THE future of one of the Midlands’ best-known airfields is under threat after its owners put it forward as a potential site for new homes.
Wellesbourne Airfield faces an uncertain future after its owners, the Littler family, put it forward for consideration as part of Stratford-on-Avon District Council’s latest core strategy consultation, in a move which could see 1,600 homes built on the site.
The 11th hour move came on March 14, the day the consultation closed and prompted concerns from South Warwickshire Flying School, which has been training pilots at the airfield since 1982.
Managing director Rodney Galiffe said the move did not come as a total shock but said members of the flying school were “horrified” at the prospect.
“They don’t want to lose it and are horrified that someone could change us,” he said. “We cater for local pilots, the majority of whom are from places like Birmingham, Rugby, Redditch and other areas. They hire aeroplanes from here – they work hard all week and come out and fly at the weekends.”
As well as being home to the flying school Wellesbourne also houses RAF Vulcan bomber XM655. Although the aircraft no longer flies it is still a popular attraction.
The airfield is also the headquarters of HeliAir, the UK’s largest light helicopter company and there are a number of other businesses based on the site. It is thought to employ up to 100 people directly and indirectly.
Mr Galiffe said Wellesbourne provided a vital general aviation function in the area and would be sorely missed if it was forced to close.
“It has been established for many years now,” he said. “What makes Wellesbourne different to other sites is that it is one of the few airfields south of Birmingham available for general aviation.”
But Mr Galiffe said he understood why the Littler family, which has spread far and wide with almost 30 members set to benefit from a family trust, might wish to cash in on their asset.
“I can see where they are coming from,” he added. “If someone were looking to sell land as farmland or an airfield it is probably worth about £10,000 to £15,000 an acre. But once planning permission is granted that could increase to around £1 million to £1.5 million.
“You can see why the family have thought let’s put this in the plan.”
The Littler family’s application was submitted by Gladman Developments and the core strategy will shape development in and around Stratford until 2031. It is up against alternative schemes which have been on the table for considerably longer.
Previous schemes put forward include Lighthorne Health/Gaydon, Long Marston Airfield, South East Stratford and Southam North/Stoneythorpe.
Stratford-on-Avon District Council said it had received more than 3,000 responses in the latest consultation and that all would be analysed and a report prepared for consideration by the council in due course.
It also acknowledged receipt of submission of alternative sites, of which Wellesbourne Airfield was the largest.
The council said that while it would look carefully look at the new sites that have been put forward it was mindful of the importance of its core strategy being adopted as soon as possible.
A statement by the council added: “Any new site would have to be so demonstrably better than anything else previously considered that it would be unreasonable to ignore it, despite its belated submission. It is too early to judge whether any of the new options are of this nature.”