Aug 012011

I have had two phone calls this afternoon from people who would be most likely to know what is happening in the long and immensely frustrating saga of getting our airfield up and running again. Both tell me that Kemble Air Services have at last received a certificate of lawful usage from the Snowdonia National Park Authority, and the airfield can now reopen. However it may be necessary for Kemble to obtain planning permission before private flying can take place as previous usage was by military and government contractor’s aircraft. Neither of the people I have spoken to seem to know precisely what Kemble’s plans are now.

Congratulations and thanks to all those who have helped to bring this about.

The Cambrian News has published an appeal form Kemble Air Services for information about the way in which Llanbedr Airfield has been used in the past.  This is in a connection with a revised application to the Snowdonia National Park authority for a certificate of lawful use.

Kermble would particularly like to hear from personnel who were involved in flying in and out of Llanbedr. If you have any information, please leave a comment here and I will provide contact details.

Last night there was a meeting in Llanbedr Village Hall about Kemble Air Services plans to reopen the airfield. By the time it was over there could be no doubt that Kemble have the overwhelming support of the community, the Welsh Assembly Government, the local MP, the Snowdonia National Park Authority, all the neighbouring community councils and that even the Countryside Council for Wales can find no cause for concern. It was equally clear that everyone was sick and tired of the antics of the Snowdonia Society, which have stalled Kemble’s plans for the last two years.

The fist thing that we noticed as we approached the village hall was that there were more cars around than I can ever remember seeing in Llanbedr before. The second was a rather flurried looking Lord Dafydd Ellis-Thomas, Presiding Officer (Speaker) of the Welsh Assembly, desperately trying to find somewhere to park. For a very small rural community this was obviously going to be an exciting evening.

Inside the hall, the hundred or so chairs were soon occupied. By the time the meeting started there was at least an equal number standing around the edge of the hall and even in the porch because they couldn’t get in.

The meeting was arranged by Llanbedr Community Council, but the chairman for the evening was our MP, Elfyn Llwyd, who immediately made his support for Kemble’s plans clear and introduced Lord Ellis-Thomas, who confirmed that there was wholehearted support from the  Welsh Assembly Government too.

Mr David Young, of Kemble Air Services, gave a resume of the problems that his company had encountered over the last two years. An application to the Snowdonia National Park Authority (the planning authority in this case) for a certificate of lawful use was turned down on legal advice at the end of last year. However they have since intimated that, if the application was re-submitted with slightly different wording, it was likely to be approved. The problem was that the Authority were unwilling to explain to Kemble what alterations were necessary. He also pointed out that there was obviously established use of the site as an airfield extending back for seventy years, and he suggested that the requirement to obtain a certificate of lawful use was a measure intended to appease the Snowdonia Society.

He outlined Kemble’s plans saying that their immediate priority was to get the gates of the airfield open again and find tenants for the hangars: perhaps ones involved in aircraft maintenance or the development of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). Beyond that they intended to use the airfield for whatever purposes they could within the limits of its previous usage. They fully accepted that, if they wanted to do anything else there, they would have to make an application for planning permission. What they were not prepared to do was accede to the Snowdonia Society’s demand that they should start from scratch and apply for planning permission for an airfield. The delay and heavy costs involved would make the project unviable.

Mr Caerwyn Roberts, chairman of the Snowdonia National Park Authority, responded by expressing surprise that Kemble had encountered problems over the wording of the application for a certificate of lawful use and saying that he had instructed his staff to offer every assistance.

Tony Jones, representing the Countryside Council for Wales, spoke briefly about the importance of various sites on and around the airfield, including one where their are Great Crested Newts[1]. He said that CCW would be advising the planning authority and that he looked forward to working with Kemble to ensure that these sites were protected. There was no indication in anything that he said that the CCW opposed Kemble’s plans.

Throughout these proceedings, every statement in support of Kemble’s plans was greeted by loud, sustained and near universal applause.

Mr Alun Pugh, director of the Snowdonia Society and soon to be the Labour Party parliamentary candidate for the Arfon constituency at the general election, was then given an opportunity to speak. He claimed that the Snowdonia Society were eager that jobs should be created at the airfield and the buildings should be used in a way that was appropriate to the National Park. He gave no indication of any alternative use there might be for an airfield in this area other than aviation. The Snowdonia Society’s only concern, he said, was that a full planning application should be made together with a detailed environmental assessment. He described the application for a certificate of lawful use as a ‘short cut’. At this point the meeting lost patience with him and he had to give up, but not before Elfyn Llwyd had intervened to explain that COLW was perfectly lawful and not a short cut.

The Chairman of the Snowdonia Society, Dr David Lewis who introduced himself as ‘a resident of Llanbedr’, also tried to speak but was inaudible.

Representatives of three neighbouring community councils spoke giving unqualified support for Kemble. A multitude of comments from the floor were,  with two exceptions, in favour of the project. One speaker attempted to persuade the meeting that Kemble’s operations at their main airfield in Gloucestershire were subject to widespread protests and petitions.   Those present who were aware of the excellent reputation that Kemble has both in Gloucestershire and the aviation industry as a whole disagreed vociferously, and when he changed tack and tried to assert that reopening the airfield would harm tourism in the area the reaction of the meeting became boisterous. Some of the most successful tourist enterprises in North Wales have developed over the last fifty years on land adjacent to the airfield while it was operating at a level that is unlikely to be seen again.

An elegant lady who has lived in Llanbedr all her life complained that reopening the airfield might increase road traffic, evidently having forgotten that until quite recently over two hundred people were employed on the site, and that Kemble do not have any plans or expectations that such a level of activity could be achieved again. Her views failed to find any support.

The meeting finally ended with Mr Pugh of the Snowdonia Society on his feet again attempting to defend his organisation’s actions against a welter of questions, particularly about whose interests he thought he was representing.

When new developments are mooted in small rural communities there tend to be divisions of opinion, and these can lead to acrimony. This was a particularly heart warming meeting as it was clear throughout that the large turnout was a demonstration of near universal support for Kemble’s plans to resurrect Llanbedr’s airfield, which has been a part of the life of the village for as long as most people can remember. Add to that the commitment from the Assembly Government, our MP, the Snowdonia National Park Authority and all the community councils in the area and you have a situation that is near unanimity. Even the Countryside Council for Wales seemed to be unable to find any grounds for concern about the newts.

Before Kemble made a bid for the airfield lease they took the very sensible precaution of consulting the local community councils about likely public attitudes to their plans. Evidently they are a company that prefers to work with people rather than in the face of opposition. The Snowdonia Society took no such precaution before they launched their campaign against the airfield plans.

Let us hope that the reception that their director and chairman received last night will have persuaded them that further attempts to disrupt this project will only do even more damage to the reputation of a society which, until recently, was respected as a useful, objective, non-political influence in the National Park, but is now seen as being irresponsible, self-serving and out of control.

[1]  Local rumour has it that these are found only in the firepond on the airfield , and as this population is remote from any other, how they got there is a mystery. The most likely explanation involves a bored airman with an interest in natural history and a jam jar.

An update on the progress of Kemble Air Services attempts to bring Llanbedr Airfield back to life makes depressing reading.

Airfield application decision due

On 3rd November, the BBC website had a story that  the Snowdonia National Park Authority was seeking further specialist legal advice on applications to grant certificates of lawful use of the airfield by Kemble. Apparently the only objections received were from the Snowdonia Society on the grounds that this would ‘go against the key aims of the National Park’. According to this report legal advice received by the planners pointed to refusal of the certificates, but the National Park Authority said that this should be regarded as ‘neither an expression for or against’ the proposals.

Airport bid ‘will go on’ in Gwynedd

The Liverpool Post reported the story in similar terms on 9th November, but with an added quote from Kemble reiterating their commitment to the project and asking local people, who have shown overwhelming support for the project, to bring pressure on the National Park Authority to make a speedy and favourable decision.

[Although this report suggests that Kemble are saying that they can create hundreds of jobs at Llanbedr, it seems unlikely that they have ever made such a claim.]

Park airfield request turned down

A BBC News website report on 12th November confirmed that the certificates would not now be granted. Kemble apologised to local contractors and local businesses who been engaged to undertake work or rent space at the site. The Snowdonia Society objections have resulted in Kemble’s newly appointed local manager being laid off.

It ends with this statement of the Snowdonia Society’s position from its director, Alun Pugh

“As a society we have always pressed for a full and public debate on this and the best way to do that is to have a full and formal application for planning permission.”

Which sounds very measured and reasonable if you ignore the fact that there has already been considerable public debate. A local petition in favour of Kemble’s plans received over 1200 signatures in a few days, while a petition organised by the Society found just 156 people who were prepared to endorse their campaign. Of these only 25 signatories claimed to be from Gwynedd (the vast county in which the airfield is situated). Nearly half were from England, and more than a third were from other parts of Wales. Stranger still, only one member of staff at the Society’s headquarters seems to have signed this petition, the director, Alun Pugh. Continue reading »

Llanbedr Airfield Update

Posted by TonyN on 23/03/2009 at 9:42 pm Llanbedr Airfield 8 Responses »
Mar 232009

In December, the Welsh Assembly Government finally gave the go-ahead for Kemble’s take-over of the Llanbedr Airfield. Now only the matter of planning permission has to be resolved before Kemble can, at last, begin operations. This will involve either an application for change of use, which will be considered by the Snowdonia National Park Authority’s Planning Committee, or the granting of a Certificate of Lawful Use by their legal department.The Snowdonia Society has vowed to continue their campaign to torpedo Kembles efforts to bring the airfield back to life, but here is the opening of an opinion piece on the Snowdonia Society’s website by Rob Colllister, one of the society’s trustees:

So, the first battle over Llanbedr airfield has been fought and lost.  The Assembly Government will lease the land of the old RAF base to Kemble Ltd and the Snowdonia National Park Authority will without doubt grant permission for it to be re-opened as a civilian airport. From it tourists will be able to take scenic flights over Snowdon and politicians and businessmen will look forward to flying to Cardiff or Dublin.  Out of this lamentable affair, two depressing truths emerge.

If we set aside the unsubstantiated claim that Llanbedr airfield is about to become an ‘airport’, what are the ‘depressing truths’ that the Snowdonia Society alone seem to be lamenting? In Rob Collister’s view these are Assembly Government’s lack of doctrinaire rigour in its commitment to save the planet and an ambivalent attitude on the part of some Welsh politicians towards the role of national parks.

The latter point is, perhaps, the more disturbing. Continue reading »

There is good news tonight for all those in Llanbedr and elsewhere who have been hoping that the Snowdonia Society’s attempts to obstruct plans to get the airfield up-and-running again would come to nothing. Ieuan Wyn Jones, deputy first minister of the Welsh Assembly Government has approved the sale of the airfield to Kemble Air Services.

This is a very significant step forward, although there are still some issues concerning planning consent to be resolved.It is to be hoped that, by the time these matters are determined, the Snowdonia Society will have come to its senses. Its indifference to the needs of people who live in the national park has already done great harm to that once reputable organisation. Continuing to disrupt this project on purely ideological grounds would be both perverse and irresponsible.

Provided there are no further delays, Kemble hope to start operations sometime during the first half of next year.

At a time of general economic gloom it is wonderful to be able to post news of such a positive development. And for all those who have the best interests of the Snowdonia National Park at heart it will be reassuring to know that common sense has prevailed. Instead of lying idle, this valuable facility can once again contribute to the economic and cultural life of the area after a break of over four years.

For the people of Llanbedr this decision should herald of a new era; it looks as though we may soon get our airfield back!

Press report here

On the BBC’s Politics Show Wales programme yesterday, David Young of Kemble Air Services warned that his company cannot wait indefinitely for the Welsh Assembly Government to resolve planning issues that are holding up their takeover of Llanbedr Airfield. He also made it clear that Kemble are not prepared to face the costs and delay that would result from a planning dispute which is not of their making. (Full report here)

Government contractors operated the seventy-year-old airfield until QinetiQ pulled out four years ago with the loss of over a hundred jobs. Since then the Welsh Assembly government has been seeking a new operator.

The deal with Kemble was put on hold on the eve of their taking over last May when an environmental group challenged their right to re-start flying operations there. The Welsh Assembly Government had told Kemble that planning permission would not be needed because of the established use of the airfield. But the Snowdonia Society claim that they have found a loophole in the legislation and are using it as a means of disrupting the takeover.

There is massive local support for Kemble’s proposals, Continue reading »

Very soon after the Snowdonia Society’s opposition to Kemble Air Services plans to restart flying operations at Llanbedr Airfield became known, a petition with the title, ‘Llanbedr Airfield yes, yes, yes!’ was circulated in the area. The subtitle was, ‘We who have signed below are in favour of developing Llanbedr Airfield in order to bring jobs to the area, increase tourism and boost the local economy’, so no one was in any doubt about what they were signing up to.Petitions canvasing support for some local issue are not unusual in this area, and one often sees rather dog-eared forms lying on shop counters with a few signatures scrawled on them. What made the airfield petition different was the number of signatures that it attracted in this sparsely populated rural area: over 1200 in little more than a week.

As the Snowdonia Society seemed to be under the impression that they would receive widespread public support for their campaign this must have come as rather a surprise to them.

Not to be outdone, the society launched their own petition Against Llanbedr Airport on the Welsh Assembly web site. Being an internet based operation, this had the potential to attract tens of thousands of signatures. The result was interesting. Continue reading »

On 22nd May 2008 the Cambrian News published a letter from a Dr David Lewis with the heading, ‘Assembly stubbornly refused to answer our questions’. As Dr Lewis is the chairman of the Snowdonia Society’s Policy Committee, and therefor at the heart of the campaign to prevent Kemble Air Services’ taking over Llanbedr Airfield, it is reasonable to suppose that he would take this opportunity to make the best possible case for the society’s opposition.

Here is the first sentence of Dr Lewis’ letter:

Everyone in Ardudwy would like to see new jobs make up for those lost when Llanbedr airfield was closed four years ago.

Now, at first glance, there is nothing in the least bit controversial here, but who exactly is this Dr Lewis Continue reading »

In my last post I considered the information that the Snowdonia Society is using to brief its members on the issues that underlie their campaign to prevent Kemble Air Services taking over Llanbedr Airfield. The statement on their campaign webpage is very short, and gives the impression that a major new development within the Snowdonia National Park is about to take place. In fact Kemble Air Services aviation plans involve no more than the resumption of flying operations, after a gap of just four years in the airfield’s busy 70-year history, on what will probably be a greatly reduced scale.

Now I want to look at the links on this page to press coverage of the society’s campaign. The obvious intention of these is to inform members and other visitors about what is going on.

Here is a selection of headlines on these linked pages: Continue reading »

© 2011 Harmless Sky Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha