Friday, April 13, 2012

Dunsfold Park 'unrestricted aviation use' rejected

A PLANNING inspector has rejected a bid by the owners of Dunsfold Park to establish that the airfield can legally operate without restrictions on its use for aviation.

However, the owners of the airfield believe the inspector, Rod Evans, has effectively left the door open for them to consider greater aviation use once current temporary consents expire in six years.

From 2018, Dunsfold Park will be subject to the terms of planning permission granted to Hawker Siddeley in 1951 for the manufacture, repair, maintenance and flight testing of aircraft.

Although Mr Evans made clear that this consent did not permit unrestricted aviation activities, Dunsfold Park Ltd still believes the decision paves the way for the airfield to become "an aviation centre", hailing it as a "significant leap forward" in determining the aerodrome’s longer term future.

Meanwhile, Waverley Borough Council has welcomed the decision as a vindication of its stance that aviation use at Dunsfold should be controlled and restricted.

Representatives of Alfold and Dunsfold parish councils also expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the public inquiry.

People living in the villages surrounding the airfield – Alfold, Dunsfold, Cranleigh, Hascombe, Chiddingfold and beyond – had been waiting anxiously to learn if the cap on flights would be lifted following the week-long inquiry earlier this year.

Dunsfold Park had appealed after the borough council rejected its application for a certificate of lawfulness of existing use to lift all restrictions on aircraft movements, flight times and aircraft.

The case essentially centred on historical evidence about the original post-war use of the airfield by Skyways before the introduction of modern planning laws in 1948, and then when it became the base for Hawkers – subsequently British Aerospace (BAe) – in 1951, when the planning permission that Mr Evans has now ruled to be the crucial consent was granted.

It was made clear during the inquiry that the impact on the surrounding population was effectively irrelevant, with the appeal to be decided on legal issues and not any planning merits.

In his findings, Mr Evans accepted that the most likely outcome upon the expiry of the temporary consents granted since BAe left Dunsfold in 2002 would be for the owners to revert to the use permitted in 1951.

He also accepted that the certificate being sought “encompasses many, if not all, the elements of flying that would have occurred under previous occupiers”, but Mr Evans also stated: “It would also, however, certify as lawful a use for unrestricted aviation activities, which is simply not made out on the historical evidence.”

Concluding that the council’s decision to refuse to grant the certificate sought by Dunsfold Park was well founded, he said the transition from the Skyways period to Hawker/BAe represented a material change of use of the airfield, as did the transition from BAe ownership to that of the current owners.

Rejecting arguments made on behalf of Dunsfold Park during the inquiry, Mr Evans made clear that it did not matter which of the temporary consents had been implemented, because “each contains valid and enforceable conditions which govern aviation activities in such a way to deny the appellants entitlement to the certificate sought”.

Even if neither was in force, he added, “the 1951 permission does not include a use of the airfield, either by itself or as part of the wider aerodrome, for unrestricted aviation activities”.

For more on this story, see this week's Cranleigh edition of the Surrey Advertiser, out now.

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