It’s not often that rural communities get good news these days. Foot and Mouth disease, Blue Tongue, rural poverty and crime, pitifully small farm incomes and the rising costs of transport seem to crowd into the headlines on a regular basis. So it is a pleasure to be able to report some good news for a change.

Four years ago, the airfield at Llanbedr, on the shores of Cardigan Bay in North Wales’ beautiful Snowdonia National Park, ran into difficulties after QinetiQ gave up their lease. In spite of a long and determined campaign to find a new operator it is only in the last week that we have heard that Kemble Air Services is planning to start operations before the end of the summer.

The airfield has been a part of life in Llanbedr for nearly seventy years, so few people alive today can remember a time when it was not part of the community; several generations of some families having worked there. Servicemen who were stationed here when it was an RAF station during and after WWII have married local girls and come to live in the village. Others who came here in the course of their careers have been reluctant to leave an area that had become their home and have settled in and around Llanbedr when they retired.

There is undoubtedly something incongruous about celebrating the contribution an airfield has made to a national park, but important though the tranquillity of the landscape of such areas is, the communities and people who live in them are even more important; without a viable economy the lifeblood quickly haemorages from the countryside. Then the young, able, and ambitious have to move elsewhere to find employment and the insidious process of rural depopulation follows its inevitable course. Houses which were once occupied by families are sold as retirement or holiday homes, and slowly but surely the vitality of the community ebbs away, as shops and schools close.

Of course you cannot have an airfield that operates silently, but for the people who live in this area the sound of aircraft taking off and landing is as familiar to them as the waves crashing on the seashore or the rattle and clatter of trains on the Cambrian Coast railway line. The life of the airfield has become the heartbeat of this village, a symptom of its good health, and when that faltered four years ago there were grave fears for its future.

In fact it is likely that there will be far less aircraft noise in the future than there has been in the recent past when most of the aeroplanes operating from Llanbedr were jets. The prospective owners are far more interested in catering for light aircraft and these, of course, are relatively quiet and unobtrusive. There is now an opportunity for new life to be breathed into the village.

This is not to everyone’s liking, but what few objections there are come from a very strange quarter. The Snowdonia Society, which operates as a watchdog body with a remit for protecting and enhancing the national park, has launched a campaign to try and prevent normal operational activity returning to the airfield. Here is what their director, Alun Pugh, told The Independent newspaper.

“The Welsh government has a legal obligation to promote sustainable development and we’re not sure flying lessons and pleasure flights fit in with that. As an environmental charity we are concerned that redeveloping the site as a commercial airport is wholly contrary to the statutory purposes of national parks.”

“Tourism is the number one industry in north-west Wales,” said Mr Pugh. “People come to Snowdonia to seek peace and quiet reflection in a world-class landscape. Nobody comes to a national park to be assaulted by aircraft noise and climate-changing pollution.”

Mr Pugh, who was only appointed in January, seems unaware of the previous scale of operations at the airfield, using jet aircraft, up until just four years ago. Tourism in the area has increased exponentially during the lifetime of the airfield and one of the most beautifully situated, popular and successful camping grounds in Wales (Shell Island) is on its boundary.

The underlying reasons for opposing Kemble Air Services’ plans would seem to be the current fashion among environmentalists for ‘aviation bashing’. This might be justified if the Snowdonia Society had been set up for such purposes, but it was not. Its founders were concerned that not only the landscape of the national park should be protected, but also the way of life that of the people who are fortunate enough to live in it. And people cannot live in an economic vacuum.

Long before the Snowdonia Society or the Snowdonia National Park came into being, aircraft were using the airfield at Llanbedr and the surrounding airspace. All that is being proposed is a restoration of the status quo, albeit on a somewhat reduced scale of operations.

I have been a member of the Snowdonia Society for many years and recognise that in the past it has served a very valuable and responsible function in the life of the area. So far as I am aware, the membership were not consulted about this ill-considered campaign until after it was launched, and serious damage has already been caused to the society’s reputation as a result.

If, heaven forbid, the Snowdonia Society should succeed in disrupting the present proposals, it would be interesting to know what purpose a derelict airfield will serve in ‘enhancing’ the national park or the lives of those of us who live in it.

Note: A few copies of the first edition of Wendy Mills’ excellent history of the airfield, Target Rolling, are still available from Midland Publishing. A new updated edition is expected at the end of the year.

55 Responses to “Kemble Air Services to take over Llanbedr Airfield”

  1. Imagine the possibilities for tourism if this really ‘took off’! If Ryanair and alike could get to operate from this airfield it would transform the local economy. Unfortunately the local population are too nationalistic for this to happen.

  2. We all have things that we enjoy, walking running or even flying…. yes I am a flyer & it’s a real pleasure!
    To view Snowdonia from the air is simply stunning, it is only from the air that you can truly appreciate the size of the area & it’s shear impact. I “buzz” around in a microlight that is so quiet you will not here me if I am more than 1000 feet above you, my aircraft is doing 50+mpg with two people on board. Let the walkers spend their money on Rohan & boots & let the flyers spend it on our aircraft. If & when Llanbedr opens I & others will be delighted to travel from our locations around the UK, buy a bacon sandwich in the cafe, stay in a B&B overnight, have a couple of beers in the pub & go home again leaving only our money behind. I have taken many passengers over the years, many of whom are walkers & none have failed be gobsmacked by how green England & Wales is outside of the main towns. Due to the way cloud builds over the hills most pilots give Snowdon, Cader etc the respect they deserve & view from a safe distance. It is a crying shame that the airfield has been vacant for so long, when (I hope) it opens again it will bring people & money to the area. Flyers are regular people from all walks of life & budgets, we invested the time & money to get our license so we could look at life from the air. Others may play golf, watch football, watch Rugby or even walk up mountains ;-)) Live & let live.

  3. Just to say this takeover can’t happen quick enough for me. It will help the area. I live in Harlech

  4. I must add a reply to Jo (13)! I learnt to fly at Welshpool Airport in 1994, so I don’t understand the “recently opened” reference. If Jo really is a genuine contributor to the debate, genuinely concerned about the noise issue, how can you complain about Welshpool airport noise,where were you when the airfield was three times busier than today, in the mid nineties. You obviously did not realise it was there, as your references refer to “recent” situations!!! Further, many of todays airline pilots began their training at little airfields like Welshpool, bringing in much nneded finance to the area, and providing a professional pilot resource that we all now exploit as consumers of products from a global marketplace. Far from being rich businessman pursuing a useless hobby, these are hard working, often financially struggling individuals financing their own training so they can fly you away on holiday or fly much needed international freight in to service your consumer needs!! Those that do fly for fun (Me),have a considerably lesser impact on the environment than you, driving your car from Welshpool, to Mochras, to go on a camping trip, creating noise, rubbish, and hydro-carbon pollution! That is your choice, no one wants to stop you doing that! What is your real agenda here? Why do you believe in your right to use this area exclusively, whilst others choosing to exclude others?

    Llanbedr airfield is perfectly placed to breathe new money and prosperity into an area that has limited resources. I first noticed the unrivalled position and potential of this airfield as a teenager, with no interest in flying. I sincerely hope Kemble do succeed. I would like to see the Snowdonia Society grow up and really take an interest in preserving the park for everyone, rather than trying to strangle its economy into non-existence. Above all, if Kemble give up and the area is left with a large wasteland as a result, this would be such a waste of economic potential. This cannot be allowed to happen. Economically, aviationally and sensibly, Kemble must get up and running ASAP. If they are driven to desert the plan, I will happily take it on and have the airfield open in three months along with a sensible, controlled growth of the operation, over five years. People like Jo cannot keep this superb area exclusively to themselves. it is a national asset that we can all enjoy, whatever our personal perspective.

  5. Peter Watts

    Many thanks for your support, and I am sure that all you say is true so far as the benefits for the area and the unlikelihood of any impairment of people’s ability to enjoy the Snowdonia National Park is concerned.

    As I understand the situation at the moment, everything depends on ministers of the Welsh Government plucking up courage to take a decision; something that they seem reluctant to do.

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