WELLESBOURNE Airfield is facing the prospect of imminent closure because the landowners have decided to demolish a large number of buildings on the site.
The shock news is a major blow to businesses at the airfield who’ve been waging a major campaign – supported by the Herald – to avoid being thrown off the site when the leases expire on Christmas Eve.
It is also especially embarrassing for Stratford District Council because the authority has given repeated pledges to preserve the location for aviation purposes.
But it was via the council itself that the landowners, the Littler family, have been able to override the authority’s policy by putting in an application – known as a Section 80 notice – to carry out the demolition and getting the application accepted.
However, the district council was quick to point out last Wednesday that a number of conditions needed to be complied with before demolition work could begin, involving health and safety and, where necessary, planning approval.
Despite these reservations there was deep gloom among the airfield campaigners last week. They were jubilant to discover in the summer that the airfield had been excluded from the council’s core strategy for housing development. (Originally the Littler family had wanted to sell off the airfield for major house-building, but this proposal got nowhere.)
Nevertheless, the intention not to renew the leases still stood – and is currently the subject of a legal challenge. The last thing the campaigners had expected was for the landowners to exploit building regulations – via the council that had persistently blocked their housing proposals – in order to remove the businesses there and close down the airfield.
Rodney Galiffe, the chairman of the South Warwickshire Flying School, which is based at the airfield, told the Herald yesterday: “There is no protection for the tenants in this case. The landowners don’t even need to give a reason for the demolition.
He said he heard that demolition work was due to start in early January. “We would have to close down,” he said. “There’s nowhere we could go.”
He added: “It would be a loss not only to Stratford but to many surrounding areas – including Birmingham, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. We had not planned for this because we thought legal side over the leases was working its way through. It is very disappointing.”
Mr Galiffe was among some of the campaigners who met key councillors at Stratford District Council yesterday to discuss the latest shock developments. Cllr chris Saint (Cons, Shipston North, the leader of the council, was one of the councillors with whom they discussed the situation.
He said the council was investigating the situation. Last Wednesday, however, the council declined to comment on the meeting that had taken place earlier in the day.
Businesses at the airfield have been very shaken by the news. Mike Roberts, who owns Take Flight Aviation at the airfield, said: “We’re disappointed that even though they have no prospect of getting planning permission to build on the site, they are still intent on demolishing the businesses on the airfield, something that would lead to the loss of around 200 jobs.
“This would be a huge loss to the local economy. They seem determined to use every tactic available to them to destroy the airfield.
“Despite the fact that we have paid millions of pounds to the owners of the airfield over the years in rent and landing fees, they have said that if we are successful in getting the lease extended we will have to pay £10,000 in rent each month, twenty times what we are paying at the moment. It’s clear that they are just trying to dispose of us.
“I don’t think they would be permitted to do that, I believe it’s just a scare tactic.”
Derek Paddock, who co-founded the Wellesbourne Aviation Museum, said: “The Littlers own the airfield and it is up to them what they do with the land. It is definitely not what we want to see happen. It would be sad because building houses here would affect the historical significance of the site and of Wellesbourne.
“I think that if the buildings were demolished and the land was vacant it would give the housing developers a stronger argument in the future because nobody would want to see the site just sitting there going derelict.
“We have almost completed a refurbishment of the museum, we’ve spent a lot of money on it and all of this would be wasted if the airfield was to close.”
Nicky Mathews from Warwickshire Aviation Ltd, said: “The situation is looking grim at the moment, we’re all taking legal advice to see if there is anything we can do.
“It’s very frustrating that they are still pushing to build houses on the airfield despite the Core Strategy ruling out such a development.”
Bill Leary from Wellesbourne Matters said: “This is being looked at by our legal representatives but as far as we are concerned this has no impact on planning. This concerns landlords and tenants.”
Although the district council has set its face against housing development at the airfield – to the extent of issuing a pledge to fight for its continued use for aviation purposes – it still has to find land for 3,000 homes because of a requirement to provide “reserve sites” in the event of any of the core strategy projects falling by the wayside.
There is a risk that Wellesbourne Airfield could be included among these “reserve sites” – especially if properties at the location have been demolished to make it ripe for housing development.
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