Plan Proposal for Redevelopment of North Weald Aerodrome

for 6,000 Houses

14th-15th February 2006



Peter Kember speaking for North Weald Airfield Users Group


Chairman – I have 14 points to make and then I will respond to the points made yesterday by Mr Anthony Charles of Charles Planning.


Like many around this table I am a chartered town planning consultant but I am also a pilot and I use my own aircraft for business and recreational purposes.  I am not based at North Weald but I operate an aerodrome in West Kent.  I have used North Weald on a number of occasions for business meetings.


1.         Aviation is an international industry.  There are few areas, apart from airport development in which the UK is free to make policy in isolation from other countries.  In the next few years there will, in the EU be further development of the “Single European Sky” and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is likely to take responsibility for rule making relating to, amongst other things, operations, airports and air traffic management.


2.         The UK has a leading role in Commercial Air Transport (CAT) and an important role in the operation of light aircraft through organisations like those based at North Weald.  This has resulted in the development of an extensive maintenance, repair and overhaul sector with the UK holding some 20 per cent of the European market, and making an important contribution to the worldwide sales of light aircraft, particularly kit aircraft.  There are significant opportunities for the UK in these sectors of the aviation industry.


3.         The Government White Paper on the Future of Air Transport (December 2003) supports, in principle, the development of smaller airports in the South East, in order to meet local demand.  It also requires “the best use be made of the existing runways at Stansted and Luton”, and proposes a second runway at Stansted.


4.         We know that as airports grow to meet the demand for more slots the sector known as General Aviation (GA) is increasingly being displaced to the smaller airports and aerodromes.  This I call the ‘trickledown effect’.  This phenomenon is recognised in PPG13 Annex B.  Because it is an important aerodrome for GA North Weald should be retained for the role that it must play in the future.


5.         The term GA covers all forms of aerial activity other than CAT.  GA uses 15000 aircraft in the UK compared with upto 1000 aircraft in the CAT sector.  GA operates from about 450 flying sites of all types whereas CAT uses 23 airports in the UK.  The GA fleet has doubled in the past 20 years, the CAT fleet has remained fairly constant although the type of airliners in use have increased significantly in size.  The numbers of licensed aerodromes has reduced in recent years, many being lost to the type of  development now proposed for North Weald.


6.         North Weald is an important recreational and open space facility which also safeguards the openness of the Green Belt in this locality.  It has suffered planning blight recently not only because of the possibility of redevelopment but also because of the constraints imposed on its operation by the landowner and leaseholder.  It has the capacity to accommodate much more in the way of high value skills and knowledge based employment, and Air Traffic Movements (ATMs) as a result of the increasing GA fleet and the declining numbers of licensed or potentially licensable aerodromes.


7.         The East of England Plan does not have much to say on the question of GA, other than in policy E14 on the subject of regional airports and the reference to Stansted and Luton airports which, according to the Plan demonstrates the important role which “airports perform in the locality”.  The Plan is silent on the subject of accommodating the GA fleet made homeless by the Plan and the skilled jobs which would be lost if the Aerodrome is to be redeveloped.  The Plan is also silent on the potential contribution to the economy of the region which a fully developed aerodrome could provide.


8.         North Weald Aerodrome is recognised to be a unique facility for GA because of the length of the paved all weather runway (nearly 2 k including starter extensions and overshoot RESA’s), and the fixed surface infrastructure including an impressive control tower, paved apron, taxiways and large hangars.  On a continuum from regional airports like Norwich to the smallest farm strip, North Weald Aerodrome lies near the top, above Stapleford Aerodrome but clearly beneath London City.  That its natural development has been suppressed is a major inditement of the landowner and a serious misuse of a potentially very important aviation resource.


9.         The user group directly represent the interests of the 3000 persons/groups and companies on the groups database but also the 1 million or so visitors who use the Aerodrome every year, according to the surveys.  If the Plan is adopted the Aerodrome would close – unless of course the infrastructure costs of its development and the transport link to Harlow town centre outweighs the value of the Aerodrome as an aviation facility.  The plan is largely silent on these costs.


10.       The closure of the Aerodrome would displace about 100 aircraft.  The survey which my company has carried out suggests that there is little or no spare capacity within a 45 minute drive-time isochrone of the Aerodrome, and that there are no other aerodromes or airports able to accept the valuable historic civil and ex military aircraft including the early jets which the public loves to see perform at airshows.


11.       The inability of a planning authority to provide for the needs of GA has in the past had profound effects on the local economy and on the provision of proper recreational, sport and ab initio training facilities for pilots and ultimately the airlines.  Take as an example the closure in 1997 of Ipswich Airport and the dispersal to neighbouring small flying sites of the resident aircraft.  Unsurprisingly one of the receiving local planning authorities served enforcement notices on a small aerodrome alleging material changes of use by intensification.  After 2 public local inquiries my team was able to demonstrate no change of use and a full costs claim was paid.  The lessons of the Ipswich Airport case should be learned and not repeated.  It is as important to plan for the needs of GA as it is to plan for housing or other land uses.


12.       The User Group consider that the plan lacks vision and an appropriate strategy for GA, that it would dramatically change the environmental character of the Aerodrome site, and affect our cultural heritage at considerable cost to the Green Belt, which is one of the planning success stories since 1948.  The loss would also disperse or dissolve the high value skills and knowledge based employment at the Aerodrome and the recognised potential of this important sector of the UK economy.


13.       The loss would also fly in the face of the December 2005 statement from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport which said of North Weald:-


“Fighter section station with Battle of Britain associations, and after Kenley and Debden retaining the best preserved of the landscapes put in place by Fighter Command at the beginning of the Second World War”.


14.       We redevelop such sites at severe peril for out culture, for the diversity of sport and recreation in the UK and the potential of the emerging knowledge based industry which can contribute so much to the UK economy.  As planners we all know of the effects we have seen arising from the redevelopment for housing of some open space and playing fields in the past thirty years.  We should not countenance the loss of our airfields like North Weald for the sake of political expediency.


15.       And now I will respond to some of the points incorrectly made by Mr Charles of Charles Planning:-


1.                  An ATM is a take off or a landing.

A touch and go required for circuit practice is 2 ATMs

I am informed that North Weald has in the region of 25000 ATMs per annum including glider and tug aircraft operations.


2.                  Alternatives if North Weald were to close


Mr Charles identified 12 airfields within 15-25 miles of North Weald.  My survey of February 2005 identified 13 aerodromes within a 45 minute drive-time isochrone of North Weald. 

Of the 11 respondents to my survey all reported that they had no spare hangarage although 4 indicated that they could offer some limited outside parking.  For certain types of aircraft, those constructed of wood and fabric and for other historic aircraft like the early jets based at North Weald open storage is not an option.  There is no realistic alternative site in the region for the early jets which require a long paved runway.


3.                  Proximity of North Weald to Stansted.  Airport operators and air traffic controllers prefer to have the surrounding airspace to themselves.  But it is not essential for traffic deconfliction as the CAA describes it.  Heathrow operates safely having Denham and White Waltham Aerodromes and Fairoaks Airport within or on the edge of the London Terminal Maneouvering Area.  North Weald is well outside the Stansted Control Zone and there is no air safety reason to justify the demise of North Weald.


4.                  The open market provides jobs of the sort required in this area for about 700 persons, and attracts 25000 visitors at peak times, or 8-9000 vehicles.  The spend has been calculated by the Parish Council to be approximately 20 million per annum, which underpins the financial viability of the Aerodrome.  It is simply not feasible to suggest that the developer would retain the runway for the market because that ignores the area required for the parking of vehicles.  We estimate that an area 2 1/2 to 3 times the size of the market is required for the parking generated by the market.


5.                  Chairman, you have often posed the question that if the required housing is not to be located at North Weald where could it go?  I should like to ask the question – if the Aerodrome were to close where could the refugee aircraft, flying club, maintenance organisations and skilled jobs be provided?


6.                  I understand that the number of consultations responses objecting to the loss of North Weald amount to about 6500 in total.  This must be one of the most controversial policies if not the most controversial.


7.                  North Weald Airfield is unique to the region both as a GA aerodrome, a leisure facility and heritage site. It has significant potential for future development in all 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.


Thank you for your patience in listening to me.



Peter Kember

15th February 2006