NORTH WEALD AIRFIELD USERS GROUP.
The North Weald Airfield Users Group (NWAUG) attended the RSS 14 examination in Public (EiP) at Letchworth on the 14 and 15 Feb., in relation to matters affecting the future of North Weald Airfield as an aviation and leisure facility. The NWAUG was represented by Mr Peter Kember of Kember Loudon Williams Ltd., a Specialist Planner with a specific interest and experience in Airfield Planning matters.
The EiP Panel was briefed on the role of General Aviation (GA) in the Aviation Industry. GA is defined as all Aviation other than the Airlines, and includes Business Aviation. In particular the Panel was briefed on the catastrophic loss to the GA Industry should North Weald Airfield be forced to close for development, including the loss of much needed future potential business aviation capacity, identified by a government commissioned report of May 2002, quoted during Mr. Kember's statement. This report recognised the significant contribution that North Weald Airfield could make to this sector. The NWAUG also pointed out to the Panel that the loss of GA facilities was not addressed in the Plan.
Many arguments were put forward by potential developers (in particular, Mr Charles of Charles Planning, who stated that he was representing several of the current airfield lease holders. These have since been confirmed to be North Weald Associates LP who own the lease on the Jet Centre/Area 51, and North Weald Ltd (lease holder of Unit 4/Hangar4) and who are supported by the owners of North Weald Flying Services and Swan Hill Homes Ltd (builders of luxury homes) all of whom are said to by Mr. Charles to strongly support major housing development on the site. The points that had been previously raised by Mr. Charles and others were addressed in turn by the Users Group. Amongst the most important were the following:
It was suggested by developers that there were 12 alternative airfields within 25 miles of North Weald. The Users Group referred to responses it had received to its own survey conducted last year that showed that there were very few, if any, within a 45 minute driving isochrone of North Weald that were either able or willing to accommodate additional aircraft or offer hangarage, which is essential for the older vintage aircraft and some of the early military jets that are operated from North Weald. In reply to a suggestion that hangars could be built , Mr Kember reminded the Panel that most of the suggested sites are in the Green Belt and further reminded them of similar planning problems in relation to erecting new hangars, such as those at White Waltham Aerodrome. Also none of the other GA airfields in the area have anything like the runway length of North Weald (1900 m) and few of them even have a hard-surfaced runway, required by many of the aircraft, including vintage and business aircraft, which currently operate from the airfield.
Furthermore, many of these airfields do not enjoy the same unprecedented and overwhelming support and acceptance among the local community that North Weald does. This was confirmed by the Chairman of the North Weald Parish Council at the hearing.
Confliction with Stansted Air Traffic.
In reply to suggestions that the closure of NW would increase capacity at Stansted the Users Group replied that there was no such confliction as NW lay outside Stansed Controlled Airspace. The Users Group also pointed out that 3 large GA Airfields operate successfully inside the London Heathrow Control Zone with specific entry/exit routes. Furthermore, the NWAUG has received information from the Director of Airspace Planning, at the CAA, to the effect that similar facilities would be considered for NW if there is an increase in the size of Controlled Airspace at Stansted. During the hearing the representative of GOEAST (The Govt. Office for the East of England) actually contacted the Dept. of Transport who confirmed that any potential airspace conflict would most likely be resolved as part of an ongoing airspace restructuring program. Indeed surveys have shown that Stansted would benefit if some of its movements of smaller business aircraft could be re-located to larger GA airfields such as NW.
Suggestions by the housing developers that the runway at North Weald would need 6 million pounds of maintenance, if aircraft of 100,000 pounds weight were to be operated, in accordance with existing leases, was addressed by the Users Group. The Users Group replied that all aircraft over 50,000 pounds were almost exclusively in the Commercial Airliner category and this type of flying was not envisaged at NW. The existing strength and condition of the runway was certainly adequate for continued GA (including Business Aviation types, most of which weigh significantly less than 20 tonnes).
Developers stated that NW accommodates 10,250 movements per year. In fact the correct number should be 20,500 as take-offs and landings are considered separately. The true figure is probably far higher as these numbers apparently do not include the glider tug and gliders nor any of the large specialist events. The NWAUG argue that these high figures illustrate the popularity of NW and the fact that the site is irreplaceable.
The developers seemed to have little regard for the historical significance of the airfield site as a whole. NWAUG quoted English Heritage's own statement that it represented one of the best preserved landscapes put in place by Fighter Command at the beginning of the 2nd World War.
The NWAUG asked the Panel to take into account what it calls the Trickledown Effect. This is the increasing demand for facilities such as at NW following the massive airline expansions at Luton, Stansted and Gatwick, which increasingly no longer accept General Aviation.
The Users Group also asked the Panel to consider how the Plan complies with the Governments PPG 13. (Planning Policy Guidance). PPG 13 states that any development at or near Airfields should not restrict existing operations at these sites. The Panel agreed to consider this important matter.
Mr Kember concluded NWAUG's submission by saying:
"North Weald Airfield is unique to the region both as an airfield, leisure facility and heritage site and has a significant potential for future development of these aspects. It is also at the heart of the local community and plays an important part in the local culture and identity. For this reason, it is far too valuable an asset to be lost to housing, which can be sited elsewhere, where it would not result in the destruction of such an important facility and heritage site."
In addition Mr Kember reminded the Panel that there had been in excess of 6,500 objections to the plans relating to North Weald alone, which represented 25% of the total number of objections to the whole plan.
Interestingly, after NWAUG's submission, EERA, who are the authors of RSS14, had to admit to the inspector that they had been given the impression by those drawing up the development plans for the site, that it was not of such significance as that made clear by NWAUG at the hearing, and that they had been led to believe that the activities which take place there could have been easily accommodated elsewhere. Hopefully we have now been able to put them in the picture.
The results of the EiP will be made known later in the year. In the meantime the NWAUG will continue to monitor developments on behalf of its members and fight vigorously in all quarters for the continued use of NW for flying and other leisure activities.
Please see our website for further details. www.northwealdairfield.org