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Gloucestershire Business News

'Garden village on airfield will solve housing and airport problems' - NEW COMMENTS

Gloucestershire Airport should be sold to make way for housing, a councillor has claimed today.

But the proposals put forward by Cllr Graham Bocking have been branded "ridiculous" by Gloucestershire Airport operations director Darren Lewington.

Cllr Bocking released a statement outlining why he believes the site in Staverton should become a 'garden village', to solve housing problems across Gloucestershire.

It follows reports that Lord Best, chair of the all-party parliamentary committee on housing, has called for 50 new garden villages nationally.

Cllr Bocking (Conservative, Innsworth with Down Hatherley ward, Tewkesbury Borough Council) has published an outline plan for the Staverton site that he says confirms earlier indications from the Joint Core Strategy planning team that it could accommodate up to 3,500 homes, removing pressure on less suitable locations.

His statement reads:

"This approach is much better than developer proposals for other areas like Innsworth-Twigworth, which will create serious risks of future flooding and clog our roads with traffic.

A garden village at the airfield land will help create a modern public transport network at the busy heart of the county, as well as safe cycle and pedestrian routes. The location is right next to the A40 and the M5 interchange."

The airfield site is worth around £300million. It is jointly owned by the Cheltenham and Gloucester councils - this means public services and council-tax payers would benefit hugely from the land sale.

Tewkesbury Borough Council has the airfield in its borough, so it would receive the council tax value from the garden village development.

The existing business parks would remain as part of the mixed development. At a time of extreme pressures on public finances we cannot afford to miss this opportunity.

There is already talk of part of the financial gain from this land helping to fund a new light rail system, serving Gloucester, Churchdown and Cheltenham and even the Stroud valleys.

This would bring extra gains from the development and reduce congestion around our towns.

It is unacceptable that local taxpayers underwrite Gloucestershire airport instead of benefiting from this public land.

And recently, the councils made decisions in closed meetings for an emergency loan to the airport - using public money to further support the unviable flying activity.

There has never been an independent assessment of alternative uses of this land. This is a public land asset. Local people have a right to know the full facts, such as how much of their money goes to the airport.

The councils should now reintroduce the airfield site into the Joint Core Strategy planning exercise, and should arrange for the aviation activities to be relocated.

The council-owned business parks by the airfield contain businesses mostly unrelated to aviation and not dependent on the airport in any way.

Ironically it is Gloucestershire airport itself which is dependent on those businesses, by being allowed to collect and keep their rents.

The land is Green Belt, but Green Belt is being removed as part of the Joint Core Strategy anyway.

The airport wants to build publicly-funded hangars on the land, so the Green Belt status of this land would become meaningless anyway, and more hangars would increase our commitment to yet more publicly funded flying.

The airport accounts reveal just how much the airport itself is unviable.

Cheltenham Borough Council and Gloucester City continue to underwrite the airport by up to £500,000 a year.

But it doesn't stop there - in 2015 the airport received £960,000 for a 99-year lease on the councils' business park at the airfield.

That's effectively a gift to the airport from local council taxpayers, on top of the ongoing annual subsidies, and earlier this year the airport was granted an emergency loan of £750,000.

Gloucestershire airport employs up to 50 people, so finding new and viable locations for it activities is in their interests too.

Given the airport's ongoing financial struggle, relocating the flying activities to Cotswold airport and elsewhere, is in the best future interest for aviation."

Mr Lewington's statement in response to Cllr Bocking's proposals:

"Cllr Bocking's plans are, frankly, ridiculous.

Gloucestershire Airport is the UK's busiest General Aviation Airport, handling 80 000 flights per annum. It is home to around 180 aircraft and 50 aviation businesses, employing around 500 local people.

 He is fundamentally wrong to suggest that the Airport receives any form of public subsidy, it does not.

The suggestion that this huge, mutli-million pound undertaking, recognised nationally as a centre of excellence, could simply be relocated elsewhere is nonsensical.

It is akin to suggesting that, because Cheltenham Racecourse is only used for a handful of race meetings and events each year, we should build houses there."

Punchline believes this is an absolutely bonkers suggestion.

So many successful businesses and industries are based at the airport and it's a real hub of the business community.

What do you think of Cllr Bocking's proposals? Email 

Readers' comments:

Kieran O'Donoghue: I think closing Gloucestershire Airport to make way for housing is a totally bonkers idea too.

Having our own local airport gives Gloucester and Cheltenham oceans of kudos and helps promote the area, bringing in business and wealth.

Celebrities often use Staverton airport and it's a vital transport hub for events such as Cheltenham Races.

We would all like to see it busier and include flights to mainland Europe, which would serve more of the local community.

Perhaps Cllr Bocking should be thinking less of socialist policies that he thinks are going to win him votes and consider the potential of the airport and how more political support could make it more viable and supporting to local businesses which provide jobs.

Mike Butler: What utter trash Comrade Bocking is talking.

An airport is an important regional amenity. It's important to the economy of the region. It provides employment for local people. Aviation is an integral part of Gloucestershire's history and future.

It's very clear - Comrade Bocking is aiming his absurd comments at votes from the myriad of whingers, who having moved to live close to an airport then complain about the noise.

It's hardly Boeings and Airbuses though is it? The light aircraft using Gloucester Airport are no noisier than housing estates filled with hoards of screaming kinds, lawnmowers on a Sunday afternoon, two cars per family up and down the roads etc etc.

Here's a bit of real world. Where you have an airport you will have a degree of noise from aircraft.

If it bothers you, don't move near an airport (Ditto rail stations, building sites, large housing estates etc).

Soultion to all this talk - Expand the airport and get rid of Comrade Bocking.

Bob Newby: The only 'ridiculous' aspect about this airport is how local councillors justify subsidising a loss-making, non-dividend paying, loan-dependant, noise-polluting playground for 'celebrities'.

It's not wanted by the local residents, is losing commercial traffic year-on-year and its claim to host 'flights' is no more than continual and repetitive take-offs and landings by flying club training!

That some council members defend the use of flood-prone land in Twigworth when this land could be better used for the purpose is nothing short of dubious, questionable and deserving of investigation.

The Bocking proposal is a win-win-win providing homes, enabling transport infrastructure and most importantly filling the council's coffers with a cash bonus which can be used to restore a decent service level to the local taxpayers, whilst the airport is just an open cash drain.

Correction, given the council's backing for the airport, make that a sewer.

SJ Davis: The councillor again fails to mention the £250miillion pounds the airport pumps into the local economy.

This is an independent figure and has probably increased since the report was written.

Can the councillor explain who will pay for the relocation of all the aviation businesses at the airport?

Many have spent millions of thier own private money building facilities to house thier operation. The bill for relocation would be massive.

Are we really saying we would like to shift these high-class aviation businesses out of the area for a housing estate.

The non-productive fields of Innsworth and Twigworth are a much more sensible solution for our housing needs.

Philip Drew: The proposal for a garden village on the airport site should receive serious consideration. It is a much better option than building on a floodplain.

Currently, Gloucestershire Airport Limited is a small, repeat small, business with a turnover of some £4million.

Darren Lewington's talk about a "huge multi-million pound undertaking" is just hyperbole and he trots out the same tired operating statistics such as, it has 80,000 flights per annum and is the UK's busiest general aviation airport. But, it doesn't make any money.

Subsidies can be overt or covert. The fact that Gloucestershire Airport Limited takes all the rental income for property at the airport and then pays just 10 per cent of that amount, some £50,000 a year, to its shareholders (Gloucester City and Cheltenham Borough) as "rent" for the airport site might be considered a subsidy.

Sarah Yates: So the airport won't admit that it gets half a million pounds annual subsidy - it's all there in its own accounts!!

Here is the inconvenient quote from Flight Magazine as long ago as 1957...

"the flourishing industrial estate - which in fact subsidizes the flying activities - has room for several more tenants."

This proves the airport has had millions over the years and is still unviable!

Councillor Bocking is right, we should stop the airport collecting rent from local businesses.

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