Anger as clouds cast over airfield future

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Chris Saint, leader of Stratford District Council, said: “We are holding firm over Wellesbourne Airfield and treat the notices to quit to operational tenants as an act of brinkmanship that I hope the [core strategy] inspector will ignore. The airfield is simply the wrong place for even more housing.”

Cllr Lynda Organ, the council’s finance portfolio holder, added: “Wellesbourne Airfield is an important asset for Wellesbourne and the surrounding areas. “The district council values the airfield and its related business and aviation facilities.

As such we are actively seeking innovative opportunities from a business development perspective with the intention of safeguarding not only the existing activities but the future of the airfield.”

The council reiterated its view in the core strategy that they would like to see the site remain as an active airfield and help businesses develop further on the site. Since receiving the notices, businesses at Wellesbourne Airfield have consulted with their solicitors and are investigating the legal options available to them.

A statement from law firm Wright Hassall Solicitors, which is representing a number of businesses on the site, said: “We are acting for the majority of tenants, all of which want to remain at Wellesbourne Airfield.

Obviously this news has come as a severe blow and we are talking about the livelihoods of individuals who have worked hard to build up their businesses.

“We can confirm we are exploring various legal angles and anticipate being in a position to confirm further actions in the coming weeks.”

Airfield user and well-known motoring journalist, Quentin Willson, has added his voice to those opposing development, claiming it would be disastrous for the area.

He said: “I have been going to the airfield for 17 years, I have had flying lessons there, I take my children there and I regularly visit the Touchdown Café. “To close all the businesses down and build 1,500 houses there would see us lose jobs and growth in Stratford, it would be an insane planning decision if this was allowed to happen. “I would actively campaign to stop this happening, we lack growth and employment in Stratford.”

He added: “It is a working airfield, it should be developed further as a business centre. If we have 2,000 extra cars going over Clopton Bridge every day we can just say goodbye to the centre of Stratford, it would be a tragedy for the town. If I can help at all I will.”

Wellesbourne MP Jeremy Wright also reiterated his view that housing should not be considered on the site, though he stopped short of saying it should absolutely remain as an airfield. Mr Wright said: “My view is that we should maintain this as an employment site. Building 1,500 houses there is not of benefit to Wellesbourne, the village has taken more than its fair share of houses.

“If a housing application came about I would make representations to the planning authority that my view and the view of most people in the village is that it would be a bad idea. People do not want to see more pressure put on local services. “Of course it offers some employment as an airfield, I wouldn’t rule out it creating employment in another way.”

Last week Gladman Developments, the developers behind a plan to build houses there, confirmed that they still have an interest in the airfield and are promoting the proposal though the Stratford Local Plan process, although it has not been included in the draft document.

When that plan was first mooted in 2014 a group called Wellesbourne Matters was established to fight the proposal. Bill Leary, from that group, said this week: “From our point of view this is not unexpected, we’re a bit surprised it has taken this long and we have taken legal advice.

The businesses met last week to discuss this and they are going down the legal avenue, they are going to fight this.” Wellesbourne Airfield is home to a number of flying schools, an aircraft maintenance business, a museum and the Touchdown Café, with more than 100 people employed at the site.

The Avro Vulcan XM655 is also maintained at Wellesbourne Airfield by the XM655 Maintenance and Preservation Society.

Wellesbourne Airfield Market also takes place every Saturday, though the company that runs that event told the Herald they have not been told to vacate the site.