The de Havilland Moth Club reports that British airfields are coming under increasing threat from property
developers since they were categorised as ‘brownfield’ sites ( Peterborough-sibson being one such targeted for housing
development). DHMC member John Gilder, MRICS, MRAES, has therefore provided these comments in his capacity as Vice-chairman (Planning) of the General Aviation Awareness Council (GAAC).
“The GAAC is an ‘umbrella’ organisation representing the spectrum of active GA organisations in discussions with Government. Our members include the LAA, AOPA, BGA, BBGA, AOA, balloonists, microlighters, farmers, aeromodellers and many others… Together with my GAAC colleagues, Steve Slater (LAA Chief Executive and Pilot contributor) and John Walker of AOPA we are monitoring the situation with almost every airfield currently or imminently under threat. Our Chairman, Charles Henry, and I are also progressing discussions with the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) to address the ‘brownfield’ issue, among others. We met the DCLG on 6 December and a follow up is scheduled for late February, so this is very much a live situation and, they are listening.
“The DCLG response on the issue of airfields being ‘brownfield’ merits a special mention as a few key points have already emerged:
1. The land must be redundant (i.e. unused) for inclusion in Local Authority lists of ‘land suitable for development’. By definition active airfields are, therefore, not subject to the presumption that development should be allowed.
2. The Minister, Gavin Barwell, responded to an enquiry by Nick Hird, MP, explaining that airfields are not ‘designated’ as ‘brownfield’, they are ‘described’, which appears to mark a change in DCLG thinking.
3. The DCLG restated that any application relating to an existing airfield should be treated the same as any other
application, and all relevant evidence should be considered. This means amenity value, community use and wildlife habitat can be included: airfields should not be in a lesser situation than any other user.
4. A concern was raised with the DCLG that planners do not always consider the requirements of ‘the third dimension’ when reviewing planning applications. Airfields need space beyond the boundary for emergencies [and] tall obstructions close to airfields can be a hazard. This was accepted and will be discussed again at our next meeting.
“Moving to the specifics at Sibson, the proposal has met with strong local objections and the current application is
expected to fail. However, it is only the start, as the landowner is behind the application and has both the resources and incentive to keep pressing. The plan is for a self-contained community scheme… which are not now generally favoured by local authorities, who see them as socially divisive traffic generators that leave them with the cost of provision, and continuation, of services. We will support the local authority when the time comes, just as we already have at Panshanger. “Among others being monitored,
RAF Halton is a very big site and our focus is the airfield, which is largely separate from the main buildings. These are easier to develop, as the site services already exist and the area is substantially developed. We are not aware of any applications but are monitoring the situation closely and are aware of interest from airfield operators who believe it could be commercially viable.
“The timings in the recent announcements apparently took the RAF by surprise and it seems that even those on a short timetable ( Henlow, Colerne and
Chalgrove) may struggle to close by 2020, as the relocation sites are unlikely to be ready. Henlow is of particular interest to GA and positive initial discussions have been held with several interest groups including Sport England and the Shuttleworth Collection. The Local Authority has the site allocated for airfield use in its current plan. We intend to meet with both the flying club and local authority early in 2017 to discuss possible options. Manston is also a very current situation with an American-led challenge creating a tricky issue for the local authority.
“The New Year is likely to be a busy one. We are making progress with the DCLG, who now understand that the uncertainty caused by the brownfield confusion is deterring investment in aviation facilities and encouraging speculation by voracious developers. They have also reaffirmed the policy that GA is the critically important starting point for those aspiring to the larger commercial aviation sector and needs to be protected.”
A petition to prompt the government to reassess GA general aviation airfields as
green belt, not brownfield sites has been raised at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/174826 Work is to start soon on refurbishing the
Control Tower at Old Sarum Airfield, which celebrates its centenary this year. Originally built as a radio station during the Cold War, the building became a Control Tower in the 1980s, but has started to fall below the standards expected for the dedicated team of staff and is in drastic need of repair. Before any work can start, an assessment needs to be made of what needs doing. As this isn’t feasible while the Tower is in active use, a temporary building has been erected to allow air/ground radio operations to continue (photo above).
Airfield Manager Angus Beal says, “I am pleased that we are now able to start the process of refurbishing the Control Tower. We are keen to provide a suitable workplace for our team, and provide them with a safe and comfortable working environment. This is the first stage of refurbishment work planned for the airfield to help maintain flying activity and secure the airfield’s future.”