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. As a lifetime member of the Snowdonia Society, I can only say how terribly upset I am that the current leadership have, in my opinion, betrayed the objectives of the Society and betrayed some of the key communities they are supposed to represent. Taking such an unbalanced view of a fine project like the re-opening of Llanbedr airfield will damage the influence of the Society when they do sensibly object to far more damaging and less beneficial activities in the Park. They should should be thanking & working people who are prepared to invest in the conservation of the Park and its communities – not chucking rocks from the sidelines in a thoroughly unhelpful way. It’s most embarrassing.

  2. Will:

    You know that, and I know that, as do a great many people who live in the Llanbedr area, but how does one persuade activists who seem to be following a political agenda without thinking or listening?

  3. I think that many members of the Snowdonia Society have had an awakening over this issue. I hope that the society has not been damaged too badly and that those members that do genuinely care about this area can steer the society along a more relevant, less politically obssessive path. As a pilot from Shropshire that is a profound advocate of Snowdonia, even after flying the Grand Canyon two years ago I still declare this wonderful asset to be the best scenery in the world, especially from the cockpit. If only those SS leaders were adult enough to see that Snowdonia has been here for millions of years, whatever we call it, and that it will be here for millions more years. Don’t deny us the opportunity to admire its beauty, to access its hidden secrets and to promote its value, using whatever means (Including flying from Llanbedr) that we have at our disposal. Please get Llanbedr back on the aviation map and lets give the world access to the privelege of flying over Snowdonia, The best landscape this side of the sun.

  4. Well it seems as if the “Snowdonia Society” have had thair way. I hope alan pugh is pleased with himself denying people their jobs, hopefully he will find himself redundant and unable to find work soon once people wake up to the fact that the “Society” is doing more harm than good for Snowdonia and its inhabitants.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/wales_politics/8356566.stm

    Paul

  5. It seems a great pity that locals have swallowed whole the Kemble job promises. Kemble have persistently refused to say what these might be. The transfer of local businesses to units on the former airport site does not create more jobs, it simply moves existing jobs down the road. Kemble have their own gang to bring in on construction, management etc so maybe a few temporary labouring jobs for the locals. Who knows? Kemble have no concrete job proposals on the table so nobody knows. Making smoke and mirror promises on the basis of going against the rule of law is exploiting local sentiment. If Kemble’s pockets are deep enough to come back again they will be obliged to come clean on jobs. Which they should have been obliged to do in the first place. Kemble have assumed all along that the WAG are in their pockets, on which no comment, but WAG too got the law wrong. The Snowdonia Society have been pressing both WAG and Kemble for details on proposed development for over a year and have got nowhere. A tiny charity in the face of the might of big business and Wag? Swat them off like an irritating wasp.
    If your bloggers want to fly over Snowdonia there is an airport at Caernarfon from which they could do that. Outside National Park boundaries.
    The Snowdonia Society is out clearing up Harlech beach several times a year while the boss of Kemble chooses a South Pacific tax haven beach as his residence. Who cares more about Snowdonia?

  6. Pat makes some good points but is as norrowly focused as the Snowdonia Society! A project such as the reopening of Llanbedr for the purposes it was designed for will obviously bring money, commerce and jobs to the area. The mere fact that it will bring in visitors will boost the local economy, not to mention the potential commercial opportunities such a project brings in terms of support services and direct employment on site. Kemble would need to bring in qualified staff initialy, local people may not have the skills as yet, because the airfield is not operating to give those skills but in years to come there is a whole gamete of employment and development opportunity available, not just in Aviation related work but in the entire area of support and local business development through on site facilities. Snowdonia will always be there, but without a local economy driven by employment, the local people may not be! Llanbedr airfield is a viable economic addition to a struggling economy: one that the people of Llanbedr clearly want and they are the people that we really need to ask, surely?

  7. Pat Clayton:

    How many jobs will the Snowdonia Society create by spending a Sunday afternoon fooling around on Harlech beach? In the last year it has had to lay off one permanent (and long serving) member of staff and can no longer afford to employ a full time director. It has even had to stop producing a proper newsletter.

    Has the Society learned nothing from its failure to get any local support for its ill-considered and destructive campaign? Esme Kirby, who actually earned her living in Snowdonia, must be turning in her grave.

  8. If Kemble do come back that is the time we will all know what their job proposals are. If somebody has concrete inside track information on this, why aren’t cards on the table? Possibly because it’s all speculative, not to mention premature. Kemble have stated publicly it’s not fair, they have just appointed a site manager. Totally confident of victory. Which Mr Jones of Llanbedr got the site manager job, one wonders? Those of us who have spent our lives in North Wales know perfectly well what happens when big businesses are tempted in by offers of heavy subsidies and grants, promising jobs galore. When HQ in the Midlands or wherever catches a sniffle the North Wales operation dies of pneumonia. Indeed I agree Llanbedr people should have a say, but it might be in their interests to consult with other places, Blaenau Ffestiniog for example, who have in the past been seduced by job promises, and experienced the left high and dry aftermath.
    I am not sure what Tony’s sniping at how hard up the Snowdonia Society is contributes to this debate. All small charities have been hit hard by the recession. Esme turning in her grave? Has Tony forgotten the Esme and Snowdonia Society history? Neither of thse pointa are in the least bit relevant.
    The Snowdonia Society is a campaigning organisation. They just won a David v Goliath contest. Live with it. They do not win them all. There are regulations in place to do with defending the Park against people who would ride roughshod over those regulations. They will I am sure continue to campaign against such forces, who will always have much more money than them, however hard up they become.

  9. Pat Clayton:

    My reference to the parlous state of the Snowdonia Society’s finances was not sniping I’m afraid. It raises the question of whether the trustees of the Society are representing any views other than their own in this case. I will have more to say about this in the coming week, but I do wonder whether you realise just how irritating phrases like, ‘Indeed I agree Llanbedr people should have a say ..’ are to those who will actually be affected by what happens to the airfield?

    The local petition in favour of Kemble’s plans received over 1200 signatures in just a few days. The Society’ petition got less than 160 signatures nearly all of which where from other parts of Wales or even farther afield. What aspect of that result does the Snowdonia Society have difficulty understanding?

    And I’m afraid that fantasies about ‘David v Goliath’ contests reveal just how frivolous and superficial the Society’s attitude to this matter is.

    [Edited to correct number of signatures on the local petition. TonyN]

  10. Now that the SNPA has ruled that commercial aviation is not a lawful use of the site can we all agree that some new thinking is required to get jobs created there. The Society would have no problem with the existing buildings being used by local businesses, or any other use that is acceptable in a national park. We would be happy to attend a public meeting on this matter.

    [Alun: I’m about to put up an new thread on this subject and will move your comment there when the time comes. TonyN]

  11. Alan, what do you propose they use an ex-airfield for now? Who on earth would want to start a business up in the back of beyond with little more than a single track for access? Have you spent any much time in Llanbedr at all? Spoken to any of the people that live there and who asked for their wants and needs to be taken into consideration? I doubt it, othewise you’d have not dragged up such a fuss about the whole situation. We are in the middle of a recession, noone wants to invest in anything, it was a miracle that kemble showed an interest in the place for starters. The locals were made up, as were a few of us who hate seeing places like this fall into disrepair. Until you lot stuck your oar in that is. What damage do you think a few cessna’s are going to do to a national park that has such busy airways anyway? If you think noise is an issue you should have spent time there in the past 60 years when it was active, or spend some time at Valley. You’ll get the idea.

    That petition you set up was a complete joke compared to the one that was done locally. Surely that should have been a reality check to you?

    Anyway you have won, well done. We all applaud you. Now lets watch the place sink to the ground, I expect some mindless vandalism followed by a fire then it will just become yet another eyesore in the snowdonia national park where so many of us live.

    /claps

  12. Alun #10

    The future of the airfield is is in the hands of the planners, not the Snowdonia Society.

    Surely the time for a meeting with the people of Llanbedr would have been before you launched your campaign?

  13. Their site says membership is £20 though there is a joint membership for multiples at the same address for £30. If most members were individuals at a claimed membership of 2,500 that would be £50,000. That suggests membership is pushed up, possibly doubled, by including all the kids, grannies & lodgers at any address.

    This is an example of how the game is stacked & then stacked again in this country against any constructive activity. The cumulative effect is that China is growing at 10% & we are in recession.

  14. Niel

    The subscription figures that I used were for the accounting year that I was discussing. Since then they have been increased to £20 and £30 respectively.

  15. Still no reply from Alun of the ‘SS’ then, I was hoping he’d answer some of my questions.

  16. Hello
    I only just discovered this site, hence the late comment. I live almost within sight of the airfield at Llanbedr and I’m well aware of the difficult economic situation around here. I was, and continue to be, shocked at the attitude of the Snowdonia Society to the proposed ‘rescue’ of the site and the injection of much needed finance to the area. For sure, the airfield will provide more benefit, and with less impact, than yet another sprawling caravan site – the only other significant commercial activity on this coast.

    I’m also concerned about one or two other ‘protests’ that the Society has underway which seem, at best, mis-guided.
    However, I am a strong believer in the basic aims of the Society, and in the need to have a watchdog organisation to prevent damage and abuse to Snowdonia [and not just the area within the Park boundary]. I agree with some of the comments above that this campaign seems to indicate that the leadership is out of step with the membership and certainly out of step with the local community. This attitude probably isn’t easily changed, but about a year ago I decided to join the Society , figuring that it may be more effective to press for change from the inside. I know that some other members feel the same as I do, so perhaps we will begin to make some progress towards restoring the society’s actions to match its objectives.

    I encourage anybody with a love of Snowdonia to join the Society and to make their opinions known to the officers and the Trustees. It is our countryside and our community – let’s get the Society back to doing what it should be doing for both of them.

  17. DavidM:

    My feelings are very much the same as yours. The Llanbedr Airfield debacle carries a double penalty: hinderance of perfectly sensible project that would benefit the local economy and the destruction of the Snowdonia Society’s reputation locally at least.

    As you say, we need a watchdog. That was the intended role of the Society Society from its inception and one that it discharged successfully until quite recently. The Trustees now seem to have taken a unilateral decision to remodel the Society as an environmental campaign group. Unfortunately the two roles are not compatible.

    Like you I am a member and have been one for many years. Your suggestion that local people should try to put the Society back on the right track is an excellent one. Whether the officers and trustees would take a blind bit of notice is quite another matter. They seem to have shown only contempt for local opinion so far.

  18. I have been following the Llanbedr isssue with growing disbelief.
    It appears that the only organisation against the use of llanbedr airfield is the Snowdonia Society.Using the organisation as a political soapbox certain so called “spokesmen” have highjacked this society to promote their own agenda.
    There does not appear to be a mandate for this action,and indeed it is contrary to what the actual local population seem to want.Another rather sinister situation has emerged with regard to the “legal opinion” used by the SNPA.
    It appears that this opinion “Happens” to have been given by the same legal source that was used by the “Cotswold Authorities” in their flawed (and rejected) attempt to impose illegal restrictions on Kemble.
    This begs the question what was the coincidence that led the planners in Penrhyn to choose this source.
    The Snowdon Society seems to have been led down an expensive garden path by people with a political agenda of their own.They are advertising for an assistant to the CE who i believe is trying to regain a position in the Welsh Assembly.Of course whilst all this is going on there are no jobs being created near Harlech,and a great opportunity is fading away.

  19. C A Swift has my full backing with the points made here. The Snowdonia Society clearly have instigated the “fading away” of a fantastic opportunity, in what seems to be the political agenda of a tiny minority that have hijacked the Society for their own ends. In a public entity this would surely rate as criminal misfeasance requiring a police investigation! When this green oasis is painted with the patchwork quilt of static caravans, will the SS or the SNPA leaders accept responsibility for yet more sprawling and ugly development? How many shares do the aformentioned officers have in companies that would benefit from this sort of development I ask? My experience of similar situations involving the masses being exploited by the minority interest involves a motive, often secretly stashed in the private affairs of the conspirators. Maybe we should all stop looking at the sensible debate on returning Llanbedr to aviation and consider more investigation into the real motives of those who seek to inflict their will upon those local folk who have strongly rejected their will!!!

  20. David M
    I see that your CE has been chosen as the Labour candidate for Arfon. As the society(a charity) seems to have “changed its aims” and has become more of a political football perhaps the members should avail themselves of a special general meeting to get the society “back on track”.
    I say this as it is obvious that the society has become detached from the wishes of those who were born,live,and try to find work in the Park area that includes Llanbedr.
    Llanbedr airfield is not a “new” venture,and has been an active part of the area since WW2.It would seem to be the best use for a site that actually exists,and could provide valuable quality employment for locals.The effect of the aircraft element would be negligable on the Park,and would certainly NOT have a detrimental effect on the area.
    Snowdonia has an industrial heritage (now mainly gone),but a sanitised area without work has no heart and soul.The Kemble solution at Llanbedr offers a commendable compromise between jobs and the area’s viability.

  21. Reply to C A Swift
    As I mentioned above, I only joined the Society about a year ago so I’ve been learning about the whole range of its activities. Though this thread is specifically about the Llanbedr airfield proposal, we should remember that this ‘anti-campaign’ is only one part of the Society’s activities – the great majority of its work is necessary and beneficial to the Park, the area and the people who live or visit here.
    As you note, Mr Pugh is leaving to try to resurrect his political career. He was a very effective member, and Minister, for the Welsh Assembly so I wish him well. It seems to me though that this Llanbedr campaign has been politically inept. It’s a basic tenet of politics that one should only fight battles that can be won – the Society cannot win this campaign, whatever happens to the airfield. If they manage to block the revival it will be at enormous cost to the reputation, the current work in other areas and indeed the future of the Society, as well as being a body blow to the region and its people.

    I think it would be difficult and unproductive to call for an EGM for the Society, but I do think that when the new Director is appointed he should be lobbied by *everybody* who thinks this campaign is misguided – there is enormous weight in numbers, rather than a few comments by representative groups or sniping on fairly obscure forums [sorry!] such as this.

    I encourage anybody reading this thread to take a look at the whole ambit of the work of the Society. Hopefully you’ll be encouraged to join and push from the inside for us to focus on the real objectives and challenges that will benefit Snowdonia. Even if you don’t join, do write to the incoming Director to let him know that this is a disastrous and damaging campaign and the Society should gracefully ‘back off’!

    Cheers [and Happy Christmas!]
    David

  22. David
    Thanks for updating us on what is happening at the SS.
    I was not aware that AP was actually leaving the society,but did see that they were advertising for an “assistant”.
    In the event of him not being elected at the next election will he have finished with the SS anyway !.
    I trust the society members will have the main choice when it comes to a new CE, and one hopes it will be someone with a less political agenda,and aspirations.I look forward to the time that Llanbedr is open to light aircraft,and i can avail myself of its facilities to visit the area again.If the Kemble deal falls through then i do not see the void being filled by anyone else.Having been around general aviation for over 40 years i can assure viewers of this forum that Kemble would be the best option for the airfield,and that the negative comments from objectors are in the main not based on facts or background knowledge.This comes from someone who not only comes from North Wales,but would not want to see it spoilt.Best wishes for the Societies future.

  23. Hello again
    Yes, whatever happens at the election, Alun Pugh will have left the Society. I believe the position of Director will be advertised in January – I assume that the selection process will be handled by the Trustees, as it hard to see how the Society membership could be effectively involved, except perhaps by commenting on the ‘profile’ when advertised. We do need somebody with political awareness and skills, as well as a strong environmental drive. And he/she should be an effective listener too!

    The position of “Assistant” has now been filled, with the new person starting in January.

    The Society website currently suggests that Kemble may choose to use Llanbedr as a scrapping ground for redundant aircraft, which is currently an activity carried out by Air Salvage International [ASI] at Kemble’s Cotswold airfield. I do not know if ASI and Kemble are part of the same holding company.
    Regards

    David

  24. DAVID
    Thanks for an even more up to date update.
    The dismantling of old aircraft at Kemble has never been a point of contention there,and in fact seems to be a non event as regards the locals.
    As for llanbedr,it’s relative remote location would hardly make it an economic position for such an operation,and there are many other airfields in the country that could do this without the “planning problems”.
    One assumes the Welsh Assembly when originally choosing Kemble as the preferred bidder will have had some dialog with them to “sound them out”.If i was a concerned local i would ring up Lee Paul at kemble and have a chat with him about their intentions.However judging by the “local support” from the immediate area there does not seem to be any concerns from that direction.Remember it was the SS that has been the “concerned party” in all this, and a high proportion of its membership is NOT local.Llanbedr is an established airfield thats “use” has never been abandoned.It probably does not even need a new planning permission / use certificate for flying activities,and the proposed other uses of the extra buildings have not caused concerns as they will need “change of use ” to provide the jobs.
    It is a shame that an element in the SS has used the organisation to persue political agenda’s,and one hopes that the new brooms will sweep that dubious past away.I wish both Kemble and the SS best wishes for 2010,and hope some useful employment for the area comes out of all this.

  25. So what are the Aims and Objectives of the Society? (as stated in its constitution) Are these actions in breach of that and therefore inappropriate? Having worked for some time with various charitable organisations I would be surprised if there were not a clause in the Constitution allowing for a given number of members to call for an extraordinary meeting with this as the sole item on the agenda. If any of the officers are found to be working to the detriment of the organisation then the meeting can call for their immediate removal and, if this is not promptly acted upon, I’m sure the Charity Commission would be interested in reviewing the situation…
    On a more personal note… As a long time GLIDER pilot I wish there were more opportunities for me to explore West Wales. It’s a long way from Talgarth if the wind’s in the wrong direction! (And we don’t make much noise either!!)

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