent support to their customers and will continue to do all they can to settle any outstanding claims as quickly as possible.

Luton Airport car park
Luton Airport car park. Picture: Getty

"We have worked with Luton Airport, the Motor Insurers' Bureau and salvage operators throughout this process and will continue to work together while the final claims are resolved and vehicles from the top deck are recovered."

A spokesman for Bedfordshire Police said earlier: 'Police last week arrested a man in his 30s on suspicion of criminal damage in connection to their investigation into a significant fire in a car park at London Luton Airport on Tuesday (10 October).

"We are carrying out a thorough and diligent investigation into all potential lines of enquiry, as should be expected after such a major event.

"The man has been released on bail while our enquiries continue."

Read more: Dramatic footage shows the moment car bursts into flames inside Luton Airport car park, damaging 1,200 cars

Read more: Huge blaze rips through Luton Airport terminal car park

The wreckage of cars after the fire caused the car park to collapse
The wreckage of cars after the fire caused the car park to collapse. Picture: Alamy

The fire was shockingly similar to a blaze which destroyed the multi-storey car park at Liverpool's Echo arena in December 2017, which destroyed up to 1,600 vehicles.

LBC has been told the simple installation of sprinklers, called for following the Liverpool Echo arena car park fire, would have made it a "non-news event", and could have contained the fire to one vehicle. The structure was built two years after the Liverpool blaze in 2019.

The Fire Brigades Union described Luton as an "accident waiting to happen", and slammed the government and developers for failing to learn lessons from the 2017 New Year's Eve blaze, after Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS) said it could have been stopped if sprinklers had been fitted in the building. They said it would have given crews a "much better" chance of limiting the damage.

Concerns were also raised about the structure of Liverpool car park because it's design should have been able to withstand fire for 15 minutes. MFRS said despite crews attending within eight minutes of the alarm, the flames spread so quickly they were not able to control the blaze. Luton Airport's terminal two car park was the same type of exposed-steelwork design.

Fire Brigades Union National Officer Riccardo la Torre told LBC it was "a fire of the exact same nature" and "lessons have not been learned". He said for as long as building regulations for exposed-steelwork multi-storey car parks remain unchanged "members of the public are at serious risk", and said no changes were made following the Liverpool blaze.

The Business Sprinkler Alliance, which is backed by the National Fire Chiefs Council, said it was "unsurprised" by the severity of the Luton Airport car park fire because sprinklers were not fitted in the structure.

Secretary Tom Roache told LBC: "Current regulatory guidance doesn't call for sprinklers in these buildings. It's based on thoughts and thinking from the 1980's and early 90's where cars were built very differently than they are today.

"More plastics in cars today means the propagation, the spreading of fire is more likely, which will lead to these larger configurations if there are no sprinklers."

He said if sprinklers had been fitted "we would have seen none of the disruption we're talking about, with all of those passengers, and to that local area and local community."

Mr Roache also warned of the dangers of a similar event happening in another multi-storey car park, saying: "What if that car park fire was in a building which was residential, with premises above where people are living and sleeping? We have car parks with shopping complexes and office complexes above - what does it mean for those?"

He called for the government to "think carefully" about protecting them, and urged ministers to order the installation of sprinklers in the structures.

Luton Airport said it was "too early to tell" whether a sprinkler system would have prevented any of the damage, as executives admitted it's highly unlikely any of the cars within the multi-storey will be recovered.

Director of Corporate Affairs Oliver Jaycock told LBC: "Underway now is a very large investigation that will examine every aspect of the fire, from how it originated to how it spread, and then ultimately contained. We'll await the findings from that investigation and take on any advice and guidance that's given."

He said the airport was supporting emergency services with the investigation and pledged to "see it through", but said customers with cars trapped in the structure have been told "the likelihood is nothing will be salvageable".

Burned out cars are pictured in a charred section of Luton Airport's Terminal 2 car park
Burned out cars are pictured in a charred section of Luton Airport's Terminal 2 car park. Picture: Getty

The government launched a major review of the fire safety guidance to building regulations, known as Approved Document B, following the Grenfell tower fire. It's being overseen by the Building Safety Regulator in the HSE and involves research in to the structural fire resistance of car parks.

It's currently for building designers, managers, and owners to determine whether particular circumstances of their building should go beyond the regulations.

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: "Public safety is our absolute priority - which is why we’re undertaking a major review of the fire safety guidance to the building regulations, including research on the fire resistance of car parks."

It's understood ministers intend to take the "necessary time to properly consider the research" before committing to changes.