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 who feels that he can speak with such confidence on behalf of the entire population of Ardudwy? Is he, perhaps, one of our oldest residents, a man who has inhaled the pristine air of Ardudwy with his first breath, and has a long lifetime’s experience of wringing a livelihood from this beautiful, but often economically challenging, area. Well actually he is none of these things. Dr Lewis hales from the industrial south of Wales, has made a career as a London based civil servant, and he bought a holiday cottage in Llanbedr not so very long ago. Far from being a pillar of our community, I have only come across one other person in Llanbedr who knows who he is.

The letter continues:

But they need to be sustainable jobs, available to local people, in activities that are appropriate in Wales’s premier National Park. Can Kemble Air Services provide that?

Sustainability is likely to be a matter that would interest Dr Lewis greatly. From 1992-2000 he was secretary to the Royal Commission on Environemental Pollution and he has held other posts associated with ‘the environment’. No doubt he is an expert on the subject, but sadly, a Whitehall desk is no place from which to learn how isolated rural communities function.

It would probably come as a great surprise to Dr Lewis that people in Llanbedr and the surrounding area are likely to have a far better idea of what is beneficial to their community and their way of life than he has. Put simply, they know what they are talking about, and may well find incomers who pontificate about ‘sustainable jobs’ and ‘activities that are appropriate in the national park’ extremely irritating. When such people actually attempt to interfere in local matters that they clearly do not understand, then the reaction is likely to surpass mere irritation.

Within days of the Snowdonia Society launching their campaign, over 1200 people signed a petition in favour of the Welsh Government’s decision to lease the airfield to Kemble. That might not be a large number by metropolitan standards, but for this part of Wales it indicates overwhelming support.

As a bureaurocrat, Dr Lewis now moves onto ground with which he should be far more familiar:

For two months Cymdeithas Eryri Snowdonia Society has been probing the basis on which a decision was made behind closed doors in Cardiff to lease 563 acres to Kemble for 125 years. The Welsh Government could have resolved the matter long ago, but have stubbornly refused to answer our questions, even in response to formal requests under the Freedom of Information Act. What have they got to hide?

Even if we set aside the rather unlikely prospect of the Welsh Government negotiating a commercial contract with a private company while the Snowdonia Society looks over their shoulders, the reference to the Freedom of Information Act is intriguing. This is quite a rigid piece of legislation that requires government agencies to divulge certain types of information within 20 working days of a request being received. Failure to comply is a breach of the act, and it only takes an email to the Information Commissioner to bring his wrath down on the head of the offending agency. As the Snowdonia Society do not appear to have made such a complaint, it would seem doubtful whether the information that they are seeking comes within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.

I suppose such spats between bureaucrats are very interesting for the participants at least and they are certainly likely to attract media attention, but the Snowdonia Society seem to be applying double standards here. During the last two weeks I have been trying to get some information from them about the basis of their campaign, without any success. Simple questions, like whether they asked Kemble about their plans for the airfield before launching their campaign, have gone unanswered. My correspondence has been ignored. Apparently they do not see the need to apply the same standard of transparency to dealings with their own members as they expect of the Welsh Government.

Now comes a passage in Dr Lewis’ letter that combines a sneering reference to Kemble with a self-congratulatory pat on the back for the society:

Our efforts have at least prompted Kemble to undertake a charm offensive in the area.

In fact Kemble contacted community councils in the area last year, at an early stage in their negotiations about the lease, to gauge local reaction to their plans. This would seem to have been an eminently sensible piece of good management, and an example that the Snowdonia Society might well learn from. So far as I can discover and this is another of the questions that I have put to the Snowdonia Society’s chairman the society did not make similar enquiries before launching their campaign. Perhaps they were relying on Dr Lewis to represent local opinion, although it is difficult to see how he would know what this is.

So it is entirely misleading to suggest that Kemble has mounted a charm offensive in response to any action taken by the Snowdonia Society within the last few weeks; their consultations with the community predates this by many months. It would certainly be true to say that, when the Kemble team have visited Llanbedr in recent weeks, they have been very happy to discuss their plans with anyone who is interested. Those who have met them seem to have been very favourably impressed with the frank and open way in which they have responded to questions. Again, their conduct would seem to be in marked contrast to that of the Snowdonia Society.

Having attempted to muddy the waters by hinting at a Welsh Government conspiracy surrounding the lease negotiations, and disparaging Kemble’s very sensitive behaviour when dealing with local opinion, Dr Lewis settles down to play his trump cards, such as they are:

But it is still not clear what they [Kemble] intend. Some existing local businesses may move to the airfield, but there have been no more than vague promises of new jobs.

Kemble’s plans may not be clear to the Snowdonia Society, but this is hardly surprising when they seem not to have asked them what their plans are. What certainly is clear is that the Snowdonia Society’s own website gives a very misleading impression of what these plans are: see here and here.

If some local businesses do move to the airfield it will be because facilities there offer an improvement on what they already have and provide them with new opportunities. Surely that is to be welcomed, yet Dr Lewis seems to disparage such benefits. And people in rural areas are quite inured to extravagant promises that incoming companies make about new jobs. These are seldom fulfilled, and one of the things that has impressed those who have taken the trouble to speak to Kemble is that they are being cautious and realistic in what they are saying about employment prospects. They are at great pains not to raise hopes that might later be dashed.

In the light of Kemble’s operations in the Cotswolds there are some disturbing possibilities about what they might launch into at Llanbedr. Will it be buzzing swarms of microlights destroying the peace of the Artro and Cwm Nantcol?

Stories in the media have certainly tried to paint a picture of Snowdonia’s mountains humming with light aircraft, but all the pilots that I have spoken to say the same thing about this. No pilot in their right mind flies around mountains – much too dangerous!

In fact there is already a thriving private airfield at Llanwnda, just outside the North West boundary of the national park, which is significantly closer to Snowdon and the main mountain ranges than Llanbedr. These mountains are not buzzing with private aircraft, but apparently Dr Lewis has not taken the trouble to enquire about what actually happens in the national park.

Or a scrapyard for large airliners?

When I asked one of the Kemble team about this I got a typically forthright answer. They do undertake some decommissioning of aircraft in the Cotswolds and it would be possible to do the same at Llanbedr. On the other hand, the main market for the parts and equipment recovered from aircraft that have reached the end of the line is in the South of England, and he very much doubted whether such activities would be practical at such a remote location.

Kemble need to come clean about what they plan to do at Llanbedr, and whether they could do it without applying for planning permission, and the proper public scrutiny that would involve.

The airfield was designed and built with one very obvious purpose in mind: aviation. It has fulfilled this role for seventy years, so that this usage is well established. The new operators intend to continue to use it for this purpose. You do not need planning permission to continue to do the same thing.

It is not Kemble who should come clean about their intentions, but the Snowdonia Society. Their campaign seems to be based on nothing more than suspicion, scaremongering, rumour, innuendo, and ignorance of both the area and the issues that are so important to its indigenous population, as nearly every sentence of Dr Lewis’ letter shows.

If you would like to read Dr Lewis’ letter in full, you can find it here.

9 Responses to “Llanbedr Airfield: What Dr Lewis of the Snowdonia Society has to say”

  1. can we sign the petition in favour of the airfield.We live opposite in Llandanwg.

  2. Re #1: Lisa Brooke

    The petition has now been passed to the WAG with over 1200 signatures on it. I am not sure whether more signatures are still being collected.

    Thanks for showing your support here anyway.

  3. Lisa. I believe there is still a petition form at Shell Island in the reception office

  4. I have been following TonyN’s postings with interest. Are we permitted to know who ‘TonyN’ is please? Regards

  5. Re: #4, Helen Christy

    TonyN is the name that I blog under, and I prefer to leave it at that althoughit my identity, for what its worth, is not a secret.

  6. Having read a lot of ‘stuff’ about Llanbedr re-opening as a useable and viable airfield, presumably and prediminantly as a GA light aircraft airfield, I just wonder what all the fuss is about.

    As a flyer ‘Over Snowdon’ on a fairly frequent basis from Sleap (Shropshire) and for many, many years now, our usual heading is to Caernarvon ‘airport’, a place well favoured with the GA community up and down the country and I have NEVER known of any complaint or issue about this. In fact, in regard to the current ‘complaining’ articles not one has said anything about the traffic into or out of Caernarvon that could be construed as a complaint – indeed the usual culprits are quite silent on the subject.

    The reason for me mentioning the above is that I and my fellow pilots cannot see that Llanbedr will do any more than Caernarvon in promoting and encouraging flying in the area any more than has gone on in the past! So WHAT is the fuss about?

    The concensus view is the area is not going to SUDDENLY get inundated with aircraft (hordes of microlights says Dr Lewis). So lets stop being daft and just let Kemble get on with satisfying the REAL needs of the local community – i.e. to provide jobs again!! After all this is what Llanbedr used to do.

    GA aircraft instead of pilotless jindiviks and other piloted fast jets? No contest. (although I know what I would prefer really)

    My final comment comes as a rock climber and mountaineer since the ’60’s and I am still active – indeed I took my son climbing in Cwm Idwal recently. My point is that the only culprits as far as ‘invading my space and insulting my ears’ in the mountains are the jets from Valley. But I wouldn’t want to stop them. I love flying and I love walking and climbing in the Snowdon Range and I love the jets for company. The activities of the military base at Valley (and elsewhere) plus the few GA types who venture over (and only when the weather and Viz are good)are an aceptable part of our modern life.

    We should be grateful to have the freedom to benefit from such a colourful and diverse use of our wonderful environment, air, rock, water and land.

    Let the b….y so called purists shut up and crawl back under their snug little rocks in a dark place and let those who truly enjoy the mountains, whether for the stunning visual spectacle when flying over, or when slogging up the flanks of Tryfan or Snowdon, or when teetering on a rock face on Clogwyn dur Arddu.

    Dave Cooper
    01270 761649

  7. Dave,

    Thanks for your thoughtful contribution, but I am not an aviation expert. What does GA mean?

  8. Sorry Tony – GA stands for General Aviation and the acronym covers all privately owned small light aircraft as distinct from Commercial ‘Planes.

    regards,

    Dave

  9. Hi

    My husband has always been interested in what happens to Lanbedr as we used to watch the pilotless aircraft when we were down there. He is in hospital after a stroke and I have printed out all the letters. Could I please have any updates from you. We are both very interested and hope that it will become operational again from everybody.

    Joyce Stubbs

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