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, with a local petition in favour of their plans attracting over 1200 signatures in just a few days. A petition which the Snowdonia Society organised in response attracted only 156 signatures, of which just 25 signatories gave Gwynedd addresses, and 75 gave addresses outside Wales.

The Snowdonia Society is headed by Dr David Lewis, a London based civil servant whose career has centred on environmental policy, and Alun Pugh, a one time Welsh culture and sports minister who lost both his cabinet post and his seat in the Assembly at the last election. Dr Lewis was brought up in South Wales, but bought a holiday cottage in Llanbedr a few years ago. Mr Pugh’s is also a Southwalian who, according to his Wikipedia entry, has lived in Deganwy (a suburb of the North Wales coastal conurbation) for much of his time in North Wales. Neither seem to be interested in local public opinion or understand the concerns of a small rural community.

Members of the Snowdonia Society were not consulted before this campaign was launched, nor did the Snowdonia Society attempt to gauge local opinion by consulting Community Councils, something that Kemble were careful to do. Even now, members of the society are being kept in the dark about what is being done in their name. In a recent newsletter they were told:

… we feel that it would be appropriate to subject these proposals to the detailed and public scrutiny of a planning application, including an environmental impact assessment and a voice for local people. [my emphasis]

Snowdonia Society Newsletter, Autumn 2008

But this article does not mention the resounding ‘voice of local people’ that has already been heard in the form of overwhelming support for a petition, as well as from democratically elected representatives including our MP, Elfin Llwyd, Gwynedd Council, and Community Councils in the area. Nor does it mention that the society’s counter-petition was an embarrassing failure. I have yet to hear of any politician who has lent their support to the Snowdonia Society’s campaign, other than Mr Pugh of course.

It would seem to be the policy of the environmentalists to cause disruption and delay by nit-picking over the small print of obscure legal clauses in the hope that Kemble will walk away from the project. This is the kind of mindless activism that is getting environmentalism a bad name, which is sad, because responsible environmentalism obviously has an important and useful role to play in an era of ever increasing industrialisation.

If the Snowdonia Society’s campaign succeeds, and it now looks as though this could happen, then Llandbedr, and the Snowdonia National Park as a whole, will be impoverished by their failure to respond to the views of people who live in the area and understand the issues. Rural communities cannot survive in an economic vacuum.

The Welsh Assembly Government chose Kemble as preferred bidders for the lease of the airfield because they have a superb record of managing redundant airfields in the Cotswolds and at Brawdy in South Wales. Such credentials seem to have no relevance for the Snowdonia Society which is evidently oblivious of the value of attracting a top quality company to rural Wales.

This was brought home to me the other day when old friends from Wiltshire were staying with us. I mentioned that a firm called Kemble were trying to take over the airfield. Both of them immediately responded by saying, ‘Great! Kemble’s a super company.’ They live in a small village not far from Kemble’s airfield in the Cotswolds, and neither of them are involved in, or even particularly interested in, aviation. In fact they did not know much about what Kemble do, which says a good deal about the impact of their activities in one of the most beautiful and tranquil parts of the English countryside. All they knew was that the word in their area was that Kemble were good people to have around. And how many companies have that sort of reputation anywhere?

There is now a very real danger that an opportunity to revitalise the economy in a part of the Snowdonia National Park that is particularly vulnerable to recession will be missed because of the intervention of single-issue environmental activists. This is particularly frustrating as Kemble’s plans will not inflict any new development on the landscape, but simply make use of an airfield that has been in existence for seventy years.

It is time for the Welsh Assembly Government to stop dithering. It is up to them to resolve this matter by making it clear that the future of Llanbedr Airfield will be determined by democratically elected representatives, and not by a meddling pressure group led by people who seem unwilling even to be straightforward with their members about what is really happening.

5 Responses to “Kemble set to pull out of Llanbedr Airfield project”

  1. As specialists with detailed knowledge, understanding and experience of the relevant issues in relation to the disposal of Llanbedr airfield, we observe with sadness the nature and extent of erroneous and misleading assumptions and assertions now circulating, not least regarding the critical matters of planning and use. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and when opinion is presented as fact it can be very unhelpful, no matter how well meaning. Significant elements of what TonyN writes in the above post are incorrect.

  2. Helen,

    I very much hope that you will be willing to put your specialist and detailed knowlege to good use by identifying which parts of my post you consider to be inaccurate and correcting them. And to whom are they ‘unhlepful’?

  3. Tony, before I respond to your request, would you please supply your surname? Or email it to me if you don’t wish your surname to be in the public domain. Regards

    TonyN: See my previous comment here

  4. Re your previous comment – as you say your surname isn’t a secret, I trust you have no objection to letting me know directly via email; I will of course respect your wish for blog anonymity – very enigmatic! Regards

    TonyN: That subject is closed. If you would like to substaniate the assertions in your #1 then you are, of course, welcome to do so.

  5. Llanbedr Airfield project is in the hot seat. Though matters like this are not really my cup of tea, I agree that the democratically elected representatives are the authorities for this. The Welsh Assembly Government must leave it into these people. Peace to all of them.

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