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.

So just who is this campaign group, which claims to be acting in the interests of local democracy, representing with their campaign? Clues can be found in a couple of comments posted on this blog by Pat Clayton, who became the Society’s treasurer in 2008.  (You can find them you can find these at #5 and #8.)

Having criticised what she seems to see as gullible locals for believing  promises made by  Kemble about job creation, Pat Clayton goes on to criticise Kemble for not having made any promises at all. This is a little bit confusing.

It is also surprising that the treasurer of a medium sized charity, who also manages the organisation’s investments, should expect the managers of any start-up operation to make firm commitments about future employment in the present economic climate. Indeed if they were to do so there might be grounds for scepticism. Most of the rest of the comments seems to be devoted to an attempt to demonise Kemble without providing a shred of evidence.

In replying, I pointed out that, far from creating jobs in Snowdonia, the Snowdonia Society is in such a financial mess that it has had to lay off staff. This was condemned by Pat  Clayton as ‘sniping’, but in fact it was nothing of the kind.

The degree of support that a society enjoys can best be gauged by the extent to which its activities are supported by the subscriptions of members. A circular sent out by the chairman in January this year suggests that this is a problem for the Snowdonia Society.

Members will be aware that, for a number of years, the Society’s annual income from subscriptions, grants and other sources has fallen short of our annual expenditure. The difference has been made up, partly from some much appreciated legacies, but also by realising capital gains on the investments which make up our reserves.

That strategy is no longer sustainable, however. The deficit on our current operations has grown from just under £40,000 in 2007/08 to a projected £63,500 this year. And now, like many other charities, we too have been severely affected by global financial and economic events, in that the value of our investments has been sharply reduced.

It would appear that the Society is routinely using capital to defray its running costs.  They have considerable assets in the form of investments, totalling £231,377 in 2009, down from £334,764 in 2008.

Looking at the most recently published accounts (2009), income from subscriptions was £27,090, representing about 25% of total incoming resources. This was an increase of less than 2% on the previous year when subscriptions were a similar proportion of income. The Society is fond of boasting about its 2500 members, who presumably support its activities, but it is clear from these figures that they do not come near to providing the funds that are needed to operate as what Pat Clayton describes in one of her comments as “a campaigning organisation” that has “just won a David v Goliath contest”.

In this scenario, there seems to be no doubt about who is playing the part of courageous David, but if Goliath is resented by the WAG and Kemble, where does that leave the local supporter  of the airfield plans ? After all, Goliath is representing their interests.

The Society’s total income for the last financial year was £111,006, so it is clear that subscriptions make up only a very minor part of the funds required for its present operations. If these had general popular support, isn’t it reasonable so suppose that membership would be growing rapidly and income from subscriptions likewise?

Ever since the Society’s campaign started, their website has carried reports linking it  to appeals for new subscriptions and donations.  In fact I have long suspected that one of the reasons for the Society launching the campaign was to raise its profile and attract new members. It does not look as though opposing the airfield plans has attracted supporters who have been willing to join the Society.

Given the geographic distribution of the signatories to the Society’s petition scanty though this evidence may be it is also reasonable to wonder whether it is representative of the society’s membership as a whole. And if a petition could only raise 156 signatories from a claimed membership of 2500, then what kind of endorsement is that for the campaign against Kemble’s plans?

Of course what the Snowdonia Society is doing at the moment is really quite simple. The planning laws quite rightly make ample provision for objection to developments. It is one of the principles of local democracy that those who will live with the consequences of planning decisions get a fair say. Unfortunately this is a situation that is open to abuse. Small campaign groups can delay applications for years, as has happened in this case, even when they have no local support. All that they need is some funding.

As a result of this kind of obstructive behaviour, the government is in the process of setting up a new quango that will override the existing democratic planning procedures where major infrastructure projects like nuclear power plants, wind farms, and large airports are concerned. This will not, of course, apply to Kemble’s plans for Llanbedr, but it is the kind of campaigning that the Snowdonia Society is engaged in, which is intended to cause delay and unnecessary expense, that has made it possible for the government to introduce such draconian measures.

So who are the trustees of the Snowdonia Society representing if anyone other than themselves? Certainly not public opinion; the two petitions show that clearly enough. And the Society’s core income, in the form of member’s subscriptions, covers only a small fraction of its costs. Only when its activities attract sufficient subscriptions to provide the Society with the means to operate can its trustees claim to have any kind of mandate for its campaign to prevent Kemble’s plans for Llanbedr Airfield going ahead. Until that happens, they must be considered to be a self-serving pressure group which is indifferent to any opinions other than its own.

[NOTE: I have moved a number of recent comments here from a previous thread]

31 Responses to “Llanbedr Airfield: whose interests are the Snowdonia Society representing?”

  1. Alan

    Look forward to seeing your sail plane wheeling silently over Llanbedr.

    A request from thirty members is required for a extraordinary general meeting so far as I remember. It could come to that.

  2. In reply to AlanH [Jan 31st]
    Alan – what would be the outcome of an EGM? You mention “removal of officers” – well, there’s only one [plus assistant] and he leaves sometime in the next few months, as noted in the thread above. How would the 30 members replace this person? In fact, there’s already a process underway – see the Society website. Interested parties should lobby the Trustees NOW if they wish to influence this process, rather than calling for a somewhat extreme and, in the circumstances, redundant EGM.

    You also imply that the officer[s] are “working to the detriment of the Society”. This would be a hard thing to establish – on the face of it the Society’s stance in asking that the full planning process be followed is exactly what the Society is expected to do and, from any perspective, is a reasonable requirement. What I believe is lacking in this case is a sense of pragmatic realism about the costs and benefits of the airfield proposal – it takes the Society back to the days of being “against everything”. But I must stress, as I have earlier in the thread, that this is just one aspect of the Society’s current concerns and activities and it continues to do great work in the rest of the park – see the website for the many examples.

    Rather than an EGM, let’s focus on influencing. Have you [or anybody else following this thread] written to the Director or the Chairman to explain why the airfield would be a good thing for the Ardudwy area? I know that I haven’t yet [but it’s on my ‘to do’ list!]. I have a feeling that the Trustees think that ALL members of the Society support their stance about the airfield development – and why wouldn’t they if we don’t tell them differently?

    Rather than calling for an EGM, let’s look ahead to the AGM – if members are unhappy with Trustees, this is the time to elect alternatives. But first the alternatives would need to be identified and the membership would need to be lobbied – I don’t suppose a great proportion actually go to the AGM. It all comes back to ‘influencing’ – the most effective, and the most difficult, of political processes!

    Like you, I hope that the airfield re-opens and will provide facilities for glider pilots – a soaring glider over the mountains is a beautiful sight. Good luck!

    Regards

    David

  3. It would appear that the “delaying” tactics of the former CEO of the Snowdonia Society have had the effect of Llanbedr probably loosing what would have been a “job producing” scenario for the local area.
    As the reality of the current financial situation starts to make its effects felt it is unlikely that ANYONE will wish to plough money into this venture after the treatment from the SS and a poor handling of the situation by the LPA.
    The loosers of course will be the local residents who by now should have been working at the location and this should be a warning of what happens when an LPA gets “advised” by the SS or rather an element within it that used it as a tool for their own ends.
    The only good news is that the former CEO has now departed and the even better news is he lost the election he fought.
    The LPA do not come out of this very well as they made some very poor “planning” decisions that caused the “window” of opportunity” to be lost.They engaged a consultant that was very “anti Kemble” from a previous encounter (which he lost) and as such had very dubious advice.
    I can only hope that the next time someone looks to take over this airfield they get the same positive help from the LPA as the local residents gave.
    The SS have little to be proud of as they allowed their society to be “USED” by a polically motivated individual that has left them in a very poor “PR” position for other causes they may wish to comment on.(they can hardly be seen as job helpers)
    To the residents of Llanbedr i say good luck with the future of your “job seeking” location and next time make sure your Local panning authority gets better advice !!!!
    Pobjoy

  4. yup, its clear to see that the only other economical ideas down the west coast of wales is caravan sites, well done alun you [snip], i currently live in llanbedr and would have relished the idea of a job at the airfield, i hope you and your family fall off crib goch when your appreciating your silent national [snip] park!

    [TonyN: Please read the blog rules before commenting again]

  5. The debate rages on, whilst nature ravages his fantastic asset. Perhaps the Welsh Assembly Government should consider selling the freehold to Kemble, without any covenants attached. Then we could see the site being used once again, for the purpose it was designed for. What was once the largest employer in the area could again make strides towards revitalise the local economy. Sadly, I haven’t been able to visit the area recently, either on the ground or in the air. This only adds to my increasing desire to live, work and fly in this exceptional part of the world.

  6. Once again the unelected unrepresentative Snowdonia society (here on known as SS) has intervened in a proposal to create jobs in the Llanbedr airfield zone, could this have anything to do with the chairman of the SS having his holiday home on the road leading to it?? surely not, no one would put personal gain and interests above those of the park and its inhabitants would they? In previous instances the SS have called for a full planning application being put forward for the planners to decide on, now that has happened they decide no thats not enough now it has to go to the WA… this wouldnt have anything to do with political clout the SS have in Cardiff would it and the fact they have zero support from true local residents?
    We the residents will not stand by again as they (SS) try and kill any chance of recovery we have offered to us, we want our children to have the chance to stay local and live local rather than them have to move away as so many have to do these days. Its bad enough the SS buy up local housing for holiday homes but to block local people from work really takes the biscuit.

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